Category Archives for Regency Era Food

Sweet Romance; Marzipan in the Regency Era

June 28, 2023

Sweet Romance; Marzipan in the Regency Era

"Here is some of the nicest sweetmeat I ever ate in my life" –Sense and Sensibility.

In my latest work-in-progress, a sequel to Sense and Sensibility called A Return to Norland, my heroine’s suitor, Mr Ambrose, gives a dinner in honour of Margaret Dashwood, at which she sees a most elaborate table centerpiece made entirely of ice and marzipan trees and birds. Now, I wasn’t entirely making this up as elaborate table centrepieces were quite common in the upper classes when the host wished to give his or her guests a sense of his wealth and importance. What was the significance of sugar in the regency era, and how did marzipan play a part in this?

Sweets, or sweetmeats as they were commonly called, were definitely a part of regency life—and enjoyed as much as we enjoy them today. However, sugar in the Regency era was a lot more expensive than it is today—so much so that it was kept under lock and key along with the alcohol and other luxury items, in most households. The consumption of sweets was seen then as a sign of wealth, for those households that could afford the extra sugar for cook to make them.

That being said, in the regency era, if you were fortunate enough to be attending a dinner party given by one of your middle to upper class acquaintances, you might well see displayed on the table some of these sweet temptations: sugar plums (small, round sweets made of hardened sugar and flavoured with spices, dried fruit, and nuts) comfits (sugar-coated seeds or nuts, often flavoured with anise or caraway) Candied citrus peel, Turkish delight, and Marzipan.

Now when I was a little kid, I remember that my grandmother was very fond of marzipan and she often brought some when she came to stay. It was also my mother’s favourite, and so as a child I developed a liking for the almond-based sugary treat. Let’s look more into what it is and why it was so enjoyed.

Marzipan is a confection made from ground almonds and sugar. Its history can be traced back to ancient times, with evidence of marzipan-like sweets being made in Persia as early as the 7th century. The use of almonds in sweet dishes was popular in medieval Europe, particularly in the Middle East and in areas of Spain and Italy.

The origin of the name ‘marzipan’ is uncertain, but it is believed to come from the Arabic word ‘mawthaban’, which means ‘a food made of almonds.’ The ‘pan’ part of marzipan also reminds me of the word ‘bread’ since ‘pan’ means ‘bread’ in several languages. Perhaps it was called ‘marzi-pan’ as in a ‘sweet-bread’. At any rate, marzipan became popular in Europe during the Renaissance, and it was particularly favoured by royalty and the aristocracy. It was used to make elaborate decorations for feasts and special occasions, and it was often shaped into intricate figures like fruits, birds and animals, and hand painted.

During the 18th century, marzipan became more widely available and was enjoyed by people from all social classes. We can learn a little about marzipan as a status symbol in this period, in how it is mentioned in literature of the day. As exemplified in the quote beginning this blog, Austen and her contemporaries mention marzipan as quite a sought-after sweet…in Chapter 24 of Sense and Sensibility, Mrs Jennings offers a distraught Marianne some marzipan in the hopes that the delicious treat will distract her from her broken heart….as if marzipan could replace Willoughby! Below are some other quotes from literature of the day:

In Austen's novel Emma, Mrs Weston prepares a dessert that includes ‘cakes, creams, and iced sweetmeats,’ including ‘a dish of fine marzipan’ (Chapter 42). Maria Edgeworth's novel Belinda, incudes a scene where people are served a dessert that includes ‘cakes, creams, jellies, and marzipan’ at a dinner party (Chapter 17). And in Fanny Burney's novel Evelina, Captain Mirvan offers the beautiful young Evelina some marzipan, saying ‘Let me persuade you to take a bit of this marzipan; you'll find it exceeding good’ (Volume 1, Letter 26). So we can see that to serve marzipan was seen as a sign of refinement and status, mostly because the sugar to make it was so expensive, and therefore was a popular dish in the Regency and Georgian upper classes.

These sweets would have also represented a certain amount of creativity and imagination, as the marzipan was regularly sculpted into animals, people, castles or any other achievable shape. After their creation, these marzipan sweets were put on display as a centerpiece to a dinner party, or on a dessert table, just as they are in A Return to Norland.

