Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Crown - Then and Now

Netflix's new series, The Crown, is a visual treat for fans of English history. Starring Claire Foy (who played Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall) as Queen Elizabeth II and Matt Smith (a former Doctor Who) as Prince Philip, the show dramatizes how Elizabeth transforms from a young upper-class British wife and mother into a resolute sovereign.

With some backstory thrown in for context (including the death of Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, the abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, and her wedding to Prince Philip), the first season covers the events and scandals of the early 1950s that shaped the initial years of Elizabeth’s reign. Ten episodes are streaming on Netflix now, and there’s hope of more to come.

Coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II
 and Prince Philip
All the episodes are beautifully filmed (the production must have a lavish budget) and though it takes a while to build, the characters and their relationships to each other become increasingly well-developed and compelling as the series progresses. 

Even if you don’t have Netflix, you can enjoy a witty and thorough recap of each show here, on the tongue-in-cheek website Go Fug Yourself. This sassy site chronicles the foibles of celebrity fashion but pays special attention to British royalty. 

And if you're interested in a discussion of the historical accuracy of The Crown, here's an analysis by People Magazine.

The relationship (as conjectured by the writers) between Prince Philip and Elizabeth is at the heart of the story, and Episode 5 (“Smoke and Mirrors”) features a no doubt fictional argument during which Philip accuses his wife of “matronizing” him - a clever play on “patronize” with a female twist. I love this new (to me, at least) word. I plan to give it a home in my lexicon and use it often.

Episode 5 also depicts Elizabeth’s coronation in June of 1953, which should delight fans of the Regency. Watching this scene, it’s easy to imagine the coronation of our Prinny (George IV) 132 years earlier in 1821 since elements of the ceremony have stayed the same for centuries. 

Prinny's coronation in Westminster Abbey,  July 19, 1821

It's too bad there were no cameras to record Prinny’s coronation. From what we know of his style and the portraits that were painted to commemorate the event, we can be sure it was a grand affair. Just consider this depiction of the banquet after the ceremony. If you look closely you can see a tricked-out horse trotting amidst the endless rows of tables and throngs of illustrious guests.

Prinny's coronation banquet in Westminster Hall

Elizabeth's ceremony was more modest. But it did have a few surprises. A modification that Prince Philip, chairman of his wife’s coronation committee, insisted on was televising the proceedings. This was a controversial, and unprecedented, update to the ancient ceremony. No coronation had ever been filmed, though parts of the procession after King George VI's coronation in 1937 were broadcast by the BBC.  
This ticket would've gotten you into the event

Philip argued that putting the coronation on television would make the British populace feel closer to their new queen, especially since the event was closed to the public. Only a privileged few, about 8,000 peers and other VIPs from across the Commonwealth, were invited inside Westminster Abbey to witness the Queen being crowned

And Philip was proved right. The Queen's coronation was a blockbuster hit. According to the BBC, over 20 million people around the world watched the event, which was broadcast in 44 different languages. For many viewers, it was the first time they'd ever seen anything on a television set. Elizabeth's coronation was also the first major event of international importance to be televised live. 

Here's a clip showing the actual moment during the ceremony where the Queen receives her crown:

We’ll see if any further modernizations are made to the coronation rites when it's Prince Charles' turn to take the throne, though, believe me, I’m in no hurry for that day. I’m hoping that the Queen, who marked an amazing 60 years of rule in 2012 with her Diamond Jubilee (60 years because she became queen in 1952, a year before she was crowned) goes on to celebrate many more milestones. 

And now here's a trailer for the series, containing a re-imagining of Elizabeth's coronation ceremony:

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Additional info can be found on BBC On This Day, and The Nottingham Post

Monday, November 21, 2016

Celebrate Thanksgiving with mincemeat pie

A scrumptious mincemeat pie
It’s almost Thanksgiving Day here in the States, and this year I plan to distract myself from my post-election malaise by preparing a traditional Thanksgiving feast for my family and friends. So, along with cooking other delicacies I’ll roast a turkey, boil fresh cranberries with sugar to make a thick, sweet sauce, and bake a traditional pumpkin pie, to be served with generous dollops of whipped cream. My guests would feel cheated if I omitted any of those dishes.

