We need more parties, don’t we? Well, I know I do, especially Jane Austen parties! Other people have ventured opinions on this topic. 99% of them involve a) tea, b) watching movies, or c) both. I’m in favor of all three of these activities (well, duh), but I do think we could broaden our horizons here, venture across the ha-ha, as it were.
Basic steps: This write-up has some good ideas, including period card games, period snacks, and trivia. Be warned that you are venturing into weirder territory here than you know, as Miss Osborne’s cooking experiments have shown us. Stick to syllabub, is my advice. As far as card games go, I love them, but Miss Austen did not, or at any rate none of her heroines did. So if you play them, stick to the more “comfortable, noisy” games, like Speculation, and avoid Whist as all costs. Whist (the precursor of Bridge) is bo-ring, both in Mansfield Park and in my experience. Still, you get good discussions around the card table, and good insights into people’s characters, the Crawfords’ in particular.
Crafty steps: While “painting tables, covering screens, and netting purses” may draw derision from Mr. Darcy, I am all in favor of “cutting up silk and gold paper” as the girls do in Persuasion, and crafts in general. Here’s some Regency party craft ideas.
Ballsy steps: Lots of places have Regency balls, where you can be spurned by Mr. Darcy and overhear Mr. Elton insulting your best friend, and have good times generally. You can also do this at home, even if you have to dance down the hall to lively tunes from your MP3 player. (It’s better than Mary Bennet on the piano.) Make sure to have white soup, negus, and indiscreet conversations, and, ladies, I happen to know that many gentlemen find Regency/square dancing less intimidating than ballroom. Show them diagrams! Let them figure it out!
RPG steps: It’s funny how you never hear “role-playing” and “Jane Austen” in the same sentence, especially when you consider all that fanfic out there. So, if you are really feeling adventurous, I suggest designing some sort of Austen role-playing activity. You could, you know, assign the different parts from a book beforehand, get everyone together, and let them have at it. Sounds sort of like Lost in Austen, doesn’t it? Or, since it’s almost Halloween, why not do a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies flash mob? Everyone decide beforehand whether you’ll be a zombie, a Bennet sister, or an innocent bystander; show up someplace and have it out! Regency zombie battles on the National Mall! I see this happening, people! Serious Austen party-ers will do this in full costume, of course. But watch where you put that sword. You could put someone’s eye out with that thing.
Olympic steps: OK, OK, it’s true that zombies aren’t genuine Austen. But it’s also true that whenever you get together, you are probably having a party pretty close to one Jane Austen wrote! Oh, the food, drink, dancing, and clothes might be different, but I bet the social dynamics are not far off. I know that’s not what you want to hear, though, so I suggest the Jane Austen Olympics! Events can include: the 100-meter Dash Across the Lawn to Find Mr. Bennet, the All-Terrain Walk to Netherfield (points deducted per inch of dirty hem), the Louisa Musgrove Stair-Jumping Contest, the Pairs’ Rainy Hillside Rescue Dance, Fencing Wits, and Conversational Gymnastics (Lizzie’s an odds-on favorite there, clearly), and . . . .
But you see! The possibilities are endless! Now get your corsets on, go out there, and PARTY!!!
Photo credits: ©juzka81. Used through Creative Commons licensing.
As someone who celebrates eating and cooking, I thought it would be exciting to write an Austenacious cooking article or two. But I have to tell you that it’s been slow going trying to put aside my food sensibilities and imagine eating Regency-era food. Fan of Jane Austen that I am, she doesn’t exactly provide any tantalizing descriptions of meals.
Before you start to think of me as Judgey McJudgemental Food Snob, you have to know that I’m not truly a snob. Nor am I afraid to try new things. Yes, I get a weekly organic vegetable box. Yes, I looooooove to bake complicated and artery-clogging desserts. And I (heart) Julia Child. But I also love candy corn, sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on Thanksgiving, Oreos, and processed cheese. I think, mainly, I’m afraid of animal parts. You know—the pieces that are fatty, stringy, and not particularly meaty.
Here are some ingredients that jumped out at me as I perused The Jane Austen Cookbook to find a starter recipe:
suet My issues here are 1) it’s mostly used to make tallow, and that to me sounds as appealing as eating earwax, and 2) as a prime ingredient in various English puddings, I find it such a disappointment that “pudding” equals something that isn’t a creamy, sweet dessert (that might even have “Jell-O” on the package).
veal knuckle Really?
mutton Whenever I think about Regency food (or any pre-1900s British cooking), “mutton” is always the word that comes to mind. Actually, I’m quite sure that when I first started talking to Mrs. Fitzpatrick and Miss Ball about making an Austen-appropriate meal, I muttered something like, “Good God, am I really going to have to cook mutton?” Why is it that “lamb” just doesn’t sound half as bad? Maybe it’s just that I always picture a morbidly obese Henry VIII chomping away at a mutton haunch and complaining about his gout.
chicken joints Why? I mean, they’re so tiny. And bony. Why bother?
furred game Could we be a little more specific? (Note: I used to be horrified at the though of eating rabbit—poor Thumper!—but I became a convert after eating the most delightful rabbit and pasta dish at Bottega last year.)
forcemeat balls I gather forcemeat is something like a sausage or salami, so that’s appealing. The name is not.
pigeon livers They’re dirty, horrible animals…particularly if you live in an urban area. When I lived in London, there were pigeons that had eyes missing, partial wings, and they were simply covered in grime. I realize that people willingly eat pigeons in France, but here (and in London), pigeons are winged rats. There’s no way in hell I’m going to eat their livers.
sweetbreads Sweetmeats don’t contain meat, and sweetbreads aren’t bread. So confusing. I have to remind myself that it sounds good, but it’s made from the thymus and pancreas. I just have a really hard time with organs.
beetroot This isn’t odd at all. I just added it to the list because I’m passionately offended by the taste of beets. (Yeah, yeah, I know…some people think they’re delicious. I think they taste like jellied dirt. On the other hand, I love Brussels sprouts, so give me a pass on the Beet Hate.)
anchovies It’s funny, for all the horrible blandness that you think of when you think of traditional British food, half the recipes in the book call for anchovies. Sounds promising.
streaky bacon rashers I have no idea what these are, but I liked the name! (“In local news, the Oakland Raiders game was halted for five minutes while stadium security subdued more streaky bacon rashers. This is the second incident in the month.”)
negus This spicy, hot beverage actually sounds delightful! But nerd that I am, I saw it and thought, “Hee…like the Grand Nagus in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” And who doesn’t like Wallace Shawn?
Isinglass Fish bladders. I just don’t know what to say about that.
Despite my aversion to organs and stringy animal bits, I will not be deterred! Who knows…maybe I’ll love mutton. Well, I might…if it were fed to me by Jonathan Rhys Meyers.