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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Flipping Austenian pancakes

If your house is anything like mine, this time of year features a whole lot of food. There are foods to provide for guests and family food traditions to keep up. There is guest-provided food to be eaten, and food to be provided when you’re someone else’s guest. Just thinking about all that cooking exhausts me.


But if you’re a glutton for food talk, Chawton House, the Jane Austen-linked research library and stately home in Hampshire, England, has an event for you: Tomorrow, Jennifer Comerford, a doctoral student who recently curated a display of the house’s eighteenth-century recipe books, will give an online presentation about her findings.


Tickets to her lecture, “Jane Austen’s Pancakes, and Other Recipes,” cost £6 (about $7.61), and a recording will be made available to registrants who can’t watch the live version when it airs at 7 pm (UK time).


Comerford, who is working on a Ph.D. in eighteenth-century British literature at Northwestern University, spent last summer at Chawton under the auspices of the Jane Austen Society of North America’s International Visitor Program, which provides funding for an artist or scholar to work on an Austen-related project in the village of Chawton. The display Comerford curated can be seen through April as part of the twentieth-anniversary “Treasures of Chawton House” exhibition.


“Eighteenth-century recipe books were eclectic compendiums of knowledge—they not only contained cookery instructions, but also medical cures, cosmetics recipes, cleaning tips, and so much more,” Chawton House notes in a description of the program. “Join us on this excursion into a period of culinary and medical history that feels at once strikingly familiar and persistently estranging, from whimsical variations in recipes for pancakes and gingerbread to the rather more sinister implications of recipes for medical ‘waters’ meant to cure things like scurvy or the plague.”


Scurvy? Plague? I guess I should stop complaining about all the cooking I have to do over the holidays.

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