Purification or Poison?

“Mince-pie..is as essential to Christmas, as..tansy to Easter.”

(Quoted from The Connoisseur’” Magazine in 1767, by http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/tansy,ortansypudding.htm)*

Besides the deep spiritual significance of Easter lies the cultural traditions that arise from every holiday and holyday possible in every culture. Most of these traditions center around specific foods. Yet why these foods?

HamOne common Easter tradition is to serve ham. Yes, it makes a great deal of sense in that it’s easy to prepare for a large crowd; however, the reason why ham became a traditional Easter meal is that, after a long winter past harvest and slaughter, ham was one of the few meats still edible in the larder.

Likewise we have the lamb. The lamb being slaughtered and consumed holds numerous spiritual aspects with Jesus being the Lamb of God, who was slain for our sins. It is also a Passover food. And spring lambs would have been abundant in a country like England awash in sheep.

I won’t get into the coloring and consuming of eggs at Easter. Eggs do symbolize life, which is the entire meaning of Easter—eternal life through the Resurrection; however, the coloring of eggs in spring holds its roots firmly in pagan culture.

tansiesOne Easter tradition that seems to have died out—and with rather good reason—is the consumption of tansy.

Tansy is an herb with yellow flowers and lobed leaves that closely resemble ferns. Tansy holds some disputed medical benefits. And tansy is also a poison.

At first, tansy was eaten during lent to symbolize the bitter herbs. Later, it was baked into a pudding. I have found numerous recipes for tansy pudding from ancient housekeeping books, and included a couple in Friday’s upcoming post. These look rather like baked omelets.

Why tansy? For one thing, it was usually in leaf by Easter. More importantly, though, tansy is a purgative, a purifying agent. In small doses, it cleanses the system of parasites and other unwanted guests like bacteria. After a winter of eating salt-preserved and smoked meats, dried apples and root vegetables, people probably had collected a worm or two in their systems. (I know—ee-ew.) A slab of tansy pudding, and a body would feel far better. Two slices of tansy pudding, and a body would quite possibly be dead.

Be sure to come back Friday and see what it actually took to make the Tansy puddings.

Photos from Wikimedia Commons

Christmas Bells (December Bells) Are Ringing

When I think of Christmas Time, the lilt of bells and the memories I associate with them flood my mind. A warmth grips me, hugging me tighter than my best spencer. To me, bells always sound happy, giving an ethereal lightness and glow to the heart of the hearer. I prefer the sounds of cast bells. Their song is richer and more full-bodied than their thin sheet-metal cousins.

England is steeped in both, and bell-ringing is a part of the culture and history. The tradition of casting English bells predates the Middle Ages. Today, two of her best bellfounders survive, Taylors of Loughborough (1400) and Mears and Stainbank of Croydon (1570).

Moreover, bells and bell-ringing played a role in Regency life.  Bells rang to announce a church service. This service would be on Christmas Day as oppose to the Christmas Eve masses we are accustomed to.

I can imagine hearing the peal (the loud prolonged ringing) of St. George’s eight hemispherical bells tolling on the morn of December 25. Maybe the bell ringers would perform a change ringing where they would display a festive pattern of bell tolls.  It wouldn’t be a familiar holiday tune but an exquisite series of tones set to a rhythm indicative of the ringers’ skills. Change ringing is still popular today, in England and around the world.

Church bells would also ring for weddings. Although, it would probably be unusual (in my opinion), I couldn’t find any prohibitions to having a Christmas Day wedding. If Christmas fell on a Sunday after the banns have been successfully read, what cleric would stop the couple and delay the ringing of another successful match?

Amidst the joy, bells of London could also possess a seamy side. They are said to have been rung at Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam) announcing to gawkers to come stare at the mentally unstable patients. I would hope that Christmas Day would be spared, but not the whole of December.

Perhaps after leaving St. George’s, if I were walking toward a coffee shop, a Morris dancer (or a troupe of Morris dancers) would perform in front of me. The bells strapped below their knees would tinkle with each of their merry steps. The Morris dancer tradition dates back to 15th Century in England. Its earliest notations suggests it was a dance that both men and women could partake in, but at the time of the Regency, it was mostly a male endeavor.

