Jane Austen, Meals and Recipes by saradeshaun

As Maggie Lane, author of Jane Austen and Food, points out, Jane Austen’s society was “more leisured and more formal than our own.”  The breakfast hour during this period was usually rather late.  Breakfast held any earlier than the hour of ten o’ clock was “unusually early.”  The later a family held their breakfast hour was a sign of fashion and status.  Maggie Lane suggest that this meal was considered a “dainty meal”, while Kristin Olsen, author of Cooking with Jane Austen refers to it as a meal where you need “A healthy appetite…, for breakfast could be quite lavish”.  Then need for a hardy appetite could be a reason so many people took morning walks before breakfast.  These walks were normally a few miles, and therefore could assist in working up and appetite.  A large breakfast would have also made sense due to dinner being served as late as possible.  Kristin Olsen suggest that the breakfast menu during this time would consist “ cold meat, cheese, fish, eggs, coffee, tea, chocolate (hot chocolate), rolls, toast, bread and butter, and, on occasion, freshly prepared steaks or chops.”  Cake was a common dish at breakfast as well.  I would call that meal lavish indeed.  Breakfast would be eaten in the dining room, or the breakfast-parlor.  The household fine china was usually used during this meal.

The next meal of the day is referred to as ‘lunch’ or ‘luncheon’.  This was not a meal that was taken often in Jane Austen’s time; it became more popular after her death.  There is no specified time for lunch, but the definition of it, found in Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary of 1775 defines it as, “as much food as one’s hand can hold: a pie, pasty or hunk of bread.”  This meal can also be referred to as ‘noonshine’ (meaning a drink, and a snack), ‘nooning’ or ‘nuncheon.’  This meal was in fact not viewed as a meal at all, but more of a refreshment.  Calling this meal nooning gives us a view of a meal taken around noon.  This meal wouldn’t be taken in the dining room, but in a room that the family was already located.  The menu for lunch can vary, but it seems to consist of cold meats, salad, cake, fruits, and sandwiches.  As you can see the food was usually cold.  The beverages many have been spruce beer or tea. 

The next meal to follow was dinner.  This was another meal that was held late as a show of fashion and status.  The later a family held their dinner the more wealthy they were considered.  This was due to the extra expense it took to prepare a dinner after dark.  People of a higher status could be expected to have a dinner containing “soup, poultry, butcher’s meat, and sweets: the wines, ports and sherry.  Even a lower class laborer would still have a rather large dinner with “course joints of beef (roast) boiled with cabbages and other vegetables, or meat pies or puddings…; and with every meal, small beer.  Dinner would of course depends on the host’s budget, but everything about a dinner was viewed as a show of status such as the number of servants, whether the servants were the ones that cooked the meal, or were they just there to serve the food, the number of courses served, as well as the number of dishes that each course held.  I would say a family dinner, the type of meal you would normal have would have around 4 different dishes, while having guest over may call for two full courses to be served, each having around 14 dishes. The amount of dishes during a course would vary depending on the number of people present at the dinner.  A large amount of food was usually offered at every area of the table due to it being considered rude to reach too far, or even to pass a dish.  Books during this time would even display full course table setting templates, such as The Practice of Cooking form 1800.  Dessert always followed dinner no matter the number of courses.  Dessert was usually “dried fruits, nuts, and sweet and spicy confections.”  Dessert time is when wine seems to appear as well.  Once dinner was completed the ladies would withdrawal from the men in the dining room to have their own “social hour” in a different room, such as the drawing-room; leaving the men to smoke, drink, and talk about things that shouldn’t be discussed in front of women.  The men would eventually join the women in the drawing-room.  The time between dinner and the next meal was referred to as ‘afternoon.’

Our next “meal” (if it can really be called that) is ‘tea’; this was considered an event to their evenings.  This bit of information is actually rather interesting.  This is the British tea time that we hear so much about, and I for one expected it to be earlier in the day, and not towards the end.  Though this meal is referred to as tea, coffee is usually served as well.  This meal usually took place a few hours after dinner.  The women of the family giving the dinner would make the tea or coffee, and small foods were usually offered such as bread and butter, rolls, muffins, cakes, or some other type of sweets.

The last meal of day was called ‘supper.’  The items that a supper consisted of really would depend on how late dinner was.  In most cases, with a late evening meal, a “tray of elegant light refreshments” such as cold meat, wine, wine and water, and sometime hot soup would be provided.  Patricia Meyer Spacks describes this meal as, “a relatively light meal, served several hours after dinner-perhaps nine or ten P.M.” Honestly, supper would be held very late for a group of people attending a ball or for families that held dinner earlier, such as Jane Austen’s family that had dinner around 3:30 P.M.” Supper was a very old custom even during the time that Jane Austen was alive, and many people did not have supper, unless it was wine, or wine mixed into something to help the person sleep better during the night. 

