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Today’s guest post for Emma in the Snow includes three recipes created by Dan Macey of Dantasticfood, and thus we turn from last Friday’s focus on friendship to this week’s focus on food in Jane Austen’s fiction. For this coming Friday, Catherine Morley has written about Mr. Woodhouse’s knowledge of the four humours in relation to his ideas about food. Today, I’m delighted to introduce Dan’s guest post on mutton in Emma.

Dan is a commercial food stylist, recipe developer, and writer about foodways, the study of the cultural, social, and economic practices related to the production and consumption of food. He recently contributed to Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City, which was published in December by Oxford University Press. He sits on the board of the Historic Foodways Society of the Delaware Valley, is a life member of JASNA, and edits Bits & Scraps, the newsletter for JASNA’s Eastern Pennsylvania Region. (He also prepared an amazing and memorable dinner for the Region’s Board members and their spouses when I visited Philadelphia last summer to give a talk on “Austen and Ambition.”) Please let us know if you decide to try one or more of the recipes he includes here.

Dan Macey

People find satisfaction in reading Jane Austen for a myriad of reasons. I read Austen for her reliable and disciplined references to the foodways of her time. I am not alone. Food historians often cite Austen as a source. In both her personal letters and novels, Austen’s descriptions of how food was consumed and perceived give unique insights into the diet and dietary customs of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Emma contains the most food references of any of her novels and food may be considered as a metaphor for human interdependence, central to the novel (see Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane [1995]). Dinner provides Emma Woodhouse with useful opportunities for matchmaking. In the first chapter, George Knightley admonishes Emma to “invite [Mr. Elton] to dinner … and help him to the best of fish and chicken, but leave him to chuse his own wife.” Luckily for readers, Emma does not heed Knightley’s advice and the novel continues.

One food mentioned three times in the novel is mutton and this is not by chance. In Volume 1, Chapter 13, Emma meets her brother-law Mr. John Knightley and her nephews “hastening home” on Christmas Eve to eat roast mutton and rice pudding. Later that evening a saddle of mutton is served at the Westons’ dinner party. Maggie Lane suggests Miss Bates may be using the word mutton in a generic sense when she insists on telling people how small a slice of mutton Jane Fairfax eats (Volume 2, Chapter 1). Mutton was a very important food in Austen’s time. Inviting someone to take mutton with you was Regency-era slang for an invitation to dine, says Lane. And because mutton was so ubiquitous, it was often used in jest to mean most certainly dining on something better than mutton. It’s sort of like asking someone today, “do you want to grab a burger or something?”

As a culinary professional who researches and recreates historic recipes, I often have to use modern-day techniques to try to reflect the historic background of a recipe, while making it palatable to today’s modern tastes, and to use ingredients that can be found on today’s grocery shelves. But being a cook with a strong interest in history, I am intrigued by just how mutton would have been served and how it would have tasted. My quest was to make mutton good enough to please Emma, her suitor Mr. George Knightley, and her gruel-eating father. Now, of course, this is a tall order since all three, I presume, have quite different tastes and views on food. So, I decided to create a separate mutton recipe for each of them.

But first, I needed to get a taste for mutton, and a little research was required. While the English traditionally think of themselves as a land of beef eaters, “mutton eaters would be more historically correct,” according to Clarissa Dickson Wright in A History of English Food (2011). The story of sheep and mutton is very much part of the history of the United Kingdom, being entwined with the British landscape, its history, wealth, and wellbeing since prehistoric times. Mutton was commonly found in cookbooks of Austen’s time. Recipes for mutton braised, boiled, roasted with cockles or oysters, marinated, and even kebobbed are all found in one of the more popular cookbooks of the day, The London Art of Cookery, by John Farley, published in 1811. “Mutton is undoubtedly the meat most generally used in families,” noted one nineteenth-century cookbook author. Boiled mutton was the easiest and most popular way to prepare it. Boiled mutton in England in the late 1700s was reportedly boring, gray, mealy, chewy and just tolerable. Boiled mutton was endured more than savored, but because it was meat, it was valued for nutrition. For the very poor, mutton was an aspiration. Period cooks tried to enhance the look of the meat by boiling the mutton in a cloth to give it paler, less gray, color. There is, in fact, a cartoon by Lewis Walpole in which a husband proclaims the meat “not fit to eat,” and grumbles, “these are the blessed effects of boiling Mutton in a cloth!”

But even in Austen’s time, good mutton was available at a price and there were delicious ways to prepare it. In fact, Austen was very proud of the quality of meat her father produced at Steventon. A neighbor “gratified us very much yesterday by his praises of my father’s mutton, which they all think the finest that was ever ate” (Jane at Steventon writing to Cassandra at Godmersham, 1 December 1798).

