If you’ve done a significant amount of reading of regency fiction, you’ve come across a female character taking calf’s foot jelly to an invalid, usually someone poor. It was thought to be exceeding nutritious, but that is not necessarily true, according to my research. It was a thrifty, economizing concoction, made from a leftover part of a beef.
Calf’s foot jelly has two forms: sweet, common in 19th-century Britain and America, and savoury–called petcha, a standard of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking. Both dishes start with a long braise of split cow’s feet. The latter (for a sickroom concoction) adds garlic, onion, salt and pepper, and usually retains the meat that falls from the feet; the former (for a dessert) adds sugar, Madeira wine, brandy, cinnamon and citrus, and discards the meat. In both cases the stock is chilled until it sets, and the fat that rises to the top is skimmed.
The key component of both is collagen–a protein found mainly in connective tissue, in which feet abound. Collagen makes meat tough, but it also makes the same cut, after stewing, silky and rich. Smart cooks have long begged chicken feet from the butcher: they give chicken soup extra body. Hot, collagen imparts richness; chilled, it turns to gelatin.
To boil it down/summarize: Stock made by boiling a calf’s foot in water; which sets to a stiff jelly on cooling. It consists largely of water and gelatin, so is of little nutritional value.
Note: The New Female Instructor strongly advises against the addition of wine when the jelly is to be used for an ill person. Lemonade was often given to an ill-person along with barley water and tea.
To the readers, have you come across this, and wondered? To the fellow-Regency writers, have you ever included a character delivering this to a poor sick person?
If you’ve done a fair amount of reading in the regency genre, you’ll have come across a reference to Gunter’s. I’ve seen it mentioned as a place for a chaperoned daytime outing, and as a purveyor of catering for balls and banquets.
Studying up on the place, one learns it was founded way back in 1757 as “The Pot and Pineapple”. By the time the regency was in full swing, it was owned by James Gunter. The name was synonymous with the finest in treats., such as ice cream, sweets, and pastries.
Being inventive with ice cream flavors tempted more customers. Some extraordinary flavors from those days were jasmine, elderflower, and parmesan, among others. Gunter’s establishment lived on into the twentieth century, but is no longer in existence.
It touches me to know that today’s confectioners’ obsession with wild flavors is not unique to our lavish times. Researching some of our latest flavors in 2013 brought to my attention: ale & bacon, salted caramel, pear with blue cheese, lemon basil, and Marsala date flavors.
200 years from the heyday of the regency and we still crave our unusually-flavored ice cream.
What’s your favorite flavor? Most unusual you’ve had?
When I am reading about a heroine lost or frolicking in the woods, I love when an author surrounds me in the sights and the sounds of the wilderness. Yet, nothing can pull me out of this setting quicker than the majestic description of birds or flora… that wasn’t native to Regency England or worse not possible to be in the landscape because of the time of year.
But Vanessa, I’m world-building. Yes, that’s nice and freaks of nature do occur, but careless research or non-research is not world-building. Alas, it shouldn’t be.
Nonetheless, Vanessa how would anyone know? A bird’s a bird and the 1800’s was a long time ago. Yes, but there are resources that can help. The best place to start is the Time’s Telescope, a magazine circulated during the Regency.
From the Time’s Telescope a section called the Naturalist’s Diary details the weather, indigenous plantings, and of course fowls in the air.
In Regency England, September begins the transition to autumn and with it a change in vegetation and fowl.
“How sweetly nature strikes the ravished eye Through the fine veil, with which she oft conceals her charms in part, as conscious of decay! September is, generally, accounted the finest and most settled month in the year. The mornings and evenings are cool, but possess a delightful freshness, while the middle of, the day is pleasantly warm and open.” – from the Time’s Telescope
What birds are available during the month of September, well in 1817?
“Partridges (tetrao perdix) are in great plenty at this season of the year: they are chiefly found in temperate climates, but nowhere in such abundance as in England. Partridges pair early in the spring: about the month of May, the female lays from fourteen to eighteen or twenty eggs.”
Partridge are a short-tailed game birds, which are part of the pheasant family. Their feathers are primarily brown in colour.
“The sea- stork’s bill (erodium maritimum), on sandy shores.”
Sea storks are long necked birds, which are part of the crane family. They are typically heavy billed, large weighty birds with long necks and legs.
“The thrush, the blackbird, and the woodlark, are now conspicuous.”
Part of the Turdidae family, thrush are plump birds that often feed on the ground. The blackbird is a black thrush and if you have five and twenty you can make a pie. The woodlark is a short-tailed bird known for its melodious songs. It frolics in open grounds such as meadows rimmed with trees.
“The chimney or common swallow (hirundo rustica) disappears about the end of September. The congregating flocks of swallows and martins on house tops, but principally upon the towers of churches on our coast, are very beautiful and amusing in this and the succeeding month.”
Swallows and martins are also part of the passerine family. Swallows have fork-tailed feathers and martins have squarer tails.
“Many of the small billed birds that feed on insects disappear when the cold weather commences. The throstle, the red-wing, and the fieldfare, which migrated in March, now return; and the ring-ouzel.”
Throstle are part of the Turdidae family. The males are known for their airy melodic songs. Fieldfares are also Turdidaes. They often nest in colonies to protect themselves from predators. The male and female both feed the babies. The babies nest for a fortnight then are turned out. Can you see an author’s metaphor on this bird?
Red-wing’s are blackbirds. The males are glossy black with bright red and yellow bands on their wings. The females are brown and often mistaken for sparrows. More metaphor ideas.
This is a little primer on the birds of September. Nature was a big part of the Regency World, so I know I want to get it right. The Time’s Telescope is a great firsthand account of much more than birds. It’s also a good text on the natural surroundings of England. Many issues of the magazine are available in Google Books. When you read them, just be prepared for its folksy advice.
“All these birds feed upon berries, of which there is a plentiful supply, in our woods, during a great part of their stay. The throstle and the red-wing are delicate eating. ”
Nothing like good eats. I wonder if the author tried them in a pie?