“You had better explore to Donwell,” replied Mr. Knightley. “That may be done without horses. Come, and eat my strawberries. They are ripening fast …. When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house.” (Austen 287)
Menu for Emma’s Afternoon Tea
- Fresh-picked strawberries
- Pound cake
- Almond cheesecakes (which in fact have no cheese in them)
Why We Decided to Have an Emma-Themed Tea
Whaaat, Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA)’s San Diego Chapter has begun a reading group at the Alpine Library (where Jenne is manager)! The inaugural meeting was scheduled for Saturday, April 15, and Emma selected as the first title for discussion (because it’s appropriately springy, and April in San Diego is gorgeous). Not only that, the East County Rose Society would be showcasing their most beautiful blooms in the room that day! Of course, 36 Eggs had to offer a tea for such a joyous occasion.
Deciding on Menu Items: A Mini Research Project
And thus the search began for authentic Emma dishes. Slight problem though — recreating meals from Austen novels is a struggle because the scenes offer very little detail about the food. Jenne and I wanted to make a luncheon based on the chapter where Emma’s set takes a trip to Donwell Abbey, but we only knew four things from the descriptions:
- They ate strawberries, fresh-picked from Donwell Abbey’s gardens.
- They ate their actual meal inside for the sake of Mr. Woodhouse’s comfort.
- They had plenty of cold meat in the house.
- It was a “cold repast.”
While scanning The Picnic: A History by Walter Levy, I was introduced to salmagundi. From what I understand, salmagundi was a salad that originated in 17th century England, usually with cold meats, boiled eggs, and vegetables, all diced up and arranged in patterns. (I got the idea that it was a way to make a bunch of leftovers look fancy.) It was eaten often in the early 1800s, especially for “cold repasts” and picnics. Perf.
And then, a valuable discovery: there is in fact The Jane Austen Cookbook — a collection of original recipes from persons close to the Austen family, accompanied by updated instructions for modern cooks. A good many book-themed cookbooks are total crap, but this one takes Jane Austen food very seriously. I bought a copy on Amazon Prime, and there it was — a recipe for salmagundy (an alternative spelling used by Martha Lloyd, Jane Austen’s closest friend after her sister Cassandra). Then, we chose two pastries from the cookbook that would be tea-appropriate: pound cake (and we do love our historical pound cake!) and almond cheesecakes.
The Emma Tea & Book Discussion
Ah, but nerdy events like these are a delight. With Jeanne Talbot, the coordinator of the San Diego Chapter of the Jane Austen Society (in the middle in the white day dress), leading the discussion, it was like being back in a favorite high school English class. (High school was mostly torture, but I sure do miss sitting in those English lit lectures.)
Library staff and our fellow attendees also brought delicious treats: lemon pound cake, dainty cucumber tea sandwiches, scones, lemon curd, and banana bread. With endless pots of tea, it was a tremendous feast!
The next book we’re discussing is Sense and Sensibility, date TBA. I feel The Jane Austen Cookbook will be making another appearance.
Austen, Jane. Emma. 1816. Reprint. New York: Penguin Books, 2015. Print.
Black, Maggie and Deirdre Le Faye. The Jane Austen Cookbook. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2002. Print.