Camy/Camille here! As I write this blog post, I’m working on finishing “The Spinster’s Christmas,” a new Regency romance short novel that will be included in the upcoming Inspy Kisses anthology, Mistletoe Kisses. The anthology features 7 other authors with me and includes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and historical romance stories.
It was absolutely fascinating to research Christmas in the Regency, and especially kissing boughs. 🙂 There is a scene where the house party goes skating, and my heroine, Miranda, has lost her scarf (in an earlier scene). The hero, Gerard, gallantly gives her his scarf, which is knit in red and black.
Knitting patterns were called receipts because they were literally received from someone, passed down from generation to generation. There is a receipt of a Gentleman’s Comforter in the book, The Ladies’ Knitting and Netting Book, First Series by Miss Watts, originally published in 1837. You can download the .pdf of the Fifth Edition, with additions, which was published in 1840.
I am fairly certain that although this knitting book, one of the first of its kind, was published after the Regency era, the patterns were probably much in use during the Regency period and perhaps even in the Georgian era before that. The patterns simply were passed from friends and families by word of mouth or hand-written patterns.
I based my hero’s scarf after this Gentleman’s Comforter pattern, although I embellished it a bit by having it knit in red and black rather than a single color. Here’s the original pattern from the book:
I am going to knit this! It looks to be made with very fine yarn, probably lace weight or fingering weight yarn. My yarn is ordered and I’ll be posting my progress. I’ll also rewrite the original pattern to make it easier for today’s knitters. 🙂
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)
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?
This excerpt is from Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, published in 1819. Washington Irving is famous for his tale “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” featuring Rip Van Winkle, and he spent some time in England beginning in 1815. You can see his musings on Christmas Eve in Friday’s Post.
When I awoke the next morning, it seemed as if all the events of the preceding evening had been a dream . While I lay musing on my pillow, I heard the sound of little feet pattering outside the door, and a whispering consultation. Presently a choir of small voices chanted forth an old Christmas carol .
I rose softly, slipt on my clothes, opened the door suddenly, and beheld one of the most beautiful little fairy groups that a painter could imagine. It consisted of a boy and two girls, the eldest not more than six, and lovely as seraphs. They were going the rounds of the house, and singing at every chamber door; but my sudden appearance frightened them into mute bashfulness. They remained for a moment playing on their lips with their fingers, and now and then stealing a shy glance from under their eyebrows, until, as if by one impulse, they scampered away, and as they turned an angle of the gallery, I heard them laughing in triumph of their escape.
The window of my chamber looked out upon what in summer would have been a beautiful landscape. There was a sloping lawn, a fine stream winding at the foot of it, and a tract of park beyond, with noble clumps of trees, and herds of deer. At a distance was a neat hamlet, with the smoke from the cottage chimneys hanging over it; and a church with its dark spire in strong relief against a clear, cold sky. The house was surrounded with evergreens, according to the English custom, which would have given almost the appearance of summer; but the morning was extremely frosty; the light vapor of the preceding evening had been precipitated by the cold, and covered all the trees and every blade of grass with its fine crystallizations. The rays of a bright morning sun had a dazzling effect among the glittering foliage. A robin, perched upon the top of a mountain ash that hung its clusters of red berries just before my window, was basking himself in the sunshine and piping a few notes; and a peacock was displaying all the glories of his train, and strutting with the pride and gravity of a Spanish grandee on the terrace walk below.
I had scarcely dressed myself when a servant appeared to invite me to family prayers. He showed me the way to a small chapel in the old wing of the house, where I found the principal part of the family already assembled in a kind of gallery, furnished with cushions, hassocks, and large prayer books; the servants were seated on benches below. The old gentleman read prayers from a desk in front of the gallery, and Master Simon acted as clerk, and made the responses.
The service was followed by a Christmas carol, which Mr. Bracebridge himself had constructed from a poem of his favorite author, Herrick; and it had been adapted to an old church-melody by Master Simon.
I afterwards understood that early morning service was read on every Sunday and saints’ day throughout the year, either by Mr. Bracebridge or some member of the family. It was once almost universally the case at the seats of the nobility and gentry in England, and it is much to be regretted that the custom is falling into neglect.
Our breakfast consisted of what the Squire denominated true old English fare. He indulged in some bitter lamentations over modern breakfasts of tea and toast, which he censured as among the causes of modern effeminacy and weak nerves, and the decline of the old English heartiness; and though he admitted them to his table to suit the palates of his guests, yet there was a brave display of cold meats, wine, and ale, on the sideboard.
