Regency Recipe: Mrs Austen's Potatoes
"...what excellent boiled potatoes. Many years since I have had such an exemplary vegetable. To which of my fair cousins should I compliment the excellence of the cooking?"
Mr Collins Pride & Prejudice
A variation of this now-famous line from Austen's most popular novel appears in the 2005 film adaptation starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.
Potatoes were grown in the kitchen garden at Steventon from 1773. It must be remembered that including these in the vegetable garden for regular consumption at the time was unusual. In fact is was only a grain shortage in 1794 that led to the popularity of the potato as a staple of the British tea or supper table. It's said that Jane Austen's mother dug her own potatoes, even in her old age, and preferred them prepared according to this recipe from Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery (1747):
Boil them in as little water as you can, without burning your pan.
Cover the saucepan close, and when the potator skins begin to crack, they are boiled enough.
Drain the water out.
Let them stand covered for a minute or two.
Peel them, lay them in your plate, and pour melted butter over them.
Next, lay them on a griddle iron til they are browned and crisping - then send them to table.
It's a mark of the wealth Mr Collins is to inherit that the Mrs Bennett serves potatoes at her supper table. They were originally reserved as a dish for gentry. The Bennetts' may not have had 'savings', as the head of house put it in the novel, but they certainly had income. Longbourn was a profitable estate, and the dish is an indication of their gentility.
While this is a simple recipe, I've included it in honour of the excellent account @excellentboiledpotatoes because I've enjoyed her witty insights and Austen-based content for such a long time, I felt she was due an honour of her own. I've varied the Regency-era recipe a little for my modern oven:
32 oz (900g or 2lbs) potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
3 tablespoons of melted butter
1-2 teaspoons of flour
Preheat your oven to 218°C / 425°F
Place potatoes in a large sauce pan with enough water to just cover them.
Allow them to boil furiously over medium to high heat for 20 minutes, or until they are tender when stuck with a fork. Remove them and arrange on a baking sheet.
Melt the butter over a medium heat.
Whisk in the flour quickly and remove butter from heat. Do not allow this sauce to boil.
Pour the melted butter over the potatoes and bake them until they are brown and crispy (about 10-15 minutes).