But there'll be an addition to the menu this year. I’ve decided to resurrect a tradition from my past and make a mincemeat pie. Mincemeat pie is not a universal Thanksgiving treat, like pumpkin pie. It's an acquired taste, and some people won’t touch it. Even apple and pecan pie are better appreciated holiday desserts. But when I was growing up, it wasn’t Thanksgiving without at least one mincemeat pie.

The Siege of Damascus, part of the Second Crusade, 1148
How does mincemeat pie fit on a blog about Regency England? Well, I did some research and discovered that mincemeat pie is a traditional English Christmas treat. In fact, mincemeat may have been introduced to the British Isles when the Crusaders returned from the Middle East, bringing with them a taste for desserts that combined meats, spices and fruits.

Mincemeat (also called mince) pie was also popular at Christmas in Tudor England, and this dish had religious associations very early on. By one account it originally had thirteen ingredients, to commemorate the 12 apostles and Jesus. The spices - cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves - were symbolic of the gift of Magi. In early times mincemeat pies were often large and oblong, to represent the crèche of the baby Jesus.

Christmas Pie, by William Henry Hunt
Christmas pie, as mincemeat pie became known, could have veal, mutton or beef suet (raw beef fat) mixed in with fruits and spices. Other additions to the mixture included brandy, apples, lemons, orange peel, prunes or currents. This pie is gloriously, decadently rich, and so naturally it was frowned on by religious reformers in later centuries.

When the Puritans came to the New World in the 17th century, they brought their mincemeat recipes with them. But they were a notoriously dour lot who didn’t celebrate religious holidays with any sort of gusto, much less a festive dessert, so they didn’t approve of Christmas pies. Instead, their mincemeat pies gradually became part of a new tradition they established on American soil, a meal of thanksgiving.

This is the filling for my mincemeat pie
A jar of store-bought mincemeat and a packaged pie crust makes this pie ridiculously easy to prepare, and that's how I'm going to make my pie. And the mincemeat I’m using, like a lot of the mincemeat filling you'll find at grocery stores, is imported from the U.K. and doesn’t contain any meat. (It does, however, have a staggering amount of sugar, a fact I'm trying to ignore.)

But for those of you brave enough to make mincemeat pie filling from scratch, or who are just curious as to how it's done, here’s an authentic recipe from the third and final volume of the Time-Life Book of Christmas series, published in 1963. These books, The Glory of Christmas, The Pageantry of Christmas and The Merriment of Christmas, were treasured holiday books in my family when I was a child. 

This recipe reads like something out of another century, which I guess it is. But perhaps, like me, you enjoy reading recipes the way some people enjoy reading novels. If so, I assure you this one has it all - drama, action, and a delicious ending. 

If you decide to give this recipe a try, you’ll see it’s not for the faint of heart. This is hardcore pastry work – no shortcuts here. You begin at the butcher’s counter to get meat and beef suet. You mix those ingredients with fruits, spices and a liberal dose of whiskey. After lots of boiling, you proceed to the next step, which is to ladle the mincemeat mixture into jars, seal the jars and put them through a water bath canning process. This step requires even more boiling. All this before you can even start making the pie.

I included the pie crust instructions, too, since they’re also something out of the ordinary. Full disclosure: I haven’t actually made a pie crust from scratch in years. Too much swearing is involved. As a kid, though, I helped my mother prepare the pastry for the Thanksgiving pies – she never would've used a store-bought crust.

May this mincemeat pie, or indeed any holiday dish you prepare, spur many happy memories for years to come. Bring on the whipped cream!

Mincemeat Pie, from the Time-Life Book of Christmas

1 pound lean beef
½ pound beef suet
4 tart apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, ¼ cup molasses
2 cups cider or apple juice
1 pound currants, 1 pound raisins
¼ pound citron, thinly sliced
1 lemon, seeded and ground
¼ teaspoon mace, ¾ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whiskey or brandy

2 cups flour
2 egg yolks
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup butter
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

For the filling:
Have butcher grind beef and suet together. In a large heavy saucepan, mix ground meat and fat with apples, sugars, molasses and cider. Bring to a boil. Stir in fruit, reduce heat and cook for about an hour, stirring often to prevent sticking. Add the spices and salt and continue cooking until very thick, stirring continuously. Stir in the whiskey or brandy and pack mixture into prepared jars. Adjust lids and process in hot water baths for 1½ hours. Seal, cool and store. Makes about 5 pints.

