Martha Lloyd’s Household BookText by Dr Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, author of Jane Austen at Home
The Austen women’s lifelong interest in recipes, groceries and the management of servants stamp them as coming from society’s middling ranks, not the comfortably rich.
“Habits of domestic management”, intones the Georgian household manual The Complete Servant, “are now generally precluded in the education of young ladies of the superior class”. But “those of less exalted rank” are still taught how to run a house. That included Jane and Cassandra Austen. The recipe (or ‘receipt’) book produced by their friend Martha Lloyd, who lived with them at Chawton, shows a detailed, hands-on understanding of the cooking that was mainly done by their servants, but which the ladies could doubtless manage themselves in a pinch.
“Good luck to your jamming!” writes a friend in the margin of one of the pages dedicated to preserving summer gluts of fruit. The comment shows how the ladies of Hampshire shared, swapped, and embroidered each other’s recipes.
“The real object of this Letter is to ask you for a Receipt”, Jane joked in the postscript of one letter to a friend, “but I thought it genteel not to let it appear early. We remember some excellent orange Wine,” she says, and wants to know how it was made.
To judge from the book’s recipes, their food at Chawton was unfashionably plain. ‘Hogs Puddings’, ‘Cabbage Pudding’ and ‘Vegetable Pie’ are included, along with ‘Sausages’ and ‘Toasted Cheese’.
But not all of the recipes are for food. There are also instructions for making household products like ‘Varnish for Tables’, there’s a concoction ‘To clean gilt things’ and another ‘To clean white silk stockings.’
The recipe that particularly resonates – given that this is Jane Austen’s home – is the one for ‘Ink’. I have tried following it, using the galls from an oak tree, and it does truly work. I’m told, though, that there is no real chemical need for the large amount of beer the recipe includes. I’m inclined to think that it appears on the ingredients list just to make ink making more fun.