Monday, April 30, 2007

Regency Dining

I thought we might continue on the theme of food. As I mentioned in my introduction, because they did not have refridgeration, foods tended to be in season.

Here is an interesting link showing food timelines that you might find helpful.

Meats like beef, mutton and pork and various kinds of poultry, pullets, capons, and chickens would be available most of the time. Those that we do not regularly find on our tables today, are things like pigeons and rabbits and leverets (baby hares).

Vegetables included cabbage, savoys, coleworts (what on earth are they? Ah.. a form of kale) sprouts, broccoli, and root vegetables that keep over the winter, potato, turnips and parsnips. But I also find references to things being forced -- strawberries and radishes, so these would have been grown in greenhouse conditions to bring them on early. The picture above is of a street vendor in London selling turnips and carrots, though I can't actually see the carrots.

In the eighteenth century, the main meal, dinner would normally be at what we would now consider lunchtime. By the Regency, at least for the aristocracy, dinner had moved to the evening. Not so with poorer folk who would still take their main mean at mid-day. Indeed, in England in many households it is still traditional to have Sunday lunch as the roast beef and yorkshire pudding meal we associate with England and certainly in many homes Christmas dinner is still served between 12 noon and 2pm.

Remember Joshual White of last day? He says about dinners "One of the greatest peculiarities in the diet of the people, is the quantity of meats which they use; and if excellence is their kind, (especially beef and mutton,) be any plea for the apparent superabundant quantity that is met with in most houses, they may offer it with truth, and boast of it with justice."

And Robert Southey had this to say. The quantity of meat which they consume is astonishing! I verily believe that what is drest for one dinner here, would supply the same number of persons in Spain for a week, even if no fast-days intervened. Every where you find both meat and vegetables in the same crude and insipid state. The potato appears at table all the year found: indeed the poor subsist so generally upon this root, that it seems surprising how they could have lived before it was introduced from America. Beer is the common drink. They take less wine than we do at dinner, and more after it; but the custom of sitting for hours over the bottle, which was so prevalent of late years, has been gradually laid aside, as much from the gradual progress of the taxes as of good sense. Tea is served between seven and eight, in the same manner as at breakfast, except that we do not assemble round the table. Supper is rather a ceremony than a meal; but the hour afterwards, over our wine and water, or spirits, is the pleasantest in the day.

And while we know of the wines, brandy and ales that people drank in those days, what about this advertisment from the Winchester paper.

For making Soda Water.
The Water made with this Preparation possesses all the Virtues of Soda Water in Bottles. Being portable, it will be found exceedingly useful to persons travelling; and as it will not injure by keeping, or change of climate, it is particularly recommended to Gentlemen going abroad.
Prepared and sold by William Randall, Chemist, Southampton, in boxes sufficient for one dozen half-pints of Soda Water, at 2s. 6d. Each.

Now I really thought soda water was a modern invention.

People also enjoyed homemade lemonade.
Pies always seem to be a feature of English dining, why there is even a nursery rhyme about four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. These particular pies are a work of art. These days you are lucky if you get a couple of leaves plonked on top of a meat pie as decoration.

Here is the description of a dinner from a contemporary. I think you will see that Southey was right, there was indeed a large variety of meats.
The first course:Part of a large Cod. A Chine of Mutton. Some Soup. A Chicken Pye. Puddings & Roots &c.
Second course:Pidgeons and Asparagus. A Fillett of Veal with Mushrooms and high Sauce. Rosted Sweat-breads. Hot Lobster. Apricot Tart. A Pyramid of Syllabubs & Jellies.

A Desert of Fruit.

MadeiraWhite Port & red to drink as Wine.

At the risk of grossing you out, I thought the following was an interesting recipe. However, I do caution not to do this at home.

Tainted Meat

Meat tainted to an extreme degree may be speedily restored by washing it
in cold water, and afterwards in strong camomile tea; after which it may
be sprinkled with salt, and used the following day; or if steeped and
well washed in beer, it will make pure and sweet soup even after being

I am going to see if I can find a description of a dinner from start to end, something like the one above, but with more information. However, I probably will not be able to find pictures.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Regency Food - Part I

The Georgian era was a period of hedonism, self indulgence if you will. Not, if I might be so bold, unlike ourselves today. Look what a swelter we are in about recycling and reusing. But I digress.

What did they eat and drink?

