Dining Edwardian Style

The Golden Age ushered in an era of decadent eating.  The top tier of Edwardians ate well, and ate often, frequently housing four large elaborate meals a day that went on for a long time—supper could include twelve courses.  Of course, all of this was washed down with lashings of champagne, wine, liqueurs, and punch.  As well as tasty, the food had to look amazing.  Menus might include pheasants in their tail feathers, a glazed boar’s head holding an apple in its mouth, or tiny fish “swimming” in a gelatin dish called aspic. The dessert trays were filled with beautiful fancies such as candied fruit, cream gateaux, marzipan petits fours, and elaborate jellies (gelatin dessert) formed in copper molds that when turned out formed small castles of layered colors.

How did women manage to eat that rich food while strapped into tight, tight corsets? Ladies would daintily nibble at their food, certainly never tucking in with gusto.  Men, on the other hand, went for it.  King Edward loved a big meal and earned himself the nickname King Tum-Tum for his rather portly appearance.

King Tum-Tum and his queen

King Tum-Tum and his queen

And what about the less well-healed? What did they eat? A lot of starch—mainly bread, potatoes, and porridge. Sugar had become inexpensive and so jam was part of that menu, too. Cheap cuts of meat would grace the table on Sundays and special occasions.  The grease would be saved and spread over bread for a meal called “bread and dripping.”

Check out Edwardian Supersize Me, a fabulous (and funny) BBC program about the Edwardian era and their dining habits. 

If you’re interested in taking a stab at creating your own Edwardian style “jelly,” try the below recipe from the book MANOR HOUSE: Life in an Edwardian Country House by Juliet Gardiner (Bay Books, 2003).  You can take a shortcut and use boxed flavored Jell-O or unflavored gelatin, such as Knox, instead of powdered gelatin.

Fruit and Wine Syrup

1 pint (450 ml) water

1lb 4 oz (550g) granulated sugar or loaf sugar

½ lemon and ½ orange

2 star anis

4 cloves

20 coriander seeds

2 sprigs of mint and a sprig of thyme or lavender

1/2 vanilla pod

½ cinnamon stick

1 pint (450ml) dry white wine

Put the water and sugar in a pan, slice the lemon and orange thinly and add to the water with the remaining ingredients (except the wine). Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.  Add the wine and bring back to simmering point for a further 5 minutes, before removing from the heat. Leave to cool while the flavors infuse. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve.

Pineapple and Mint Jelly

½ peeled ripe pineapple

About 15 mint leaves

1 pint (450ml) cold water

¼ pint (125ml) of the fruit and wine syrup

1/2oz (10g) powdered gelatin

A little crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Green food coloring

Peppermint food flavoring

Cut the pineapple into cubes, and place them in a saucepan with the mint leaves and cold water.  Heat this, and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Then add the syrup, and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

Leave it to cool and infuse before straining.  Add the gelatin to the strained mixture, whisking as you do so.  Put the pan on a moderate heat to dissolve the gelatin, carrying on whisking gently.  Remove the pan from the heat when it reaches simmering point.  If you’re going to use boxed gelatin, follow the directions on the box using the strained mixture instead of plain water.

To make a layered jelly, pour the mixture into two separate bowls; add the crystallized ginger to one, and a few drops of the green food coloring and peppermint food flavoring to the other.  [If you’re using flavored Jell-O, omit this flavoring/coloring step.]

Pour a layer of one colored jelly in the bottom of a copper or china jelly mold, which has been rinsed in cold water.  Wait until it has just set and pour on a second layer of the contrasting jelly.  Continue with alternate layers until the mold is full.  Put into the fridge to set completely.

Turn out on a pretty plate and surround with sliced fruit and mint leaves.


An assortment of typical molds for jellies, puddings, and ices.

Sharon Biggs Waller is the author of A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, an Edwardian-era novel about a young artist finding her own way during the time of militant suffragettes (Viking/Penguin, Winter 2014). You can find her at www.sharonbiggswaller.com or on Twitter @sbiggswaller.


Cover Story: Every Day After

Inquiring minds often wonder: what goes into the process of creating a book cover? Well, as an author I can tell you that I have absolutely no idea. No. I’m not joking.

The closet I’ve come to getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the cover design process was this interview with Abrams creative director extraordinaire Chad Beckerman, who happens to be the brilliant mind behind the cover of our own Cat Winters’s IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS. (To read about Cat’s cover story check out this post on the Lucky 13s blog.)

Though I can’t shed much light on the exact evolution of the cover that became the cover for Every Day After, I can share the ways in which I was able to be a very small part of the development process. And that is precisely what I shall do.

A month or so after my editor acquired my manuscript, she emailed over a list of general questions for me to answer regarding cover design. A few examples:

What do the main characters look like?

Who might appear on the cover?

What are some comp titles with covers you like?

How would you describe the mood/tone of your book?

I replied to her questions ASAP, and she forwarded my responses to the art department. Then…silence.