Walking a little farther, I might hear bells strapped to a horse team or the ringing of bells on residences which have not installed a doorknocker.   Those households wouldn’t have the advance warning of the importance of their visitor, as a footman’s successive knocks would detail, just the egalitarian jingle for all who darken their thresholds. Well, hopefully these homes are prepared for all coming to sup for Christmas dinner.

Trudging a little farther, I hear a dull peal, one laced with sorrow. Bells were also used to announce deaths. Continuing a tradition started in the Middle Ages, church bells were rung to drive away evil spirits from the departed souls. My heart breaks for anyone losing a loved one, particularly during a season meant for love of family and friends. My continued prayer is for the families of Newtown, Connecticut. Here at Regency Reflections/ChristianRegency.com our hearts are broken, too.  The ringing of twenty-six bells are too many.

References:

RWA’s Beau Monde Chapter

Oxford’s City Branch of Church Bell Ringers

Central Council of Church Bell Ringers

Forrest, John. The History of Morris Dancing, 1483–1750. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1999.

 

Holiday Traditions: From Regency England to Present Day

I smile as I type this post today, because it is with great fondness that I look back on some of my childhood memories.

When I was six or seven and we gathered around the table on Christmas Eve to eat lamb and fruitcake and Yorkshire pudding, I hardly realized one day I’d be writing books set near the Regency Period of British history. So there I was, a young child scrunching up my nose at the funny shaped golden blobs that didn’t resemble pudding at all but were called pudding, grumbling that the lamb tasted funny, and complaining that thew fruitcake didn’t look much like cake. But my English grandmother beamed throughout the entire meal, telling us how she used to eat these foods every Christmas when she was growing up.

During Regency days, goose, venison and beef would have been the prevalent meat at Christmas feasts, not lamb. Yorkshire pudding was a common food for the lower classes, and wouldn’t have been served in aristocratic households. But these food were around (along with other familiar Christmas foods like eggnog and gingerbread) and somehow they filtered across the Atlantic with my great grandparents and down through the years onto our dining room table when I was younger. The thought makes me want to whip up a batch of Yorkshire pudding and introduce it to my family this year.

So now I’m curious about you and your holiday traditions. Last week Kristi posted on Christmas carols that we still sing today, and Laurie Alice posted recipes for chocolate drops, confectionery drops, and white soup that many of us probably still enjoy come the holiday season.

What Regency traditions do you and your families take part in come Christmas time?

Christmas Candy Regency Style by Laurie Alice Eakes

Confectioner's Shop

We are so used to those luscious candies we justify eating at Christmas time—fudge, Godiva chocolates, cherry cordials, etc.—that we don’t consider how little chocolate was available during the Regency, and certainly not in cream-filled or even buttery forms. Mostly, chocolate was for drinking.

Here, however, are two recipes for candies that might have been made at Christmas time—confectionary and chocolate drops.

 

 

 

To Make Confectionary Drops

Dutch cocoa

Take double refined sugar, pound and sift it through a hair sieve, not too fine; then sift it through a silk sieve to take out all the fine dust which would destroy the beauty of the drop.  Put the sugar into a clean pan, and moisten it with any favourite aromatic…Colour it with a small quantity of liquid carmine, or any other colour, ground fine. Take a small pan with a lip, fill it three parts with paste, place it on a small stove, the half hole being the size of the pan, and stir the sugar with a little ivory or bone handle, until it becomes liquid.  When it almost boils, take it from the fire and continue to stir it: if it be too moist, take a little of the powdered sugar, and add a spoonful to the paste, and stir it till it is of such a consistence as to run without too much extension.  Have a tin plate, very clean and smooth; take the little pan in the left hand, and hold in the right a bit of iron, copper, or silver wire, four inches long, to take off the drop from the lip of the pan, and let it fall regularly on the tin plate; two hours afterwards, take off the drops with the blade of a knife.

Carl Larsson (1853-1919) - 1904-05 Christmas Eve (National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden)

To Make Chocolate Drops

Scrape the chocolate to powder, and put an ounce to each pound of sugar; moisten the paste with clear water, work it as above, only take care to use all the paste prepared, as if it be put on the fire a second time, it greases, and the drop is not of the proper thickness.

Note: A pound of sugar is about 2 cups by modern measurements. I have no idea how much an ounce of cocoa powder is, but this would be like Hershey’s cocoa powder for baking.

