16th December 2014

It is truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen liked to make her own beer and eat good apple pie. Ever wonder what else lies between the lines of Pride and Prejudice? Well put the kettle on and keep reading. Modern Austen is a new series of blog posts featuring all things Austen and all things food. Posts will highlight aspects of historical foodways as well as various recipes the authoress enjoyed during her own lifetime. 18th-century dishes, etiquette tips for modern eaters, literary themed mixed drinks! Learn what the witty writer ate during the Regency era, the kind of cocktail Lizzie Bennet might order at Happy Hour, and how a modern Austen might enjoy the culinary melting pot of today.

Today is both Jane Austen’s birthday and now the official Austen Day per the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. I’m sure she’s had enough of scones and cakes and dainty little things. The lady has accomplished so much, I think she deserves a drink. I’ve always wanted to make Spruce Beer just like Austen talks about in her letters and like the recipe listed in her friend Martha Lloyd’s family cookbook. Large, dashing spruce trees grow all over the British Isles and even here in North America. Thing is though, I can never find one. Balsam, fir, juniper, cedar. I can find it all, but no such luck with spruce.


White spruce-beer — To five gallons of water put seven pounds of loaf-sugar, and three-fourths of a pound of the essence of spruce. Boil and skim this. Put it into a vessel, and, when nearly cool, add fresh yeast (about a half-pint or less.) When the beer has fermented for three days, bung the cask, and in a week bottle it off. N.B. — For Brown spruce use treacle or coarse brown sugar, instead of loaf-sugar. (M.D. 1829).

Recipe by Austen’s friend, Martha Lloyd, printed in The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black.

094pic (1)

Real spruce beer calls for spruce tips, the part of the tree that starts to regrow in the spring. These tips are soft and light, but still contain all that special spruce flavor. So there’s the other rub, it is definitely not spring. But spruce is just one of several edible evergreens and right now I have plenty of access to these perennial conifers, in particular, fields and fields of lovely Balsam fir.

balsam_syrup18 balsam_syrup2

And since Austen’s birthday is today, I don’t really have time to ferment a batch of beer, the lady needs a drink now. So we’re going to take the alcohol up a notch and let a good Scotch Whiskey do the work and focus all the evergreen flavor into a simple sugary syrup spiked with a sprig of rosemary.

balsam_syrup5 balsam_syrup4

After boiling the sugar and the water, the balsam sits and steeps until cooled, filling the house with the perfect Christmas scent. I know this syrup is intended for cocktails, but I’m sure Jane would equally appreciate it drizzled over hot pancakes, in a cup of tea, or just right off the spoon.

balsam_syrup7 balsam_syrup10 balsam_syrup12

As I’ve said before, Austen was a big fan of alcoholic beverages and often brewed them herself. However she is still a lady and must express her affinity for such beverages with decisive aplomb. This Balsam, Scotch, + Soda, while fit enough for the stiffest of whiskey drinkers, is just the right amount of mild-mannered to fit within the more sensible tastes of the fairer sex. Essentially, I think everyone should drink their whiskey with a bit of seltzer and the essence of nature. And I like to think Jane would agree.

balsam_syrup17 balsam_syrup13 balsam_syrup16

Be sure to thoroughly wash your Balsam even if you picked it fresh from the wild. A good 20 minute soak in a solution of water and vinegar will help remove most of the pesticides or chemicals or other natural nasties. The leaves are sturdy enough, you could even give them a good scrub in mild dish soap and then a thorough rinse in cool water. If you are able to forage for edible conifers in your area refer to this lovely sketched guide from Kinfolk.

Balsam Fir Syrup
inspired by traditional Regency recipes and this one from Local Milk

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup balsam needles, thoroughly cleaned and roughly chopped
1 small sprig of rosemary

1. In a small sauce pan, bring the sugar and water to just under a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in balsam and rosemary. Let the mixture sit until completely cooled. Strain and bottle. Store in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Balsam, Scotch, + Soda
for one drink

plain unsweetened seltzer or club soda
scotch whiskey
balsam fir syrup

In a small glass, add crushed ice and top with a teaspoon or so of balsam syrup, 1 to 1.5 ounces scotch, and finish with soda.