After breakfast I walked about the grounds with Frank Bracebridge and Master Simon. We were escorted by a number of . . . dogs, that seemed loungers about the establishment, from the frisking spaniel to the steady old stage-hound,–the last of which was of a race that had been in the family time out of mind; they were all obedient to a dog whistle, which hung to Master Simon’s buttonhole, and in the midst of their gambols would glance an eye occasionally upon s small switch he carried in his hand.
The old mansion had a still more venerable look in the yellow sunshine than by pale moonlight, and I could not but feel the force of the Squire’s idea, that the formal terraces, heavily moulded balustrades, and clipped yew trees carried with them an air of proud aristocracy. There appeared to be an unusual number of peacocks about the place, and I was making some remarks upon what I termed a flock of them, that were basking under a sunny wall, when I was corrected in my phraseology by Master Simon, who told me that, according to the most ancient and approved treatise on hunting I must say a muster of peacocks. “In the same way,” added he, “we say a flight of doves or swallows, a bevy of quails, a herd of deer, of wrens or cranes, a skulk of foxes, or a building of rooks.” He went on to inform me that, according to Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, we ought to ascribe to this bird, “both understanding and glory; for, being praised, he will presently set up his tail, chiefly against the sun, to the intent you may the better behold the beauty thereof. But at the fall of the leaf, when his tail falleth, he will mourn and hide himself in corners, till his tail come again as it was.”
I found that the peacocks were birds of some consequence at the hall; for Frank Bracebridge informed me that they were great favorites with his father, who was extremely careful to keep up the breed; partly because they belonged to chivalry, and were in great request at the stately banquets of olden time, and partly because they had a pomp and magnificence about them, highly becoming an old family mansion.
. . . .
While we were talking we heard the distant tolling of the village bell, and I was told that the Squire was a little particular in having his household at Church on Christmas morning, considering it a day of pouring out of thanks and rejoicing.
“If you are disposed to go to church,” said Frank Bracebridge, “I can promise you a specimen of my cousin Simon’s musical achievements. As the church is destitute of an organ, he has formed a band from the village amateurs, and established a musical club for their improvement; he has also sorted a choir.”
As the morning, though frosty was remarkably fine and clear, the most of the family walked to the church, which was a very old building of gray-stone, and stood near a village, about half a mile from the park gate. Adjoining it was a low snug parsonage, which seemed coeval with the church. The front of it was perfectly matted with a yew-tree, that had been trained against the walls, thorough the dense foliage of which, apertures had been formed to admit light into the small antique lattices. As we passed this nest, the parson issued forth and preceded us.
The parson was a little meagre, black-looking man, with a grizzled wig that was too wide, and stood off from each ear; so that his head seemed to have shrunk away within it, like a dried filbert in its shell. He wore a rusty coat, with great skirts, and pockets that would have held the church Bible and prayer-book: and his small legs seemed still smaller from being planted in large shoes, decorated with enormous buckles.
I was informed by Frank Bracebridge, that the parson had been a chum of his father’s at Oxford, and had received this living shortly after the latter had come into his estate.
On reaching the church-porch, we found the parson rebuking the gray-headed sexton for having used mistletoe among the greens with which the church was decorated. It was, he observed, an unholy plant, profaned by having been used by the Druids in their mystic ceremonies; and though it might be innocently employed in the festive ornamenting of halls and kitchens, yet it had been deemed by the Fathers of the Church as unhallowed, and totally unfit for sacred purposes. So tenacious was he on this point, that the poor sexton was obliged to strip down a great part of the [mistletoe] before the parson would consent to enter upon the service of the day.
The interior of the church was venerable but simple; on the walls were several mural monuments of the Bracebridges, and just beside the altar was a tomb of ancient workmanship, on which law the effigy of a warrior in armor, with his legs crossed, a sign of his having been a Crusader.
The orchestra was in a small gallery, and presented a most whimsical grouping of heads, piled one upon the other, among which I particularly noticed that of the village tailor, . . . who played the clarinet, and seemed to have blown his face to a point; and there was another . . . man stooping and laboring at a bass-viol, so as to show nothing but the top of a round bald head . . .There were two or three pretty faces among the female singers,. . . but the gentlemen choristers had evidently been chosen more for tone than looks; . . . .
The usual services of the choir were managed tolerably well, the vocal parts generally lagging a little behind the instrumental. . . .
The parson gave us a most erudite sermon on the rites and ceremonies of Christmas, and the propriety of observing it not merely as a day of thanksgiving, but of rejoicing. . . .
[O]n leaving the church the congregation seemed one and all possessed of the gayety of spirit so earnestly enjoined by their pastor. The elder folks gathered in knots in the churchyard, greeting and shaking hands; and the children ran about crying Yule! Yule! And repeating some uncouth rhymes, which the parson, who had joined us, informed me had been handed down from days of yore. The villagers doffed their hats to the Squire as he passed, giving him the good wishes of the season with every appearance of heartfelt sincerity, and were invited by him to the hall, to take something to keep out of the cold of the weather; and I heard blessings uttered by several of the poor, which convinced me that in the midst of his enjoyments, the worthy old cavalier had not forgotten the true Christmas virtue of charity.
