Friday, 27 December 2013

Review: Dinner with Mr Darcy

I have to say I was quite excited about receiving this particular cookery book, put together by the editor of Penguin's Great Food series. The title alone sounds amazing, after all, who wouldn't want to dine with Mr Darcy?

Jane Austen's novels and letters are lightly sauced with dishes, dinners and picnics... [that] let us put together a wonderful idea of what life tasted like at the time...

Pen Vogler's expedition through Georgian dining is an intimate culinary investigation that seeks to recreate the classic dishes that defined this era and revive those that are now estranged from the modern-day British menu. White soup, venison in white wine and strawberry tartlets all sound quite lovely but would you be up for trying braised beef cheek, or say, calf foot jelly? Though Vogler saves us from the hassle of extracting our own gelatin from a real calf foot and tells us to use gelatin leaves instead, unless you can stomach it, in which case, boil away. Another great thing about the book, or perhaps the Georgians, is the enthusiasm that surrounds cooking game and the creativity that goes into cooking such meats as we begin to make it more fashionable today. 

However Vogler provides more than just your usual recipe book that is page after page of confusing instructions and measurements. Readers are treated to a dining experience with some of Jane's most loved characters, like breakfast with General Tilney and Christmas with the Musgroves. And the feast doesn't draw there as we are given recipes for a selection of Jane's own family favourites, discovered from her letters to her sisters and friend Martha Lloyd, who later released her Household Book which recorded some of the many dishes that Jane ate with family and friends. 

Visually the book is beautiful, retaining a touch of grandeur and delicacy that simulates the extravagance of the Georgian dining table, that which is "exceedingly handsome" and set to impress. For the Georgian banquet was an elaborate kind of affair, intricately prepared in order to avoid any 'promiscuous seating' (yes, that really was a thing) and filled up with so much food that any rash movement would send a platter of savoury roasts flying across the room and onto the brand new oriental rug bought just last week for this very occasion. Yes, eating dinner was serious business and was crucial if one was to assert their social prominence. In Pride Prejudice, for example, upon inviting Mr. Bingley to dinner, 'already had Mrs Bennet planned the courses that were to do credit to her housekeeping'. 

In a line, Georgian eating was all one big massive showoff and Vogler details this wonderfully with pages dedicated to explaining table arrangements, kitchens, the role of the servants and the function of the pantry. 
Each dish is conveniently contextualised for our pleasure, (like who knew French toast was once known as the 'Poor Knights of Windsor'?) and for the sake of authenticity she alludes to recipes from a range of key Georgian cookery writers - the Nigella and Jamie of the day -with excerpts from the likes of John Nott's, who famously wrote The Cook's and Confectioner's Dictionary, and Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families- the first domestic cookery book in British history.   

And so here we are with what is a thoroughly enjoyable and insightful read and a delectable compilation of time-honoured and sophisticated recipes made accessible.   

Dinner with Mr Darcy is available for purchase from for £16.99

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