After you’ve made yourself a drink, toast the lovely lady by visiting some of the most recent news and happenings about Austen from around the web:

Home_aTake a tour through What Jane Saw, a virtual art gallery reproduction of the same artwork Austen saw at the British Institution in 1813. A lovely site produced by the University of Texas and the darling brainchild of my old undergraduate thesis advisor and fellow Janeite, Dr. Janine Barchas.

Get excited for the upcoming exhibit at the Folger Library in D.C. on Will + Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity.

Learn more about an Austen inspired Christmas dinner at the Chawton House Library plus a recipe for Georgian Ginger Cake from the Knight Family Cookbook (Austen’s brother’s family recipe collection).

And check out this nifty article celebrating the anniversary of Sense and Sensibility with a visual representation of Austen dust jackets through the ages.

Happy birthday, dearest Jane.


14th December 2014


Christmas is so close I can taste it. Or maybe that’s all the cinnamon hanging in the air after several days of intense holiday baking. Well, we’ve decked the halls and I finally found the perfect tinsel tree this year in the perfect shade of champagne gold. It’s tall and skinny and fits perfectly in the corner and currently doubles as a chin scratcher for the cats. I raided the pantry to make decorations and wanted to share the results.


kitchen twine + baking cups (in two sizes) = cupcake garland


teensy whisks painted gold


more kitchen twine + gold stripe paper straws = gilded straw swag


Not sure what to put on top. A toque hat? A paper star with a picture of Julia Child? Any suggestions?

xmastree6 xmastree10 xmastree11


12th December 2014


I hope people don’t come here looking for doily instructions. And I hope crochet purists don’t harangue me for soiling one of their detailed labors of love. But these doilies that’ve been passed down in my family from generation to generation are just gathering dust sitting there in storage and waiting for an afternoon tea or visit from great aunt so-and-so. They deserve a purpose. So I gave them one. A darling little purpose.


When I worked as a receptionist in my undergraduate program’s office, one of my responsibilities was to refill the cookie jar. We had a secret stash under the desk and a standing order for a variety of store-bought cookies that appeared like magic when we ran out (it wasn’t magic, it was the work of hard working office managers). Students who frequented the office knew what cookies to expect depending upon which receptionist was working that shift or that day. Some receptionists could be persuaded – or dissuaded – to pick certain cookies over others and some of us took too much delight in denying the loitering collegiates of their sugary preference. But when I had my way or when everyone had left for the day, I would fill the jar with my own favorite: Mother’s Iced Oatmeal. A humble humdrum cookie, I know, and not what you’d call a crowd-pleaser, but I loved them nonetheless.


I know this post is about gingersnaps, but they were made with Mother’s Iced Oatmeals in mind. Spicy, simple, crisp, and iced. Not too sweet, just like I like them. All that’s missing really is the oatmeal. But then it wouldn’t really be a gingersnap then, would it?


Not only do these gingersnaps taste delightful, they look darling, too. That’s because I’ve one upped Mother’s (even though this really isn’t a competition) and imprinted mine with vintage crochet. Yes, this is where the family’s vintage crochet comes back into the story. And before you get your crochet hooks crossed (oh wait, there’s only one isn’t there?), I’ve already made sure the crochet is washable. No harm, no flour.

gingersnaphand2 gingersnaps3br

A little spritz of non-stick spray helps keep the crochet from sticking to the dough and the oil washes out with just a little gentle hand soap and warm water. Once the crochet comes off, the dough is left with little nooks and crannies – much like the top of a Mother’s Oatmeal cookie – and the perfect foundation for a thin layer of delicate icing.

gingersnap9br gingersnap7br gingersnap8br

A quick dip in the icing, a little brushing to remove the excess, and the crochet pattern shines right through.


I love my fellow undergrads, but those oreo-junkies would’ve turned their noses up at these darling little gingersnaps. The poor things would’ve never made it past the annual cookie jar cookie poll. And that’s okay. More for me that way.


Iced Crochet Gingersnaps
original cookie recipe from King Arthur Flour

for the cookie dough
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice or cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 cups flour

for the icing
2 cups powdered sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons cream or milk
a few drops vanilla

1. In a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then stir in the brown sugar, molasses, salt, and spices. Transfer the mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl, let it cool slightly,then beat in the egg.