For the pastry:
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add remaining ingredients. Mix center ingredients, then use a pastry blender or fork to work in the flour. If necessary, work in two tablespoons cold water to pull dough into a ball. Wrap and chill one hour.

Roll out pastry and fit gently into a 9-inch flan ring set on cookie sheet. Trim off excess pastry. Fill with 3 or 4 cups mincemeat, depending on the thickness of pie desired. Gather together and reroll bits of leftover pastry and use to make top edge of pie, and also leaf and berry cutouts for decoration. Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees) 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is a golden brown. Cool before removing ring. Makes 8-10 servings.  

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Despard Plot: Another Reason to Remember November

There must be something about the month of November and plots to kill the British king. The dastardly treason of Guy Fawkes and his band of conspirators is well-known, and the foiling of that plot is still celebrated 400 years after the event, marked with fireworks, parades and bonfires throughout Great Britain on November 5.

But what about Edward Despard? Where’s his bonfire?

Here’s what happened: in the fall of 1802 Colonel Edward Marcus Despard, a decorated Irish officer of the British Army who fought for the Crown during the American War of Independence, friend of Horatio Nelson, and for a time the designated superintendent of what would become the British Honduras, allegedly conspired to kill King George III.

On November 16, a week before the assassination was supposed to take place, Despard was arrested and charged with high treason. After a trial he was condemned to die by hanging, drawing and quartering, the last person in Britain to ever receive such a severe and painfully redundant death sentence. Before his execution on February 21, 1803, his sentence was commuted to the less elaborate but equally redundant procedure of hanging and beheading.

Col. Edward Marcus Despard
At the time of his arrest, Despard was meeting with a group of about 40 laborers at a tavern in Lambert. Government informants would testify that their plan was to assassinate the King, seize the Tower of London and the Bank of London, and incite uprisings throughout the city. The plot also supposedly involved the planting of several underground bombs.

Like Despard, many of the conspirators were Irishmen who’d done military service, and many of them were sympathetic to the cause of Irish independence, especially following the violent suppression by British soldiers of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. Despard himself was suspected of being involved in the rebellion, and he was arrested and held without trial for nearly three years in a series of prisons. He was released without being charged in 1801.

But there was no such happy ending this time for Despard. Even the campaigning on his behalf by his wife Catharine didn’t sway the justices. Catharine was a woman of African descent who Despard met and married while stationed in the Caribbean. The Colonel brought his wife and their son with him when he came home in 1790 after nearly two decades of military service abroad. Their interracial marriage was highly unusual and perhaps even unique in England at this point in history.  

In the New World, Edward and Catharine were advocates for the rights of freed black slaves, which didn’t make them popular with the white settlers. While Despard was in prison in London, Catharine worked not only to secure his release but also lobbied to improve prison living conditions for her husband and other prisoners. 

Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson
Catharine persuaded Lord Nelson, who’d fought with Despard in the 1780 San Juan Expedition, to appear as a character witness at her husband’s trial. 

Despite Nelson’s testimony, Despard was found guilty and executed with six co-conspirators at the Horsemonger Lane Gaol in Southwark, London. He proclaimed his innocence from the gallows in front of about 20,000 people, the largest crowd who’d ever gathered for a public event up till then. 

(That record stood for only two more years, when it was broken by the huge crowds who gathered in London and thronged the Thames riverbanks to witness Lord Nelson’s funeral procession in January 1806, following the admiral's death at the Battle of Trafalgar the previous October.)  

So, like Guy Fawkes, Despard was accused of plotting to kill the king. His plan involved explosives and was thwarted, also like Fawkes. He and his co-conspirators were publicly executed, again like Fawkes and his men. (Although Fawkes actually fell or jumped from the gallows ladder right before his hanging and broke his neck, dying instantly and mercifully avoiding the gruesome mutilation planned as part of his punishment.)

