The Knight Family Cookbook is a recipe book dating from around 1793, used by Jane Austen’s family, and re-printed by Chawton House Library in 2014. Given its history, the recipes within have had long lives, inspiring many meals over the last couple of centuries. We are happy to report that they continue to do so. Last Tuesday, the intrepid inhabitants of Chawton House Stables (consisting of visiting fellows and volunteers) decided to make a dinner from the Knight Family Cookbook.
The initial questions were difficult: Would we (or indeed anyone) enjoy an ox-cheek pudding? How necessary was ‘snail milk’ to our dinner experience? Despite the useful entry on how to pickle a calves-head, we did have doubts as to where we could acquire that said delicacy. After much serious consideration and several less serious dramatic readings out of the cookbook, we decided. We would make a meat pie inspired by that in the book (though with significantly less tongue). In good time the menu was set, the costumes were acquired, and the cooking began.
The soundtrack of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice set a perfect tone as we embarked on our culinary venture. Visiting fellow Cailey Hall used her professional knowledge of Romantic discourses of digestion in order to mastermind our pie. Professor Gillian Russell departed from her study of private theatricals in order to show us the art of making bread pudding. While our Regency delicacies baked, we found it absolutely necessary to take our costumes outside for a dramatic photoshoot.
Thanks to the expertise of our wonderful cooks, our dinner came out perfectly. We plundered all the rooms of the house for candles, and thereby achieved the perfect Regency setting. There was a brief discussion of who should be escorted into the room in the place of first precedence, but such formality was abandoned in favour of a more egalitarian approach. Mary Musgrove would have felt ill-used indeed!
All preparations complete, we had a lovely meal. While our recipes were somewhat modified from what the Knight family might have eaten at Chawton House two hundred years ago, the spirit of the occasion felt intact. With good company, good food, and good conversation, how could it fail to be a good evening?