As for the taste of marzipan, if you have never eaten it yourself, it was often flavoured with rosewater, orange blossom water, or other fruit essences. It’s not difficult to make, actually, and if you’d like to try your hand, it’s not very expensive to make either. Rosewater is an easy flavour to buy or you can try other fruit essences. Here is an original recipe from "The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy" by Hannah Glasse, which was a popular cookbook in the Georgian era:

Georgian-era Marzipan Recipe:

•1 lb. of ground almonds
•1 lb. of sugar
•1/2 pint of rosewater
•3 egg whites
•1/2 tsp. of orange flower water


1.In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground almonds and sugar.
2.Add the rosewater to the bowl and mix well until a smooth paste forms.
3.In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff and frothy.
4.Add the beaten egg whites to the almond mixture and stir until well combined.
5.Add the orange flower water and mix well.
6.Knead the mixture until it becomes smooth and pliable, adding more rosewater if needed to achieve the desired consistency.
7.Roll the marzipan into small balls or shape it into decorative figures as desired.
Note: This recipe is meant to be a guide, as measurements and techniques varied widely during the Georgian era. You may need to adjust the amounts of ingredients or cooking times based on your own experience and preference. Enjoy!

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Regency Desserts—What is Syllabub?

March 20, 2023

Regency Desserts—What is Syllabub? 

Like Jane Austen, most of us enjoy a sweet treat now and then, although dessert is not, for many households these days, a mandatory end to our dinners. In the Regency era however, dessert was quite a production in many cases, depending on the household budget, and almost always included not just one but several sweets to end the meal. If the meal was a formal dinner with guests, the dessert course could be considered a spectacular finale with many elaborate dishes.

Austen herself had much to say about the importance of sweets, not one of which is her quote above. She approved of sugar in moderation, and talks of her delight in a bath bun, her interest in sponge cakes, and in her novel Emma, Mrs Weston’s wedding cake is eaten down to the last crumb—and enjoyed by young and old!

Some popular desserts of the Georgian and Regency era were blancmanges, cakes and biscuits, especially macarons, baked fruits such as apples, custards, puddings, cheesecakes (which were nothing like our popular creamy version, but were made from almond meal and were more solid, usually baked in a puff pastry) ices (not the ice cream we know today, but more like sorbet), sweet pies, cakes, trifles, flummery, syllabubs, preserved fruits and so on. Not much different today, really, except the ingredients had no chemical preservatives and additives, so were likely a lot healthier!

Of all these desserts, we are familiar with most of them, but some of these treats seem to us to be quite mysterious! For example, syllabub is often mentioned in Regency fiction, but what is syllabub?

Regency romance novels were my first introduction to the dessert. The word ‘Syllabub’ makes me think of something silly and delicious at the same time!! (along with ‘flummery’!) Because it sounds so exotic it has always fascinated me. As I discovered, the heroines of romantic novels are often seen eating this strange-sounding confection at routs, balls and dinners, but I had no clue what it was.

It turns out that syllabub was a popular dessert in seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. Now strangely enough, syllabub could be, depending on its consistency, either a light whipped desert, or a thick drink! Traditionally it was made with wine and cream, and whipped for at least a half hour until it became wonderfully frothy. It was then served as a drink in glasses, and the frothy part sometimes eaten off the spoon. It reminds me of eating the milky froth from the top of a cappuccino!

Syllabub was generally made with whipped cream, whipped egg whites, red or white wine, sugar, and in the regency era, lemon juice and zest. Today’s syllabubs can be any flavour, and be combined creatively with any fruit and spices, but the traditional flavour is still lemon. The quantity of wine added would determine the consistency qualifying whether the mixture would be a creamy dessert or a thick beverage. Supposedly, one always knew who had been at the syllabub, because you would be given away by the white ‘moustache’ on your upper lip!

Syllabub recipes changed a lot over the years. One might milk a cow directly into the basin of alcohol, as in this recipe below from the 18th-century cookbook, The Experimental English Housewife. It instructs homemakers to “make syllabub under a cow” – or in plain words, milk the cow directly into a punch bowl filled with alcohol and sugar. “Let it stand an hour, then strew over it a few currants well washed, picked, and plumped before the fire. Then send it to the table.” I must say I would be always looking in my drink for cow hairs and dirt, however!