In fact, this rhyme sung on Guy Fawkes Day could be easily adapted with a few minor tweaks to commemorate Despard’s plot:

Remember, remember,
The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
For I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

And yet Despard is forgotten just the same. So if you’re among the millions who'll celebrate Guy Fawkes Day this November 5, spare a moment’s thought for poor Edward Despard. The only thing worse than a failed assassination attempt is a failed attempt no one remembers. 

Images courtesy of Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Downton Abbey Meets the Regency

Wikimedia Commons
Here in the U.S. we are in the middle of the last season of Downton Abbey and I’m really enjoying it. I’ll be sad when the series is over – no more emotional family dinners, glorious costumes (for the Crawley ladies, at least), and luscious views of Highclere Castle (i.e. Downton). 

But last weekend I stumbled across something on Netflix that may ease the pain of separation. From Time to Time is a 2009 movie that was co-written and directed by Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey

This movie is a treat for fans of Fellowes and the Regency. If you don’t have access to Netflix, you may be able to find it in your local library.

Based on Lucy M. Boston’s 1958 children’s book, The Chimneys of Green Knowe, the film tells the story of a 13-year-old boy who returns to his ancestral home in 1944 to live with his grandmother while awaiting word on the fate of his father, a soldier officially listed as missing in action. 

The boy discovers that the past is still very much present at the old house, as he slips in and out of events that happened there in 1810. The time travel element means we get to see Fellowes’ take on Regency England – the clothes, the manners, and even some of the culture.

Athelhampton House in Dorset, the 15th-century house where
 From Time to Time was filmed (Wikimedia Commons)
Similarities to Downton Abbey abound, including the way the cast members are lined up on the movie poster. 

As in Downton Abbey and Gosford Park (also written by Fellowes) the emphasis in the story is on the characters and their relationships.

The story is set in another beautiful old house, though not as grand as Highclere Castle. 

Even more fun is seeing a few familiar faces in the movie. Here are some cast members from Downton Abbey who’re also in From Time to Time:

  • Maggie Smith – She’s the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey, and she plays another strong matriarch in Time, trying to hold on to her family's estate at the end of World War II.

  • Hugh Bonneville – Downton’s Lord Grantham plays an early 19th century sea captain, and he looks fine in his uniform.

  • Allen Leech – He plays Tom Branson, the chauffeur who married an Earl’s daughter, in Downton Abbey. Here he’s downstairs again as a Regency servant.

  • Daisy Lewis — If you remember Sarah Bunting, Branson’s brief love interest in Season 5 of Downton Abbey, you’ll recognize Daisy as a maidservant, once again capturing the fancy of Allen Leech’s character.

  • Harriet Walter – She stars in the current season of Downton Abbey as Lady Shackleton, Henry Talbot’s aunt. Here, she portrays another kindly aristocrat.  

I liked From Time to Time. It has a supernatural element, but there’s a sweetness underlying the suspense. And it's rated PG, which makes it suitable for the whole family.

Because of the time travel, there’re a few inconsistencies, but they’re breezily dismissed by Maggie Smith’s character. However, as the late, great film critic Roger Ebert noted, time travel plots are almost impossible to pull off without getting tangled up in a paradox or two.  

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Blonde Like Me: Hair Coloring During the Regency

How I felt when I saw my new hair style
in the mirror for the first time.
(Wellcome Images© CC BY 4.0)
A few days ago I asked my hairstylist to put a highlights in my hair. I’ve had highlights before, but they were so subtle I almost couldn’t see them. And I’ve used a color-depositing shampoo to make my strawberry-blonde hair a bit more strawberry.  

So I’m not a complete hair color virgin.

But the highlights made my hair blonder than it’s been since I was little girl growing up in sun-drenched Southern California. And the experience got me thinking about the history of hair color, during the Regency and beyond.

I discovered that people have been coloring their hair for a long, long time. Historians have found over a hundred recipes that ancient Romans used to bleach or dye their hair.

