It’s been quite a while since I last read a book by Jane Austen . I am yet to read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. This month’s choice at the “This Book Makes Me Cook” club was Jane Austen’s books. I randomly picked to re-read Emma and decided to make Crumpets.
Emma is a comedy of sorts and deals with the various and not quite successful attempts at matchmaking by Emma. Emma, the heroine of the book, is born into a privileged family. They live in Surrey (England). Her elder sister, Isabella, is married to John Knightley whose younger brother George Knightley is Emma’s best friend. He is eventually becomes her husband.
There are many references to breakfast, dinner and tea throughout the book 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. So much so, he keeps 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. Woodhouse,s 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 and husband John Knightley, and brother-in-law George Knightley come over for dinner. Emma’s father 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. It was served with salt or sugar and milk and usually eaten by the poor. They could afford nothing else, and invalids, who could tolerate nothing else. I like oats in some things like bread, cookies and granola but we, like the others in “Emma”, draw the line at gruel!
I made Crumpets, a typical English tea-time favourite which I’m sure would have found favour with the characters in Jane Austen’s books. I used to read about Crumpets 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.” (Source: Wisegeek)
Simran was similarly inspired by “Emma Woodhouse’s tea parties” to make a Fruit Tart, Sweatha made some Baked Apples for “Emma” too, Rachel read “Emma” and baked an Apple Tart, and Aquadaze baked a Buttercake after reading “Pride & Prejudice.