What Jane Ate in a Day

What Jane Ate in a Day

“What I Eat in a Day” is a popular subject for YouTube videos this year. Watching a few such videos got me thinking about making a “What Jane Ate in a Day” blog post. Of course, it’s impossible to know what Jane actually ate each day, but we do have a few of her family recipes as well as hints from her books, letters, and history.

Jane’s meals probably wouldn’t be that different from our own. She ate breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack. People of her time called lunch “nuncheon” and their late night snack “supper.”  Unlike most of the YouTubers, who seem to eat their meals alone, Jane would have eaten almost all of her meals in the company of others. Ordinary country folk often ate meals in the kitchen by the light of the fireplace while richer folk ate in dining rooms by candlelight. They also tended to eat meals later in the day than we do.

Jane’s breakfast probably took place at around nine or ten a.m. It’s likely she may have enjoyed a slice of bread flavored with caraway seeds and spread with butter. She would probably drink tea with her meal. (She might have also eaten gruel, a muffin, or cold meat instead.) An Austen family recipe for Bath buns, which included caraway seeds, is widely available on the internet, but I think the Austens probably saved the sweet Bath buns for special occasions.

Jane probably enjoyed a nuncheon at noon. This would have been more of a snack than a large meal. I imagine Jane might have enjoyed a slice of cheese, some gruel, a bit of cold meat, or soup.  Here  I have  pictured  a slice  of  cheese.

The Austens would have served dinner between three and five p.m. It was the biggest meal of the day. Meat was a staple at family dinners of the time, and Jane would have eaten a wide variety of meats, including pigeon, pork, beef, partridge, venison, veal, and mutton. In a letter, Jane mentioned that she enjoyed ragout veal and haricot mutton. She may have enjoyed wine with her meal and perhaps a baked apple for dessert. Here I have pictured a beef roast with boiled potatoes and carrots.

 

Supper was served quite late at around ten or eleven p.m. and was more of a snack than a meal. Jane might have had a bit of cold meat or a bowl of soup. The Bingleys served white soup for supper at the Netherfield Ball, so I gather that white soup was something the Austens made for more formal suppers. You can find the Austen family recipe for white soup on various internet sites. In an 1805 letter, Jane wrote, “We were greatly surprised by Edward Bridge’s company…It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me; he made a point of ordering toasted cheese for supper, entirely on my account.” Here then, is a picture of toasted cheese:

What do you eat in a day? I often eat dinners like Jane Austen’s, but I’m pretty sure she never had a green smoothie!

 

16 Responses to What Jane Ate in a Day

  1. Rebecca, Thank you for this fascinating post. I could never get used the the meal times. I try to stay away from sugar, carbs and dairy.

  2. Love these tidbits of information. I has no idea what Jane would have eaten in a day. All I know, if I ate so little, I would be thin! LOL Thanks!

    • If you’ve ever read the book “Heidi”, that is pretty much what she eats in a day. I’m not sure it’s all that terrible. Give us another ten years, it might be the fashionable new way of eating.

  3. Great post, Rebecca! What Jane ate seems to be as far from the current trend for low-carb diets as you can get. I wonder what she would think about so-called “clean eating” and other similar fads of the 21st century…

  4. Cool post! I like the pics too especially the toasted cheese, toasted cheese sandwich is one of my favs! I probably eat similar to Jane as I have my three meals but I like a snack on the afternoon too!

    • I’m glad you liked it. We have a recipe for toasted cheese from Martha Lloyd, Jane’s friend who lived with her in Chawton: “Grate the cheese and add it to one egg, a teaspoonful of mustard, and a little butter. Send it up on toast, or in paper trays.”

  5. What an interesting post, and I enjoyed the photos. Something else different today is portion sizes. From your research it doesn’t sound like Jane would have piled her plate full (like we do); but rather ate small meals every three or four hours. Thanks for sharing your research!

    • I just assumed Jane would eat less than we do although that is up for debate. I’m not sure how I would research portion sizes. I don’t think people measured or weighed portions the way we do today. In fact, that is one of the things that was the biggest shock to me after living away from the United States for a year. When I returned, it seemed that people were obsessed with calories and fat.

  6. John Smith’s comment reminded me… recently, I saw a video clip where they were holding a wheel of cheese with the cup part toasted until it was golden. They then scraped it onto a plate to be served. It appears to be rather popular right now. However, I do love a good grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup or chili. This post was fascinating. I have never eaten mutton so I have no idea what I am missing or have been spared. Thanks for sharing. Lovely photos by the way.

    • That is interesting about the wheel of cheese. I posted Martha Lloyd’s recipe for toasted cheese in the comment below. She used grated cheese, an egg, and milk. It could be served with or without toast. I am all for toast, so I pictured it that way. I have had lamb, but I don’t think I’ve had mutton. I imagine it’s not as good, but maybe if we used Jane’s recipe, we would like it. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Despite what most people seem to say online, I don’t think “toasted cheese” has much to do with bread or toasted bread, per se. I think “toasted cheese” refers to the toasting of the cheese itself. If you look at most old, fancy silver cheese toasters such as Jane and the middle classes and the aristocracy used, they mostly seem to have many little sections for the “toasting” of individual servings of cheese for various diners at a meal or other occasion. So the toasted cheese could then be served to each diner (in individual bowls or on little plates?) to be used on crackers or toast or other things I suppose. I suppose the toasted cheese could have been prepared by staff and then plated with the cheese atop bread or toasted bread and served in the dining room. But I don’t think “toasted cheese” in Jane’s time was a proto-cheese sandwich. It was the cheese itself.

    • There is actually a recipe from Martha Lloyd for toasted cheese. You are right. It is served with or without bread. The recipe is as follows:
      “Grate the cheese and add it to one egg, a teaspoonful of mustard, and a little butter. Send it up on toast, or in paper trays.” Martha was Jane’s friend and lived with her at Chawton for a time. I am not sure what a paper tray may have looked like.

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