It's been quite a while since I last read a book by Jane Austen and I am yet to read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. This month's choice for "This Book Makes Me Cook" was Jane Austen's books and so I randomly picked to re-read Emma.
Emma is a comedy of sorts and deals with the various and not quite successful attempts at matchmaking by the heroine of the book, Emma Woodhouse. Emma is born into a privileged family, lives in Surrey (England) with her father. Her elder sister, Isabella, is married to John Knightley whose younger brother George Knightley is Emma's best friend and critic and eventually becomes her husband.
While there are many references to breakfast, dinner and tea throughout the book whose story is set in Regency England, what stands out are the eating habits of Emma's father, Mr. Henry Woodhouse. Here is a gentle man with hypochondriac tendencies who is always concerned for his own health and that of his friends, to the point of trying to deny his visitors foods he thinks too rich.
This can be seen in Chapter III :-
"She (Emma) then do (did) all the honours of the meal, and help(ed) and recommend(ed) the minced chicken and scalloped oysters, with an urgency which she knew would be acceptable to the early hours and civil scruples of their guests.
Upon such occasions poor Mr. Woodhouses feelings were in sad warfare. He loved to have the cloth laid, because it had been the fashion of his youth, but his conviction of suppers being very unwholesome made him rather sorry to see any thing put on it; and while his hospitality would have welcomed his visitors to every thing, his care for their health made him grieve that they would eat. Such another small basin of thin gruel as his own was all that he could, with thorough self-approbation, recommend;"
In Chapter XII, Emma's sister Isabella, her husband John Knightley, and brother-in-law George Knightley (Emma's good friend) come over to dinner and he recommends gruel.
"While they were thus comfortably occupied, Mr. Woodhouse was enjoying a full flow of happy regrets and fearful affection with his daughter.
"My poor dear Isabella," said he, fondly taking her hand, and interrupting, for a few moments, her busy labours for some one of her five children--"How long it is, how terribly long since you were here! And how tired you must be after your journey! You must go to bed early, my dear--and I recommend a little gruel to you before you go.--You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together. My dear Emma, suppose we all have a little gruel."
Emma could not suppose any such thing, knowing as she did, that both the Mr. Knightleys were as unpersuadable on that article as herself;--and two basins only were ordered."
Gruel was a thin porridge made of oats stewed with either milk or water, and served with salt or sugar and milk. It was usually eaten by the poor who could afford nothing else, and invalids, who could tolerate nothing.
While I do like oats in some things like bread, cookies and granola, we most definitely like the others in "Emma" draw the line at gruel!
So I chose to make some crumpets, a typical English tea-time favourite which I'm sure would have found favour with the characters in Jane Austen's books.
Crumpets have always fascinated me ever since I read about them in my childhood story books. On my trip to Mumbai last week, I bought some ring moulds and decided to inaugurate them with these crumpets.
Crumpets are griddle/ skillet cooked leavened and spongy round breads which are an English tea-time favourite.
"This essentially English comfort food has been around for at least a few hundred years, though the actual timing is a little uncertain. Over that time, the crumpet has gathered to itself a whole spectrum of meanings and associations in British culture: coziness, warmth, home and hearthside, the tea table loaded down with nice things... because where crumpets are, tea is usually not far behind. Toasted on one side under the grill or in the toaster or toaster oven, slathered with butter that seeps into all those lovely little holes... a crumpet is something special."
(Source: European Cuisines)
Crumpets are very different from English muffins.
"Classic crumpets have a smooth round bottom, and a top riddled with small holes. They are served fresh from the griddle or toasted, and can be topped in jam or clotted cream, although butter is the traditional crumpet topping. Crumpets are never split, unlike English muffins, and they have a slightly bland flavor and spongy texture which absorbs butter remarkably well. The concept of toasting crumpets over a fire is often associated with companionable rainy days in British fiction.
For people who are still confused about the differences between crumpets and English muffins, remember that crumpets have a holey top, they are not split, and they are far less "bready" than English muffins tend to be. It is believed that the English muffin may have been invented by someone who was trying to replicate the crumpet, which explains the commonalities between the two. The recipes for English muffins and crumpets are also very different, with crumpets being made from batter and English muffins being made from a dough."
Take a peek at The Regency Tearoom Menu which features names of many characters from Jane Austen's books and popular English tea-time favourites.
My crumpets were adapted from crumpet recipes from Not Quite Nigella and A Life (Time) of Cooking, both blogs I follow regularly.
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp softened butter
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup water (if necessary)
1 tsp butter or oil to make the crumpets
Warm 1/4 cup of the 1 1/2 cups milk and dissolve the sugar and yeast it in it. Keep aside till the yeast bubbles/ proofs.
Put the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the remaining milk and butter. Then add the yeast mixture and stir well into a thick batter. Cover and allow to rise (should take about 45 minutes or so). The batter will now be bubbly and slightly thinner.
If you feel the batter is too thick, add just enough water as necessary to thin the batter to required consistency. The batter should be slightly thicker than pancake batter and flow easily. Add the baking powder and stir well.
Grease the ring moulds well.
Take a non-stick skillet and heat the 1 tsp butter or oil over low to medium heat. Place 3 or 4 ring moulds (depending on the size of your skillet) in the skillet. Pour a small ladleful of batter into each (about 3/4" high) into each ring. Cover the skillet and allow the batter to cook. When done, the top of each crumpet should have a few holes and start to look dry and the bottom will be golden brown. This should take about 5 minutes.
Slowly lift off the rings and turn the crumpets over to cook and lightly brown the other side. This should take about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove when done and repeat with the remaining batter.
Serve for tea with butter, or whatever topping you prefer.
This recipe makes about twelve 3" crumpets.
These crumpets go to YeastSpotting too.
Simran was similarly inspired by "Emma Woodhouse's tea parties" to make a Fruit Tart, Sweatha made some Baked Apples for "Emma" too, Bhags baked a Fruitcake inspired by "The Watson's", Rachel read "Emma" and baked an Apple Tart, and Aquadaze baked a Buttercake after reading "Pride & Prejudice.
I also wanted to mention that I haven't been able to get around to too many blogs as I was away last week, and have a bit busy this week. My sister is coming down tomorrow, for a short holiday, so it will be another a week before I will be able to come around and see all the lovely food you have been posting about. I shall try to keep posting here, as regularly as I can in the meanwhile.