James Standish knows how to play society’s game. He’ll follow the rules, marry a virginal debutante, and inherit a massive fortune. At least, that’s the plan until he meets Francesca Thorne. She’s not the sort of woman a respectable gentleman like James could ever marry—not least because, strictly speaking, she’s married already.
Francesca is determined to flout convention and divorce her philandering husband. When James sweet talks his way into her life tasked with convincing her to abandon her dream of freedom, she’s unprepared for the passion that flares between them.
Torn apart by conflicting desires, James and Francesca must choose whether to keep chasing the lives they’ve always wanted or take a chance on a new and forbidden love.
Regency romance readers will be familiar with ratafia as a drink at balls and parties, a fortified wine made from bitter almonds. Ratafia cakes are like little macaroons or amaretto cookies, and you can whip them up and have them in the oven in under five minutes.
Since bitter almonds contain cyanide and are now banned, I used Pen Vogler’s adapted recipe; almond extract may not be authentic, but at least it’s legal. You can buy Vogler’s book here. Martha Lloyd’s actual Georgian recipe includes “a little orange flower water,” so you could add that too if you want the recipe to be even more authentic.
225 g ground almonds
225 g confectioner’s sugar
3 egg whites
2-3 drops almond extract
Preheat the oven to 160C.
In a large bowl, sift the sugar into the ground almonds. I didn’t have icing sugar, so I used caster, which probably changed the texture of the finished cookies. Mix well.
Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Much easier with a modern electric whisk. Beat in the extract. Fold the resulting mixture into the almonds and sugar until you have a smooth (or, if you’re using caster, relatively smooth) paste.
The mix makes between 25 and 30 cookies, so line one or two (depending on the size of your trays) baking sheets with grease-proof paper. Each cookie needs a heaped teaspoon of mix. Press each one into cookie shape, then bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Since I had to use two baking sheets, the cookies on the lower shelf needed longer.
Allow to cool completely before eating.
Me: I made some biscuits and I want you to try them.
15 yr old: Okay… Wait, are these victorian?
Me: Georgian, actually.
15 yr old: Oh, no.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, this was by far the least controversial recipe I’ve tried. Everybody loved these. They were gorgeous. Particularly awesome with a nice cup of tea but, for the love of god, don’t make the tea in a microwave. My little British heart can’t take it.
To be fair, gooseberry fool is a recipe that’s never gone away. The recipe I started with is Georgian, but I could easily have picked a Tudor one. Unlike last week’s pickled limes, this is yummy and so, so easy.
First, here’s Hannah Glasse’s recipe from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747):
“Take two quarts of gooseberries, set them on the fire in about a quart of water; when they begin to simmer, and turn yellow, and begin to plump, throw them into a cullendar to drain the water out; then with the back of a spoon carefully squeeze the pulp, throw the sieve into a dish, make them pretty sweet, and let them stand till they are cold. In the mean time take two quarts of new milk, and the yolks of four eggs, beat up with a little grated nutmeg, stir it softly over s slow fire, and when it begins to simmer, take it off, and by degrees stir in the gooseberries, let it stand till it is cold, and serve it up. If you make it with cream, you need not put any eggs in; and if it is not thick enough, it is only boiling more gooseberries; but that you must do as you think proper.” – Hannah Glasse
Before We Begin:
Instead of going full method, I recommend eschewing the fire in favor of your stove. I used 300 g of gooseberries because that’s what I had, but 400 g would probably be more authentic. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I might use a bit less sugar next time. Perhaps stick with the 70 g, at least the first time you make this. If you can’t get gooseberries, any reasonably tart berry would do. I bet raspberries would work particularly well.
Since I’m not a society hostess, I reduced the ingredients down to make four fools.
300-400 g of gooseberries, topped and tailed
70 g of caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra set aside
200 ml of double cream
Place the gooseberries and 70 g of sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat.
Simmer until the gooseberries start to soften and break down, which should take around 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar to the cream and lightly whip until thickened, but not too stiff. Mash the cooled gooseberries, and swirl through the cream with a spoon. Being me, I totally forgot to swirl and mixed mine thoroughly, which is why they look like this:
Spoon the fool into 4 glasses and chill until ready to serve. The photos don’t do them justice:
So good! These were light and creamy with a delicate flavor. (If I’d remembered to swirl instead of mix, the contrast of the cream and the tart gooseberries would have been even better.) This really is a lovely dessert and with hardly any effort.
Amy has always been my favourite March sister. Yes, I know. How can I, a writer, continue to love her after she burned Jo’s manuscript? But, as a reformed brat myself, I “get” her. Amy March rules.
Except perhaps for her pickled lime obsession.
Apparently all the other girls were into it:
“Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it, too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else….If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime; if she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck.” —Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.
But why? I’ve always had a hell of a job understanding what these children could have been thinking. Perhaps they aren’t really pickled, I thought. Perhaps they’re preserved with sugar like dates. Perhaps they’re a type of sweet.
Nope. Here’s the recipe:
1 sterile 500g glass jar
4 fresh limes
Salt (a metric fucktonne lot)
Extra lime juice if necessary
And that’s it.
So, not a sweet treat, then. And, since it seemed unlikely these girls just really, really cared about preventing scurvy, I was going to have to try them for myself.
Using a sharp knife, cut the tops and bottoms off the limes, then cut x shapes into each one, but only 3/4 of the way through. Like this:
Pack the Xs with lots and lots of salt until they look like this:
Put the limes into the jar, pressing them until they fit and they release some of their juices. Seal and leave at room temperature for about 12 hours.
When the 12 hours are up, open the jar and press the limes again. Afterward, mine looked like this:
Do this once or twice a day until the limes are covered in juice. After three days, if there still isn’t enough juice, add enough to cover.
Chill in the fridge for a minimum of 1 month before consuming.
The recipe gives no guidance whatsoever about what to do with your limes once the month is up, so I experimented. First, I tried one straight out of the jar, but, as you might expect, it was salty as hell.
Before I go on, allow me to communicate my regret over naming my limes Kermit, because after a month, they really did resemble a jar of dead frogs floating in formaldehyde. I was pretty sure they’d gone off but, after a rinse, they didn’t look too bad.
Next, I tried one rinsed. They were still really salty, so I rinsed them again.
The purpose of the salt is to make them less tart. This worked. They weren’t too sour, but the saltiness was very unpleasant. I think this would work better if the salt was rinsed away after the first day like in modern recipes. Then the limes could be pickled in their own juice.
I can’t imagine little girls enjoying these, even in the Victorian era. I know for a fact there were sugary treats available for a similar price, so what gives? Did they dry them first? Was there a more extensive rinsing process? I wish I knew the answers.
I am reliably informed (by Delia Smith) that you can use pickled limes in small quantities in Asian cuisine, so perhaps that’s the best thing to do with them in this form. We didn’t like them on their own.
Here is a picture of my 8 yr old nearly trying one:
If you try this, if you have better luck or any ideas or theories at all, please let me know in the comments here or on other social media. Until then, the mystery (of why little girls would want to trade pickled limes) remains.