Here is another Georgian era recipe for the whipped confection:

Take a quart of thick cream, and half a pint of sack, the juice of two Seville oranges, or lemons; grate in the peel of two lemons; half a pound of double-refined sugar, pour it into a broad earthen pan, and whisk it well; but first sweeten some red wine, or sack, and fill your glasses as full as you chuse; then as the froth rises take it off with a spoon, and lay it carefully into your glasses, till they are as full as it will hold.

From Charles Carter The London and Country Cook (London: 1749)

Later on one must suppose the servants got tired of whipping the confection for half an hour at a time to froth it, and other methods were developed to make frothy and keep it that way, such as reducing the alcohol portion and adding in thicker cream. I personally like the idea of focussing on just the froth portion, and making it thicker, which is how syllabub is made today.

Here is a modern versions I found—needless to say, you will not have to whip it with a birch rod for half an hour!

Traditional Syllabub
•rind and juice of 1 lemon
•7 tbs sweet white wine
•2 tbs sherry
•1/2 pint double cream
•2 oz very fine sugar (we like to use icing sugar)
•grated nutmeg

Place the lemon rind, juice, wine, sherry, and sugar in a bowl and leave to soak for several hours. Remove the lemon rind. Add the cream. Whisk until it forms soft peaks. Put into glasses. If not serving immediately, put in the fridge to chill. However, it is best to make this shortly before you plan to serve it.

Garnish with grated nutmeg and some lemon rind twists. Serves 4

You can serve the syllabub with shortbread, gingersnaps or other biscuits. You can make a syllabub with just about any fruit. Popular choices include raspberries, peaches and strawberries.

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Coffee in Georgian-Era England

January 18, 2023

"Coffee in Georgian-Era England 

"No coffee, I thank you, for me -- I never take coffee. A little tea if you please, sir,by and bye…” Jane Austen’s Emma

In my upcoming novel, A Return to Norland, one of my characters is involved with coffee plantations in the West Indies, which meant I had to do a little research on coffee in general, and to what extent it was part of the daily lives of Georgian England.

Coffee had been introduced to English society in the 1600s, and by 1675 there were over 3,000 coffee shops spread over England. We are told that the atmosphere in these cafes was as much a part of the attraction as the drink, I guess not unlike today’s cafes, where people go for the ambience, and to be seen, as much as for the coffee itself.

However, unlike today’s cafes, those coffee houses in England from the 1700s onwards, were seen as places where men would gather to discuss erudite subject matter, discuss political issues, catch up with the day’s news and so forth. Commonly referred to as ‘penny universities’ they provided a place where people (males only unfortunately) could learn as much sipping coffee and listening to the discussions, as they could in a lecture room! The majority of those frequenting the coffee houses were people of higher social status. Coffee houses were the equivalent of today’s think-tanks, basically. Some famous businesses, notably Lloyd’s of London, were born in coffee houses of the 18th century.

Over time, coffee houses adapted to the social circles and needs of different coffee-drinking populaces. For example, The Coffee House, a favoured haunt of merchants and sailors, saw shipping information was shared and deals conducted. The Grecian Coffee-House in Devereux Court catered to the Whigs; the Rainbow attracted Freemasons and French refugee Huguenots. Slaughter’s on St. Martin’s Lane, boasted an artistic clientele. Still other coffee houses, including the Moll King’s coffee house Covent Garden, catered to lower class tastes

Many virtues have been ascribed to this berry, which it never possessed; and much undeserved censure has been thrown upon its use. It is certainly good in weakness of the stomach, head-ache, and want of appetite; in lethargic and sleepy diseases; but it is not good for lean and bilious people, nor for women in a state of pregnancy. Its invigorating qualities are strongly experienced, by taking it when the stomach is over-loaded with food, nauseated with surfeit, or weakened by intemperance; and it certainly takes away that listlessness and languor, which nervous people so severely feel, after any deviation to excess, fatigue, or irregularity. It is said to be of use in the gravel; and a dish of strong coffee, without milk or sugar, taken frequently in the height of an asthmatic fit, contributes much to its abatement. In the wet and damp seasons, to which the climate of England is so subject, there is no doubt but great advantage must result from the use of coffee.

(Perkins, 1796)

Coffee was not just reserved for coffee houses, however, and was a very common beverage on the breakfast table in many homes, and at many other times of the day also. Austen talks of coffee in almost all her novels, with the quote above coming from the novel Emma, where Miss Bates eschews an afternoon pick-me-up coffee, for the staple of English society, tea. But it is drunk with appreciation in Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and –on no fewer than six occasions – in Pride and Prejudice. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, when the gentlemen returned to the drawing room from their after-dinner port, they enjoyed coffee with the ladies, and Elizabeth is the one in charge of pouring the coffee-pot.

