Just a few miles away from our Beau Port showroom is the village of Chawton, where Jane Austen’s House and Museum is located and is currently busy with the visiting media of the world filming everything and anything to do with the publication of Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ two hundred years ago. For those of you who have visited this historic house, you will have been able to explore the fairly recently restored kitchen, the last part of the house to be opened to the public – thanks to some lottery funding. The simplicity of these historic kitchens makes you wonder how the cooks of the day managed to turn out such fine food. The kitchen is separate from the rest of the house, with access to it outside, a few paces away from the side entrance to the house. The baking oven is in a separate building and where all the laundry was also completed – a kind of Georgian utility room!
I wonder what Jane Austen would have thought about today’s modern kitchens, maybe she would feel more at home in our more traditionally styled kitchens, complete with one of our AGA ranges. Our more contemporary styled kitchens and the high speed cooking times would stretch her active imagination.
Jane Austen’s House still displays the cookery book containing 135 recipes and 49 household tips collected by her dear friend Martha Lloyd – the Delia Smith of her day. Recent coverage on the television included the making of a meal from this book with delights such as White Soup and Gooseberry Flan, with little to sweeten it as sugar was an expensive luxury at the time. I wonder if Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight, who lived just down the village in Chawton House, a far grander property, could afford sweeter treats. The kitchen in this grand Elizabethan manor house has also been restored to the way it was in Jane Austen’s time.
There is a comforting simplicity about these historic kitchens, and we have to stop ourselves getting too sentimental about the loss of these very basic kitchens. They presented many challenges to those who had to use them and everything required more ‘elbow grease’, hard work and longer hours. Now we can have all of the comforts of these kitchen forerunners, yet enjoy the benefits that modern design and technology has given to us, freeing up our time and giving us working, dining and relaxing spaces where people want to linger longer, spaces where they want to cook, eat, laugh and communicate – I'm sure Jane Austen would approve.