All posts by Zeina Makky

About Zeina Makky

Zeina Makky is a newspaper designer turned web developer, living and working in the D.C. area. Besides Jane Austen, Zeina’s passions include calligraphy, pop culture and chocolate.

Food, Regency style

Keira Knightley and Tom Hollander in 'Pride and Prejudice.'
Despite the tempting spread before her, Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) will soon lose her appetite thanks to Mr. Collins’ (Tom Hollander) clumsy proposal.

Keto, paleo, low-carb, no-carb, low-fat, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian. … What would Jane Austen make of all our various diets and regimens? Not to mention all the prepackaged, processed food nutritionists tell us to avoid by sticking to the margins of grocery stores?

Food, in the Regency period, or indeed, any period before the modern era, tended to be more seasonal, fresher (since you couldn’t refrigerate or freeze things easily) and definitely less sweet, given how new sugar was to people’s palates and how expensive it was.

So what did they eat?

  • Meats we would recognize, such as beef, pork, fish and various fowl, but Georgians made full use of the animals, including beef tongue, cheeks, and tail (beef was so popular that it gave the French mockingly referred to the English as “les rosbifs,” i.e. the roast beefs).
  • Meats we tend not to eat much, especially game meat, such as hare, pigeon, partridge, and venison to name a few.
  • Vegetables and fruit, preferably from one’s garden, such as potatoes, berries, plums, and currants. Wealthier landowners, like the Darcy family in “Pride and Prejudice” could afford to keep hothouses and grow even more varieties, such as the grapes, peaches, and nectarines Elizabeth and her family are offered while visiting Pemberley.
  • Bread and pastries: no such thing as low-carb! But given the cost of sugar, pastries and cakes were more of a treat. Despite Mr. Woodhouse’s warning not to eat too much wedding cake in “Emma,” people still partook. Breakfast in particular relied on tea and bread (toast) and “muffins or hot rolls, with good butter,” according to American visitor Joshua White’s observations. At great houses, breakfasts could be grander affairs, with plum cake, pound cake, varieties of rolls, tea, coffee or hot chocolate.


As mentioned above, freezing food was no small feat. Before the advent of electricity and refrigerators, people had to rely on blocks of ice to keep food cold. And with that, rooms to keep the blocks of ice cold. Not everyone could afford that kind of space, but it could be done, and ice cream became popular in the late 18th century. Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra about her stay at her rich brother Edward’s home where she could “eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.” The Regency version of “Treat Yourself”!


Mealtimes as we know them were very different in the past, one main difference being the relative novelty of the lunch. In previous centuries, dinner was the main meal of the day and eaten much earlier than it is now (in 1789, Jane Austen would dine at 3:30 p.m.). As dinner moved to a later time (about 5 p.m.), it became necessary to have a bit of a snack between breakfast and dinner, hence lunch. Supper was later still, eaten after one returned from the theater or opera or other late-night entertainment.

Lydia Bennet saying 'Lord I'm so hungry!'
Eternal mood.


Since Thanksgiving is next week in our corner of the world, we couldn’t let you go without letting you in on this: the over-the-top turducken feast (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken) is neither new nor is it the most extravagant sort. From the Jane Austen Centre’s post on the Yorkshire Christmas Roast: “In his 1807 Almanach des Gourmands, gastronomist Grimod de La Reynière presents his rôti sans pareil (“roast without equal”)—a bustard stuffed with a turkey, a goose, a pheasant, a chicken, a duck, a guinea fowl, a teal, a woodcock, a partridge, a plover, a lapwing, a quail, a thrush, a lark, an ortolan bunting and a garden warbler.” Now pass the Tums!

Cheers for drinks

Although Jane Austen perhaps did not have access to the variety of microbreweries of our time, she did have plenty to choose from. Fortified wines – such as sherry, madeira, port – and cordial waters (liqueurs) were popular, and punch recipes were varied and mouthwatering. Wine and cordial waters were often used for medicinal purposes, however misguided, such as when Elinor brings her ill sister Marianne some wine in “Sense and Sensibility.”

Sources: Jane Austen’s novels, “Jane Austen’s Letters” by Deirdre Le Faye, “Tea With Jane Austen” by Kim Wilson, “The Jane Austen Diet: Austen’s Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness” by Bryan Kozlowski, Jane Austen’s World, the Jane Austen Centre

Other Resources

Here’s a selection of additional resources you might want to peruse, including recipes you can try.

On the Web

Books on Regency food

  • “Dinner With Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels of Jane Austen” by Pen Vogler
  • “The Jane Austen Cookbook” by Maggie Black
  • “Cooking With Jane Austen (Feasting with Fiction)” by Kirstin Olsen
  • “The Housekeeping Book” of Susanna Whatman
  • “Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy”
  • “Gin Austen: 50 Cocktails to Celebrate the Novels of Jane Austen” by Colleen Mullaney

Recommended Reading: Books on Regency Life

Composite image of publications on Regency life
There’s plenty to read about life in the Regency era. We’ve selected a sample.

