The idea was to host a summer picnic party in my North London garden – a 21st century version of the Box Hill party in Jane Austen’s Emma, but hopefully minus the ‘downright dullness’ that Emma feels and recklessly seeks to overcome by participating in Frank Churchill’s cruel games which lead to the humiliation of the annoying, but harmless, Miss Bates and Emma being soundly reprimanded by Mr Knightley. The food – like all the food in my blog – would be inspired by food and meals referenced in Austen novels, though with a 21st century twist on them and an adaptation for vegetarians, whose needs are not recognized in early 19th century novels!
However, whilst my guests behaved impeccably, the weather was not so obliging. Instead of the “very fine day” that Emma and her fellow characters enjoy, we had non-stop rain like that which Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice rides through on her way to Netherfield to dine with Mr Bingley’s sisters. Whilst Jane’s soaking leads to illness and an enforced stay at Mr Bingley’s house – all part of Mrs Bennet’s plan to encourage their relationship – my guests dried off quickly and no-one had succumbed to a fever by the end of the evening.
So, whilst we could not enjoy a summer picnic, and were instead squeezed into my front room with barely sufficient floor-space to dance a quadrille, we ate and drank to our heart’s content:
Cheese on toast: “Fanny was … thankful to accept the first invitation of going to bed … leaving all below in confusion and noise again, the boys begging for toasted cheese.” (Mansfield Park)
Mock-pigeon pie (vegetarian): “Mrs Elton was growing impatient to name the day and settle with Mr Weston as to pigeon-pies” (Emma)
Salmon: “Mrs Jennings … was … only disturbed that she could not .. extort a confession of [Elinor and Marianne] preferring salmon to cod” (Sense and Sensibility)
Cold chicken and ham: “in summer [Sir John Middleton] was for ever forming parties to eat cold ham and chicken out of doors…” (Sense and Sensibility)
Rout cakes: “[Mrs Elton] was a little shocked …at the poor attempt at rout-cakes” (Emma)
Gooseberry tart: “vain was even the sight of a gooseberry tart towards giving [Fanny] comfort: she could scarcely swallow two mouthfuls before tears interrupted her.” (Mansfield Park)
Strawberries (both as a dessert and in strawberry champagne): “The best fruit in England – everybody’s favourite – always wholesome” (Emma).