For all her skill as a writer, Jane Austen was not much of a cook, says Alison Flood in The Guardian. In a letter to her sister, Cassandra, Austen fretted constantly about dinner parties. She dreaded “the torments of rice puddings and apple dumplings”, and complained that “composition seems to me Impossible, with a head full of joints of Mutton & doses of rhubarb”.
But Austen did have one culinary vice – cheese toasties. During a stay with her friend Edward Bridges, the author was delighted by his sandwiches. “It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me,” she wrote to Cassandra. “He made a point of ordering toasted cheese for supper entirely on my account.”
Now you can make Austen’s favourite snack for yourself, thanks to a rediscovered recipe book written by her closest friend, Martha Lloyd. They lived together for years, with Lloyd writing recipes while Austen wrote novels. Lloyd’s “household book” will be published by the Bodleian Library this June. There are instructions for whipped syllabub, a “Very good white Sauce for boil’d Carp” and white soup, which Mr Bingley drinks in Pride and Prejudice. But the cheese toastie remained Austen’s favourite – and it’s a simple snack. “Grate the Cheese & add to it one egg, & a teaspoonful of Mustard, & a little Butter,” says Lloyd. “Send it up on a toast or in paper Trays.”
Ingredient of the week: globe artichokes
The “languid pleasure” of pulling the petals off a globe artichoke is worth the effort it takes to prepare one, says Tom Parker Bowles in Country Life. It requires “a slow undressing – the foreplay to the main event”. By the time you’ve got to the “virginal” heart of the artichoke, the “greedy anticipation is almost overwhelming”. No wonder it was long considered an aphrodisiac.
The Italians are masters of the “noble thistle”, which they eat raw, “anointed” with olive oil and lemon juice. They even have an expression, “the politics of the artichoke”, to describe the “art of dealing with opponents one by one”. Springtime in Rome brings deep-fried artichokes stuffed with mint and garlic. But for me, “simple is always best”. Steam them for 20 minutes and serve hot with melted butter or cold with vinaigrette.