Today, in England, there is a campaign, led by Prince Charles, to get the British to serve mutton—and not lamb—at their dinner tables. The Mutton Renaissance Campaign aims to support British sheep farmers struggling to sell their older animals. His efforts have led to new definitions for mutton in the country. Mutton now is defined as the meat from a sheep more than two years old, aged for two weeks after slaughter by hanging and traceable to a specific farm where it was fed on forage, rather than a high concentration of grain. Mutton is now turning into an artisanal food and reclaiming its place on the British dinner table.

Mutton Shopping in North Philadelphia

Before I was to devise recipes to please our characters, I had to first find the mutton—something not all that easy to locate in United States. Lamb, mutton’s younger version, is most readily available in many supermarkets, but mutton, the meat from older sheep, has fallen out of favor and is nearly impossible to find in any market. There are the standard complaints of its gamey flavor—apparently caused by fatty acid accumulation that comes with age—and a lack of tenderness. While lamb has always been more popular than its older relative, interest in mutton declined further after canned mutton rations were offered to soldiers in World War II. In researching recipes, I learned that most of the mutton produced in the U.S. is either used for dog food or shipped to Latin America to be used for traditional barbequed dishes. Julia Child, in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which was published in 1961, noted that “mutton, though much appreciated flavor, is not popular in America and generally must be specifically ordered.” I found that not much has changed since 1961.

After many internet searches and telephone calls to local butchers and meat purveyors—including wholesalers—my shopping finally concluded with a halal butcher in North Philadelphia. The shop, filled with hand-written signs and nestled on a narrow, nondescript street, was patronized mostly by practicing Muslims and a host of Central and South American immigrants looking for a taste of home. Besides mutton, the shop, Al-Baraka, sells goat meat as well as four kinds of live chickens, ducks, and rabbits. Pens of live chickens and fowl are open for families to peruse and their selection will then be slaughtered for them in the rear of the shop while they wait. The market looked as if it could have been right out of the Regency period, with what appeared to be much haggling and discussions about the best types of bird to use for a recipe. I ordered both a leg of mutton, which the butcher sawed (using an actual band saw) into steaks—something not usually done with a leg of lamb—and a shoulder of mutton, which he cut into pieces.

Mutton shopping in North Philadelphia

I learned that the mutton was raised in a manner that would meet the strict requirements of the Prince of Wales. “We are committed to providing a fresh and healthy alternative to supermarket meat and poultry,” reads an advertisement for the butcher. “Our livestock comes from local Pennsylvania small farms in New Holland, which are known for producing higher quality beef, lamb, and goat. This is because the livestock is left to graze on grass, rather than grown in large feedlots. This makes the meat organic, as there are no hormones used to increase the rate of growth of the animals, which means a meat that doesn’t just taste better, but is also healthier.” Words that Mr. Woodhouse himself would, I daresay, approve.

So, I had found my mutton. Now, how to prepare it in a manner to please our characters. For Mr. George Knightley—who I assume would also have rushed home, much like his brother, for good mutton—I decided to prepare my mutton steaks using a recipe for Haricot Mutton found in Martha Lloyd’s Household book as a starting point (see A Jane Austen Household Book with Martha Lloyd’s Recipes, by Peggy Hickman [1977]). Martha Lloyd shared a home with Jane, her sister, and her mother first in Southampton and later at Chawton Cottage. Eleven years after Jane’s death, she married Jane’s brother Admiral Francis Austen. She compiled a book of recipes and household hints gathered during her stay with the Austens. The “haricot” here is in reference to the vegetables, which are cut up into pieces—a term borrowed from the French. During Austen’s time, the mutton would likely have been prepared in a large cast iron skillet or pot hanging over an open hearth or nestled on a stand near the fire, so I prepared the Haricot Mutton in a cast-iron, Dutch oven on a gas stove. I added fennel, replacing the originally called-for turnips which are not very popular in my house (recipe below).

A haricot of mutton

A haricot of mutton

Now, what to make for Emma?

While curries are not mentioned in any Austen novel, curries did exist during her time (and there is one reference in her “Lesley Castle”: “the Curry had no seasoning”). The Betty Crocker of the age, Hannah Glasse, includes one in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, which was first published in 1746, but ran to another seventeen editions by the end of the century. It is fair to say that the Austen household likely would have had a copy of Glasse’s book. In fact, many of the recipes found in Martha Lloyd’s cookbook can be traced to Hannah Glasse.

A curry may seem a bit out of place for such an English book, but it is noted by Wright, author of A History of English Food, that two of Glasse’s sons made the journey to the subcontinent when the East India Company was at its zenith, “hugely successful, hugely wealthy and hugely corrupt.”

In fact, we know that Jane Austen’s own aunt Philadelphia had ventured to India and may well have talked of the ready-mixed Indian curry spices that were available in England by 1780. Exotic fruits came to England from the East Indies, including mangoes, which Wright says Jane Austen mentions in her letters. (Wright talks about this on two occasions in A History of English Food, but I haven’t been able to find the letter—do any of you know where the reference is?)

