Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Martha Lloyd's Household Book - the Original Manuscripts From Jane Austen's Kitchen

I like Jane Austen's books a lot but will admit to being a little bit bemused by the industry that has sprung up around her life and work. I'm also a fan of old recipes and kitchen practice - so although  I wasn't Austen fan enough to recognise the name of Martha Lloyd straight out I was more than happy to accept this annotated, transcribed, and facsimile version of her household book.

It's obviously the Jane Austen connection that's going to sell this, hence the subtitle that it's the original manuscript from her kitchen. The actual situation is more interesting to me than that suggests, and certainly more complicated. Martha Lloyd was ten years older than Jane, their respective families were close for a long time, Cassandra Austen was engaged to Martha's brother (he died before they could marry) and Martha eventually married Jane's brother Francis William when she was 62 and he was 54. 

It's a marriage that seems to have cost him a significant inheritance, but not to have been a hindrance to his career in the admiralty. Francis had already been married and had 11 children, and Martha along with the Austen ladies had shared his and his first wife's house in Southampton for around 3 years. 

Before her late marriage bought Martha a whole new level of prosperity she was of the same middling sort as the Austen's. The close connections between them meant that when Martha's mother died it was Cassandra who had gone to help Martha nurse her in the final weeks and after everything was settled Martha set up house with Jane, Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen. The younger generation seems to have regarded themselves all as close as sisters, and it sounds like an essentially happy household. Of all of them, Martha seems to have had the keenest interest in cookery and to have taken charge of the kitchen.

This is the reason it seems almost a shame to me that it's billed as Jane Austen's kitchen, as the hands-on housekeeping does not appear to have really been her strongest point. The condition of Martha's book - very well worn, stained, a few pages missing, essentially well used, suggests that she used it in the kitchen as well as for giving instructions. 

I can't argue with Jane being the reason we know Martha Lloyd's name at all, but her household book shows that she had a busy, useful, and above all full, life of her own. That late marriage suggests that Francis must have genuinely cared for her too - and it sounds like a proper happy ever after. The Martha Lloyd's of this world deserve to be appreciated in their own right.

And to be fair that's what this book mostly does. The little we know about Martha is here, but there's plenty to surmise about her as well as Jane from the recipes and remedies she collected. Despite Julienne Gehrer's hope that some of us might try and recreate the recipes here, I wouldn't honestly recommend it. Gehrer, who writes the excellent introduction and has annotated the transcription is also responsible for 2019's Dining With Jane Austen which would be a much better place to source recipes. I'd also recommend Deirdre Le Faye (who writes a foreword for this edition) and Maggie Black's 'The Jane Austen Cookbook' (out of print but looks to be cheaply available second hand). There's also Pen Vogler's 'Dinner with Mr Darcy' and Regula Ysewjin's excellent 'Pride and Pudding' and 'Oats in the North, Wheat From the South' - these have the advantage of having been adjusted for modern cooks, ingrediants, and ovens. 

What Martha's book does give us is a sense of the life these women lived, the food they ate, the things they grew or could acquire locally, the work they did around the house, and the things they knew - a recipe for buns that seems to come from Hannah Glasse's book is missing a line about yeast, but any cook would take the yeast for granted - it's the other ingredients you need to know.

The quantities are interesting as well, they tell us a lot about how many people you might expect to be eating - the cakes are substantial, but I'm mulling over the messages held in a recipe for cow's heel soup. The introduction has also given me a lot to think about - and a lot of Austen connections to sort through, Gehrer has done both Jane and Martha proud here, and I'm really pleased to have met Martha and been able to read her book. She's sending me back to Regula Ysewjin's recipes to find corresponding things so that I can have a taste of her life as well. 


  1. Cow's heel soup! That is certainly something to think about. My introduction to Austen was in school, P&P. My usually serious English teacher went all over girly when she talked about Austen. I remember her saying she loved how they had tea and the style of living. I wonder if she could have had any inkling of cow's heel soup!

    1. It might be nicer than it sounds... The style of living is alright if you're rich but for a lot of Austen's characters it sounds like hard everyday work, you'd earn that cup of tea.

  2. Cow heel soup brings to mind the Dandy's comic character Desperate Dan and his diet of cow pie, horns and all. Pig's trotters still occasionally appear on menus in rural French restaurants...

    1. I can but pig's trotters on the market here (never have) but dad remembers eating them as a boy. he says they were better than tripe, but that seems like a low bar to clear to me. Reading the household book was certainly an eye opener. This was a comfortable family - maybe not rich, but not particularly hard up either, and there's no waste. It's very different to a modern kitchen.