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Negus at a Ball

Cassandra Bates, our treasurer, has shared another wonderful recipe from the past for Negus.  Whether you can attend the dance this Saturday March 9 or not, this seems like a most intriguing recipe to try at a ball or at home.  Let us know if you try to make it and how it turns out.

“There were more Dancers than the Room could conveniently hold, which is enough to constitute a good Ball at any time.”

Letter to Cassandra, January 9, 1799

Even though in the Inland Northwest, Spring seems far away, but it will be here soon and that will bring flowers, new plant growth, green grass, and warmth. In Jane Austen’s time springtime was also the most active time for the London Season, which meant Balls! Food at Regency Balls ranged from simple fare to elegant dinner settings. Since it is still cold here in the Inland Northwest, here is a recipe for Negus. Negus is a mulled wine of sorts invented by Col. Francis Negus in the early 18th century. During Jane Austen’s time it was a popular beverage at Balls, however it slowly lost favor and became a popular children’s drink (not recommended).

To Make Negus:

“To every pint of port wine, allow 1 quart of boiling water, 1/4lb. of sugar, 1 lemon, grated nutmeg to taste.

Put the wine into a jug and rub some lumps of sugar (equal to 1/4lb.) on the lemon rind until all the yellow part of the skin is absorbed, then squeeze the juice, and strain it. Add the sugar and lemon-juice to the port wine, with the grated nutmeg; pour it over the boiling water, cover the jug and, when the beverage has cooled a little, it will be fit for use.”

From Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861

Negus is mentioned in Mansfield Park, in Jane Austen’s inimitable description of Fanny leaving the ball where she danced with Henry Crawford (pictured below at the beginning of the dance in a Brock illustration):

Shortly afterwards, Sir Thomas was again interfering a little with her inclination by advising her to go immediately to bed.  “Advise” was his word, but it was the advice of absolute power, and she had only to rise and, with Mr. Crawford’s very cordial adieus, pass quietly away; stopping at the entrance door, like the Lady of Branxholm Hall, “one moment and no more,” to view the happy scene, and take a last look at the five or six determined couple, who were still hard at work–and then, creeping slowly up the principle staircase, pursued by the ceaseless country-dance, feverish with hopes and fears, soup and negus, sore-footed and fatigued, restless and agitated, yet feeling, in spite of every thing, that a ball was indeed delightful” (280-81, Oxford Edition).

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Fun, Uncategorized

Holiday Cooking

Our new treasurer, Cassandra Bates, enjoys Regency cooking.  Here is her blog post about black butter:

Shortly after Christmas, Jane Austen wrote her sister, Cassandra, about an evening party at her brother’s house in Southampton:

“The last hour, spent in yawning and shivering in a wide circle round the fire, was dull enough, but the tray had admirable success. The widgeon and the preserved ginger were as delicious as one could wish. But as to our black butter, do not decoy anybody to Southampton by such a lure, for it is all gone. The first pot was opened when Frank and Mary were here and proved not at all what it ought to be; it was neither solid nor entirely sweet, and on seeing it Eliza remembered that Miss Austen had said she did not think it had been boiled enough. It was made, you know, when we were absent. Such being the event of the first pot, I would not save the second, and we therefore ate it in unpretending privacy; and though not what it ought to be, part of it was very good.“ Jane Austen to Cassandra, December 27, 1808

The Black butter that Jane Austen referenced in her letter to Cassandra is not what one might think (a sauce of blackened butter), but rather a thick, dark conserve of fruit, often apples (much like American Apple Butter). The other is a French style “beurre noir” and is a sauce of brown butter (if it goes black it is ruined, why the name, who knows, French Culinary).

Below is a rather traditional Black Butter similar to the one in Jane Austen’s letter:

Take 4 pounds of full ripe apples, and peel and core them. Meanwhile put into a pan 2 pints of sweet cider, and boil until it reduces by half. Put the apples, chopped small, to the cider. Cook slowly stirring frequently, until the fruit is tender, as you can crush beneath the back of a spoon. Then work the apple through a sieve and return to the pan adding 1lb beaten (granulated) sugar and spices as following, 1 teaspoon clove well ground, 2 teaspoons cinnamon well ground, 1 saltspoon (about ¼ tsp) allspice well ground. Cook over low fire for about ¾ hour, stirring until mixture thickens and turns a rich brown. Pour the butter into small clean jars, and cover with clarified butter when cold. Seal and keep for three months before using. By this time the butter will have turned almost black and have a most delicious flavour. –  Maria Hubert von Staufer March 1995