An early advertisement in a London newspaper for “the invaluable rich ingredient” brought to England from the exotic East Indies promoted curry as a great ingredient to make “sumptuous sauces.” The advertisement also hailed curry’s health benefits, including good digestion, good circulation, and a “vigorous” mind, and suggested that it “contributes most of any food to an increase of the human race”—a discreet Regency reference to improved sex life or successful childbirth.

So, a curry—with mangoes—is what I devised for our heroine, who I think would have liked a bit of the exotic (recipe below).

Curry with mangoes for Emma Woodhouse

Emma’s mango curry

And so it is Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, I must finally please with mutton. He is known to be a very picky eater worried about too much sugar, salt, and fat. He thought of food more as fuel, I think, than flavor. It is with this in mind that I thought of the current culinary trend of “bone broths.” Simply, it is the process of cooking adding water to meat bones and allowing the water to evaporate and absorb the flavors and nutrients of the bones. While some consider it to be just soup stock, by another name, others note that bone broth is what chefs use to create demi glace, the essence of any good meat sauce. Also, roasting the bones in the oven before boiling them in the water can also produce a richer flavor (recipe below).

“Bone broths are extraordinarily rich in protein, and can be a source of minerals as well,” notes Jennifer McGruther in her cookbook The Nourished Kitchen (2014). “Glycine supports the body’s detoxification process and is used in the synthesis of hemoglobin, bile salts and other naturally-occurring chemicals within the body. Glycine also supports digestion and the secretion of gastric acids. Proline, especially when paired with vitamin C, supports good skin health. Bone broths are also rich in gelatin which may support skin health. Gelatin also supports digestive health.”

Later in life, Jane Austen confessed to her sister that she was relieved to give up her household duties, including some meal planning, which made it possible to concentrate better on her writing: “Composition seems to me Impossible, with a head full of Joints of Mutton and doses of rhubarb” (8 September 1816).

Surely my recipes might assist with her concentration.

My Recipes for Mutton to Please These Three

Mr. Knightley’s Mutton Steaks in a Haricot Manner:


4 mutton steaks, about ½ pound each, cut about ½-inch thick

¼ cup flour

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, diced

3 carrots, diced

3 cups fennel, chopped

1 bay leaf

2 cups vegetable stock

2 cups light white wine

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  1. Dredge the mutton steaks in the flour and shake off the excess. Set aside.
  2. In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter and begin to sweat the onions and carrots over medium heat. Continue to cook for about 3 minutes. Move the vegetables to the side of the pot and place the dredged steaks in the pot. Brown for about 4 minutes and turn on the other side and brown the other side for another 5 minutes.
  3. Layer the fennel on top of the steaks, add the bay leaf, and pour over the stock, wine and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Cover, and allow to simmer on low heat for about two hours. Remove the lid and allow to simmer for another 30 minutes, until much of the liquid evaporates and a rich sauce is produced. Served the steaks with the fennel on top.

Emma’s Mutton Curry with Mango:

2 tablespoons butter

1 large onion, diced

3 medium carrots, diced

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 pounds of mutton meat, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 tablespoons Patak’s Dopiaza simmer curry sauce

6 cups chicken broth

1 can coconut milk

1 can chickpeas, drained

2 cups, escarole, shredded

1 mango, diced

2 tablespoons cilantro

In a stock pot, melt the butter. Add the onions and carrots and cook for about 4 minutes, until wilted. Add the spices and toss. Add mutton and toss well to combine with the vegetables and spices. Cook for another 5 minutes until the mutton has changed colors. Add the Dopiaza sauce and coat the meat. Add the chicken broth and simmer for two hours. Remove a piece of the meat to make sure it is tender. Add the coconut milk, chickpeas, and escarole and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. (Add more water if too thick.) Stir in the mangoes and heat for another 5 minutes. Serve over rice, garnish with cilantro, and top with a dollop of Major Grey’s Chutney.

Mr. Woodhouse’s Mutton Bone Broth:

1 ½ pounds mutton bones (I used a shoulder)

1 onion, cut in half

1 carrot, peeled

½ cup celery leaves

½ cup parsley stems

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon salt

Place the lamb bones in a stockpot. Pour in about 6-8 cups of water, or enough to cover the bones. Bring to a boil and skim off the scum. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, partially covered over low heat, for another two hours. Strain the broth through a fine sieve, discarding the bones and vegetables. Let cool at room temperature. Skim off the fat and then reheat and serve … over your favorite gruel.

Quotations are from the Harvard University Press edition of Emma, edited by Bharat Tandon (Cambridge, MA, 2012), and from the fourth edition of Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). Lewis Walpole’s 1799 cartoon “A dinner Spoiled” is reproduced in Cooking with Jane Austen, by Kristen Olsen (2005).

Fifth in a series of blog posts celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Emma. To read more about all the posts in the series, visit Emma in the Snow. Coming soon: guest posts by Catherine Morley, Maggie Arnold, and Mary C.M. Phillips.

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Emma in the Snow