Want to try Jane Austen’s favourite cheese toastie? Now you can

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Stock Montage/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Stock Montage/Getty Images

“Grate the Cheese & add to it one egg, & a teaspoonful of Mustard, & a little Butter,” advises Martha Lloyd, a close friend of Jane Austen, in her recipe for one of the author’s favourite meals, “Toasted Cheese”. “Send it up on a toast or in paper Trays.”

This recipe is part of the “household book” written between 1798 and 1830 by Lloyd, who lived with Austen, her sister Cassandra and their mother (also called Cassandra) for years. The four women lived together in a cottage in Chawton, Hampshire, where Jane wrote, revised and had published all of her novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Lloyd’s handwritten book, in all its blotched and crumbling glory, is set to be published in a colour facsimile for the first time, giving readers a new glimpse into Austen’s home life. Bodleian Library Publishing is releasing it in June, under the title Martha Lloyd’s Household Book.

Along with toasted cheese sandwiches – a meal Austen loved, writing to Cassandra of how her friend Edward Bridges had arranged it for her during a visit (“It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me; he made a point of ordering toasted cheese for supper entirely on my account”) – the book also includes Lloyd’s recipe for “white soup”. This dish is mentioned in Pride and Prejudice by Mr Bingley, who promises to host a ball at Netherfield, “and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards”. Julienne Gehrer, editor of the forthcoming book, believes Lloyd’s recipe is “a likely candidate for the author’s favourite” version of the dish.

“Make your gravy of any kind of Meat,” Lloyd advises, for making white soup. “Add to it the yolks of four Eggs boiled hard & pounded very fine, 2 oz of sweet Almond pounded, as much Cream as will make it of a good Color.”

Household books, described by Gehrer as “essentially the Google of the 18th-century household”, are collections of recipes and medical remedies put together by women to help with managing their homes – a task that Austen failed to enjoy. She wrote to Cassandra of the “torments of rice puddings and apple dumplings” when hosting a house of guests, and of how “composition seems to me Impossible, with a head full of joints of Mutton & doses of rhubarb”.

Austen and Lloyd became friends in 1789, when Austen was 13 and Lloyd 23; a teenage Jane dedicated her comic novella, Frederic and Elfrida, to Lloyd. She moved in with the Austens in Southampton in 1805, then to Chawton in 1809. Austen described her in a letter as “the friend & Sister under every circumstance” to Cassandra.

Lloyd’s original book was sold in 1956 by an Austen descendant to the Jane Austen Memorial Trust for £5, and put on display in Chawton, where Gehrer first saw it. “I was fascinated,” she said. “I thought about Martha living in the cottage all that time with Jane, what she saw, what she heard. Those were Jane’s most productive years – can you imagine those conversations?”

The book also includes a recipe for Austen’s favourite drink, mead (“To every Gallon of Water, put four pound of honey …”), as well as the only surviving recipes written by Austen’s mother (a “Very good white Sauce for boil’d Carp”) and Sir Francis Austen, Jane’s brother, Lloyd’s eventual husband and a Royal Navy officer. He contributed a recipe for Fish Sauce: “Take two Heads of Garlick, cutting each clove in halves; add 1 oz: of Cayenne Pepper, 2 spoonfuls of Indian Soy, 2 oz: of walnut Ketchup or pickle, put them in a Quart Bottle, fill it with cold Vinegar; Cork it close & shake it well – It is fit for use in a Month & will keep good for years”.

Although some of Lloyd’s writing in the book was published in the 1970s, this is the first facsimile edition, with the stained pages giving an insight into a 19th-century kitchen. Gehrer also includes transcriptions of the handwritten recipes.

Gehrer said readers would spot connections between Austen’s books and Lloyd’s. “I really wish that there were marginal notes that said ‘Oh, this is Jane’s favourite,’ but we just don’t have that. What we can do is make connections between what Martha collected and what Jane put in her letters and novels,” she said.

She pointed to Lloyd’s inclusion of several French dishes such as “Blanch Mange”, “Jaune Mange”, crêpes or “Thin Cream Pancake, call’d Quire of paper”, “Fricassee Turnips” and “A Harrico of Mutton”. In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennet swoons over Mr Darcy’s aspirational lifestyle – “I suppose he has two or three French cooks at least” – while Jane herself wrote that she “had some ragout veal, and I mean to have some haricot mutton to-morrow”.

“Martha writes about whipped syllabub, which comes up in Jane’s juvenilia. Mrs Austen is curing hams in Jane’s letters, and sure enough there are recipes for that, with Martha noting that she’d rather have a little more sugar and a little less salt,” said Gehrer. “You can see life going on with the Austens, life going on with the Lloyds, you can piece together a day at Chawton. There are many people in the culinary history world who focus on what the kings and queens had, and I appreciate that. But for me, I enjoy this everyday slice of life.”

Gehrer has made several of Lloyd’s recipes, including toasted cheese sandwiches, pea soup and “A Receipt to Curry after the India Manner”. The only letdown? “I’m not fond of the gooseberry cheese – it’s kind of a solid jelly and gooseberry is not one of my favourite fruits to start with.”

“If you read every recipe, you can see that ingredients come from around the globe, but the vast majority were grown, raised or sourced locally: eggs, cream, butter, pork, poultry, mutton, beef, venison. Fruits were from the nearby orchard or soft fruit bushes. Vegetables and herbs were from the kitchen garden,” she said. “Today, if you cook extensively from Martha’s book, you’ll do a fine job at supporting local agriculture.”

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