It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune will probably go for dessert too, as the opening line of Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice almost goes. But why the reference to dessert? Well, Dear Reader, it appears I’ve been baking (again)…
Fun fact before we continue, I baked this on the 16th December, which just happens to coincide with Jane Austen’s birthday!
Now, on with with the adventure!
The Jane Austen Cookbook?
A little while ago, I was sent an email from my friend Rosie with “Your Next Baking Challenge” in the subject line. Intrigued, I opened said email and was delighted by a link to a blog by the Jane Austen House Museum detailing the Austen family’s recipe for Pudding in Verse.
Yes, you read that correctly. A rhyming recipe for pudding.
The recipe comes from Martha LLoyd’s Housebook, which is on display at the Jane Austen House Museum as part of their The Year of at Home with the Austens. Martha was Jane’s sister-in-law-once-removed (James – Jane’s elder brother- married one Mary Lloyd. Martha is Mary’s sister).
Martha Lloyd lived with Jane, Cassandra (another Austen sibling) and their mother (who, confusingly, is also called Cassandra) at Chawton in what is now the Jane Austen House Museum.
And who do you think wrote this charming recipe?
You might be surprised to learn it wasn’t Jane. No, it was Cassandra Sr. Jane’s mother!
Below is a transcript if you’re feeling inspired:
A Receipt for a Pudding in Verse
If the Vicar you treat,
You must give him to eat,
A pudding to his affection,
And to make his repast,
By the canon of taste,
Be the present receipt your direction.
First take 2 lbs of bread,
Be the crumb only weigh’d,
For crust the good housewife refuses.
The proportions you’ll guess
May be made more or less
To the size the family chuses.
Then its sweetness to make;
Some currants you take,
And sugar of each half a pound
Be not butter forgot,
And the quantity sought
Must be the same wit your currants be found.
Cloves and mace you will want,
With rose water I grant,
And more savoury things if well chosen.
Then to bind each ingredient,
You’ll find it expedient,
Of eggs to put in half a dozen.
Some milk, don’t refuse it,
But boil as you use it,
A proper hint for the maker.
And the whole, when compleat
With care recommend the Baker.
In praise of this pudding,
I vouch it a good one,
Or should you suspect a fond word,
To every guest,
Perhaps it is best,
Two puddings should smoke on the board.
Two puddings! – yet – no,
For if one will do
The other comes in out of season;
And these lines but obey,
Nor can anyone say,
That this pudding’s without rhyme or reason.
Baking with Jane
Charming though the recipe is, with its quick flowing, not-quite-a-limerick cadence, it took me a while to decipher the actual bits of salient info I need to bake the darn thing! So, after some research, some copious note making and a generous application of yellow highlighter I was left with something a bit more user-friendly.
The 2lbs of bread seemed excessive so I halved everything – and the result is still enough to feed, if not the 5,000 then maybe at least 3457.
No cooking times were mentioned, so I popped it in the oven at Gas Mark 4 for about an hour.
And the results, well, see for yourself!
A final note: there were a couple of titles floating around for this post, possible titles included “Nort-Hunger Abbey”, “Reader, I ate it” (from Conrad) and “Pudding and Prejudice”.