 

And if you want something a little more nutritious to serve before the chocolate, here is a recipe for White Soup that says it is good for all seasons:

WHITE SOUP

1/4 lb. of sweet almonds, 1/4 lb. of cold veal or poultry, a thick slice of stale bread, a piece of fresh lemon-peel, 1 blade of mace, pounded, 3/4 pint of cream, the yolks of 2 hard-boiled eggs, 2 quarts of white stock.

Reduce the almonds in a mortar to a paste, with a spoonful of water, and add to them the meat, which should be previously pounded with the bread.

Beat all together, and add the lemon-peel, very finely chopped, and the mace.

Pour the boiling stock on the whole, and simmer for an hour. Rub the eggs in the cream, put in the soup, bring it to a boil, and serve immediately.

Time – 1-1/2 hour.

Tea and Tulips

Photo: Glam Lamb

Entering my ninth month of pregnancy has had me thinking on the Regency pastimes spent largely indoors – especially those that do not require much by way of physical activity on the part of a typically exhausted, soon-to-be mother of three.

My current pastimes don’t venture far beyond the nearest comfortable chair and as such, stay in the realm of reading, writing novels, blogging and time spent on the occasional bout of Facebook posting. This is why a cozy living room or den (aka, a twenty-first century parlor) is such a grand place to kick-back with a cup of hot tea and a delightful Regency Era book. It’s during these relaxing times that a tea-tray and small vase of cheery flowers are particularly welcome companions!

Care for tea and tulips, perhaps?

Though the Regency Era would have seen a servant delivering a tray for tea time, it wouldn’t have been quite as easy as simply warming a mug of water in the microwave and dropping in a tea bag like we do today. For Regency Era tea times, there was much more to consider:

–   Cost – The practice of drinking tea had been popular in England for well over a century before the Regency Era, but that did not mean that tea was altogether inexpensive.   By the late 1700s, both Thomas and Richard Twining had a great impact on the practice of tea drinking, making it more popular with the opening of a tea shop in 1717 and in the effective lobbying of the government to reduce the high import tax on tea in 1784, which made it somewhat more affordable to the masses (namely, the middle class).  The cost remained steady however, due largely to the British East India Trading Company’s monopoly on tea imports up until 1834.

Photo: Kristy, smiling (and happy!) at Great Britain's Twinings Tea Shop at the Epcot World Showcase (Walt Disney World, Orlando)

–  Time of Day/Menu – The definition of “tea time” varied according to the time of day and type of menu items that accompanied the tea itself.  Usually served between the hours of 5 and 7pm, the High Tea (also known as the “meat tea”) was identified with the early evening meal. It would have been accompanied by a more substantial hot dish such as shepherd’s pie, baked fish or fish and chips, or other savory dish with baked or broiled root vegetables. While Afternoon Tea (or, “low tea”) did not become the fashion until the early 1840s, it’s still worth mentioning in comparison as the foundation for this tea time was laid during the preceding years.

As a lighter version of the traditional High Tea, the Afternoon Tea would have been served to carry one through to the High Tea or later (and more formal) dinner. It would have been accompanied by lighter fare – a snack of finger foods such as seasonal fruit, scones, crumpets, tea sandwiches (cucumber or smoked salmon, for example), biscuits and an assortment of honey, butters, jams, and lemon curds or custard spreads.

Photo: The Foodie Gift Hunter, UK

–  Etiquette – Distinctions between High and Low Tea are commonly referenced to the height of the table used for tea service (though this is not the only distinction noted from multiple sources).  Light Afternoon Tea would have been served outdoors in hospitable weather, either in a garden or at picnic. Indoor tea times would have been served in a less formal setting such as a parlor, study, or salon, and on the low coffee tables often found in these rooms.

– Tea Tidbits – It’s interesting to note that “taking tea” was actually a rather ill-mannered expression at the time. One would have opted for referring to High Tea time rather than the more uncultured phrase. Here’s another tidbit just to make you smile… Though our post is titled to Tea and Tulips, we’re of course referring to the lovely blooms that appear in our window boxes each spring. But in the Regency Era, the word Tulip actually referred to a “fine fellow who dressed quite well”.