3. In another bowl, mix together the baking powder, baking soda, and flour. Stir these dry ingredients into the molasses mixture. Gather the dough, by hand if necessary, into one large ball. Divide the dough in half, and wrap well. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

5. Set the oven to 350°F and line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Liberally spray whatever clean piece of crochet or lace you are using with nonstick spray or oil.

6. Working with one piece of dough at a time, lightly flour a work surface, a rolling pin, and the dough. Roll out the dough to about as half as thin as you want the finished cookie to be, carefully place the crochet doily flat over the dough, and gently continue to roll, pressing the knit pattern into the dough. Gently remove the crochet and set aside. Using the open end of a heavy glass or a biscuit cutter, cut out circles, cutting them as close to one another as possible to minimize waste.

9. Transfer the cookies to the baking sheets using a spatula. Bake the cookies just until they’re slightly brown around the edges 8 to 12 minutes, or until they feel firm. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for several minutes, or until they’re set. Transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

10. While the cookies cool, whisk together powdered sugar, milk, and a few drops of vanilla until a thin icing forms. It should be about the consistency of Elmer’s glue or slightly thinner.

11. Once the cookies are completely cooled, carefully dip them halfway into the icing, crochet side down. Shake to remove excess icing and gently brush with a clean pastry brush (I use craft paint brushes that I designate as kitchen-use only). Place crochet side up on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet to catch drips. Let dry over night.




Stand by your cookie and it’ll never let you down.


9th December 2014

While I’m loving this New England weather and practically having a fit of joy every time there’s a slim chance of snow, I am looking forward to a Christmas back home in the South. This holiday season, we’ll be heading back home to Texas for a family wedding. As members of the wedding party, we’ve been trying to look our best leading up to the big day, but you can bet as soon as it’s done, we’ll be consuming nothing but breakfast tacos, topo chico, and barbecue-sauce laden things till we fly back North again. With a Southern Christmas on the horizon, I saved the best gift guide for last, a curated collection of Southern things for the pantry, the kitchen, and the table. And there might be a few too many Texas-made things, but I can’t help if I’m biased.


1. VIRGINIA: The Wander and Rumble vessel by Shine Craft Vessel Co. is technically meant for beer, but it’ll hold whatever you like. But it’s probably best to just fill it with beer.

2. TEXAS: Son of a Sailor is an Austin based artisan that makes all sorts of home goods, but the baker walnut cheese board and hand painted opinels sure are delightful.

3. TEXAS: Another find from Instagram, these wax dipped whiskey glasses are made by the dapper dressed gentlemen of Manready Mercantile. Other wares include leather goods, local eats, and anything you might need to groom a manly beard.

4. MARYLAND: These lovely little lavender honey lollipops from Waxing Kara are made by hand with lavender grown on the local farm. A lovely thing to stir into tea.

5. SOUTH CAROLINA: Made with natural soy and poured into canning jars, Produce candles come in unique scents like beet, chicory, fig, radish, and kale.

6. TENNESSEE: The Smoked Nib Brittle by Olive and Sinclair has smoked cacao nibs, buttery brittle, and a chocolate exterior. Oh me oh my, this is everything I’ve ever wanted in a candy.

7. TENNESSEE: Another great product from Tennessee, Soberdough Brew Bread combines all the fixins’ for flavorful loaves like green chile cheddar, roasted garlic, and honey wheat all in a ready-to-mix bag. Just add beer.

8. SOUTH CAROLINA: Bittermilk mixers take your cocktails up a notch while making you work even less. Win, win. The various numbered flavors – such as hoppy elderflower Tom Collins mix, charred grapefruit tonic, and smoked honey whiskey sour – are all made with natural ingredients.

9. OKLAHOMA: The packaging for Seikel’s Oklahoma Gold Old Style Mustard alone makes this mustard a winner. And you can never have too many favorite mustards.

10. NORTH CAROLINA: Big Spoon Roasters does peanut butter big and southern with flavors like Chai spice, peanut pecan, peanut sorghum, and almond cocoa. I’ll take a bathtub of each, please.

11. FLORIDA: What can I say about Rifle Paper Co. that hasn’t already been said. She’s the stationery darling of the 21st century and I hope she stays that way. Lately she’s been branching out into other home goods like these lovely retro recipe tins that look just like the one your grandma has.

