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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

 

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

A Turkey Jane Austen Would Recognize

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ November 28, 2020

I had decided. This Thanksgiving I would take it easy. We all know what a difficult year it has been, and only family members who live closest to us would be able to come for dinner. Definitely a good time to let the deli roast my turkey for me. 

Until I told my daughter-in-law, AKA the Grocery Angel, who has been doing all our shopping for us for the past 9 months. “Oh, I already bought a turkey,” she said. A 20-pounder, no less. That was because the grocery store had already sold out of smaller ones since few people were having large parties this year.

I gulped and turned to Plan B. I had already read with considerable interest, a new series featured in the always delightful “Jane Austen’s Regency World” magazine. This featured “Turkey à la Daube,” a recipe recorded by Lady Winn Nostell who lived from 1734-1798—well into Jane Austen’s lifetime. The recipe is taken from the newly published Georgian Recipes and Remedies, A country Lady’s Household Handbook, by Michael J Rochford.

 

The main ingredients are simple: turkey, garlic, bacon, seasonings. The tricky part was not having the proper equipment at hand. I had long been intrigued by the process of larding meat, and since my major objection to turkey is it’s tendency to be dry, this attracted me. But, alas, I had no larding needle. Nor had any of our local gourmet kitchen shops. Nor had my foodie friends. Not even the miracles of Amazon Prime could deliver a larding needle to me in time.

 

Undaunted, I rolled my small strips of bacon in seasonings as directed.

 

I then proceeded to pierce a slit in my turkey breast with an ice pick and insert the larding with the blunt end of a nail. I was amazed when the, admittedly awkward, process actually worked.

 

Placing garlic cloves and seasonings in the cavity and draping bacon over the outside was a matter of minutes. But again, I was unsupplied with the prescribed earthen pot. Following my Georgian guide as closely as I could, I placed the turkey breast downwards into the enameled roasting pan I inherited from my mother, and added a half pint of broth.

 

Following the direction to make certain no steam escaped, I secured the lid with strapping tape. (On reflection, I realize that tying it with twine would have been preferable.)

 Lady Winn would then have me “set it to a pot of boyle water.” I chose my nice, modern oven set at 325 degrees. After the 4 hours my recipe recommended (I had no idea how large a Georgian turkey would be, but I suspected less than 20 pounds), I took it out, thinking to turn the turkey over and return it to the oven to allow the breast to brown and the bacon to crisp—feeling certain that steaming in a covered pot could not produce those results.

 

I couldn’t have been more surprised when I lifted the lid. The deep, golden turkey skin and crisp bacon required no further need of browning. A good thing, that, because the bird was so tender it fell apart on my attempt to turn it over. The one thing I will change next time (besides having the proper equipment) is that I will roast it breast up.

 

I couldn’t have been more pleased, however, when I tasted the flavorful, juicy meat the process produced—in spite of its unorthodox appearance. My family agreed. And no one complained about the presentation.

 

A lot of fun and a great success—but how authentic was the recipe actually? After all, Lady Winn was Swiss born and lived in Yorkshire. What would the Austens in Hampshire have been likely to do with their turkeys?

 

We know from Jane Austen’s letters, which mention turkey several times, that they were a prized dish in the family. Mrs. Austen raised turkeys along with her ducks, chickens, geese and guinea fowl, and Jane’s brother Edward particularly wished them well via one of Jane’s letters. A turkey was sent from the Austen home in Steventon to Jane’s brother Henry in London for his French chef to prepare, and the family often made gifts of turkeys to family members and friends.

 Jane mention eating turkey for Christmas and has her gourmand vicar Dr. Grant show a special fondness for turkey in Mansfield Park. Mrs. Grant stresses over the fact that the warm weather requires the turkey be cooked sooner than keeping it for Sunday dinner as Dr. Grant would prefer.

 In the same novel Mary Crawford states her intention of being rich enough to afford turkeys—an announcement that causes dismay to Edmund, the country parson who is enamored with her.

 In Emma Mrs. Weston’s poultry yard is robbed of her turkeys. And in the fragment The Watsons, the older sister chides Elizabeth for the extravagance of serving turkey, but Elizabeth defends her choice by explaining it is their father’s favorite dish. Unfortunately, Mr. Watson is too ill to take more than tea with them.

 So, plenty of turkeys in Jane Austen’s world, but were they prepared anything like Lady Winn’s receipt?

 

I found a very similar method in Dinner With Mr. Darcy. Pen Volger gives us a recipe from William Verral,  eighteenth-century landlord of the White Hart Inn in Lewes, Sussex, who trained under a continental chef. Verral was determined to introduce the “modern and best French cookery” to his customers.

Volger, a la Verral, also recommends larding the turkey with bacon and draping strips over the breast. Verral’s turkey is then braised—cooked surrounded by [a complicated-sounding] liquid in a covered pan, like Lady Winn. Volger does this in the oven, as I did, however, rather than over boiling water per Lady Winn’s method.

So, apparently, I was, indeed, following an authentic recipe, if by somewhat unorthodox methods.

One final aspect of Lady Winn’s recipe interested me. For Thanksgiving dinner I, of course, served my turkey warm with gravy, as does Verral. But Lady Winn says to “let it stand until it is cold. Serve it up on a napkin & covered it over w’th jelley. It is to be eaten w’th Oyil & Vinegar.”

I am assuming she is referring to a calf’s foot jelly, not a sweet. Perhaps something like a French recipe for serving cold meat en gelée—which would make an elegant dish to serve at a Regency ball. I have not yet tried eating the leftovers with oil and vinegar, but that sounds good.

 I should have plenty of chances to find out, because I have already ordered my larding needle for next year.

 

Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

Read More: Regency World

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