. . . .
The Squire went on to lament the deplorable decay of the games and amusements which were once prevalent in this season among the lower orders, and countenanced by the higher; when the old halls of castles and manor-houses were thrown open at daylight;; when the tables were covered with brawn, and feed, and humming ale; when the harp and the carol resounded all day long, and when the rich and poor were alike welcome to enter and make merry.* [*Note: An English gentleman, at the opening of the great day, i.e., on Christmas day in the morning, had all his tenants and neighbors enter his hall by daybreak. The strong beer was broached, and the blackjacks went plentifully about with toast, sugar, and nutmeg and good Christmas cheese. The Hackin (the great sausage) must be boiled by daybreak, or else two young men must take the maiden (i.e., the cook) by the arms, and run her round the market-place till she is shamed of her laziness.” quoted from Round about our Sea-Coal Fire.
. . . .
We had not been long home when the sound of music was heard from a distance. A band of country lads, without coats, their shirtsleeves fancifully tied with ribbons, their hats decorated with greens, and clubs in their hands, were seen advancing up the avenue, followed by a large number of villagers and peasantry. They stopped before the hall door, where the music struck up a peculiar air, and the lads performed a curious and intricate dance, advancing, retreating, and striking their clubs together, keeping exact time to the music; while one, whimsically crowned with a fox’s skin, the tail of which flaunted down his back, kept capering round the skirts of the dance, and rattling a Christmas box with many antic gesticulations.
The Squire . . . gave me the full account of [this dances’} origin, which he traced to the times when the Romans held possession of the island; plainly proving that this was a lineal descendant of the sword-dance of the ancients. “It is now,. . . nearly extinct, but he had accidentally met with traces of it in the neighborhood, and had encouraged its revival; though, to tell the truth, it was too apt to be followed up by the rough cudgel play, and broken heads in the evening.”
After the dance was concluded, the whole party was entertained with brawn and beef, and stout home-brewed. The Squire himself mingled among the rustics, and was received with awkward demonstrations of deference and regard. . . .
The bashfulness of the guests soon gave way before good cheer and affability. There is something genuine and affectionate in the gayety of the lower orders, when it is excited by the bounty and familiarity of those above them. . . . When the Squire had retired, the merriment increased and there was much joking and laughter. . . .
The whole house seemed abandoned to merriment: as I passed my room to dress for dinner I heard the sound of music in a small court, and looking through a window that commanded it, I perceived a band of wandering musicians, with pandean pipes and a tambourine, a pretty coquettish housemaid was dancing a jig with a smart country lad, while several of the servants were looking on.
This excerpt is from Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, published in 1819. Washington Irving is famous for his tale “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” featuring Rip Van Winkle, and he spent some time in England beginning in 1815. Today we are featuring his writings about Christmas Eve. Monday we will publish his Christmas Day musings.
It was a brilliant moonlight night, but extremely cold; our chaise whirled rapidly over the frozen ground; the post-boy smacked his whip incessantly, and a part of the time his horses were on a gallop. “He knows where he is going,” said my companion, laughing, “and is eager to arrive in time for some of the merriment and good cheer of the servant’s hall. My father, you must know, is a bigoted devotee of the old school, and prides himself upon keeping up something of old English hospitality. He is a tolerable specimen of what you will rarely meet with nowadays in its purity, the old English country gentleman; for our men of fortune spend so much of their time in town, and fashion is carried so much into the country, that the strong, rich peculiarities of ancient rural life are almost polished away. My father, however, from early years, took honest Peacham for his textbook, instead of Chesterfield; he determined in his own mind that there was no condition more truly honorable and enviable than that of a country gentleman on his paternal lands, and therefore passes the whole of his time on his estate. He is a strenuous advocate for the revival of the old rural games and holiday observances, and is deeply read in the writers, ancient and modern, who have treated on this subject. Indeed his favorite range of reading is among the authors who flourished at least two centuries since; who, he insists wrote and thought more like true Englishmen than any of their successors.”
We had passed for some time along the wall of a park, and at length the chaise stopped at the gate. It was in a heavy, magnificent old style, of iron bars, fancifully wrought at top into flourishes and flowers. The huge square columns that supported the gate were surmounted by the family crest. Close adjoining was the porter’s lodge, sheltered under dark fir trees, and almost buried in the shrubbery.
