Giselle Marks

Regency Romance and Fantasy Author

Food Glorious Regency Food

on October 15, 2013

Food Glorious Regency Food

By Giselle Marks

Henri had excelled himself with a fine Turbot à la hollandaise removed with a Velouté Dubarry soup.  This was followed by a nicely spiced pigeon and ham pie, a pork loin prepared with shallots and stuffed with anchovies, accompanied by crêpes filled with chicken and celery mousse with dishes of chestnut croquettes, globe artichokes à la Carême and spinach in a béarnaise sauce, meringues served with orange flavoured cream and pots de crème au chocolat.”

Quote from the Fencing Master’s Daughter, my first published novel, a Regency Romance.  Since bringing out the book I was surprised to find popular interest in my ugly fat little chef, Henri Vallon and even more about the delectable food he prepares.   I’ve been asked whether the meals are authentic to the period and whether I researched the food and ensured its accuracy.

The answer to that is as far as I could make them so in a fictional novel, they are correct.  Such meals could be and were prepared in England at that time although perhaps only by French chefs.  Obviously Henri Vallon is an invented character, however the Prince Regent’s head chef Marie-Antoine Carême, 1784–1833, often called Antonin by writers was a genuine character and many of Henri’s recipes were originally devised by Carême.  He was a brilliant innovative chef and is emulated by French chefs even to this day.  So although I borrowed some of Carême’s recipes, I can be sure they are contemporary.

I started writing the Fencing Master’s Daughter by inventing the characters of Louis and his daughter Madelaine and then moved on to Edward Charrington, the hero.  In the beginning of the book Madelaine rescues Edward from three footpads, but only a very fast young lady in the period would visit that area of London without some kind of escort.  Louis and Madelaine were not affluent so I doubted they would have female servants or old retainers, so who should accompany Madelaine?  So Henri Vallon was born.

Henri Vallon, who so enjoys producing food on a lavish, elaborate scale.  But Henri is not a facsimile for the elegant and slender Carême who wrote some of France’s most influential culinary books.  Carême wrote several books including commencing the encyclopaedic “L’Art de la Cuisine Française” (in 5 volumes, only completing three before his death.) According to Wikipedia they include hundreds of recipes, plans for menus, table settings, a history of French cookery, and instructions for organizing kitchens.  He was a brilliant innovative chef and is emulated by French chefs even to this day. 

His recipe for Les Petits Vol-Au-Vents a la Nesleserved to the elite in the Brighton Pavilion and at Chateau Rothschild contained over thirty ingredients and nearly as many instructions. To fill his vol-au-vent cases, the recipe requires 20 cocks-combs and testes, ten lambs sweetbreads, four whole lambs’ brains, two calves’ udders , ten small truffles and 20 lobster tails among the many other ingredients.

After I decided to use Carême as the inspiration for Henri’s recipes, there were other important details to figure out.  There was no canning or freezing of food in Regency times, so food was largely what was available in season or what could be preserved.

The aristocracy did have ice stores to keep food fresh fresh and glass houses where fruit and vegetables were forced to grow out of season, but for the majority of Great Britain’s population such food stuffs were far beyond their purses.  I was generously provided with details of the foods available to British shoppers in Regency times by Anne Seebaldt , and Sarah Waldock,  who are both serious students of the period.

For example for the month of December, seasonal poultry and game available could be fowls, capons, pigeons, pullets, turkeys, geese, larks, snipes, woodcocks, rabbits, hares, chickens, dotterels, widgeons, teals, wild-ducks, partridges, and pheasants. But not all of these would be obtainable in cities and the ton would have had fresh game sent up from their own country estates.  Dotterels are I have discovered apparently plovers which are not eaten in England today.

Vegetables that might be served were turnips, parsnips, carrots, purple and white brocoli, savoys, cabbages, shalots, onions, leeks, salsify, scor-zonera, skirrets, potatoes, parsley, spinach, beets, endive, celery, rocombole, garlic, forced asparagus, cardoons, cresses, lettuces, thyme, and all sorts of small salads and pot-herbs. The spellings are those of the period. Fish in season would have been;- bearbet, holoberts, dorees, sturgeon, gurnets, turbot, carp, soles, codlings, cod, smelts, oysters, muscles, cockles, eels, and gudgeons.

Some food stuffs and spices were imported but Napoleon was in control of most of Europe so not much continental produce was available.  Spanish and Portuguese wines, Madeira, Sherry and Port were all obtainable in England but French vintages and brandy were escalating in price owing to the restrictions on imports. Brandy and wine were still being smuggled into England but smuggling was closely linked with Napoleonic espionage.  Every effort was being made to suppress smuggling in England and smugglers were seen as traitors to the British cause.

Wellington’s armies were not being very efficiently supplied by England because of politicking within Army Headquarters at Horse Guards in London, so even the smallest information could benefit French forces.  The Fencing Master’s Daughter is set amongst this intrigue involving characters who were firm in their opposition to the Corsican menace.  Edward who had been a British Officer who was wounded in the Battle of Salamanca and Louis whose family had been executed in the French Revolution were intrinsically opposed to Napoleon ruling in Europe.

Yet while the British army risking their lives fighting in Spain ate short and often poor rations back in England there were few shortages and the elite ate exceptionally well. The Prince Regent entertained extravagantly throughout the period at Carlton House and in the Royal Pavilion at Brighton where Marie-Antoine Carême constructed meals which have rarely been rivalled for their beauty and complexity.





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