There are numerous resources you can turn to for a complete history of tea, though here are a couple of fun links to get you started:

Photo: 18th Century teacup, Wiki Commons

Tea in the Regency

Tea at the Regency Tea Room, The Jane Austen Centre at Bath

Tea with Bea, Bea’s of Bloomsbury (Tea Room and Treats)

The Foodie Gift Hunter, UK (Making Time for Tea)

Twinings Tea, a Twinings History

Association of Tea Bloggers

DIY Tea Wreath (Kojo Designs Craft Project)

With all the tea talk we’ve had, I’m feeling more relaxed than ever. Between the writing and blogging, tea time that is High or Low, and the service in our parlors or salons, I’m ready for a honey-sweetened cup of Twinings best on my own tea-tray. So what’s my Tea and Tulips moment? It’s in the smiles of my children and the care bestowed by my husband that has this soon-to-be mom of three rejoicing. After all, no matter what flavor of tea or time of day, God’s blessings are always on the menu.

What tea flavors your day?

Share your favorite Tea and Tulips moment with us below…

 

In His Love ~

Kristy

 

Beautiful Days

I noticed the tree from more than fifty yards away.

In fact, I’m sure I couldn’t have ignored it had I tried.

Its branches stretched a canopy out over the road. Its leaves had already begun to fall, creating a fiery blanket of orange and yellow on the surrounding grass. And though I hadn’t thought this would happen on a simple drive to the office, I was suddenly enchanted. It was as if the earth had whispered on a last August breeze and I was convinced to pause and appreciate its song. With it, I began to think about the shift from summer to autumn. It reminded me that on mild mornings such as that one, change is right around the corner.

It reminded me of the gift of beautiful days.

As the weather becomes cooler and the days grow short, we’ll soon be drawn indoors for much of our memory making. There will be new smells, tastes, sights and sounds to enjoy – all gifts of the senses that remind us of our blessings and God’s provision through the seasons of the year. As crisp nights and foggy mornings make their first appearance on the landscape, we will pass from the relaxing sanctuary of summer to the lively colors of autumn.  And after all of the fun and frolic we’ve had in our August days here at Regency Reflections, we’re ready to move on and welcome the new season…

In the Regency years, autumn would usher in the enjoyment of tastes such as hartshorn, cranberry, and orange jellies (find tasty Jane Austen Centre at Bath recipes here), Barmbrack (a traditional Irish fruit bread), an array of harvest fruits (apples, pears, currants, apricots and grapes), mulled wines and spiced ciders, nuts, puddings, decadent trifles and warm, sweet confections. (Jam tartlets anyone?)

Can you smell the cinnamon? Perhaps taste the earthy nutmeg as it melts on your tongue? It would have been these new flavors that crossed-over into the harvest season to come.

The changing of seasons would also bring the last thrills of summer before the celebration of fall. Country dances would still be held outside (as long as the weather would hold) and many a Regency family would remain at their country homes through much of the hunting and holiday season, enjoying the great outdoors while the weather was still hospitable enough to entertain.  Young men might be sent off back to school and young girls, usually engaged in a less formal education, would be enriched in their own knowledge with lessons in music, drawing, dancing and language studies at home.

Leaves would still fall and the harvest was still celebrated.

There were still beautiful days.

Other than the fox hunting and hartshorn jelly of course, autumn in the Regency Era isn’t all that different from what we experience today. We’ve probably seen the children heading back to school. Vacations are likely over. It’s back to work through the week and relishing in the leisure on the weekends. Summer has passed and the harvest is here. And in the months to come, the authors of Regency Reflections will explore this beautiful season with you.

As seasons change, remember that memories of the fun and frolic in our summer days will warm the frosty nights to come. Remember that the God worshipped in the Regency Era is the same Father that orchestrates the transition of our seasons today. He creates the color of fallen leaves on our way to work. He generates the wind-whispers and the beauty in our changing days. And yes, His blessings are thoughtfully remembered as the harvest is brought in.

What will you remember most about the fun and frolic of your August summer days? What are you looking forward to celebrating in the new season ahead?

Welcome September, and may we find nothing but the gift of His beautiful days ahead.

~ Kristy

Throw Together a Tradition

Kristi here.

Ask people to list traditional English meals, and you’re very likely to get Shepherd’s Pie in the list right next to Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash, and Yorkshire pudding.