Appendix 1:

Sample Menus

Breakfast Sample Menu

Chocolate (Hot Cocoa)                                                   Excellent rolls (hot or cold)

Coffee                                                                                     Neat’s tongue

Tea                                                                                          Bread and butter

Plum Cake                                                                            Dry toast

Pound Cake

Lunch Sample Menu

Ham Pie                                                                                              Boiled fowls

Potted ham and chicken                                                              Selection of summer fruits

Roast Chicken                                                                                   Ale or mead

High Social Status Dinner Sample Menu

First Course:

Beans                                                                                      Beef rumps en matelotte

Shoulder of mutton surprised                                      Fricando of veal

Cod with onions                                                                   Leg of lamb

Mock turtle soup                                                                 Roast leveret

Tongue                                                                                     Asparagus soup

Second Course:

Vegetable racoo                                                                      Cherry tart

Ducks or tartlets                                                                      Eggs and spinach

Crawfish                                                                                       French beans

Turkey or haunch of venison                                              Cheese cake

Transparent pudding or currant pie                                 Mushrooms

Tea Sample Menu

Tea                                                                                          Chocolate biscuits

Coffee                                                                                     Orange biscuits

Plum Cake                                                                             Fine little cakes

Sample Menu for a Ball Supper

Such as the one that Mr. Bingley has at Netherfield where “white soup” is mentioned.

Cold roast chicken                                                                  Salad

Cold roast ham                                                                        Scolloped potatoes

White soup                                                                              Apple pie

Fried patties                                                                            Orange pudding

Scotch collops a la Francoise                                           Sandwiches

Ducks a la mode                                                                     Punch

Roast leveret                                                                           Negus

Pigeon pie                                                                                 Wine

Appendix 2:


Pound Cake

Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way till it is like a fine thick cream; then have ready twelve eggs, but half the whites, beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat in it, a pound of sugar, and a few caraways; beat all well together for an hour with you hand, or a great wooden spoon, butter pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven.  For change, you may put in a pound of currants, clean washed and picked.

Modern Recipe

1 lb. butter, softened                                                                           1 lb. flour

6 eggs                                                                                                         1 lb. sugar

6 egg yolks                                                                                              1 T caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cream the butter in a mixing bowl.  Add the eggs and egg yolks and blend well.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and caraway seeds, and then add these dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture.  Stir until just combined.  Pour the batter into a greased Bundt pan and bake for 30 minutes.  Then reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees F and back 30 minutes more or until the cake is well browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

Potted Ham and Chicken

Take as much lean of a boiled ham as you please, and half the quantity of fat, cut it as thin as possible, beat it very fine in a mortar, with a little oiled butter, beaten mace, pepper, and salt, put part of it into a China pot, then beat the white part of a fowl with a very little seasoning; it is to qualify the ham; put a lay of chicken, then one of ham, then chicken at the top, press it hard down, and when it is cold, pour clarified butter over it; when you send it to the table, cut out a thin slice in the form of half a diamond, and lay it round the edge of your pot.


Modern Recipe

½ lb. cooked ham                                                                                ½ tsp. mace

¼ lb. lard                                                                                                 1 tsp. pepper, in all

½ lb. cooked chicken                                                                          1 ½ tsp. salt, in all

1 stick (1/4 lb.) butter plus 2 T, in all

Melt 2 T of the butter.  In a food processor, puree this butter along with the ham, the lard, the mace, and ½ tsp. each of the pepper and salt.  Turn the mixture out into a bowl and wipe the food processor clean.  Put the chicken, ½ tsp. pepper, and 1 tsp. salt into the food processor and puree.

Melt the remaining 1 stick of butter and pour off the clear melted butter, leaving the milk solids behind.  Spoon a layer of ham into a ramekin or other container and make it smooth and flat with the back of the spoon.  Then add a layer of pureed chicken, then a second layer of ham, then finally a second layer of chicken.  Pour clarified butter over the second layer of chicken and refrigerate.

The potted meat can be eaten on its own or spread on sandwiches.

Shoulder of Mutton Surprised

Put a shoulder of mutton, having first half boiled it, into a tossing-pan, with two quarts of veal gravy, four ounces of rice, a little beaten mace, and a tea-spoonful of mushroom powder.  Stew it an hour, or till the rice be enough, and then take up you mutton, and keep it hot.  Put to the rice half a pint of cream, and a piece of butter rolled in flour.  Then shake it well, and boil it a few minutes.  Lay your mutton on the dish, and pour your gravy over it.  You may garnish with either pickles or barberries.