Viking men dyed their beards blond, which makes me wonder about Thor’s true hair color. Roman men used a lead comb dipped in vinegar to darken their facial hair when it turned gray. It worked, but the lead had pesky side effects they didn’t know about, such as kidney failure and death.

In ancient Greece women dyed their hair gold or red-gold to look like Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Wealthy woman sprinkled actual gold dust on their hair to give it a blonde shimmer. Much like today, blonde hair was associated with youth and health as well as love. Unfortunately, blonde hair was also a trademark of prostitutes, especially high-class ones.

A Regency hairstylist. His customer must really trust him;
she's calmly reading a book while he works. If I were
her, I'd be concerned about the twin peaks on my head.
 (Wellcome Images© CC BY 4.0)
This most likely lead to the Church’s stance on hair coloring during the Middle Ages. It was pretty drastic; women who colored their hair blonde were condemned. This disapproval also encompassed woman whose hair was naturally blonde, in the belief that their seductive hair color would lead men astray. 

Red hair wasn’t too popular, either, until the reign of England’s Elizabeth I, a natural redhead. Not only did good Queen Bess make red hair fashionable, but her courtiers scrambled to dye their own hair or beards red to honor her.

Despite this brief rage for red hair, lead combs were still a popular and deadly way to cover gray hair. For those who wanted to lighten instead of darken their hair, one method was to apply lemon juice or chamomile to the hair and then sit in the sun to let nature finish the bleaching. Sound familiar? I remember girls doing the exact same thing when I was growing up, and I’m not exactly ancient.

Portrait of Lafayette, French hero of the American
Revolution, painted in 1830 when he was 73.
Notice his suspiciously dark hair.
(Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
In the 18th century just before the Regency era, the question of coloring hair became rather moot. That’s because fashionable men and women hid their natural hair color with powder, or wore powdered wigs. This whitening powder was made from starch, oak moss (called Cyprus powder) or even household flour, and everyone who was anyone was doing it.

Even the British Army got into the act. By one estimate, the flour that the army used just on its hair during this period would’ve been enough to make bread for 50,000 people.

This gross misuse of flour coincided with the French Revolution, when masses of people were hungry and the aristocracy didn’t seem to care all that much. Marie Antoinette’s famous (and highly disputed) retort when told the people were starving, “Let them eat cake,” could just as easily have been, “Let them powder their hair.”

Despite all this powdering, during the 18th century and the Regency actual hair dye was still frowned on. In both Europe and America, the obvious use of cosmetics or hair color on women was taboo. (Dandies who painted their faces were another matter.) A woman who dyed her hair was seen as exhibiting vanity or immorality, the opposite of the virtues that good wives and mothers were expected to display.  

But the urge to alter one’s appearance is strong, and society’s disapproval didn’t stop people in the 19th century from discreetly tinkering with their hair color. In 1839 Philadelphia shopkeeper Jules Hauel began keeping a vegetable-based hair dye on his shelves, and I bet both men and women hid that product in the bottom of their shopping baskets.

I wish I could say my hair was dressed by cherubs. Instead of angels dispensing a
vegetable "hair renewer" I had a stylist wielding strips of foil painted with bleach.
 (Wikimedia Commons; public domain)

Darkening your hair was one thing, but blonde hair still carried a whiff of bad behavior. In his 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde had a character voice this rather snarky comment about a woman: "Her capacity for family affection is extraordinary. When her third husband died, her hair turned quite gold from grief."

Nevertheless, efforts to improve hair coloring continued. In 1909 a French chemist named Eugene Schiller was the first to create a synthetic hair dye using a chemical formerly used to dye textiles. He started a business, naming it the French Harmless Hair Dye Company to reassure his customers. A year later he changed the name to L’Oreal, and the rest is history.

Marilyn Monroe, the quintessential blonde.
(Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
As the 20th century progressed, companies like Clairol and Revlon along with L’Oreal developed better formulas in more shades of color. And movie stars like Jean Harlow (the original “Blonde Bombshell”) and Marilyn Monroe made blonde hair popular with the average woman, even if (or maybe because) it was considered sexy. 

Ad campaigns with slogans like “Is it true blondes have more fun?” and “If I have only one life to live, I’d rather live it as a blonde” helped too.