No freezers, although we know northern inhabitants had long ago figured out the benefits of keeping food on ice. They did have ice houses, so things could be kept cool for a while.

Here is a picture of an ice house that I took at Gnoll House in Wales, in February. The house is gone but the ice house and the cellars are still there and the grounds are quite stunning. The first picture is of the entrance which was some little distant from the house.

The second picture is taken through a grill with my camera pointed straight down. They would have brough the ice from the various fresh lakes in the grounds in the winter, piling it up week after week, packing it with straw, until it was full. It looks like a well. I assume you would climb down a latter to chip away at it as it gradually reduced and got lower and lower inside.

There were some greenhouses, called conservatories (that's where the debutante meets the hero and gets caught out when they kiss and then they have to marry.... oops digressing again, but only the rich had those. Glass was a luxury. And there were orangeries. Did I spell that right? I went to the one at Kensington Palace and had a cream tea. There is also a particularly fine one at Bowood House, they have a 360 degree shot from the inside, although there are only paintings there now. It is basically a long gallery with huge windows facing south where they grew citrus fruits. This is an outdoor scene of the orangery at Kew.

They stored root vegetables and hardy fruits like apples, remember Treasure Island and Jim Hawkins hiding in the apple barrel, and of course pickled and preserved soft fruits and vegetables. Jumping jellybeans, my old mum still makes her own pickled onions, marmelade and yummy blackberry and apple jam.

Some stuff grows wild. Blackberries (see jam above). I can remember going blackberry picking with my dad. He would stand in the biggest prickliest bush, push with his basket until he was almost inside the bush and pick and pick. Not the ones at the bottom though. It's like yellow snow - you don't eat those, especially not if you know how many people in England walk their dogs everywhere.

Other stuff growing wild, mushrooms - gotta know the difference from a toadstool. This red spotty one would be easy. Others are not. Some are magic, I'm told (little joke). Elderberry. Now there is an interesting tree, you can use the flowers and the berries. And of course they grew wheat and oats and barley and cabbages.

They raised cattle and hunted wild game.

But all of these items had seasons. So what you might eat in January, would not be what you would eat in July.


Robert Southey had this to say in 1802 about English Breakfasts

The breakfast-table is a cheerful sight in this country: porcelain of their own manufactory, which excels the Chinese in elegance of form and ornament, is ranged on a Japan waiter, also of the country fabric; for here they imitate everything. The mistress sits at the head of the board, and opposite to her the boiling water smokes and sings in an urn of Etruscan shape. The coffee is contained in a smaller vase of the same shape, or in a larger kind of tea-pot, wherein the grain is suspended in a bag; but nothing is so detestable as an Englishman’s coffee. The washing of our after-dinner cups would make a mixture as good; the infusion is just strong enough to make the water brown and bitter. This is not occasioned by economy, though coffee is enormously dear, for these people are extravagant in the expenses of the table: they know no better; and if you tell them how it ought to be made, they reply, that it must be very disagreeable, and that even if they could drink it so strong, it would prevent them from sleeping. There is besides an act of parliament to prevent the English from drinking good coffee: they are not permitted to roast it themselves, and of course all the fresh and finer flavour evaporates in the warehouse. They make amends however by the excellence of their tea, which is still very cheap, though the ministry, in violation of an explicit bargain, increased the tax upon it four fold, during the last war. This is made in a vessel of silver, or of a fine black porcelain: they do not use boiled milk with it, but cream instead in its fresh state, which renders it a very delightful beverage. They eat their bitter bread in various ways, either in thin slices, or roasted, or in small hot loaves, always with butter, which is the best thing in the country.

According to Joshua White in his letters from England written in 1810, breakfast in Regency England was a miserable affair.

...generally very frugal, consisting commonly of tea, and muffins or hot rolls, with good butter. Coffee is less frequently used; and it is seldom good.

On the morning after my arrival, I observed on a small table large enough for one or two persons, a tea-cup and saucer, a tea-pot, milk-pot, sugar dish, plate, and a small catty with tea: the tea-kettle was boiling on an utensil with live coals; and presently a plate of warm rolls was brought in. The waiter said breakfast was ready. I asked where it was, and he pointed to the table.

You will have notice the mention of butter by both writers. It takes 21 pounds of fresh, wholesome cow’s milk to make each pound of butter like this pat of butter on waxed paper. Now just imagine how long it took to milk the cow by hand and then churn that teeny weeny pat.