Modern Recipe

1 bonless leg of lamb, about 4 lbs.                                          1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 quarts beef broth                                                                       3 T butter rolled in 1 ½ T flour

4 oz. rice                                                                                            1 dill pickle diced; or ¼ cup

1 tsp. mushroom powder                                                      barberries (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the lamb and cook for 20 minutes.  Remove the lamb and place it in a somewhat smaller pot (preferably nonstick) along with the beef broth, rice, and mushroom powder.  Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low and cook, covered, for 1 hour.  Remove the lamb from the pot and set it on a serving platter.

Skim the remaining sauce.  Add the cream and the floured butter to the sauce and warm over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.  Pour the sauce over and around the lamb and garnish, if desired, with pickles or barberries.

Chocolate Biscuits

Take six eggs, and put the yolks of four into one pan, and the whites of the whole six into another; add to the yolks and ounce and a half of chocolate, bruised very fine, with six ounces of fine sugar; beat the whole together well, and then put in the whites of your eggs whipt to a froth: when they are ell mingled stir in by little and little six ounces of flour, and put your biscuits upon white paper, like spoon biscuits…or in little paper moulds buttered: throw over a little fine sugar, and bake them in an oven moderately heated.


Modern Recipe

4 egg yolks                                                                                                      6 oz. sugar

6 egg whites                                                                                                    6 oz. flour

1 ½ oz. unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks, cocoa, and sugar until they are thoroughly combined.  In a mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold them into the chocolate mixture.  Gently fold in the flour and scoop the mixture by scnat ¼ cups onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets or into greased muffin cups.  Bake 30 minutes, rotation the baking sheets midway through the baking time.

            Note: These biscuits are also good if the flour is omitted.

White Soup

Put a knuckle of veal, a large fowl, and a pound of lean bacon into a saucepan with six quarts of water, half a pound of rice, two anchovies, a few pepper-corns, a bundle of sweet herbs, two or three onions, and three or four head of celery, cut in slices, and stew them till the soup is as strong as you wish, and then strain it through a hair sieve into an earthen pan.  Let it stand all night; the next day skim it clean, and pour it into a stewpan.  Put in half a pound of sweet almonds, beat fine, boil it a quarter of an hour, and strain it through a lawn sieve.  Then put in a pint of cream and the yolk of an egg, stir all together, boil it a few minutes, then port it into the tureen, and serve it.


Modern Recipe

6 quarts water                                                                               3 sprigs fresh sage

1 veal or beef soup bone                                                           3 sprigs fresh parsley

1chicken ( or 2-4 lbs. misc. leftover poultry bits)         3 onions, peeled and halved

1 lb. Canadian bacon or ham                                                  2 heads celery, sliced crosswise into 1”

½ lbs. rice                                                                                       pieces

2 anchovy filets                                                                           ½ lb. blanched almonds

1 tsp. whole black peppercorns                                            2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 egg yolk

Place all ingredients except the almonds, cream, and egg yolks in a large stock pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 3 hours.  Strain the broth through a cheesecloth-lined colander and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, skim off the congealed fat.  Return the broth to a stock pot and warm over medium heat.  Meanwhile, grind the almonds to a fine powder in a food processor.  Add the almonds to the broth and simmer 30 minutes.  Mix the egg yolk into the cream, add the egg-cream mixture, and warm until the soup just begins to bubble again.  Pour into a tureen and serve immediately.

A Good Crust for Great Pies

To a peck of flour add the yolks of three eggs, then boil some water, and put in half a pound of fried suet, and a pound and a half of butter; skim off the butter and suet, and as much of the liquor as will make a light good crust; work it up well, and roll it out.

Modern Recipe

16 cups flour                                                                                       ¼ lb. lard or suet

2 egg yolks                                                                                          ¾ lb. butter

3 to 4 cups water, in all

Measure the flour into a very large bowl.  Add the egg yolks and crumble the yolks into the flour with your fingers until the liquid is very well distributed through the flour.  In a saucepan, heat 2 cups of water, the lard or suet, and the butter until all the fats are melted.  Remove the saucepan from the stove and allow the mixture to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Pour the liquid into the bowl of flour in stages.  Pour about a cup in, stir it into the top of the flour, and incorporate more flour with your hands to make a sturdy but not overly stiff dough.  Set that portion of the dough aside and add more of the warm liquid.  Continue in this manner until all of the liquid has been added to the flour, and add up to 2 cups of cold water, a little at a time, until all the flour has been moistened and the dough is evenly mixed.  The pastry should be thick and not sticky but not too hard to roll or shape.

Appendix 3:


Mushroom powder: You cannot purchase this item at any grocery story, but you can take dry mushroom and place them in the food processor until it becomes a powder.

*Special thanks to Kristin Olsen, author of Cooking with Jane Austen, for all of the recipes.


1 Comment so far
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This was very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Comment by Holly

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