A Tasty Exploration of Food in the Regency Period
by Ann Lethbridge, author of Lady of Shame (Harlequin Historical Castonbury Park, November 2012)
I loved the idea of the upstairs downstairs theme of the Castonbury Park series, so I jumped at the chance to join a series with other Harlequin authors I admire very much. I have always been fascinated by the kitchens in the stately homes I have visited over the years, so the idea of having a French chef as my hero was as irresistible as a chocolate soufflé. Just thinking of the trouble problems in the kitchen would cause for those in the dining room gave me goosebumps. And how delectably scandalous for a Lady, a Duke’s daughter no less, to be tempted by a lowly, if handsome and charming, French chef.
During the Regency, changes were happening in the kitchens. The mass production of iron and copper goods made it possible for chefs to stock their domains with every size and shape of saucepan and gadget. There were other innovations too, such as the use of metal grates and hobs which made boiling and stewing faster and easier. Easier is a relative term, of course. Today it would all sound like terribly hard work.
A typical Georgian kitchen
Among the aristocracy, menus were not necessarily about eating. In this age of glitter and glamour, they were about theatre and taste and extravagance. In Lady of Shame, André is a chef whose role model is Marie-Antoine Carême, once chef to Napoleon and later to the Prince of Wales. Hoping to enhance his own reputation he is wooed by the Duke of Rothermere to work at Castonbury Park.
A typical Georgian kitchen table
I quickly discovered in my research that many of the foods eaten in the Regency are never seen on tables today. At least not on mine! Such things as cockscombs (wattles), cocks-stones, eels, lamb brains and calves udders, to name but a few shudder-causing foods, were considered delicacies. Umm, none of those show up in my book you may be happy to hear.
A dinner at a nobleman`s house would be designed to show his wealth and prestige. For example, an intimate dinner for four people would have, at minimum, a first course of eight dishes and a second course of nine dishes, followed by a dessert course of four or five dishes. Each course would be put on the table in large serving dishes, in perfect symmetry. A pleasing balance to the eye was the all-important consideration. Guests would pass the platters nearest to them to those that requested them. The gentlemen would carve the roasts for the ladies.
A Regency dining room
Conversation would be witty and elegant, the wines would flow, and it would all appear as if by magic. A credit to the hostess, Claire, who in this case was using the occasion to woo a suitable husband. After all the shortest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach…unless the man in question is cooking the food. Then he will need all of his artistry and more besides, to catch the lady’s eye.
The food they ate was without question extraordinarily rich, with butter and eggs and cream showing up in every recipe. The only think I make that comes anywhere close, is the annual Christmas Pudding. Does your family enjoy any traditional favourites, which come from an earlier time, or even more recently? Is it a dish you make regularly, or only for special occasions?
Photos courtesy of Ann Lethbridge
Lady Claire must put pride above prattle if she is to shake off the not-so-respectable reputation of her youth. Swapping rebellion for reserve, she returns to her imposing childhood home, Castonbury Park, seeking her family’s help. Penniless Claire needs a sensible husband…and fast!
But when the dark gaze of head chef Monsieur André catches her unwanted eye, he’s as deliciously tempting as the food he prepares. Claire knows he’s most unsuitable…even if the chemistry between them is magnetic. Risking her reputation for André would be shameful–but losing him could be even worse!
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