Imagine eating white soup with Mr. Darcy, roast pork with Miss Bates, or scones with Mr. Collins! Just thinking of those dishes transports me back into the scenes in Jane Austen’s novels and makes me smile. In Dinner with Mr. Darcy, food historian Pen Vogler examines Austen’s use of food in her writing, researches ancient Georgian recipes, converting them for the modern cook.
Even though Austen is not known for her descriptive writing, food is an important theme in her stories, speaking for her if you know how to listen. Every time we dine with characters, or food is mentioned, it relays an important fact that Austen wants us to note: wealth and station, poverty and charity, and of course comedy. While poor Mr. Woodhouse frets over wedding cake in Emma, Mr. Bingley offers white soup to his guests at Netherfield Park in Pride and Prejudice, and Aunt Norris lifts the supernumerary jellies after the ball in Mansfield Park, we are offered insights into their characters and their social station.
In Austen’s letter, she writes to her sister Cassandra about many domestic matters: clothes, social gatherings, and food. When she mentions orange wine, apple pie and sponge cake we know it is of importance to her.
“I hope you had not a disagreeable evening with Miss Austen and her niece. You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.” – Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 15 June 1808
Gentle Readers: in celebration of the ‘Pride and Prejudice without Zombies’ event over the next month, I have asked several of my fellow Jane Austen bloggers to share their knowledge and interest in Austen’s most popular novel. Today, please welcome guest blogger Vic from Jane Austen’s World who shares with us her extensive knowledge of Regency culture and history in four posts during the event. Her third contribution is on dinning at the Netherfield Ball. Learn all about what the guests would have been served at Mr. Bingley’s lavish multiple course meal.
“As for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.” – Charles Bingley, Pride and Prejudice
The sit-down supper served at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice probably occurred around midnight. By that time, people would be famished after their physical exertions or from playing cards nonstop in the card room. They had most likely eaten their dinner between 3-5 p.m. (earlier in the country, and later in Town). Dinners consisted of between 5-16 dishes and could last several hours. The best families would serve up two courses, for a meal’s lavishness depended on the number of courses and dishes that were served. Dishes representing a range of foods, from soups to vegetables and meats, would be spread over the table in a pleasing arrangement and would be set down at the beginning of the meal.
Continue reading at Jane Austen’s World
Upcoming event posts
Day 15 July 07 Group Read: Chapters 43 – 49
Day 16 July 09 William Gilpin and Jane Austen
Day 17 July 10 Group Read: Chapters 50 – 56