Jane Austen was born on the 16th of December, 1775, at the quiet rectory of Steventon in rural Hampshire. Two Hundred and thirty-nine years later the world is still celebrating her birthday as a heartfelt "Thank you" for the enormous joy her six novel and assorted minor works have brought to our lives.
And here in Boise, Idaho, 4,815 miles from Steventon, The Idaho Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America celebrates Jane's birth with an annual birthday tea that would undoubtedly amaze, and hopefully, delight her.
This year Janeites and friends were welcomed to the Grove Hotel by a string quartet from Boise High School and had an opportunity to purchase tickets for a chance to win an amazing quilt.
The quilt, made by Boise JASNA member Cheryl Neruda,
was modeled on the one Jane and her sister Cassandra slept under at their home in Chawton Cottage and is on display on the bed there.
There was also time to browse a fine assortment of gift baskets for the raffle, and check out the book table which included my A Jane Austen Encounte
r, the March selection for the Jane Austen Book Club.
After toasting Jane Austen with our tea cups, we enjoyed scones with lemon curd, assorted sandwiches and pastries.
It was a good thing we had eaten first because if not, the delightful talk Julienne Gehrer gave on food in Jane Austen's day would have had us all ravenous.
Julienne (pictured here with Carole Stokes, director of the Idaho Region) titled her speech "Would Jane Austen Prefer a Plain Dish to a Ragout?" And accompanied it with slides showing her own preparation of the many authentic recipes she has researched from Austen family cookbooks.
Julienne, who researched her topic at the Chawton House Library in Hampshire, said that in her simple phrase contrasting a plain dish to a ragout, Jane Austen had encapsulated the entire debate between English cooking and French cuisine which covered issues of class, status and power. She said Captain Austen's Fish Sauce, which she served over English Soals, was her greatest surprise, because such diverse ingredients produced an excellent, richly flavorful sauce. Asked if one couldn't just use Worcestershire Sauce instead, Julienne exclaimed, "Of course you can! But then you wouldn't be connected to Jane and the Austen family. It's all about connections."
After studying the numerous references to food in Jane's novels and letters, Julienne concluded that Jane Austen was the equivalent of today's foodie and would definitely prefer a ragout. She mentioned as one piece of evidence that only months before her death, Jane was hunting out a new recipe for orange wine. You can read more about the fascinating Austen Food Project at Dining with Jane Austen.org.
Following the tea I was honored to meet and sign books for so many readers. Thank you.
Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more.