Today the stigma attached to blonde hair has pretty much disappeared. Even the perception that blondes are dumb if not immoral is fading, thanks to movies like Legally Blonde that feature smart blonde heroines. As of 2000, Clairol alone offered over 70 shades of blonde in its hair coloring products.

I’ll keep you posted on whether my newly blonde-streaked hair brings me more fun. For now, I’m just trying not to do a double-take every time I pass a mirror.

I don’t know how Khloé Kardashian does it.  

Sources for this post include Encyclopedia of Hair, A Cultural History by Victoria Sherrow

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Boodle's Orange Fool

An Orange Fool - the dessert popularized by Boodle's
(from Good to

Christmas is the time of year that I like to forget about eating sensibly and make wonderful desserts. Homemade fruitcake and cookies, and peppermint ice cream slathered with chocolate sauce are on my naughty list. And while these treats might not have been popular during the Regency, those folks had their own go-to desserts.  

Another type of orange fool!
(Keying Up - the Court Jester by William Merritt Chase,
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

One such treat is an Orange Fool, associated with Boodle's, a private members club in London that was popular during the Regency period and is still active today. A book at the original club reveals that Edward Boodle, a head waiter at Almack's Assembly Rooms, took over the establishment not long after it opened and gave it his name. 

Caricature of a member entering Boodle's in 1820, from
The City of London website

Founded in 1762, Boodle's was located at 49-51 Pall Mall when it opened but moved to 28 St. James Street, where it still is, twenty years later. It has the distinction of being the world’s second-oldest club – only White’s, another London club, is older. 

Boodle's, as it appears now on St. James St. in London
(Wikimedia Commons)

Its aristocratic founder was William Petty, the 2nd Earl of Shelburne, who later became the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne. Born in Ireland, Petty was a Whig statesman who rose to the position of Prime Minister in 1782-83, during the tail end of the American Revolution.

William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne and founder of Boodle's,
painted in 1791 by Jean-Laurent Mosnier (Wikimedia Commons)

Boodle's started as a political club, but soon became known as a very proper, scandal-free establishment, quite refined and somewhat stodgy. Members were expected to dress properly for dinner, servants wore black knee breeches, and coins were reportedly boiled before being handed to members.

Noteworthy members include Beau Brummel, 18th century Whig politician Charles Fox, and William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire (also husband to the glamorous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire)

Keira Knightley in The Duchess, a 2008 movie about
Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire
 (found on 

In more modern times, Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond spy novels, was a member. Boodle's is mentioned in the Bond novels Moonraker and You Only Live Twice.

 1st edition cover of  You Only Live Twice,
from the official  Ian Fleming website

But let’s back to dessert! Here's a recipe for Boodle's Orange Fool if you want to give it a try. A “fool” is an old-fashioned term for a pudding made of stewed or crushed fruit and cream and sugar. I've put in parentheses items commonly found in U.S. grocery stores to use if necessary in place of the British ingredients.

Boodle's Orange Fool
Serves 4

 * 4 trifle sponge cakes, cubed (or use packaged ladyfingers)
 * 300 ml (1/2 pint) double cream (whipping cream)
 * 30 – 60 ml (2 - 4 tbsp.) caster sugar (see note)
 * grated rind and juice of two oranges
 * grated rind and juice of one lemon
 * orange and lemon rind and slices to decorate

Line the base and halfway up the sides of a large glass serving bowl or china dish with the cubed trifle sponge cakes. Whip the cream (be careful not to overwhip it—beat the mixture just till it holds soft peaks) with the sugar till it starts to thicken, then gradually whip in the fruit juices, adding the fruit rind towards the end. Carefully pour the creamed mixture into the bowl or dish, taking care not to dislodge the sponge. Cover and chill for 3-4 hours. Serve decorated with orange and lemon slices and rind.