Slice of shepherd's pie and a tomato
Slice of Cottage Pie. Note the meat and vegetables on the bottom layer and the potatoes on the top.

Shepherd’s Pie is really a particular version of a Cottage Pie. Technically, a Shepherd’s Pie should contain lamb or mutton while a Cottage Pie can contain the meat from pretty much any animal, though it usually contains beef.

Simply put, Cottage Pies are a mix of meat and vegetables topped with a heap of mashed potatoes and baked. My family has a recipe for one and lots of people make particular plans to have Cottage Pies for dinner and go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make it.

What I find interesting about that, is that Cottage Pie was originally a thrown together meal used to eat up the leftovers and scraps.

Picture this: The family sits down to eat and the Mom starts dishing up dinner. She says, “Sorry about dinner tonight. I had to sort of throw together whatever I can find. I’ll plan better for tomorrow. I should be able to get to the market in the morning.”

(Yes, I know that is a very modern conversation, but you get the picture.)

Dad and kids tuck in and discover that this is better than the last three meals Mom made. In fact, it’s one of the best! Suddenly the concoction thrown together just so everyone could eat dinner and not be hungry is a family staple.

This happens in our house constantly.

Frequently dinner is a pantry clean-out. Grab a few cans, haul something out of the freezer, throw it together and you have some nourishment. It might be bizarre, but it’ll get the job done.

The other day I did this and ended up trying to remember what I’d done and what all I’d put in it because everyone in the family loved that meal. It is rare that all three of my kids clean their plate, let alone ask for seconds. We devoured this ultra simple meal.

The bonus was that it ended up tasting very similar to a dish my husband loved growing up as a child. His grandparents grew a very distinct type of bean on their farm and it was always served for the bulk of the Sunday afternoon meal.

Just like Cottage Pie, our thrown together meal is now a menu mainstay. It’s purposefully planned and ingredients are bought instead of it being leftovers and forgotten pantry lingerers.

We call it “That turkey and bean dish” right now. Eventually it will get a better name. Want to try it? I’ve included the recipe below.

Have you ever thrown together something at the last minute only to have it be a roaring success?

That Turkey and Bean Dish

Ingredients:

– 1 pound turkey sausage (the kind in the big links, either the horseshoe shape or the two long links.)
– 1 can french cut green beans
– 1 can whole kernel corn
– 1 can black beans
– Spices: Cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper
– butter or margarine

Directions:

– Slice the turkey sausage into bite size pieces. (For me that means half-circles about a half inch thick)
– Brown them in a frying pan
– Sprinkle them with cumin and onion powder

– Drain the green beans and corn
– Drain and rinse the black beans
– Put them in a pot with some butter
– heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally
– Season with cumin, salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder

– Once everything has had a chance to simmer and brown, dump the bean and corn mixture in the frying pan with the sausage.
– Cover and let simmer about 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
– Serve over garlic bread or mashed potatoes

If you give this a try, let me know how it turns out for you. My family loves it!

All photos from WikiCommons.

Ostrich, Eels, Bone Marrow, and Heart – What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?

Food during the Regency period was very different from what a lot of us eat today. If anyone read Ruth’s post on Monday and said, “I totally know how to jugg a pigeon” then they should contact us immediately. There are several Regency authors who would like to talk to you.

In the meantime, we asked our illustrious blog authors to share their worst food memories. We asked them,  “What was the worst thing you ever had to eat?”

Naomi Rawlings
Ostrich. I was traveling in South America at the time. 🙂

Kristy and her pretty plate of Eel
Kristy and her pretty plate of eel

Kristy Cambron
The worst thing I’ve ever had the displeasure of eating? Without question it would have to be eel. My husband and I honeymooned in Cancun, Mexico. I still remember the fabulous food on that trip – except that is, for the “lovely” plate of seafood we received at a gourmet restaurant. (It was plated so beautifully that we actually took a picture of it!) Unfortunately, the majority of the plate included a gray, rubbery, and horrid tasting main course which turned out to be eel. You bet I skipped right to dessert just to drown out the memory of dinner!

Laurie Alice Eakes
Horse meat in Europe. I was a guest, so couldn’t turn it down.