The post-boy rang a large porter’s bell, which resounded through the still frosty air, and was answered by the distant barking of dogs, with which the mansion-house seemed garrisoned. An old woman immediately appeared at the gate. As the moonlight fell strongly upon her, I had full view of a little primitive dame, dressed very much in the antique taste, with a neat kerchief and stomacher, and her silver hair peeping from under a cap of snowy whiteness. She came curtseying forth with many expressions of simple joy at seeing her young master. Her husband, it seemed, was up at the house keeping Christmas eve in the servant’s hall; they could not do without him, as he was the best hand at a song and story in the household.
My friend proposed that we should alight and walk through the park to the hall, which was at no great distance, while the chaise should follow on. Our road wound through a mobile avenue of trees, among the naked branches of which the moon glittered, as she rolled through the deep vault of a cloudless sky. The lawn beyond was sheeted with a slight covering of snow, which here and there sparkled as the moonbeams caught a frosty crystal; and at a distance might be seen a thin transparent vapor, stealing up from the low grounds, and threatening gradually to shroud the landscape.
We were interrupted by the clamor of a troop of dogs of all sorts and sizes, “mongrel puppy, whelp, and hound, and curs of low degree,” that, disturbed by the ring of the porter’s bell and the rattling of the chaise, came bounding, open-mouthed, across the lawn.
We had now come in full view of the old family mansion, partly thrown into deep shadow, and partly lit up by the cool moonshine. It was an irregular building, of some magnitude, and seemed to be of the architecture of different periods–One wing was evidently very ancient, with heavy stone-shafted bow-windows jutting out and overrun with ivy, from among the foliage of which the small diamond-shaped panes of glass glittered with the moonbeams. The rest of the house was in the French taste of Charles the Second’s time, having been repaired and altered, as my friend told me, by one of his ancestors, who returned with that monarch at the Restoration. The grounds about the house were laid out in the old formal manner of artificial flower beds, clipped shrubberies, raised terraces, and heavy stone balustrades, ornamented with urns, a leaden statue or two, and a jet of water. The old gentleman, I was told, was extremely careful to preserve this obsolete finery in all its original state. He admired this fashion in gardening; it had an air of magnificence, was courtly and noble, and befitted the good old family style.
As we approached the house, we heard the sound of music, and now and then a burst of laughter, from one end of the building. This, Bracebridge said, must proceed from the servant’s hall, where a great deal of revelry was permitted, and even encouraged by the Squire, throughout the twelve days of Christmas, provided everything was done conformably to ancient usage. Here were kept up the old games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, and snap-dragon; the Yule log and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe with its white berries, hug up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.* [*note: The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas; and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked, the privilege ceases.]
So intent were the servants upon their sports that we had to ring repeatedly before we could make ourselves heard. On our arrival being announced, the Squire came out to receive us, accompanied by his two other sons; one a young officer in the army, home on leave of absence, the other an Oxonian, just from the university. The Squire was a fine healthy looking old gentleman with silver hair curling lightly round an open florid countenance.
The family meeting was warm and affectionate; as the evening was far advanced, the Squire would not permit us to change our travelling dresses, but ushered us at once to the company, which was assembled in a large old-fashioned hall. It was composed of different branches of a numerous family connection, where there were the usual proportion of old uncles and aunts, comfortable married dames, superannuated spinsters, blooming country cousins, half-fledged striplings, and bright-eyed boarding-school hoydens. They were variously occupied; some at a round game of cards; others conversing around the fireplace; at one end of the hall was a group of the young folks, some nearly grown up, others of a more tender and budding age, fully engrossed by a merry game; and a profusion of wooden horses, penny trumpets, and tattered dolls, about the floor, showed traces of a troop of little fairy beings, who, having frolicked through a happy day, had been carried off to slumber through a peaceful night.
While the mutual greetings were going on between young Bracebridge and his relatives, I had time to scan the apartment. I have called it a hall, for so it had certainly been in old times, and the Squire had evidently endeavored to restore it to something of its primitive state. Over the heavy projecting fireplace was suspended a picture of a warrior in armor, standing by a white horse, and on the opposite wall hung a helmet, buckler, and lance. At one end an enormous pair of antlers were inserted in the wall, the branches serving as hooks on which to suspend hats, whips, and spurs; and in the corners of the apartment were fowling pieces, fishing rods, and other sporting implements. The furniture was of the cumbrous workmanship of former days, though some articles of modern convenience had been added and the oaken floor had been carpeted; so that the whole presented an odd mixture of parlor and hall.
The grate had been removed from the wide overwhelming fireplace, to make way for a fire of wood, in the midst of which was an enormous log glowing and blazing, and sending forth a vast volume of light and heat: this I understood was the Yule clog, which the Squire was particular in having brought in and illuminated on a Christmas eve, according to the ancient custom.*[Note: The Yule clog is a great log of wood, sometimes the root of a tree, brought into the house with great ceremony, on Christmas eve, laid in the fireplace, and lighted with the brand of last year’s clog. While it lasted, there was great drinking, singing and telling of tales. Sometimes it was accompanied by Christmas candles; but in the cottages the only light was from the ruddy blaze of the great wood fire. The Yule clog was to burn all night; if it went out, it was considered a sign of ill-luck.
