Aug 07

Of wedding cakes and all good things

There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perrys being seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston’s wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it. (Jane Austen, Emma)

I was greatly tickled, while recently rereading Emma, by Jane Austen’s account of the wedding cake that inflicted such distress on Emma’s valetudinarian father, Mr. Woodhouse, and his tender digestive tract. But the wedding cake that came to mind was not one of those fluffy, highly decorated, tiered creations with ruffles and roses and brides and grooms, as we think of the wedding cake today. Rather, the wedding cake I pictured was akin to that homely but magnificently delicious creation called the fruitcake.

Royal wedding cake

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal wedding cake, April 2011. Baker Fiona Cairns created the eight-tier cake from fruitcake so that a tier could be saved for the future, telling the press that “after 30 months it’s even more delicious.”

Wedding cakes during the British Regency appear to have been mostly simple fruit or plum cakes containing dozens of eggs and flavored liberally with spices and alcohol. Some sources cite the tradition of keeping a slice of cake to eat on the couple’s first anniversary; steeping the cake in a bottle of brandy and spices would surely preserve it for posterity. Another tradition was for young ladies to sleep with a slice of wedding cake beneath their pillow so that they would Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 30

Fish—and more fish

One day, as a not-so-young bride, I decided to make my own gefilte fish for our Sabbath table. Inspired by stories from those better versed in the traditional Jewish kitchen than I, I went to the market and purchased…a whole, fresh carp. Dead it was. But, cleaned and gutted it was not. Beheaded it was not. I dumped it in the kitchen sink. It shivered like jelly. I ran out of the kitchen.

Later that evening, when my husband arrived home, I told him, “If you really love me, you will cut the head off that fish.”

The dastardly deed was done, and all that remained was to debone and skin the fish, grind it up, spice it up, and boil it up into gefilte fish balls—that famous Jewish delicacy that Generations Y and Z (aka “my children”) refuse to touch. Though I performed these remaining tasks valiantly, I must admit that the final result of my first culinary foray into fresh fish was not a happy one. Read the rest of this entry »

May 28

Cheesecakes then and now

Who doesn’t love cheesecake? This delectable dessert has been served up as part of Georgette Heyer’s fictional Regency dinner menu, and even Jane Austen—who in her novels was not given to describing the dishes served at table—wrote of the popularity of cheesecakes in a letter to her sister Cassandra that has been preserved for posterity:

“At Devizes we had comfortable rooms and a good dinner, to which we sat down about five; amongst other things we had asparagus and a lobster, which made me wish for you, and some cheesecakes, on which the children made so delightful a supper as to endear the town of Devizes to them for a long time.”

But as much as Devorah Asher, the Jewish heroine of Me & Georgette, loves Jane Austen, she isn’t thinking about Regency cheesecakes just now. Safely back in Boro Park, she is contemplating Read the rest of this entry »

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