Fast forward a couple of months. It’s early afternoon on a warm May day. I’m riding in the car with my husband down traffic-ridden HWY 280 in Birmingham daydreaming about heaven-knows-what. My iPhone dings. Yay! A new email!  I open my inbox. It’s the email from my editor—the email containing my cover. At this point, I truly don’t know what to expect. I have no clue if the cover will be illustrated, or a photograph, or a mix of the two. I know what I’d like my cover to look like, but it’s possible I’m on a completely different page than my publisher. It’s not an uncommon occurrence.

Now, every author dreams about and obsesses over what their book’s cover will look like. I was no exception. The cover is the most visible thing to readers deciding whether or not to take a chance on our book. The cover grants a reader his or her first impression of our book, and we authors want it to be a good one. I pause for a second before opening the message, trying to savor those final moments of blissful ignorance. Will I love it or hate it? What if I hate it? What if I can’t change it? What if? What if? What if? I settle my thoughts, take a deep breath, and open the message. This is what I see:

everydayafter cvr

If I’m being honest, it wasn’t what I had pictured. But I didn’t hate it. That was a relief. And my editor had said they loved it. And she hoped I agreed. Did I? I didn’t know.

It took a while to process my thoughts on the matter. I had always been in love with covers like those of Hattie Big Sky or Turtle in Paradise where the main character was visible, but not overtly so. Lizzie was a tad more identifiable than I would have liked, but it was something I could get over. I wasn’t a huge fan of a photographed cover for a middle grade novel. For some reason all I could think of when I looked at this cover was the early ‘90s, not the 1930s. But, in regard to the tone, the art department nailed it. The mood of the cover perfectly conveyed the mood of the story. I was thoroughly pleased about that. And in the end, mood outweighed my other misgivings.

After all the pondering and nitpicking, I fully accepted that this would be Every Day After’s cover, and I refocused my attentions on the manuscript itself. Copy edits came and went. Flap copy was written. Author photo and bio were submitted. And then, out of the blue, my editor mentioned that the art department had decided to do a watercolor treatment on the cover they had chosen. They believed the treatment would make the cover more appealing to a middle grade audience. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to see the results. I was getting a second chance to fall in love with my cover. About a month later, another cover arrived. This time I opened the email right away:

EveryDayAfter cvr copy

Hooray! I immediately sent my editor an email letting her know my thoughts. The watercolor treatment was amazing. And the new typography done by none other than Sarah Hoy, the designer responsible for the beautiful typography on the covers of The One and Only Ivan and Summer of the Gypsy Moths, took my breath away. This was an appropriate cover for a middle grade novel—my middle grade novel.

I can’t be sure of the reasons behind the art department’s decision to use this photograph specifically, but as the author, I will say that I see plenty nods to the story in this cover. Lizzie’s mama is severely depressed, and she spends most of her time in a rocking chair on a back porch built years earlier by Lizzie’s father, hence the porch railing. Lizzie is in deep concentration walking the railing, measuring her steps carefully—a not-so-subtle metaphor for the balancing act she must perform in her life since her father deserted the family. And, if you look hard and use just a tiny bit of imagination, perhaps you will see what I see in the background—the wheel of a parked car and the shadowy outlines of a group of people, some of whom want to see Lizzie keep her balance atop that metaphorical railing and some of whom would like nothing better than to see her fall.

So will Lizzie make it, or won’t she? Perhaps as in life the answer isn’t as simple as will or won’t. Visit your favorite local bookstore on June 11th to find out.


Laura Golden is the author of EVERY DAY AFTER, a middle grade novel about a young girl learning to let go and find her own way amidst the trials of the Great Depression. It will release from Delacorte Press/RHCB on June 11. Find out more about Laura and EVERY DAY AFTER by visiting her website or following her on Twitter and Facebook.


Geeking Out

How do you know when you’re a history geek?  Well, check out Elizabeth May’s brilliant post from Monday for starters.  You’re probably also on the geek side of normal if you can answer yes to any of the following questions:

1.  Can you speak/read/understand/make jokes in an extinct language?

2.  Have you ever insisted that your family accompany you on a 300-mile roundtrip journey just to visit a field that may or may not have been the site of a long-forgotten battle?

3.  When they have a history question, do your friends call you rather than check Wikipedia?

4.  Do you know more about the family tree of a historical figure than you do about your own?

5.  Have you ever got a sense of deja vu only to realize it’s because history repeats itself?

6.  Do your local reference librarians know you by name?

7.  Have you ever had to tear up a check because you wrote the wrong century in the date line?

8.  Have you ever gone a week without bathing or washing your hair, cooked on a coal-fired stove, slept on a straw-filled mattress, worn a hair shirt, walked a mile in leather-soled shoes or even tried to read by the light of a single tallow candle just to see “what it would have been like”?

9.  By the same token, are you thankful every day for modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and toothpaste?