The Yule clog is still burnt in many farm-houses and kitchens in England, particularly in the north, and there are several superstitions connected with it among the peasantry. If a squinting person come to the house while it is burning, or a person barefooted, it is considered an ill omen. The brand remaining from the Yule clog is carefully put away to light the next year’s Christmas fire.]. . . .
Supper was announced shortly after our arrival. It was served up in a spacious oaken chamber, the panels of which shone with wax, and around which were several family portraits decorated with holly and ivy. Besides the accustomed lights, two great wax tapers, called Christmas candles, wreathed with greens, were placed on a highly polished buffet among the family plate. The table was abundantly spread with substantial fare; but the Squire made his supper of frumenty, a dish made of wheatcakes boiled in milk, with rich spices, being a standing dish in old times for Christmas eve.
The supper had disposed every one to gayety, and an old harper was summoned from the servant’s hall, where he had been strumming all the evening, and to all appearance comforting himself with some of the Squire’s homebrew. He was a kind of hanger-on, I was told, of the establishment, and, though ostensibly a resident of the village, was oftener to be found in the Squire’s kitchen than his own home, the old gentleman being fond of the sound of harp in hall.”
The dance, like most dances after supper, was a merry one; some of the older folks joined in, and the Squire himself figured down several couple with a partner, with whom he affirmed he had danced at every Christmas for nearly half a century. . . .
The party now broke up for the night with the kind-hearted old custom of shaking hands. As I passed through the hall, on the way to my chamber.
My chamber was in the old part of the mansion, the ponderous furniture of which might have been fabricated in the days of giants. The room was panelled with cornices of heavy carved work, in which flowers and grotesque faces were strangely intermingled; and a row of black-looking portraits stared mournfully at me from the walls. The bed was of rich though faded damask, with a lofty tester, and stood in a niche opposite a bow-window. I had scarcely got into bed when a strain of music seemed to break forth in the air just below the window. I listened, and found it proceeded from a band, which I concluded to be the waits from some neighboring village. They went round the house playing under the windows. I drew aside the curtains to hear them more distinctly. The moonbeams fell through the upper part of the casement, partially lighting up the antiquated apartment. The sounds, as they receded, became more soft and aerial, and seemed to accord with the quiet and moonlight.
Regency Reflection is happy to welcome Louise M. Gouge to the blog today. Be sure to check out Louise’s new book, A Suitable Wife after reading the article below.
Thanks for stopping by, Louise!
Nothing can cheer up a wintery night more than a fire in an old-fashioned fireplace, especially at Christmas time. Although today most of us have other methods of heating our homes, we enjoy the nostalgia generated by a cozy blaze so much that we put up with all the work that goes into maintaining our hearth.
In Regency times, of course, people had no choice but to warm their homes with a wood or coal fire. Wealthy people had the advantage of having servants to keep the home fires burning. But when it came time to clean the chimney, a specialist was called in: the chimney sweep.
Armed with their circular brushes and metal scrapers, these men removed all of the caked on soot and ash that could cause a larger fire and perhaps even burn down the entire house. In order to remove the flammable matter from the smaller upper reaches of the chimney, the master sweeps would buy small boys (from desperately impoverished parents) and force them up inside the cold flue to scrape away the dangerous substances. No child labor laws protected these little “climbing boys,” and countless numbers of them suffered stunted growth, lung disease, sterility as adults, and early death from breathing in the soot.
Today we are shocked and saddened to hear of any form of child abuse, and efforts are made to save children in similar dangers. Even during the Regency era, many godly reformers sought to make changes in social inequities. But it was not until 1864 that Lord Shaftesbury succeeded in eliminating the use of “climbing-boys” through the Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers, which established a penalty of £10.00 for offenders. That was a hefty sum in those days.
When I learn such an interesting historical fact, I like to incorporate it into my stories so that my readers can get a realistic picture of the past along with the romance. Although I didn’t plan this particular scenario to link the first two books in my Ladies in Waiting series, it turned out that in the first book, A Proper Companion, my hero’s titled brother had a severe bout of pneumonia and almost died. Then Lord Greystone became the hero of A Suitable Wife, so it was natural for him to have great empathy for anyone with breathing problems. When he encounters two little brothers. . .but that would give away too much of the story. Let’s just say that Lord Greystone’s efforts would have made Lord Shaftsbury proud.