Well, there we have it, and introduction to food, and the first meal of the day. I will continue on with this topic for a few more blogs, because it is good for me to study what my characters ought to eat during my stories and I best get it right, and of course I hope you find it of interest. I really like it when I can find observations from diarists of the day, but of course the writing is always a bit stiff. I have chopped these quotes a bit, but not so much that you do not get the flavor. And getting the flavor, is what food is all about.

Until next time~~~~ Happy rambles.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Regency and the Armies of Europe

One of the things that struck me when researching Paris after Waterloo for "No Regrets" due out in November 2007, was that the city was under occupation by the allies, the chief of whom were Prussia, Russia, England. One of the complaints of the citizens of Paris was all the foreign uniforms on their streets.

One uniform did appeal to me. The Austrians were said to wear white coats and light blue breeches with heavy embroidery. I have looked high and low for a picture, but so far no luck.

Here are some other that may have been seen on the streets of Paris during this time, or if not these exactly then some very similar.

The first grouping are Russian Cavalry officers all dressed up for an evening out I would think.

This next officer is Prussian. A handsome and impressive fellow.

These are Russian cossaks, sadly not in color, the description says they wear red jackets and black baggy trousers, at least the ones that arrived with the Tsar did. They were an odd bunch, apparently prefering to cook their own food even when offered hospitality in the grand houses in Paris. They certainly started a fashion for those baggy trousers in London after Waterloo.

Then of course there were the English, who also had a variety of uniforms and not just the red coats we commonly think of as British. For example these are 13th, 20th and 22nd Light Dragoons.

Of particular note were the highlanders. They were as popular a sight with the Parisiens then as they are today.

Well that is all for me this evening. See you next Thursday and until then, Happy Rambles.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Champagne Anyone?

In my novel, No Regrets, Caro, the heroine of my story, is a champagne heiress. Not that she knows it at the beginning of the book, it is all part of the plot, ducks. Anyway, any writer with any gumptions has to make sure she knows what a champagne estate looks like. And if there is one thing I like about Europe, they keep their buildings.

The Champagne region in France is north of Paris, around Reims. So like any good researcher we went there for a few days.
Because this was bdc (before digital camera) and because my wonderful but typically English b-i-l was driving (Englishmen stop for no man or author) I do not have my own pictures to show you. But I did take extensive notes. And of course I have located some pretty pictures on the internet.

One of the striking things I noticed about the champagne region of France is that while it is rolling, it is basically flat. It also has a very chalky soil. So chalky that the ground looks white. It reminds me very much of Kent on the other side of the channel. Probably because at one time they were connected. I am sure you knew that right?
This picture gives a good sense of the green in the valley, the rows of grapevines on the open land and the white soil. In this second picture, the chalk soil is very clear. It is also clear that I did not time travel. These are definately not 18th century farm laborers. But the job hasn't changed. Anyway the other thing about the second picture is the farm in the distance. Everywhere we went in this region, farms were walled and usually had a tower in one corner.

We only visited one winery while we were in Reims, Tattinger. There was a particular reason for that. This winery is built on the site on an old monastary/abbey and the champagne is aged in bottles in cellars made of chalk. In my book, it is the chateau that is built above the chalk cellars, they were just too old and scary to resist.
Hmm, we will see what that turns out like, but the big thing for me was those ceilings and white white walls that glistened. How low the ceilings were and how chilly. All those bottles were turned a quarter turn by hand by one man until the wine reached maturity. Can you imagine that? This chateau now belongs to the Tattinger family. Originally it belonged to the philosopher Cazotte, who was sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution for his loyalty to King Louis XVI. For my novel, I combined this building with the idea of the round towers that I saw everywhere in the region and .... well you will just have to read the story when it comes out.
As you can see, authors make great sacrifices for their art, all that travelling, my dears. Actually, I can't wait for June when we are off to Europe again.

Happy Rambles until next time.

Monday, April 16, 2007

And we interrupt this program to bring you....

I am blogging Titlewave today and so I direct your attention there.
Happy rambles until Thursday when we will resume normal programming.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Well we all love 'em don't we? At least I do. I can't buy one pair of shoes. I never walk out with less than two pairs. And I have a closet full that I've only worn a couple of times and others that I wear over and over again.
Before we start I will apologize for the formatting. The preview doesn't always provide an exact placement, so I think I have it right and then I look at it the next day and there is too much white space.