Kristi Ann Hunter
Bone marrow. I was at a restaurant in Switzerland on the edge of Lake Geneva. The plate was gorgeous and the food really good, but on the top of the steak were these little disks in the sauce. I thought they might have been mushroom slices or pieces of water chestnut, so I ate one. I nearly gagged. On our way out I checked the menu and sure enough, there was bone marrow listed in the description.

Large Moose Wading in Lake
Big animal. Big heart. photo: WikiCommons

Jessica Snell
I don’t know about the worst food. Maybe a better question would be, “What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?” My answer is moose heart. And when it was raw, I was able to stick my entire hand in one of the ventricles – those things are huge!

 

Ruth Axtell
I like all foods so can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I really gagged at.

Susan Karsten
The strangest food I have eaten, and enjoyed, is squid. It is also known by the name calamari. You can get it fried, or served in tomato sauce. I have had both and it was good. I would eat it again in a heartbeat.

Have you ever eaten anything that curled your tastebuds and your toes? Chomped down on anything bizarre or strange? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Regency Cookery

English Housewifery Exemplified
In above Four Hundred and Fifty Receipts Giving Directions
for most Parts of Cookery

Elizabeth Moxon

published in 1764.

This cookbook precedes the regency by about 50 years,but I imagine many of these recipes (or “receipts” as they were called then) were still in use.

Scrolling through this cookbook on Project Gutenberg’s site, I found some interesting dishes including:

 HOW TO JUGG PIGEONS.

I wasn’t sure what ‘jugging’ meant. The dictionary has the verb, to jug, meaning stewing meat in an earthenware jug.

Take six or eight pigeons and truss them, season them with nutmeg, pepper and salt.
To make the Stuffing. Take the livers and shred them with beef-suet, bread-crumbs, parsley, sweet-marjoram, and two eggs, mix all together, then stuff your pigeons sowing (sic) them up at both ends, and put them into your jugg with the breast downwards, with half a pound of butter; stop up the jugg close with a cloth that no steam can get out, then set them in a pot of water to boil; they will take above two hours stewing; mind you keep your pot full of water, and boiling all the time; when they are enough clear from them the gravy, and take the fat clean off; put to your gravy a spoonful of cream, a little lemon-peel, an anchovy shred, a few mushrooms, and a little white wine, thicken it with a little flour and butter, then dish up your pigeons, and pour over them the sauce. Garnish the dish with mushrooms and slices of lemon.

 

This is proper for a side dish.

 

How’s this for a little deception, making a rabbit look like a partridge? The only thing is, I have no idea what they mean by cutting off a rabbit’s wings (cutting off its floppy ears?):

Kitchen Still Life with Hares, Fowl, etc. by Cornelis Jacobsz Delff
Dead Hare and Partridges c.1690 Jan Weenix

 

TO DRESS RABBETS TO LOOK LIKE MOOR-GAME.

 

Take a young rabbet, when it is cased cut off the wings and the head; leave the neck of your rabbet as long as you can; when you case it you must leave on the feet, pull off the skin, leave on the claws, so double your rabbet and skewer it like a fowl; put a skewer at the bottom through the legs and neck, and tie it with a string, it will prevent its flying open; when you dish it up make the same sauce as you would do for partridges.

Three are enough for one dish.

 

And for a little dessert:

AN APPLE PUDDING

Take half a dozen large codlins, or pippens, roast them and take out the pulp; take eight eggs, (leave out six of the whites) half a pound of fine powder sugar, beat your eggs and sugar well together, and put to them the pulp of your apples, half a pound of clarified butter, a little lemon-peel shred fine, a handful of bread crumbs or bisket (sic), four ounces of candid orange or citron, and bake it with a thin paste under it.

 

 

The recipe ends there. Perhaps a thin paste is a pastry shell?

 It would have been interesting to sample some of this fare.

 

Home for the (Summer) Holidays

Image: Flower GardenStaycations.

The word has entered our vocabulary in recent years as an attractive and affordable option to the once popular family road trip. Whether it be a jaunt to the beach or that all important theme park visit to stack up some childhood memories, going on holiday has been an important part of our American heritage. But in recent years, this ideal has changed. Due to the American financial crisis in 2007-2010 and the weakening of the British pound in 2009, families have begun to look for alternative and less expensive ways to celebrate their summer holidays a bit closer to home.

