Happy Thanksgiving JASPers! Although Jane Austen didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, she was quite familiar with dinner parties and the dishes served at them. How are our popular Turkey Day meals different from those at a wealthy Regency family’s formal dinner party? Read on to find out!
The Formality of Meals and the First Course
When a servant announced dinner served, couples would proceed into the dining room. Typically, the man of the house took the highest-ranking lady, while the lady of the house took the arm of the highest-ranking gentleman. Guests were not assigned seats; however, it was understood that seats closest to the hostess should be taken by the highest-ranking guests.
We tend to mingle around throughout the house on Thanksgiving and sit next to our guests of choice. A variety of appetizers usually kick off our Thanksgiving dinners. Snacks, like crackers with dips and a veggie tray, or a signature cocktail are familiar favorites. Check out Food Network’s list of appetizers that they say are sure to impress your guests.
The first course at a Regency dinner was soup, common flavors being chestnut or artichoke. The host would supervise the serving of it and once it was finished, he or she would carve large portions of meat, such as mutton or beef. In seaside towns, there would likely be a fish course, mackerel with fennel and mint being a popular choice.
The Main Course
The main course is similar to the first course and includes many sweet and savory dishes. Roasted meat, pies and tarts, and game and fish courses were served. Vegetables drowned in a rich butter sauce and pickled vegetables were also brought out. Butter was more expensive than meat and showed off the wealth of the host.
It’s time to carve the turkey and pass the mashed potatoes. Stuffing, green bean casserole, rolls, and salad are other iconic dishes of the Thanksgiving main course. Closet Cooking included a roundup of their favorite main course meals with some fun new additions.
The Regency dishes described above and dessert would have likely occurred between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. and were prepared by servants. Our Thanksgiving feast can happen anywhere between lunch and dinner hours, and usually means the women of the family are in the kitchen all day.
Dessert was the most elaborate and expensive course. Interestingly, the tablecloth was always removed before dessert to signal the end of dinner and the end of formality. Common dessert items were fruits, nuts, marzipan, and ice cream. Dessert dishes were often displayed in a fashionable pyramid shape, particularly fruits and marzipan.
Are you full yet? Surely you have some room for dessert! Pumpkin and apple pie and puddings are familiar favorites. But if you’re not feeling the pumpkin, there are yummy chocolate dessert options! If you want to add a Regency twist to your modern dessert options, this lemon syllabub is a light and delicious treat.
During the Regency, each member of the dinner party was expected to take a drink from their glass after each toast. Any non-alcoholic beverage used for a toast would have been considered rude. Small beer, a lager or ale that contains a lower amount of alcohol by volume than most others, and sparkling ale were popular drink options to complement dinner. The drinks were served in high-shaped glasses similar to Champagne glasses.
After Dinner Festivities
Regency women would withdraw to the drawing room where tea would be served by the hostess, while men enjoyed their Port in the dining room. To wrap up the night, guests would play games and dance late into the night.
While the women are clearing the table and boxing up leftovers, men head to the couch to watch the game (I’m kidding….). But Thanksgiving doesn’t officially end until we finish all the leftovers… right?
Sources: JASNA Pudget House, The Regency Town House, The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, Regency History, The Edible Eighteenth Century, The Regency Redingote, Kim Rendfeld ~ Outtakes of a Historical Novelist, Kaye Dacus.