Here’s the story: It’s an impossible attraction. Lady Beatrice Gregory has beauty, brains—and a wastrel brother. With her family fortune squandered, her only chance of a Season is as a lowly companion. London’s glittering balls and parties are bittersweet when Beatrice has no hope of a match. Still, helping Lord Greystone with his charitable work brings her genuine pleasure…perhaps more that she dares to admit. Even when every marriageable miss in London is paraded before him, the only woman to capture Lord Greystone’s attention is the one he shouldn’t pursue. Attaching himself to a ruined family would jeopardize his ambitions. Yet Lady Beatrice may be the only wife to suit his lord’s heart.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
Welcome to this 5th stop on the Wassailing Tour. If you’ve missed some of the others, please don’t hesitate visiting. Here are links to all of the Belles’ holiday wassailing stops, with different Regency era Christmas carols, dinner selections, beverages including wassail recipes at every blog hop.
16 Dec: Caroline Warfield: The Sixth Course, Jerusalem Artichoke a la Crème
18 Dec: Sherry Ewing: The Seventh Course, Mince Pies
21 Dec: Mariana Gabrielle: The Eighth Course, Christmas Pudding
Bonus Question for Belles’ Give Away: Which member of Lady Pendleton’s family suggested they sing “I Saw Three Ships.”
The Belles’ Holiday Wassailing Tour: Course #5
Welcome to the 5th stop of the
Belles’ Holiday Wassailing Tour!
14th of December, 1819 Port Elizabeth Colony, South Africa
Precious Jewell swatted her brow as she stirred the huge pot of wassail swinging upon the hearth. It smelled better than it looked with the flecks of cinnamon swimming in the murky brown liquid. Anything had to be better than the ginger beer Gareth brewed at the blacksmith’s. The two were going to lug it here for tonight’s dinner which would be serve to all of the Margeaux’s crew.
Christmas in Charleston or London was cold, double shawl, stiff britches cold. This was so different. Most of the men Gareth captained were as new to this place as she. Would they like the spending the Yuletide here?
Stirring again, she shook her head. Men and beer. The crew would enjoy themselves.
Pour the water boiling on the ingredients, then add two spoonfuls of good yeast; when cold bottle it in stone bottles, tie down the corks. It is fit to drink in 48 hours– a little more sugar is an improvement; glass bottles would not do.
Recipe from: Martha Lloyd’s Household Book With thanks to the Jane Austen Society.
Combine all ingredients in a large pan. Bring to simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce heat and continue simmering for 45 minutes. Ladle into cups or mugs and enjoy!
With a final stir, Precious wiped her damp hands with her apron. Her gaze went to the window. The bright green grass and distant palm trees and no snow didn’t quite look like Yuletide either. Well, this is what Gareth wanted and truthfully, she do anything to help him. How could love be so much, so overwhelming, so covering and smoothing all the scarred places.
“Precious, how are things in here?”
Speak of the devil. Gareth, and that deep voice of his, dared to enter her kitchen again. The second time in twenty minutes. Weren’t there some Xhosa to go chase, or something?
She turned to him, waving her big wooden spoon. “Things are as good as the last time you dragged in here. You’re probably ready to spout some more nonsense about English vittles.”
Folding his arms against his brilliant white shirt, he leaned against the door frame. “You sound a little perturbed, my dear. Are you sure nothing is amiss?”
“Nothing. Now go on.” She waved her hand to shoe him like chickens, but that dumb old rooster came forward.
Close to her side, he flashed that pompous, wonderful heart-in-her throat grin. “You seem a little on edge.”
Lowering her spoon, she released a sigh and turned back to her pot. “I know how to cook, you know. You’ve been eating well haven’t you? Don’t have to keep checking up on me.”
He stood directly behind her now, and lightly fingered her neck and gave a rub to her sore shoulders. “You do many things well, my jewel. But this is an English meal, and my men are looking forward to it. It’s a touch of home for them.”
“Do you miss London, Gareth?” Her pulse stopped moving. She could hear every creak of floorboards of the sailors gathering in their parlor. If he missed London, maybe he didn’t like it here, or maybe he had regrets. She stiffened and edged away. Tossing the spoon into her apron pocket, she picked up her oven paddle and went to the fiery brick oven. Sticking it into the hot box, she stabbed at her loaf pan and removed it. “Is that why you keep checking, so you can tell me you want to return?”
He followed and took the paddle and set the steaming loaf on to the table. “You’ve done well with the English Bread. The men will enjoy it, and the rest of meal. Collards and whatever else you’ve created. You’re food is always delicious.”