The stories in Jane Austen’s books may seem confined to a few families or towns, but current events did find their way in, often as asides: the war with France, the behavior of militias, the abolition movement. 

A few weeks ago we gave you a quick historical timeline of major events in Austen’s lifetime.  For a deeper dive on what it was like to live in the Regency era, these publications are a good place to start.

regencybooks-morrison‘The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern’ by Robert Morrison

At the top of the list, and not only because author Robert Morrison will be speaking at next summer’s Jane Austen Summer Program, “The Regency Years” delves into the goings-on of the times: politics, war, entertainment, sexual mores, and er, more. In a review, The Washington Post said Morrison “thrillingly describes the Battle of Waterloo, tracks the War of 1812 in North America and offers a global tour d’horizon of Britain’s colonies in Canada, India and Australia. But he doesn’t neglect the arts and sciences.”

regencybooks-worldmagRegency World Magazine

This magazine devoted to all things Austen and Regency is published every two months and recently celebrated its 100th issue. Every issue is chock full of Austen-related news and events, as well as book reviews, history lessons, quizzes and more. Although it is published in England, it is delivered worldwide. 


regencybooks-england‘Jane Austen’s England: Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods’ by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins 

We so equate Austen with the Regency era that it’s easy to forget that Austen was born 36 years before it started, so it is nice to look at the broader period. The Adkins follow a somewhat chronological order of the lives of folks in that era, starting with marriage, going through child-rearing, work, illness and finally death, with vivid examples gleaned from letters and other documents.

regencybooks-ate‘What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England’ by Daniel Pool

While “Jane Austen’s England” starts in the Georgian era, Daniel Pool’s book covers the post-Regency Victorian era as well. More of a companion to novels by Austen, the Brontës and Dickens, than a slice of Regency or Victorian life, “What Jane Austen Ate” will set you straight on when to use “My Lord” vs. “Your Grace” or give you the low-down on money matters — you can bet your sovereigns on that!

regencybooks-world‘Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels’ by Deirdre Le Faye 

This list would be incomplete without Austen scholar Deirdre Le Faye’s work.  One thing that sets it apart is that it devotes one chapter to each of Austen’s novels — including the unfinished “Sanditon” and “The Watsons.”

regencybooks-slang‘Regency Slang Revealed: Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue & Later Versions’ by Louise Allen

After a long day’s work, one likes nothing better than to put one’s trotters up and rest one’s napper on the pillow, peepers closed.

If you think that was just gibberish, you might want to get your dandles (hands) on Louise Allen’s book and get versed in the slang of Jane Austen’s day. 

regencybooks-miseries‘The Miseries of Human Life’ by James Beresford

This compilation of miseries reads like a 19th-century Tumblr post: hilarious annoyances — miseries — that just make life sometimes unbearable. It’s available for free on Google Books, so you too can experience what irritated people back then and come to the conclusion that those Regency folks, they’re just like us.

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There’s something about Jane Austen: More biographies to read

A stack of other Jane Austen biographies
From top: “Jane Austen at Home” by Lucy Worsley, “The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things” by Paula Byrne, and “Jane Austen, the Secret Radical” by Helena Kelly.

While next year’s Jane Austen Summer Program will focus on Claire Tomalin’s biography of our favorite author, there are several others you can check out. Here is a small selection to get you going.

‘Jane Austen: The Secret Radical’ by Helena Kelly

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

This is less a history of Jane Austen’s life and more of a feminist reading of Austen’s works. Each chapter focuses on one of Austen’s novels, and Kelly helps put into historical context each one of them. We think we know them like the back of our hands, but how much are we missing that Austen’s contemporary audience would have picked up immediately? While some of Kelly’s arguments seem a bit tenuous or even downright far-fetched, “The Secret Radical” helps modern audiences fill that knowledge gap. John Sutherland, who co-wrote “So You Think You Know Jane Austen?” with Deirdre LeFaye, wrote in the New York Times: “‘Jane Austen: The Secret Radical’ sets out to raise hackles … But, taking a deep breath, I concede that it is, stripped of its flights of fancy, an important revisionary work for 2017.”

‘The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things’ by Paula Byrne

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
Byrne’s exquisite biography of Austen eschews a linear format in favor of themes and objects: sisterhood, vellum notebooks in which Austen copied her juvenilia, a laptop desk, topaz crosses, and more. NPR described this book as “a dynamic new biography in which Austen lives and breathes,” and it’s hard not to fall in love with the author through this “vivacious, surprising” book.

‘Jane Austen at Home’ by Lucy Worsley

book-athomeHistorian and TV presenter Lucy Worsley, who also happens to be chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, guides us as we travel to the places Austen called home and visited: Steventon, Bath, Godmersham Park, Chawton Cottage and more. This helps us understand the upheaval the Austens, particularly Jane, Cassandra and their mother, must have experienced throughout their lives. Alexandra Mullen writes in the Hudson Review: “Worsley … exuberantly connects the work to the life against the background of the age” and “uses her sprightly energy to pull together a lot of fascinating detailed scholarship.”

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