As y’all know, I occasionally base my characters—both main and secondary—on real historical figures I read about. One of those will make his first appearance in Eliza’s book. He’s a well-known French chef and a man of color who works for Elegant Occasions. I was inspired by a man I’d read about recently: James Hemings, the brother of Sally Hemings. He’s credited with introducing Americans to snow eggs and his version of mac and cheese, among other things. He learned about similar foods while training in France to be a chef, the first American to do so. He excelled to such a degree that he became chef de cuisine at the Hôtel de Langeac, Jefferson’s private residence, and the first American diplomatic embassy while he was in Paris. My character is French, not American, but he too has risen to prominence in England, as many French chefs did. He’ll also be in Verity’s book, which I’m presently plotting.
You’ll probably be wondering, when Eliza’s book comes out in late March and prawlongs are mentioned several times, what exactly are prawlongs? Basically, they’re nuts or orange flowers or lemon or orange rinds coated once or twice in caramelized sugar. Sounds yummy, right? I’m not sure why pralines came to be called prawlongs, but they did. Just see Frederick Nutt’s 1807 cookbook, The Complete Confectioner, which has several recipes (although they contain no ingredient amounts; I haven’t had much luck finding that anywhere). The prawlongs I find most interesting are the pistachio ones, since they came in two colors—red and white. Here’s the red recipe:
Accidentally His is my foodie book, if there ever was one. After all, food is Verity’s life. In the process of researching, I’ve discovered this wonderful site called The Foods of England Project, which contains 60 out-of-print historical cookbooks, and thousands of recipes and dishes, with their histories. One of the dishes I used for the book is Mussel and Onion Stew, which is Rafe’s favorite. It comes from the West Country, which is where Rafe grew up and Verity’s father still lives. I’m not fond of mussels myself (which is odd, because I like just about every other shellfish), but I stumbled across the recipe and thought it might be fun to include. And there’s Duke’s Custard at the end of the book! (Literally—it shows up in the epilogue, but I call it trifle because that’s really what it is.) Now, that’s one I’d love to try.
While chocolate as we know it didn’t really exist in the Regency, there was a confectioner named Guglielmo Jarrin who created eggs out of rock sugar. He also had a recipe for created transparent hollow eggs of sugar that could then be filled with yellow cream so they resembled real eggs ala Cadbury Crème Eggs. I wish I could have seen these. They sound so cool! But there’s no way I could make them, even if I could find the lead moulds for them. If you want to try, however, you can check out The Italian Confectioner, available in its entirety online at Google Books.
Potatoes have long been a staple of both English and Irish cooking. Still, I was surprised to find a Victorian-era recipe for “Fried Potatoes (French fashion)” which is what I would consider potato chips. Check out Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (online at http://www.mrsbeeton.com). She talks about thin slices of potato fried in oil—if that’s not potato chips (or crisps, in British English), I don’t know what is. Mrs. Beeton was a Victorian lady who gathered household tips and recipes into the aforementioned book, which was published by her husband. I’d like to try the “Potato Snow” recipe. It sounds interesting (and far better than the real snow everyone has been experiencing).
Thanksgiving is coming and to me that always means good food! Specifically pie. I love pie, both the savory kind and the sweet kind, but I rarely eat it because of all the carbs. Except on Thanksgiving and Christmas, that is. My English/Irish blood (as opposed to my Cajun blood) must be showing because the English/Irish like pie, too. They eat more savory ones than we do, but you can still find sweet pie recipes in the Regency. At Christmas, it would have been mincemeat pie primarily. It’s not the favorite of Cass from Seduction on a Snowy Night, if you’ll recall, but I like it. I remember my half-Irish grandmother in St. Louis making it every year. Here’s a nice history of mincemeat pie and a period recipe. And if you’re interested in other historic foods (although mostly from the early Georgian and the Victorian periods), you can’t go wrong with Historic Food.
Most people assume that ice didn’t exist in summers during the Regency, but the wealthy did have access to it. Ice houses were big, deep wells where ice harvested from nearby frozen lakes (or sometimes ordered and brought in from the Arctic) was kept through the year. A well-built ice house could keep ice for as long as 18 months, which is pretty amazing. That’s how the famous Gunther’s in London managed to provide ice cream throughout the summers.
There’s a scene in The Bachelor where Joshua, Gwyn, and Gwyn’s mother Lydia eat ice cream at Gunter’s. The wealthy did actually eat ice cream in summer during our period, using ice either shipped in from Norway or cut and placed in their own ice houses. Gunter’s was only the most famous purveyor of ices and ice creams. But the flavors were unusual by our standards. Muscadine ice was a lemon water or white currant ice scented with elderflowers. Flowers were popular flavors—lavender, bergamot, jasmine, and orange flower, for example—but there were also burnt filbert, rye bread, parmesan cheese, and tea flavors! One of these days I’m going to try my hand at some Regency ice cream. But I’ll skip the rye bread flavor!
The English in our period were quite fond of seafood. My period cookbooks have recipes for such things as smoked fish soup, mackerel pie, fried anchovies, collared eel, and even boiled crayfish (yes, they have crayfish in England). You don’t find recipes for periwinkles and whelks because they were common food for the common people. But they’re mentioned in the famous cookbook by Mrs. Beeton (1861), where she has a table of how much seafood of every type was sold that year in London. Apparently, Londoners ate 4 million whelks (compared to half a million crabs and a million lobsters) and an astonishing 304 million periwinkles!
Turtle soup was common on menus in England going back to before the Regency. It had to always be included as a dish for the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, and was so popular (and so expensive) that the English even developed Mock Turtle Soup for those who couldn’t afford turtle meat. Mock turtle soup was traditionally made with a calf’s head, so if the idea of eating turtle makes you gag, you might like the mock version even less. Personally, having eaten plenty of it in New Orleans, I enjoy the real thing.