Recipe from The New London Family Cook; Or, Town and Country Housekeeper’s Guide, by Duncan MacDonald
Put a bushel of good flour into one end of your trough, and make a hole in the middle. Take nine quarts of warm water by the bakers called liquor, and mix it with a quart of good yeast; put it to the flour, and stir it well with your hands till it is tough. Let it lie till it rises as high as it will, which will be in about an hour and twenty minutes. Watch it when it comes to its height, and do not let it fall. Then make up your dough with eight quarts more of warm liquor, and one pound of salt: work it up with your hands, and rover it with a course cloth or sack. Put your fire into the oven, and by the time it is heated, the dough will be ready. Make your loaves about five pounds each, sweep your oven clean out, put in your loaves, shut it up close, and two hours and a half will bake them. In summer time your liquor must be lukewarm; in winter, a little warmer, and in hard frosty weather as hot as you can bear your hand in it, but not hot enough to scald the yeast, for should that be the case, the whole batch will be spoiled. A larger or smaller quantity may be made in proportion to these rules.
Precious laid a thin cloth over the bread allowing it to cool, but not dry out. “You didn’t answer my question.”
A smile kissed his lips, and he hummed a tune. What was it?
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Precious plodded back to hearth and started stirring again. The clove and cinnamon smell of the wassail wafted. It stung a little bit upon her weak eyes. And that poor her heart of hers had lodged right against a rib. It was probably the the only thing keeping it from falling out onto her freshly swept floor.
Gareth’s big hand clasped hers, and he spun her to him. “I have Christmas everyday with you and Jonas, but my men don’t. I just want to give them a special day.”
It was Christmas everyday, being loved by the good captain in Port Elizabeth.
Don’t miss the next stop.
Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem: A Bluestocking Belles Collection
In this collection of novellas, the Bluestocking Belles bring you seven runaway Regency brides resisting and romancing their holiday heroes under the mistletoe. Whether scampering away or dashing toward their destinies, avoiding a rogue or chasing after a scoundrel, these ladies and their gentlemen leave miles of mayhem behind them on the slippery road to a happy-ever-after.
Merry Christmas from Regency Reflections! Our gift to you is this charming short story written by Laurie Alice Eakes. This is a revised edition of a story previously published in an American Christian Romance Writers (Now American Christian Fiction Writers) newsletter.
(Note: To the English, “pudding” is not the custard-like substance Americans call “pudding.” English pudding is more like a cake, though it Is boiled, not baked, and plum pudding does not necessarily contain plums.)
The Devere family entered the kitchen once a year. From Lord Devere, to his wife ; from Rebecca, the youngest of their nine children, to Sarah, the eldest , the family gathered around the worktable on Christmas Eve morning to take turns stirring the plum pudding. According to tradition begun a century earlier when the last Stewart, Queen Anne, sat on the throne, each person prayed as he or she stirred—prayed for prosperity and joy, prayed for strength and future spouses.
“Let us say a special prayer for the new year,” suggested Belinda, the middle daughter.
Everyone agreed—except for Sarah. Christmas might now have more meaning to her heart , but to her, what went into and came out of the pudding needed a helping human hand, not divine intervention.
She intended to control the disbursement of the charms, those tiny trinkets that made each slice of the pudding an adventure. When the family gathered with friends and neighbors to partake of the pudding, Sarah would ensure that each person received the charm that she thought befitted their needs.
Belinda would receive the thimble, reminding her to be thrifty with her pin money. Rebecca would receive the wishbone because she, being so small, needed all the blessings she could get during the next year. Their father would find the anchor in his slice of pudding, for he was such a stronghold for all of them he needed a safe harbor himself. The crown would go to fifteen-year-old Geoffrey because he would enjoy directing the festivities as “king” and wouldn’t be mean about his revels. Finally, to Lance would go the ring. Although he was only four and twenty, he was the heir and should wed sweet-natured Eliza. They’d loved one another since infancy.
Sarah frowned as she stirred the pudding with one hand and fingered the trinkets in her pocket with the other. “And, Lord, don’t bring Alexander calling again.”
Eliza’s older brother Alexander Featherstone had begun to court her, Just because I’m the only female in ten counties who hasn’t thrown her cap over the windmill for him.
Not that she was impervious to his looks, charm and intellect. She could love him. . .if he came around too often. She feared she already did love him; thus, she wanted him to stay away from her rather than add her to his quiver of fawning females.
“Tharie.” Rebecca, tugged on the skirt of Sarah’s round gown, “you’re taking all the turnth.”
Sarah released the spoon and stooped to lift her baby sister high enough to grasp the wooden spoon. Once on the floor again, Rebecca looked up with a seraphic smile. “I athked Jethuth for a huthband for Tharie.”
Sarah grimaced. “You’re better off praying for a wife for Lance. That won’t take a miracle.”
Belinda giggled. “Oh, I don’t think it’ll take a miracle—for either of you.
