Banquet of Lies ~ A Preposterous Premise, and yet a Delightful Read

Banquet of Lies CoverBanquet of Lies by Michelle Deiner is more Regency historical romance than traditional Regency, nor is it particularly old, having a copyright date of 2013, and it is not inspirational in the spiritual realm of reading. It is, however, a clean read, well-written, and romping good fun, if you like suspense with your Regency romance, which I do; thus, in my efforts to introduce you to Regency romances that are clean, entertaining, and well-written, if not inspirational, I present this story.

1812. In order to discover who murdered her diplomat father, Gigi Barrington heads to London disguised as a chef. She works in Lord Aldridge’s kitchen, hiding in plain sight. But as she closes in on her quarry, Aldridge’s romantic advances complicate matters.

This is a preposterous premise. I honestly don’t think even a young lady with this heroine’s background would be a good enough cook during the Regency to take on the role of head chef in a nobleman’s kitchen.

For someone like me who says one can get away with a lot as long as it is historically feasible, not that it actually happened, to say I enjoyed this book is a little shocking. I don’t think this is historically feasible, but then, we often suspend our disbelief in exchange for a good story.

Banquet of Lies is one of those stories—fast-paced; lovable characters; suspense and, of course, romance all dropped into the middle of Regency London.

Now here at the end of this little post I do have to confess that I picked up this book to read partly because I also indulged in the preposterosity of having a secondary character in A Necessary Deception (Regency romance from Baker/Revell 2012) who is a female chef from a good family there for the purpose of keeping an eye on someone.

My chef wasn’t planned. She simply popped onto the page and wouldn’t leave.  Because of the release dates, I think this is mere coincidence, rather a fascinating uptake from the ether.

Have you read Banquet of Lies? What did you think of it?

The Cravat ~ More than just a necktie

Kristi here. If you’ve ever read a Regency you’ve come across a man wearing a cravat. It’s a staple of early 19th century menswear. We know it goes around the neck. We know a man would be underdressed without one. And you’ve probably come across one described as “intricately tied” or some variation thereof.

But what did they actually look like?

Cravats were a great deal more than the precursor to the modern necktie. They were a fashion statement and one of the most changeable features of menswear at the time.

Louis XIV with his new neckwear.
Louis XIV with his new neckwear.

When the cravat first crossed the channel from France it was a simple thing, resembling a scarf knotted around the neck.

Louis XIV of France adopted the fashion after dealings with Croatia. It had the double benefit of being more comfortable than the stiff collars as well as sending all the men scrambling to change fashions.

The idea changed over the years, becoming a simple rectangle of fabric attached behind the neck at one point.

By the time Beau Brummel got ahold of it, the cravat had become much more. Some knots required a hour to tie correctly. Starch also came into play helping the collars and cravats maintain sharp creases and points as well as height. It was not uncommon for collar points to reach into the cheek area.

During the Regency, an intricately tied cravat became more of a fashion statement than an overly embellished neckcloth.

In 1818, an entire book was published on the tying of cravats and neckcloths. Another was published in 1828.

Neckclothitania (1818)

The Art of Tying the Cravat (1828) (Unfortunately some of the pictures are missing from this copy. One is below. You can see the rest here.)

neckcloths

cravatBecause of the starched nature of the Regency cravat, a man could go through several cloths in a day.

If a mistake was made in the tying, an incorrect crease would be visible, requiring him to start afresh.

If he changed clothes or the cravat became limp, he had to start again. All to obtain male fashion perfection.

Kind of makes the hassle of tying a tie today seem a little less bothersome.

The idea of a fancy knot is coming back into fashion though. Have you seen the Eldredge or Trinity knots? Or even the return of a real bowties? They could make a man long for the days of cravats and valets.

EldridgeKnot

But they sure do look cool.

 

Christmas Regency fiction – Is there any? by Susan Karsten

Hi, all!

When the topic of Christmas and other holidays in regency genre books came up, I merely opened the hutch of my escritoire (regency for desk) and pulled out four collections (see below)

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These are not CBA (inspirational) fiction, but rather ABA (general market, not inspirational, and probably a little racy).

I hope our inspy Regency genre grows to the point where collections like the above will be highly sought-after and we will have a chance to have a chance for our faith-filled novella  to be published in such a collection.

What do you like best about Christmas-set fiction?

Please give an answer in a comment.

Susan Karsten

Regency White Soup

White Soup.001

There is a line in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Bingley is talking about the ball he plans to host at Netherfield:

“If you mean Darcy,” cried her brother, “he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins—but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough, I shall send round my cards.”

I then found these two fascinating articles on white soup from the Jane Austen Centre and the Austenonly blog. I decided to try making it!

I followed the recipe from the book by John Farley, published in 1811, The London Art of Cookery and Domestic Housekeepers’ Complete Assistant : uniting the principles of elegance, taste, and economy : and adapted to the use of servants, and families of every description. You can download the scan of the original book from the link.

Here’s the original recipe:

White Soup.

PUT a knuckle of veal into six quarts of water, with a large fowl, a pound of lean bacon, half a pound of rice, two anchovies, a few pepper-corns, a bundle of sweet herbs, two or three onions, and three or four heads of celery cut in slices. Stew all together, till the soup is as strong as you would have it, and then strain it through a hair sieve into a clean earthen pot: let it stand all night, skim off the fat, and pour it into a stewpan. Put in half a pound of Jordan almonds beat fine, simmer a little, and run it through a tamis: add a pint of cream and the yolk of an egg, and send it up hot.

