A Regency card party was a popular way of spending an evening at home with a few friends, as Mr. Woodhouse is fond of doing, or collectively repaying all your social obligations in one grand (and less expensive than a dinner or ball) gesture, as Elizabeth Elliot convinces herself. Mrs. Phillips’ noisy houseful of guest playing games and setting down to “a little hot supper” afterwards sounds like a wonderful way to while away a long evening. Card parties were held in the drawing room (or two drawing rooms if the size of the crowd warranted it) Card tables were set up and furnished with candles and new packs of cards; a show of expense unnecessary when hosting and evening with friends. Games such as Whist, Vingt-et-un, Piquet, or Loo would be played. Stakes might be a low as a penny or chip…or much higher depending on the recklessness of the players.
Refreshments were a necessary part of the party and might be carried around by waiters, as Mrs. Elton plans, or set up as a cold collation of cheese, meat, bread and fruit on a sideboard. A hot supper, such as Mrs. Phillips hosts, or tea, as served at the Assembly Rooms might follow. Wine and Sherry would be available, along with Port for the gentlemen. In her book, A New System of Domestic Cookery, Eliza Rundell gives a good example of the dishes that might be served at a Regency card party supper in 1807, though, by then, most suppers were confined to immediate family or intimate guests.
Hot suppers are not much in use where people dine very late. When required, the top and bottom, or either, may be Game. Fowls. Rabbit. Boiled Fish, such as Soles, Mackerel. Oysters stewed or scalloped. French Beans. Cauliflower, or Jerusalem Artichokes, in white Sauce. Brocoli with Eggs. Stewed Spinach and ditto. Sweetbreads. Small Birds. Mushrooms. Potatoes. Scallop, &c. Cutlets. Roast Onions. Salmagundy. Buttered Eggs on Toast. Cold Neat's Tongue. Ham. Collared things. Hunter's Beef sliced. Rusks buttered, with Anchovies on. Grated Hung Beef with butter, with or without Rusks. Grated Cheese round, and Butter dressed in the middle of a plate. Radishes ditto. Custards in glasses with Sippets. Oysters cold or pickled. Potted Meals. Fish. Birds. Cheese, &c. Good plain Cake sliced. Pies of Bird, or Fruit. Crabs. Lobster Prawns. Cray-fish. Any of the list of sweet things. Fruits. A Sandwich set with any of the above articles, placed a little distance from each other on the table, looks well, without the tray, if preferred. The lighter the things the better they appear, and glass intermixed has the best effect. Jellies, different coloured things, and flowers, add to the beauty of the table. An elegant supper may be served at a small expense by those who know how to make trifles that are in the house form the greatest part of the meal.
Excerpted from the upcoming Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends by Laura Boyle. *Melted Butter
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