Blushing himself, yet smiling, too, Lance grasped the spoon from Belinda. “I pray that Eliza accepts my offer.”
“We’d like excellent matches for both of you,” their father said. “Who has the charms?”
“I do.” Sarah gave the trinkets to the cook to drop into the batter as she poured it into the bag for boiling.
Except the cook wouldn’t drop them in. Sarah had persuaded her and the butler to press the charms into the pudding slices of the right people. The cook’s nod assured Sarah she would carry on the game, and Sarah followed the family upstairs to rest before church.
At the service, Alex and Eliza joined the Deveres at the church. Somehow, Alex ended up sitting beside Sarah in the box pew.
When they stood, he slipped his large, warm hand beneath her lace-clad elbow. When they prayed, he took her hand in his, and she couldn’t pull it away without drawing attention to them. When they departed, he draped her cloak over her shoulders and allowed his fingertips to brush the side of her neck. Those were courting gestures, and she didn’t know why he teased her so.
Nor why God had ignored her prayer to keep Alexander away.
Disturbed, she tried to climb into the carriage with her parents and younger siblings, but they declared the vehicle overcrowded and insisted she go with the Featherstones. But that carriage was also full, so Sarah and Alex strolled the half mile from village to the Devere estate over ground white and hard with frost, through air that turned white with each breath, beneath a sky that resembled candle flames frozen in black glass. Cold, Sarah didn’t object when Alex tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow, then covered her fingers with his.
At least she said she didn’t object because of the cold. In truth, she felt warm all the way through, and that made her uncomfortable, unsure of herself.
Sarah hated being unsure of herself. She never was unsure of herself—except around Alex lately.
Lord, I don’t want to be another foolish female with a broken heart over him. But she feared she already was, for she’d seen him courting many girls in the decade she’d known him noticing females.
The Lord seemed to be ignoring her. Alex sat beside her at the table as the butler carried in the pudding and began to serve. Smiling, she watched everyone take their first bite of pudding, anticipating the moment when each found his charm.
But no one did.
Family member after guest savored the rich sweet until half of everyone’s slice vanished—except for Sarah’s, as she hadn’t taken so much as a nibble of hers. Everyone glanced around the table, curious, puzzled.
“Who’th got a charm?” sleepy-eyed Rebecca asked. “I wanted the crown.”
Everyone shook their heads.
Lord Devere looked at Sarah. “You gave Cook the charms, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Father.” Sarah glanced at the butler, who gave her a twinkling glance, and her stomach knotted, her heart pounded.
Alex touched her arm. “You haven’t touched your pudding.”
Sarah read laughter in his gaze, and had to steel herself against running from the table.
“Here, have a bite.” He seized her fork and cut off a generous mouthful of pudding, then held it up for her.
Face heating, Sarah sprang to her feet. “I don’t want pudding. I want to see everyone finding the charms I made certain they’d receive.”
Everyone looked shocked that anyone dared interfere with the discovery of plum pudding charms—everyone except for Alex and Geoffrey. They started laughing so hard the bite of pudding slid off the fork in Alex’s hand and plopped onto the white linen tablecloth. The pudding fell apart to reveal the tiny silver ring.
“Hurray!” Rebecca clapped her hands. “God anthwered my prayer. Tharie will get married this year.”
Alex turned serious. “I certainly hope so.”
“Oh, you!” Sarah spun on her heel and fled with a cacophony of laughter and exclamations running behind her.
She barely reached the nearest refuge, the winter parlor, before she heard footfalls behind her and felt a hand drop onto her shoulder, stopping her. “Wait,” Alex said.
She faced him, shaking. “Why? So you can make more of a fool of me?”
Alex met her glare with a challenging gaze. “More of a fool than what you’ve been making of me for the past three years?”
“Sarah, everyone in the county knows I love you except for you.” He clasped her hands between his. “You treat me like I’m poison.”
“You are as dangerous as poison if anyone gets too close.” When he kept gazing at her in silence, she plunged. “You love every female so much you don’t love any of us. My Christmas prayer was for God to keep you away tonight.”
“But God has other plans for us.” He took her hands in his. “What better time than Christmas to remember that He knows what we need more than we do?”
Sarah frowned. “And you claim God believes I need you?”
Alex grinned. “You wouldn’t care if I were here if you didn’t love me.”
He kissed her before she could say more.
She still said nothing because he’d stolen her breath.
“And I went through a great deal of trouble to ensure you got the ring.” His eyes pleaded with her. “Doesn’t that count toward you believing I love you?”
“It’s cheating—” Blushing, she began to laugh. “If I’m the only lady you’d do that for…”
“The only one. A match made in”—he kissed her again, his lips sweet from the confection he’d been eating at the table—”pudding.”