Shoes are not something we think much about when talking of Regency fashion, but I am sure our foremothers loved them just as much as we do.

This is a ladies pump from 1785, so just before the Regency. I thought it might be interesting to see how they changed from the end of the 18th century into the 19th century.

With the classic lines of the Regency these yellow slippers seem much more appropriate than the heeled pumps of the earlier century. Note the pointed toes and the lack of a right or left foot. These are from about 1800. And the pink ones are pink kid, and in the same era, 1800-1810

The next pair tie right up around the ankle. They look really sweet to me with the little ruffle across the front.

Something we always read about in Regencies are half boots. I imagined them to be a lot heavier duty than these below, but they certainly would have been better than the slippers shown above, for a march across the field, or at least for a gentle stroll. They are not very elegant compared to the high heeled well fitting boots we wear today. The first pair is leather and the second a cotton jean half boot which was very fashionable in our era. This pair is 1812-20

These flatties, as my mum would have called them, are pair of men's shoes from around the same time-frame. Not so very different from the ladies as you can see and very flat after the previous century's penchant for men to wear high heels similar to the first picture and for the very rich, they would be jeweled. Of course, for novels we mostly have our gentlement in Hessian boots, they sound more heroic somehow than these rather balletic looking shoes or how about the velvet ones. Yep those are guys shoes too.

I thought you might be interested in what the everyday folk might have worn. This pair of boots would probably served either gender for working in.

That's it for now. Hope you enjoyed a visit to the shoes of the Regency. If you are ever in Toronto the Bata shoe museum, from which some of these examples were taken, is just down the road from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Until next week Happy Rambles.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Writing Life Update and a Regency Story

PS: I just learned the comments got turned off by mistake on this post. Many apologies. Have now fixed. Of course I want your comments. Best wishes

It has been a while since I posted any writing news, but with the hunt for chocolate a sweet recollection and after a fun day spent with family, I thought it was probably time. In addition to that, of course, I have news.

I am issuing my newsletter, as well as making several appearances over the next two months, a book signing, two talks which will include booksignings, and probably my favorite thing the Historical Novel Society annual conference where I will get to sign books with Bernard Cornwall and Diana Gabaldon. Okay, so I don't expect a long line up at my desk, but it will be quite a thrill and hence the picture of a Highlander and some soldiers of the 95th Rifles.

Upcoming Events

April 28, 2007 2pm - 5pm Booksigning at Chapters in Woodbridge on Highway 7

May 10, 2007 6:30 pm I will be at the Richmond Hill Central Public Library speaking on Weaving History and Romance into the modern genre novel

May 17, 2007 6: 30 pm I will be at the Stouffville Public Library chatting about novels along with my good friend Kimberly Howe.

June 9, 2007 4pm I will be in Albany New York at the Historical Novel Society Annual conference and will be signing books with Bernard Cornwall and Diana Gabaldon, and a host of other historical authors. How big a thrill is that! I will also be pitching a series of adventure stories set in the peninsular war.

Also this month I am also issuing my first Regency Rambler Quarterly Review issued four time a year because that is what quarterly means, right? Anyway, each issue will contain news about my writing, information about events, signings and such, and a dreamscape minibyte about some event during the Regency.

What is a dreamscape-minibyte? Well I just invented it. And it is a small story about an historical event. There will be some returning characters and new ones depending on the event.

I start with the birth of the (eventual) Prince Regent, so my timeframe is a bit longer that the Regency in its strictest interpretation and that gives me lots of minibytes I can write for you.

These dreamscape-minibytes will only appear in my newsletter. To subscribe and get your fictionalized serialized look at 200 years ago use the sign up form in the sidebar or go to Yahoo Groups and look for Regency Ramble.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Spring Fashions for April

