Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson

Tea with Jane Austen is a great resource for those who want to know the fine details of having tea during Jane Austen's time.

From Goodreads: Who would not want to sit down with Jane Austen and join her in a cup of tea? This book shares the secrets of one of her favourite rituals. Each chapter includes a description of how tea was taken at a particular place or time of day, along with history, recipes, excerpts from Austen's novels and letters and illustrations from the time.

This book contains six chapters: Tea in the morning, Tea and Shopping, Tea away from Home, Tea and Health, Tea in the Evening, and Making the Perfect Cup. It was exceedingly informative. Here are some things I want to remember.

The servants never made the tea. It was so expensive that it was kept under lock and key. Usually one of the ladies of the house kept the key, and when it was tea time the water would be brought and then the lady would make the actual tea. Jane Austen was the keeper of tea in her family. Tea was served with breakfast, which in the country was around 9:00 am. It usually consisted of tea and some sort of toast or muffins, although in large houses it would contain all sorts of ham, eggs, etc. Some people drank chocolate or coffee instead of tea, but because tea was so expensive it was seen as the refined thing to drink.

From the book: Breakfast in the Austen household was usually eaten at nine o'clock, but Jane frequently rose early and accomplished a great deal beforehand. She often practiced her music on the pianoforte, or wrote letters at her small, wooden writing desk. Whenever Jane and Cassandra were separated, they wrote to each other constantly. Jane wrote many of her letters before breakfast, a fact she often mentioned in the letter itself: 'Here I am before breakfast writing to you, having got up between six and seven.' "

People in the city ate breakfast as late as noon because of the late hours of the evening.

In the evening the family met for dinner, then assembled later in the drawing room to take tea and spend the evening entertaining one another. Tea was the excuse for the gathering.... By the regency period the modish were dining at six o'clock, seven o'clock, and later.  Tea was not served in the middle of the day in the Regency period. It was only served at breakfast and then later in the evening. All hours before dinner were called "morning", between dinner and tea was "afternoon", and "evening" started after tea. The afternoon tea is a Victorian invention.

Matters were more casual when the family dined alone or with close friends. The men might still linger over their wine..., but they seemed just as likely to join the women for an activity. In nice weather, walking was a favorite pastime. Sometimes they even walked between dinner and tea. After tea, cards and other games were played, even when there was no company. Charades were a favorite with the Austen family. They also read aloud to each other, often reading from novels, which some families spurned.

If a family was entertaining, they might invite some guests to dinner and tea, and others only to tea. Or they might invite guests they had run into that day and it would be just for tea. The Austens, who were far from rich, seem to have fulfilled a good many of their social obligations with invitations to tea. Tea parties offered a less expensive way of entertaining friends than having them to dinner.... Refreshments served with tea were generally light--bread, toast, muffins, buns, or perhaps cake.

When dinner was early, around three o'clock, supper was served later. But as dinner moved later and later, supper went from a full meal to some food on the sideboard.

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