Fall Food

Fall Food

As fall grows colder, I turn to my slow cooker. I think we are hard-wired to slow down, crave warm food and seek cozy spaces in the winter. Perhaps we go into a bit of our own hibernation – after all, we expend a lot of energy in all that summer sunshine.

Austen’s books provide great company for those cozy moments, and so does her food. In Austen’s time there was a strong suspicion of fresh veggies and salad fixings – they too leaned toward the more savory warm dishes that take time to cook and make your house smell marvelous.

And Austen talks about food too. One may not note it in her stories as there is so much else going on, but she uses food in very important ways.

Food revealed her characters’ motivations. It often clarified relationships or it shined a bright light – good and bad – on some of her characters’ deepest personality flaws. Remember poor, ailing Mary Musgrove in Persuasion downing cold meats upon our first introduction? Austen was certainly telling us something about that young woman. And remember when Jane Fairfax in Emma refuses some arrowroot “of very superior quality?” We know what that’s all about – and, by that point, Emma does too. And don’t forget Mrs. Jennings in Sense & Sensibility when she hopes that Marianne can be “tempted to eat by every delicacy in the house.” Ever practical Mrs. Jennings, in some ways, tells us – get up and get going, sustain yourself or worse will come. And for Marianne… It does. Her sister Elinor, however, gets the point. In a time of great distress, she wisely grabs a quick simple meal to keep up her strength for Marianne.

Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs. Jennings, 1995.

We also watch Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice count courses and wield food as status and social weapons – and you’ll never find her daughters in the kitchen. And we smile as Mr. Knightley (from Emma) gives only of his own foods and offers them personally. What a guy!

But a reader may not notice any of this because it’s not the food that grabs our attention – it’s how Austen uses the food. Devouring cold meats tells us very clearly – Mary Musgrove is a whiner. Jane Fairfax is tired of Emma. And Mrs. Jennings knows a broken heart will pass.

So as you make warm and cozy dishes this fall – remember that food is so much more than food. That savory soup you serve for dinner – it’s also a sign of love, care and a very practical way to stay warm on a cold night.

Happy Eating and Yummy Reading!

 

 

 

6 Responses to Fall Food

  1. Let’s not forget Mr. Hurst [who lived only to eat and drink] and his attitude toward Elizabeth when he discovered her preference for a plain dish to a ragout. He had nothing to say to her after that. Culinary snobbery.

    Mrs. Bennet wanting to know Darcy’s favorite dish and her concern that he probably had several French chefs. English cooking was changing due to French influence and more exotic dishes were being served. When Collins was to arrive she fretted over not being able to obtain a fish. When she thought Charlotte was coming she mentioned her everyday meal was good enough.

    Hunting: We know hunting was mentioned a lot. Mrs. Bennet told Bingley he could come to Longbourn after he killed all his own birds. Charles Musgrove and our Captain Wentworth went hunting on more than one occasion and even captured a brace of birds. I can assume they appeared on the dinner table that night. Sir John Middleton was always sending food [the catch of the day] to the ladies at Barton Cottage. He was a avid hunter.

    Mr. Knightly kindly sent food to the ladies in the Bates house. Emma as well. Poor Mr. Woodhouse, fretful over food and health concerns.

    Mr. Gardiner enjoyed fishing at Pemberley. Lady Catherine [Judi Dench] requested a fish course in that version of the movie.

    Charlotte Collins nee Lucas was particularly proud of her poultry. We also know she had a pig and a garden, which Mr. Collins was encouraged to work in.

    Lady Catherine chided Charlotte on buying too large a portion of meat, stating that the servants were taking advantage. She insisted on taking it back and exchanging it for a smaller portion. She also had a lot to say about food and how to maintain her health. Control.

    In Northanger Abby, poor Mr. Allen suffered from gout. That was usually a consequence of too much rich food and wine.

    Mr. Price invited Mr. Crawford to partake of their mutton [from an adult sheep and not a quality cut]. It denoted class status and was what they could afford. Mrs. Price was concerned about her servants and the food prep. The young Price boys caused the maid to spill the curds and whey. That cost them their cheese and any other uses in food prep.

    Mrs. Norris gleamed a cream cheese from her Sotherton visit. So people made use of their dairy.

    I’m sure there are others… these are just a few I could think of off the top of my head.

  2. One food scene that sticks in my mind is Mr Collins highly admired the dinner and supposed his cousins cooked it and that the estate could not afford a cook.

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