Nutmeg: The Pumpkin Spice of the Georgian/Regency Period?

On February 19th, JASNA-NJ hosted a talk by the food historian Julienne Gehrer. Gehrer annotated and wrote the introduction to Martha Lloyd’s Household Book as well as the Dining with Jane Austen Cookbook. Her lecture was a wonderful portrait of the friendship and closeness between Jane and Cassandra Austen and Lloyd (described as a second sister to the Austen women), as well as a window into the world of the Regency kitchen. Lloyd is often described as the Austen’s cook, but she was so much more–friend, confidant, and organizational and culinary mastermind who kept the household running like a finely tuned machine.

Women’s notes about food and housekeeping, even though recipes don’t have the precision of modern cookbooks (a “loaf of sugar,” for example, is a common measurement in Lloyd’s original text), highlight the level of detailed planning required to manage a home.

The book contains many ingredient lists for food and medicinal preparations. Gehrer has adapted many of Austen’s favorite recipes for modern kitchens, including Austen’s favorite toasted cheese, as well as white soup (which Gehrer says is delicious, as well as enables the diner to experience all the delights of the Netherfield Ball without suffering the attentions of Mr. Collins).

Gehrer also notes that, contrary to the stereotype of British cuisine being bland and stodgy, Austen’s dishes did contain many fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices, although the spices weren’t always suited to the modern palate. Nutmeg and mace were two of the most commonly used spices, even in meat dishes. In fact, one of the challenges Gehrer faced in adapting recipes was toning down the nutmeg. Nutmeg was a prestigious spice back in Austen’s era, and many wealthy people would have their own, personal nutmeg graters to carry around. Alas, this antique pocket Regency nutmeg grater available at Sotheby’s is no longer available.

A true Regency gentleman was never without his nutmeg grater!

So all this while I’ve been mocked by my British friends for the persistence of pumpkin spice in American processed foods, and now I learn this!

Hmph! I know what I’m having for Sunday dinner!

Calling All Nutmeg!

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