“Great writers and my mom never used food as an object. Instead it was a medium, a catalyst to mend hearts, to break down barriers, to build relationships.”
— Lizzy from Lizzy & Jane
I’ve written on food and Jane Austen before… and I return to it because it fascinates me. Austen uses food as a character and she reveals much about those interacting with her. (Today food is a “her.”) She takes the temperature of the moments and informs the social exchanges. We see poor, ailing Mary Musgrove in Persuasion downing cold meats upon our first introduction and we know her constitution isn’t quite so weak. We gasp as Jane Fairfax in Emma refuses some arrowroot “of very superior quality” understanding that she’s tired of Emma’s manipulations and false friendship. We cringe as Mrs. Jennings in Sense &
Sensibility hopes that Marianne can be “tempted to eat by every delicacy in the house” knowing that she is throwing the kitchen sink into the problem hoping for a fix. We also watch Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice count courses and wield food as status and social weapons. We smile as Mr. Knightley from Emma gives only of his own manor-grown foods and offers them personally. And we join Elinor (Sense & Sensibility), in a time of great distress, for a quick simple meal to help her keep up her strength for Marianne. A practical meal or a practical woman.
But don’t mistake Jane Austen for a foodie – she’s no Dickens pining for and describing a delicious breakfast. Instead, Austen uses food much as writers use place, weather, or even time periods. She uses food judiciously, like sea salt and a mere sprinkle brings much to life.
I focused on this aspect of Austen’s writing when designing Lizzy and Jane. Lizzy is a chef who reconnects with food as a way to reach her sister. The first meal she cooks is below and is personal family favorite… Shepherd’s Pie. After all what is more comforting than a Shepherd’s Pie?
One might say it’s a winter dish and I’m a couple months too late. Normally, I’d agree. But today there is sleet and snow out my window, so I think this is right on time and maybe on tonight’s menu. Enjoy. And the next time you pick up your favorite Austen novel, pick out a food reference or two and be sure to savor all they reveal.
Happy, Yummy, Reading!
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, chopped
2lbs. ground beef / lamb*
2 tablespoons plain (all purpose flour)*
1 ½ cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (or thyme or oregano)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1 bay leaf
2lbs. mashing potatoes
1/3 stick butter
1 tablespoon milk
Cooking time: 2 hrs.
- Notes: In Lizzy & Jane and in my house, lamb (making it Shepherd’s Pie) or combination of beef and lamb (making, perhaps, “Shepage” Pie) are used. Any meat combination is yummy. Also my middle child eats gluten-free so I substitute a gluten-free flour for the all-purpose and it too works beautifully. And one last note – in our hungry family, this recipe feeds 5 perfectly.
- Heat half of the oil in a large saucepan and cook the onions, garlic and carrots over a moderate heat until softened. Set aside.
- Add remaining oil to the pan, add the meat and cook until lightly colored (7 minutes +/-). Sprinkle with the flour, stir and cook for a further minute.
- Add the broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, herbs and the bay leaf. Add back the onion mixture and bring to boil, then gently simmer over a low heat for 45 minutes. Add a little more broth if it becomes dry.
- While that is cooking, preheat oven to 350 and peel the potatoes, cutting them into 1 inch pieces. Put them into a large saucepan of salted water and bring to boil. Cook over moderate heat for 15-20 minutes or until soft. Drain, return to pan, add butter, and mash with a little milk. The mash needs to remain firm. Beat with a wooden spoon to make it fluffy.
- Spoon the meat filling into a lasagna size pan, spreading the mash over the top. Fluff the mash with a fork and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the topping is golden.
- I always serve this dish with petite peas. Enjoy!
Inspired by Joanne Glynn’s Slow Cooking: Not So Fast Food – a gem of a book!