For those of you interested, I am just putting the finishing touches on my first newsletter The Regency Rambler Quarterly Review. This will appear four times per year and will keep you up-to-date on events, booksignings and my travels. And I have decided to add a few gossip items from the Regency for fun. If you want to sign up, it is as simple as sending an email to
Fashions for April
Here are a few April fashions to wet your appetite, and there will be more on Monday.
These gowns are from 1806. The classic high waist and slender look of the early period. I love how familiar I am getting with these fashions as I bring them to you. These plates from from the Cabinet of Fashion April 1806 reprinted from Lady’s Monthly Museum April 1806. The first is a Walking dress and it is described: Straw Hat, trimmed with Swansdown. Pelisse of Black Velvet, with a deep Lace round the Bottom. Swansdown Tippet. Half Habit Shirt. Buff Gloves. Interesting about the shirt? The second is Full Dress, so afternoon or evening wear Hair fashionably drest; ornamented with a Silver Wreath. A Train of Pink Muslin; full Sleeves, looped up to the Shoulder, trimmed round the Bottom and Bosom with deep Lace; Pic-Nic Sleeves. White Shoes, Fan, and Ridicule.Ah, here we have the use of the term ridicule. It does of course mean reticule, the forerunner of the handbag or as north americans call it, the purse (English people call the thing you put coins in a purse. I have also heard it called a pocket book in various of the US states. Fascinating. What I wanted to point out, is the practicality of the hem-line of the walking dress as against the full dress. And I was surprised at the black.

April 1804 Fashions reprinted from The Lady’s Monthly Museum. Undress. Cambrick Biggin, to sit close to the head; Lace full round the face; trimmed with Lilac crape. Pink sarcenet wrap Robe. A Crape Handkerchief, to tie close to the Neck. Walking Dresses.
The first is a Cap of Buff Satin; white Veil twisted round the Front; one End to hang down on the left Side; a Bunch of Roses in Front, Round Dress of Buff Muslin, the Body made quite Plain; very low in the Back, and over the Bosom, a Lace Tucker drawn across the Bosom. White Tippet.
The second is a Spanish hat of Purple Velvet turned up in Front, and ornamented with Feathers of the same Colour. Robe of White Satin. Indian Shawl; Buff Gloves; Silver Bear Muff.The difference between the cap in the first one and the Spanish Hat in the second is to me quite startling. Oh and not keen on the idea of a silver bear muff. It is hard to see how one can really say a particular style was right or wrong. A bit like when I went shopping yesterday.

April 1808 Cabinet of Fashion The first a Dress of white satin, with robe of India silk, falling loosely from the shoulder; full sleeves. Turban of white satin, with ostrich feathers.
The second a Dress of fine muslin, made high over the bosom; the back full, with bows of ribband from the waist to the bottom of the train. Turban of crimson buff; white shoes and gloves.
The third a Dress of plain muslin; pelisse of silk, made without plaits; a small bonnet, to correspond with the pelisse. Dark shoes and gloves.This last group is gorgeous. The white satin has a lovely neckline and the India silk looks grey. [grey is in this year 2007 I hear.] Those bows on the second dress are adorable, not so good for sitting down maybe? And that silk pellisse is gorgeous. You can't see much of the gown, but that is a walking outfit because of the length.
That is it for me, tonight.
Here's wishing you all Happy Rambles and for those that celebrate, Happy Easter.

Monday, April 2, 2007

April Flora and Fauna in Regency England

As is my wont at the beginning of each month, I like to give a sense of what is happening both with the natural sights one might see in Regency England, and a little bit about the weather.

At the beginning of April, the birch and the weeping willow are the first to come out in leaf. Then we get to some of the fruits like plum, apricot and peach. The most magnificent trees, for example the oak and the lime come out towards the end of the month.

In the gardens, it is a time for flowers, and a couple of notable ones are lilly of the valley with its glorious scent. Did you know, however, that the leaves and flowers contain cardiac glycosides that have been used in medicine for centuries. In overdose, preparations can be poisonous; pets and children can be harmed by eating this plant.

Another favorite of mine is heart’s ease, particularly right now. Why is it such a favorite? Well, Heart’s Ease is the working title of the book currently under consideration of my publisher. It seems like a fortuitous coincidence that the editor has the book in the month that this flower comes out in England. As you probably already know, this is the origin of today's pansy. In Regency days it was more of a wildflower.

On the weather front, April is often wet. The mad march winds are over, but still there is lots of spring rain to contend with. A couple of notable Aprils were in 1809 when the Thames flooded its banks, something specifically noted at Windsor on the 26th of April. This picture is of the Datchet Ferry across the Thames at Windsor and while it is not flooding in this picture, it is easy to imagine the River Thames overflowing its banks. What I liked about this picture is the idea of them using the ferry to get from one bank to the other during the Regency. It definately provokes some ideas.

April 1812 was noted as being unusually cold. That year was recorded at the coldest Spring since 1799 and not as cold again until 1837.

As usual in England, the weather is always of great interest. Until next time, happy rambles.