12. MISSISSIPPI: Ben Mims, my new southern hero and a young associate food editor for Food and Wine, just came out with his first cookbook entitled, Sweet & Southern: Classic Desserts with a Twist.

13. KENTUCKY: If you didn’t think soy sauce could be southern, think again. Bluegrass Soy Sauce from Bourbon Barrel Foods is made with Kentucky grown soybeans and Kentucky spring water and aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. So there.

14. TEXAS: In my recent recipe testing for work, I’ve learned about Yellowbird sauce out of Austin. A Texas take on Asian sriracha sauce, this line of all natural sauces offers various levels of heat ranging from less hot jalapeno to much hotter habanero.

With the holidays coming up quick, I hope these gift guides prove a little useful in finding that perfect little something:

the Made in America Kitchen Gift Guide

the Made in the North Kitchen Gift Guide

All photos sourced from original company websites and linked in individual product entries. Edits by The Young Austinian.


7th December 2014

Exactly which states constitute the North has been a subject of debate for many years. For me, it’s divisible along the lines where breakfast tacos, biscuits, and sweet tea become menu rarities. No matter where you stand on the matter, we all love gifts and we all love to eat. So I’ve rounded up over a dozen wonderful American made kitchen and pantry products from different areas throughout the North – from tiny Rhode Island to the great state of Maine – a little something for everyone on your list.


1. CONNECTICUT: This tea infused ice cream from Tea-rrific is at the top of my to-try list as soon as the temperature rises above 50 degrees again. Flavors include things like Earl Grey London Mist, Masala Chai, and Ginger Matcha.

2. NEW YORK: I’m a sucker for a good cutting board and I wholeheartedly believe you can never have too many. This unique arrow inlay version comes from Noble Goods sold by West Elm.

3. NEW YORK: Can’t have too many tea flavored things and this one’s meant for cocktails. The design of Owl’s Brew bottles aren’t too shabby either.

4. PENNSYLVANIA: I’m not the biggest fan of jerky, but if when it’s flavored with Pho spices I might just have to change my mind. Other Side Project Jerky flavors include Mongolian, southwestern, and original.

5. VERMONT: Tried and true and simply the best flour around. But did you know that King Arthur Flour also makes the best premium hot chocolate mix? Well, they do.

6. NEW YORK: When I studied in England, one of the oddest things I learned was to put a drizzle of honey on my pizza. Strange, I know, but it makes for a perfect salty-sweet combo. All that’s missing is a little heat. This suped up Bee’s Knees Spicy Honey by Mixed Made seems up to the task.

7. NEW YORK: Choward’s mints, a very old company that has since spread to all the corners of the Nation, but a classic stocking stuffer nonetheless. My favorite flavor is the spearmint.

8. VERMONT: So many lovelies at farmhouse pottery it’s difficult to choose, but this salt cellar sure is calling my name.

9. NEW HAMPSHIRE: In publication since 1792, The Old Farmer’s Almanac is the only real way to know when is best to plant your spring garden and the most reliable source for agricultural humor.

10. RHODE ISLAND: So the tiniest state in the union boasts a mighty bold drink which they aptly call Coffee Milk. Made in a manner similar to chocolate milk, a thick, sweetened coffee flavored syrup is stirred into cold milk. Sounds like the smartest thing any Yankee has ever conceived. To make this delightful beverage, Dave’s Coffee Syrup is a must.

11. MAINE: A rather practical piece of art. The Hexi Fruit Bowl from the Culinarium is made entirely of eco-friendly long lasting materials, too.

12. VERMONT: The Vermont Farm Table shop offers a plethora of wonderful homemade household goods, but I’ve got my eye on this wooden French taper rolling pin.

13. MASSACHUSETTS: Another eco-friendly find right around the corner from my house. These Preserve mixing bowls are sturdy, long lasting, and sure make you feel good about your carbon foot print.

14. MASSACHUSETTS: An oldie but a goodie, the Cuppow company took Mason jar drinking to a whole other spill-less level. They also make a smart little product called the BNTO which fits inside a jar and holds a dip or spread.

That’s all for now, but come back soon for the third and final gift giving post, the Made in the South Kitchen Gift Guide.

All photos sourced from original company websites and linked in individual product entries. Edits by The Young Austinian.