Also, it mentions a few pages earlier:

“In the preparation of white soup, remember never to put in your cream till you take your soup off the fire, and the last thing you do, must be the dishing of your soups. ”

My foray into White Soup:

I didn’t have a pot large enough to hold an entire chicken and 6 quarts of water, so I halved the recipe:

1 package of beef shank, 1 pound (When looking up what a “knuckle of veal” was, I found this online: “Look for veal shank. The main thing for your stock is to get bones with a good deal of marrow. Knuckles, by the way, typically need to be cracked, whereas the shanks are often sold in 2″to 3″ pieces, so the marrow is already exposed.”)

2.5 pounds chicken thighs, in lieu of half a chicken

1/2 pound bacon, chopped

1/4 pound rice

2 anchovy fillets (I assumed the recipe meant 2 entire anchovies, so I minced 2 fillets)

5-6 peppercorns

A handful of minced fresh basil. I wanted to also add fresh thyme but didn’t have any, so I added a teaspoon of dried thyme.

1 large onion, diced

2 bunches of celery, chopped (When I was chopping, it seemed like a lot of celery, but then I started the soup and realized it’s a lot of soup, so 2 entire bunches of celery ended up not being all that much.)

3 quarts of water

I put everything in my stock pot on high heat, raised it to a boil, then put the heat to medium and simmered it. My stock pot was extremely full—in fact, I kept back one of the celery bunches and let the soup simmer for about an hour to reduce the water volume, then added the rest of the celery.

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I wasn’t entirely sure how long is “as strong as you would have it,” so I looked it up in my Williams-Sonoma cookbook, which said that a typical meat stock takes about 3.5-4 hours of simmering, partially covered. So I simmered for 4 hours, partially covered.

The soup got thick pretty quick, probably from the rice, so that it was more like a stew than a soup. Also, like when you make rice on the stovetop, the bottom burned. Sigh. I should have expected that.

I strained the solids only through a metal colander, and then I forgot to put the soup in the fridge to let the fats solidify on the top so I could skim it off. Sigh again.

I was a bit surprised at how little soup there was, but then I’d looked at how much solids I had, and it made more sense.

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Put 1/4 pound of raw almonds in my blender with 1/3 cup water and pulsed until it was all ground up, then added that to the soup. In hindsight, I should have used blanched almonds so the soup would be more “white.” I then brought it to a boil and simmered it, covered, for 15 minutes.

Strained the almonds using a wire strainer, which was a rather tedious process. Belatedly put in the fridge to solidify the fats so I could skim them off.

I whisked the egg yolk, then tempered it by adding a little at a time into the hot soup, whisking in between until the yolk was hot enough, then whisked all of it into the soup.

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Result:

It tastes fabulous! It’s extremely creamy and rich even though there’s only 1 cup of cream for the entire pot of soup, I think because of the rice and almonds that thickened it. The meat flavor and the almond flavor both come through. It’s extremely elegant as a cream soup—it deserves fine china and silver cutlery.

I had saved the meat, veggies, and rice because I couldn’t bear to throw them away. I stripped the meat off the bones and shredded it. Then I added it all back to the soup to make it more stew-y and significantly less elegant. Mr. Darcy would be appalled, but Captain Caffeine was pleased by the result.

For next time:

This would have been an expensive soup in Jane Austen’s day, because of the amount of meat in it. And there isn’t even meat in the soup itself! It was a bit pricey even for today. It was also rather tedious to make.

Next time, I think I would instead make stock using my pressure cooker. I’d put in chicken bones instead of the raw chicken pieces. I might still use beef shanks because of the exposed marrow, plus they weren’t very expensive since there’s hardly any meat on them.

I’d probably stick everything in the pressure cooker except for the almonds, cream, and egg, but I’m not sure if my pot would hold everything so I might have to quarter the recipe in terms of the amounts of the other ingredients. Then after cooking, I’d continue the rest of the recipe.

Or if I can’t fit everything into the pressure cooker, I might simply make broth in the pressure cooker with just the beef and chicken bones, then simmer the clear stock with the other ingredients—but for considerably less time—and then continue with the almonds, egg yolk and cream.

Also, I think instead of cream I’d use whole milk, which would make it less rich and decadent and be a little cheaper.

Even easier …

You could probably just get packaged beef broth and packaged chicken broth, mix them in a pot, and simmer the other ingredients (sans the chicken and beef since you already have broth). Then continue the recipe as written, but reduce the amount of time you simmer it.

What do you think? Would you make “white soup” like Mr. Bingley?

This is the Way We Wash Our Clothes… Or Is It? Laundry in Regency England

Kristi here. One of the worst things about taking a long trip is the amount of laundry you have to do when you return. As annoying as I find the chore, at least I get to walk away after throwing the clothes in the washer.

No such luck for the Regency era laundress.

WashingMachinePrior to the 19th century, laundry had pretty much been done the same way. Soak it, boil it, beat it with a rock. No wonder they wore their clothes dirty.

Thank God for the beginnings of the industrial revolution and all those crafty souls that saw a chance to make money by making laundry easier. They crated the forerunners to the oh-so-convenient machine I have today.

Some of the earliest advertisements for washing machines are from England in the 1790s. It was basically a barrel with a crank that would turn the paddles in the barrel, agitating the clothes in the water. Still a lot of work, but you could clean more than one or two garments at a time. The arrangement of the paddles allowed for more efficient washing as well, requiring less lye, less hot water, and less brutality.

Good news for the wearers of delicate muslin dresses.

Clothes were still hung or laid out to dry as an effective dryer was still a few years away.

Do you still do any of your washing by hand? Do you use a clothesline?