Note: “Caster” or “castor” (American spelling) sugar is, by one account, a British name for confectioner’s sugar. But I have read that granulated sugar is the best substitute for it. Another source recommends milling granulated sugar, or crushing it with a rolling pin, before substituting it for castor sugar. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Do the Bustle

Woman in a bustle dress, 1885
(Wikimedia Commons)

There’s no doubt about it. In the fickle world of fashion, the female derrière is having a moment. If, like many women, you've spent most of your adult life dieting and exercising to trim your backside, there’s no easy way to tell you this: you may be out of style.

Fashion can be oddly specific when it comes to the female form. Every couple of years or so a trend will focus on one specific feminine attribute. For example, in the 1960s, miniskirts made legs fashionable.

And who can forget the way shoulders muscled control of the ’80’s fashion scene? If you were an adult woman during that decade, chances are you had at least one blouse or jacket with enough padding to make a linebacker envious.

Check out the shoulders of Joan Collins in the '80s television show, Dynasty.  [Photo by Rex Features, as seen in The Guardian ]

In the decades that've followed, crop tops and low-rise jeans have bared the midriff and put the spotlight on the female stomach. Now popular culture and Kim Kardashian have helped fashion shift focus once more. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
 (uploaded by User:17Drew~commonswiki)

According to The Tab (a news site for students based in the UK, originating from the University of Cambridge) celebrities like Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez have made “bums” a woman’s best asset, and “booty shorts” this summer’s hottest fashion trend for young women.

But this is a history blog, and I feel obliged to point out that the current obsession with the female bottom is not new. In fashion every trend cycles around and around, and this particular trend is no exception. Though they didn’t wear booty shorts, women during the Regency era did wear bustles under their skirts to exaggerate the view from behind.

Regency bustle pads 

The Regency bustle was a smallish pad tied around the waist, to give a lift to the back of the skirts on those empire-style dresses. The cut of a Regency gown generally put a greater focus on a woman’s bosom and yes, her shoulders, too, by exposing the neck and a lot of the shoulder. Showing off a fine décolletage (or cleavage) was all the rage and those high-waisted gowns often displayed a generous expanse of bosom.

"La mauvaise nouvelle" by Gerard Marguerite, 1804
(Wikimedia Commons)

Then, for reasons I find hard to fathom, styles in the decades following the Regency took the old-fashioned panniers or side-hoops of the 18th century and redesigned them to encircle the waist and pump up the volume of a woman’s skirts. This style reached its apogee in the crinoline or hoop skirt of the mid-19th century (epitomized in my mind by Vivien Leigh's portrayal of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind).

Reblogged image from purpletugboat at

A steel cage-like apparatus worn under a woman’s gown, the crinoline eliminated the need for layers of petticoats to produce the desired bell-like shape. At the height of its fashion, the crinoline mushroomed to six feet in diameter. Imagine trying to fit a skirt of that magnitude through a doorway, or in a carriage!

Here's an 1857 Punch cartoon satirizing this fashion:

The female fashion silhouette changed again by the 1880s, when a gown’s skirt front flattened and a bustle created by something much bigger than the Regency bustle pad protruded in the back. And it wasn’t just the bustle that emphasized a woman’s buttocks in these frocks; a tightly-laced corset did a nice job of that, too.

Example of 1883 fashions - "The Love Letter"
by Auguste Toulmouche (Wikimedia Commons)

But lest you think bustles are a thing of the past, be assured that you can buy the equivalent of a bustle today, for that trendy full-bottomed look. Padded underwear, “butt-lifting” jeans, Spanx with a built-in “boost ” – these items, readily available to today’s woman, weren’t an option for the fashionable woman of yesteryear. 

You can even buy “butt enhancement” creams or ingest pills that promise to give you a full rear curve. And of course, there’s the permanent solution – “surgical enhancement,” implants that cost about $10,000 to install in your backside.

Eventually, the bodacious booty will again fade from the fashion scene, and another trend will take its place. Who knows, perhaps (heaven help us) some form of the crinoline may come back. Cycle-wise, it’s about time.

Whatever the next hot style is, it'll most likely have these two elements: it'll be an old trend made new again; and whatever the style is, it'll look hopelessly dated not too long after it's the height of fashion. 

See how these young Victorian ladies laugh at their mother’s (or more likely, their grandmother’s) Regency style:

Young people making fun of the previous generation? Some things never change!