What Would Jane Austen Eat? Lemon Curd!

Tea table set for two.

Tea table set for two. On the menu? Regency era lemon curd tarts. (Photo by author)

What’s a girl to do when her generous neighbor gifts her with a sack of homegrown lemons?

She makes Regency-era lemon curd and invites an Austen-loving friend over for tea, that’s what.

But was lemon curd known in Jane Austen’s day?

Definitely yes, judging by the many recipes for lemon and other fruit curds–or creams as they were often called– in the famed A New System of Domestic Cookery: Formed Upon Principles of Economy: and Adapted to the Use of Private Families by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell.

Published in 1806 by John Murray (who would later publish Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and a new edition of Mansfield Park), the book familiarly known as ‘Mrs. Rundell’ was an immediate success and continued as the most widely read cookbook in the first half of the century.1

Mrs. Rundell’s recipe for Lemon Cream calls for a ‘pint of rich cream, two beaten egg yolks, four ounces of sugar’ and the finely peeled zest of one lemon.

The mixture is boiled then allowed to cool, when the juice of the lemon is beaten in.2

Variations such as Raspberry, Coffee, Orange and Apple creams are listed.3 Her Snow and Almond creams sound more like syllabubs, light and frothy sweet thickened liquids.

Now that I had a confirmed genuine Austen-era sweet, which recipe would I use to make it? Recipes of the time, or receipts as they were often called, are far more rudimentary than the detailed ones we use today. Remember, in effect these books were written for professional cooks so basic techniques and vocabulary were assumed to be known already by any competent cook. I’m decently skilled but hardly a chef, let alone a food historian. I needed a modern recipe for my first go at lemon curd.

After an internet search, I chose Alton Brown’s recipe courtesy of the Food Network. It looked simple and was highly rated by readers.4 It took me approximately forty five minutes start to finish with most of the time devoted to prep work, especially zesting the lemons carefully to avoid even a hint of bitter white pith.

The kitchen smelled heavenly and there was something soothing, almost hypnotic about stirring the mixture until it thickened.

The recipe produced two cups of fragrant, sunshine bright, tangy-sweet curd.

Best of all was watching the delight and hearing the yummy-sounds made by my tea guest as she sampled the fruit of my labor. It might not have been formal etiquette but it was music to my ears.

My first foray into capturing the feel of the Regency era through cooking was such a success, I’m looking for my next ‘receipt’ to make soon.

Hot cross buns, anyone?

Two lemon curd tarts.

The results: lemon curd tarts similar to those that might have graced Jane Austen’s tea table. (Photo by author)




2 http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=H3UEAAAAYAAJ&q=lemon#v=snippet&q=lemon&f=false

3 ibid

4 http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/lemon-curd-recipe/index.html


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One Comment

  1. Maureen
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Historical cooking is so fun. I recently purchased “The Jane Austen Cookbook,” though I’ve yet find the opportunity (excuse/money) to try one of the recipes. I did recreate a Titanic dinner for my family that was a smash success–with no chilly seawater involved. 🙂

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