Holidays in the Regency Era were somewhat similar in this respect. They could be of the traveling kind of course, with a long carriage ride to a choice location like Jane Austen’s Bath, fashionable Brighton or for a trip into London’s posh Mayfair district to stake out the latest fashions of the day. But there were some holiday options that were quite similar to our modern staycations: trips to the lake for swimming, charming strolls through the gardens, outdoor picnics and even the all-important country ball.

Holidays may have been spent at locations that were closer to home but as you’ll see for a few Regency staycation ideas here, they were anything but second-rate celebrations.

Image: Traving.com 

Country Strolls

Stepping into a staycation was often as easy as popping outside and walking through the garden gates of a Regency Era country home to the generous hills beyond. Often manicured to the level of a grand home in the city, the country garden and estate grounds offered sights and sounds void to the eye during the harsh months of winter. Time spent out of doors would have been prized during the summer holiday months, both for the relaxation of the atmosphere and for the rejuvenating act of walking.

Royal Navy officer John Byng’s 1792 journals boast a lively description of the glories of the simple stroll through the countryside, saying, “to view old castles, old manors and old religious houses, before they be quite gone;  and that I may compare their ancient structures… with the fashions of the day.”

Similar to Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett’s country pilgrimage with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, a well noted tourist route took them past the grounds of Darcy’s Pemberly in the pursuit of appreciating nature. Remember the line, “Oh, what are men compared to rocks and mountains?”  To the Regency mind, it’s almost true. (Almost.) Their pursuit was often more to see the grounds along a tourist route than to spend time inside the grand house. (Mrs. Gardiner even states, “If it were merely a fine house richly furnished,’ said she, ‘I should not care about it myself, but the grounds are delightful.”)

Picnicking  –

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the flourish of blossoming ideals about nature fed the popularity of more than taking the occasional stroll in the garden. It popularized the idea of eating outdoors where one could have a closer communion with God’s creation. In the beginning, picnics were less organized, quiet affairs. But as the popularity of an alfresco lunch became a more sought after invitation to receive, these quiet country lunches evolved into quite elaborate and well-planned out social affairs.

A famous scene in which picnicking takes center stage is the picnic on Box Hill in Jane Austen’s classic novel, Emma. Film adaptations have given this scene a comparably beautiful landscape, as picnickers revel on a sunny hillside and enjoy an afternoon tea time with remarkable views of the English countryside  all around. Like our modern day holiday cookouts, these Regency Era picnics would have boasted attendees  that included family and friends, and would have involved the dining experience alongside amiable outdoor  activities of the day (such as the strawberry picking or archery described in Emma). Even more like our modern idea of the potluck dinner, Regency picnickers would have toted wicker baskets with a dish to share with others (possibly deviled eggs, cold roast, or fruit sandwiches). As these picnic affairs grew more elaborate however, a host would usually organize the dishes to be brought (to eliminate duplication) or would have supplied a carefully selected menu of food altogether.

Click here for a nice anthology of links around Regency Era picnicking {LINK}.

The Country Ball

A spectacular setting. Amiable company. The pleasures of food and fun in the sun – this could easily describe picnicking  just as it could describe the more eloquent evening affair of the country ball.

Country balls could be just as lavish as their city sisters – fine gowns, pristine manners, sumptuous meals and plenty of dancing would have permeated the country ball atmosphere as well as for balls in the city.  Stringed quartets would have played the same upbeat music, though the violin might have been termed the “fiddle” for the playing of country tunes. Dancing was still on the top of the agenda. The jovial camaraderie of friends and family engaging in lively dancing, eating and generally making merry, made the event prized among the staycations of the day.

Click here for more information on Regency Era country balls, as in the ball at Netherfield, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. {LINK}

It’s interesting to note that through all of the country or staycation activities, Regency Era holidays were as much about family, love, and communion with God as ours may be today. We see the value in a quiet country stroll. We have church picnics and family reunions under the great blanket of God’s sky. We even step out ourselves, sometimes all alone, to find private solace in quiet prayer walks with Him.

Whether you’re traveling miles away from home or taking a nap in your backyard hammock, remember how we all value our holidays at home, for we can stay in God’s presence. Wherever we walk, our journey is with Him.

~ Kristy