Tea with the Bennets of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by Margaret Vaughan

“I am told I have a habit of describing people in culinary terms. I certainly find myself doing this with Mr and Mrs Bennet’s family, friends and acquaintances.” – Introduction

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I bought the book from the Jane Austen Centre, Bath and had it shipped to me in Melbourne.

I also bought the Jane Austen action figure (with the pink spencer jacket), which was my initial reason for purchasing at the shop. While not a cheap acquisition (especially given the frustratingly weak Australian dollar at the moment), I am very glad to have the book in my collection and the Archie McPhee Jane Austen action figure is terrific (she comes with a Pride and Prejudice book and a quill, though neither can be held in her hand). Much to the surprise of my wife, I did actually take her out of the box – though she is currently in her protective plastic casing in my Jane Austen book cupboard.

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It cost me about $16 for the book itself, which isn’t terribly expensive for a cookbook but after shipping is a bit pricey for a book of its size.

Described as an “anthology of recipes” this slim volume is a remarkable collection of recipes that link beautifully back to the Regency characters we love. It comes with a book mark slotted in (with our ever favourite line “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” on it) and I browsed through it quickly at first, surprised at the number of recipes squeezed into the pages and yet the elegance of the page layout.

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Those who read The Bennet Sisters regularly will know I’m a huge fan of cookbooks, particularly when they combine my love of the Regency era and alternative cuisines. I have previously reviewed Dinner with Mr Darcy and Cooking with Jane Austen & Friends and I always get a huge amount of pleasure from finding recipes that Jane Austen may have eaten some form of, and then butchering them with my own lack of ability to follow a recipe.

A flick through initially revealed colour photographs of meal spreads – some with a bit of a 1980s Women’s Weekly cookbook look, but others more in Regency style. Small sketches of flowers and fruits accompany a number of the other recipes, which makes it charming to browse through.

It was nice to quickly be able to see that some of the recipes had been chosen for our Pride and Prejudice characters. Catherine de Bourgh’s Brittle Bites was particularly apt, as was Mr Wickham’s Indelicate Pudding, and these sorts of characterised recipes is exactly what I want to see.

Some very English recipes (such as boiled fruit cake) are dotted inbetween and it turns out that the Scottish author Margaret Vaughan is well known for her baking – with The Old Bakehouse still in her family, and having appeared on the BBC before.

I made two recipes from this book – one savoury, one sweet – and must say that I was impressed with them. Even though I veganise and gluten free everything (and completely guess the amounts), they worked out well after some minor tweaks.

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The first thing I decided that I just absolutely had to try out was the cheese muffins in the Daily Bread chapter. Veganising and turning these gluten free was absolutely simple and they came out wonderfully. I ended up using some dijon mustard, Daiya cheddar cheese and nutritional yeast, along with a gluten free Orgran flour to make them. Egg replacer was used instead of traditional egg and I opted for soy milk as well. I used a cupcake tray to cook them in. The recipe in the book calls for the more Regency-appropriate but somewhat more disgusting lard.

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The mixture was quite thick so I wasn’t sure how this was going to come together, but it cooked beautifully, being that perfect density that allows butter (in this case the thankfully-vegan Nuttelex) to seep in and give it that amazing flavour and texture.

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I had it with tomato, salt and pepper in, almost as a savoury version of scones and then later had one with a salad, breaking it up to act as a crouton-type addition. It’s filling, warm and a perfect snack or meal accompaniment.

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It’s best toasted after cooking and reminds me a little of damper.

The second recipe I decided to veganise was that for honey buns in the Tea Table chapter. I did a vegan honey-free bun version using rice syrup instead of honey (which works much in the same way but has a slightly different taste). The first time I put them in the oven and stuck to the recipe completely (using fairly exact equivalents of egg replacer, vegan butter etc) the heat of the oven made it completely overflow. So it was a complete disaster. The second time around I added more gluten free flour so it was much thicker going into the oven and the ones that came out were perfect. The original recipe asks for a sugar/honey/mead dressing, however I made a glaze instead using Vegeset (vegan gelatine-type ingredient), rice syrup and water that worked out nicely.

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I made them for my friend, so wrapped them up in greaseproof paper and string individually (they were quite sticky) and gave them to her to eat. She really liked them too and they had that nice denseness that I actually quite enjoy in a cake.

Effectively, the recipes are pretty easy. Measures and details are in the back as well as space for notes if you’re the sort of person who likes to write in their books (guilty!). It was a shame there wasn’t another negus/mulled wine recipe as I would have liked to make another version and thought it might be in there as a sweet, but it is packed with many other things to try.

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