10.  Have you ever dug up a carpark just to see what lies beneath the asphalt? (bonus points if you know what I’m referencing.)


Most of my friends have got used to me blurting out historical factoids and talking about 16th Century characters as if they’ve been cavorting on a reality TV program called The Real Housewives of the Tudor Court.  Many of my new acquaintances accept my geekiness for what it is–because most of them are writers in some way shape or form and we all have our own brand of crazy.  Even my editor–after a phone call in which I went off on tangents about everything from the Levellers to Thomas More to the end of Apartheid in South Africa–said, “Geekery in general is something I have a soft spot for.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t spend my life working with writers!”

I’ve found my people.  Are you with me?


You Know You’re a History Geek When…

…You jokingly reference historical events in conversation and wait for the laughs….


Yesss, I am brilliant. BRILLIANT AND CLEVER. I shall await your inevitable applause.

….and get nothing but crickets because no one got it.  FINE. I SHALL JUST CONTINUE TO GATHER SEA SHELLS AS SPOILS OF WAR.

No? Not that either? Sigh.

2. When you read an historical novel and there is a very clear research mistake that would have taken a simple Google search to fix and now it is glaring and keeps showing up and you can’t unnotice it.


No sympathies from me because I am Smartypants McSwagger and I am judging your book!

You occasionally wonder what you would be like, or how different you would be, if you were a lady in a different time period….


….And then you remember how much you, as a lady, really enjoy being able to lounge around in your pyjamas with Cheeto dust on your shirt. And that, if you gave zero shits on a particular day, could wear that while trudging into a liquor store. Not that I’ve ever done that, or anything.


A Typical Atypical Day

​My days vary so much – depending on where I am in a book and whether I’m teaching or have social plans – but here is today’s schedule! Of course, schedules are like deadlines, right? They make excellent whooshing sounds as they go by? (Just kidding. I make my deadlines.)

11am: The Playwright wakes me up

11am: The Playwright’s already at the neighborhood coffee shop writing like a good writer. My alarm goes off. I only went to sleep at 6, and since it’s NINETY DEGREES in DC today, I slept with the window open, which means it sounded like the corner bus stop was right next to my bed. Consequently, I am SO. TIRED.

11am-12pm: Check email, twitter, Facebook.

11:30am: The Playwright wakes me up again (I do not do mornings well)

11:30am-12:30pm: internets! Check email & respond to anything that only requires a quick response, check twitter, check Facebook, read blogs
12pm: The Playwright comes home & urges me to go back to sleep.

12:30-1pm: Tear myself away from internets (sometimes this doesn’t happen until 1:30, yikes!); shower and make self presentable for a day in which I am leaving the house (this means no yoga pants)

1-2pm: eat a sandwich while watching The Young & the Restless & putting together swag packs for giveaway and repainting my nails (I just joined Julep Maven & got a bunch of fun polishes!) and emailing two booksellers possible upcoming June events
2pm: Wake up. Realize I still want to do ALL THE THINGS before class. Curse a bit.

2-3:30pm: Shower. Give up on notion of wearing cute dress because who has time to shave? Put together swag packs. Repaint nails. Read & comment on one story for class. Put off email for later and beg Playwright to run errands for me. (He graciously acquiesces.) We drive to the coffee shop/class because it’s so hot.

2-2:30pm: walk to coffee shop with The Playwright; try not to touch eyes because allergies are in full swing in DC – but the cherry blossoms & other blooming trees are really pretty!

2:30-2:45pm (I hope; depends on lines): post office & pick up prescriptions at CVS

2:45-3:30pm: at coffee shop; read stories for class & leave comments for students

4-5:30pm: teach writing workshop for awesome 8 year old girls through Writopia

(Yay! This happened according to schedule. These girls are so awesome. I love how talented they are – and how they’re not afraid to make mistakes or get it wrong yet. They’re inspiring!)

6-7:30pm: write at coffee shop; I’m on deadline for the first draft of Cahill Book 3

6-6:30pm: email two booksellers about possible June events & catch up on reader email

6:30-7:15 pm: edit the 2300 words I wrote last night

7:15-9pm: get takeout including a veggie wrap that at least, you know, includes vegetables. Play around on twitter & watch TV while eating.

8-10pm: dinner with The Playwright (he cooks!); possibly watch TV and play a board game; possibly throw self on floor and declare impossibility of finishing this book

9-10pm: make The Playwright read last night’s words. Brainstorm the next few scenes. Turn on Snow Patrol & lay down on couch to “think”

10-11pm: more email/blogs/twitter/etc as procrastination tool

11:45pm: wake up from “thinking” about book

11pm-4am (depending on how things go): write with intermittent twitter breaks

12:30pm: realize have been doing email/internet for another 45 minutes. Start writing.

4am (or 5 or 6, depending): bedtime

I know, my schedule is super-weird, right? My creativity is a vampire.

Also, takeaway from this? A supportive spouse is really a must.