In a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1799, Austen noted that coffee was regularly on the breakfast table while her brother was home, noting, ‘It is rather impertinent to suggest any household care to a housekeeper, but I just venture to say that the coffee-mill will be wanted every day while Edward is at Steventon, as he always drinks coffee for breakfast’.

Although coffee was a popular drink, tea retained its place as the national drink. By the beginning of the 1800s, coffee houses had begun to wane in popularity. This was partly due to elite clubs and societies becoming more closed-door, and at the same time, the British East India Company influenced government policies to stimulate the demand for tea. Therefore, public coffee houses had slowly begun to disappear by Austen’s time, and had almost completely vanished by the 1830s, although coffee continued to be drunk in the home as a popular beverage.

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Rout Cakes—A Must-Have at any 19th Century Rout!

September 23, 2022

Rout Cakes—A Must-Have at any 19th Century Rout! 

Mrs Elton was a little shocked at the want of two drawing rooms, at the poor attempt at rout cakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card parties. (Jane Austen, Emma)

If you make a habit of reading Austen and her contemporaries, you may have come across a Regency era party food called ‘Rout Cakes’. In Austen’s Emma, Mrs Elton is contemptuous of the quality of the said ‘rout’ cakes. Rout cakes are also alluded to in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair , when Joseph Sedley, Amelia’s rather overweight brother, virtually inhales twenty odd rout-cakes at a party:

‘Joseph Sedley contented himself with a bottle of claret besides his Madeira at dinner, and he managed a couple of plates full of strawberries and cream, and twenty-four little rout cakes that were lying neglected in a plate near him.

What exactly is a rout, anyway? According to the Oxford English Dictionary a rout is ‘a fashionable gathering; a large evening party or soirée of a type fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries.’
Apparently, however, a ‘rout’ was not too large a gathering—under ten card tables, (which I believe seated four people) in fact. The earliest reference to the word rout goes back to 1745 in E. Haywood Female Spectator, the Georgian era equivalent of our modern Woman’s Day Magazine, which qualifies a rout this way. ‘She told me, that when the Number of the Company for Play exceeded ten Tables, it was called a Racquet, if under it was only a Rout.’

Rout Cakes are a kind of rich sweet cake flavoured with brandy and/or orange juice, rose water, Madeira and usually currants. These were traditional at a party/rout—and in the regency, ‘routs’ were very popular. Who doesn’t like boozy cakes!!

Now, I do love trying my hand at Regency era recipes, so for this blog I went looking for recipes—and found that there is a lot of variation in recipes. So for interest, here is the recipe which dates the earliest, and comes from Maria Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery.(1824)

Rout Drop-Cakes
Mix two pounds, one ditto butter, one ditto sugar, one ditto currants, clean and dry; then wet into a stiff paste, with two eggs, a large spoonful of orange-flower water, ditto rose-water, ditto sweet wine, ditto brandy, drop on a tin floured: a very short time bakes them.

But for more modern cooks, below is a recipe which might be easier to follow, and the one I used myself. See my photo below. I had a blast making them, and I can understand why Joseph Sedley ate so many!

Rout Cakes


  1. Using an electric mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs. Then add the remaining liquids.
  2. Add the flour/currants to the liquid mixture and blend until all of the flour is incorporated into the mixture.
  3. Heat the oven to 160F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper
  4. Wet your hands and roll the dough into small balls, about 2 teaspoons full. Or drop onto the surface with a spoon
  5. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until they are firm and slightly golden brown


salted Butter, softened


Sugar half brown/ half white

1 & 1/2 CUPS

Large Eggs


Orange-Flower Water or essence


Rose-Water or Rose essence


Sweet White wine –madeira, port or sherry




 All-Purpose (Plain) Flour

3 & ¼ CUPS



If you can’t get the Orange-Flower Water or essence, try orange zest and orange juice together to get the flavour. A good supermarket should have Rose-Water or Rose essence in the baking section.

Store in an airtight container. Note: These were easy to make, and even more delicious than I had imagined! Serve with tea, coffee, sherry or Cointreau, and definitely serve them at your own ‘rout’!

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration