tarragon eggs à la jane austen

Afternoon Tea and Jane Austen

Two hundred years have passed since Jane Austen died on the 18th of July, 1817. I wasn’t sure how I would commemorate the occasion. The one thing I didn’t think I would be doing was attending an afternoon tea hosted by Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece and the last descendant to be raised in the ancestral family home, Chawton House.

Caroline’s talk was informative and engaging. She spoke of so many things but the one thing that struck me most were her Australia connections. I was stunned to realise that Jane Austen’s fifth great niece actually lives in Melbourne and that her mother was born in Australia. Caroline is a renowned business woman and philanthropist. Her main philanthropic focus is promoting literacy around the world.

After the talk Caroline stayed around to chat with guests and sign copies of her book “Jane & Me.” She even brought a piece of the family dinner service. The bespoke Wedgwood service features a pattern commissioned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Jane and Caroline both ate from that service and we got to see it!

And speaking of dinner service, Caroline’s fascinating talk was accompanied by an afternoon tea.
For savouries we were served:
Free range egg, truffle and watercress sandwiches
Yorkshire pudding with roast beef and horseradish cream
Ham hock terrine with piccalilli.
For sweets we were served:
Scones with strawberry jam and cream
Lemon meringue tartlet
Sour cranberry Bakewell tart with citrus sherbet sauce
Strawberry Eton mess
A glass of sparkling wine to begin followed by tea and coffee brought an end to a fabulous afternoon.

The recipe I would like to share in honour of Jane Austen is from one of my favourite cookbooks – “Kafka’s Soup” by Mark Crick. Crick not only creates recipes inspired by famous writers, he writes them in the style of the author. When I read his recipe for “Lamb with Dill Sauce à la Raymond Chandler” I was hooked. His description of the leg of lamb feeling “cold and damp, like a coroner’s handshake” had me running to the bookstore counter with money and book in hand!

I think Jane Austen would love Crick’s literary wit. I also think she’d love the eggs Crick created for her. So without further ado here are Mark Crick’s “Tarragon Eggs à la Jane Austen” with edited selections from his text and tweaks by me.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that eggs, kept for too long, go off” begins the recipe.

As to what herbs to use, Mrs B thought “Parsley might do … Good-looking, with an easy and unaffected manner.” But Lady Cumberland did not agree. “Too much curl to its leaf, and too often seen in great bunches at fishmongers. It would be a most unhappy connection.” Mrs B spies some tarragon which she does not like. “It refuses to grow here, it refuses to grow there, but fancies itself so very great, disappearing every winter I know not where. I quite detest the plant.” Again Lady Cumberland disagrees. “French tarragon is an aristocrat among herbs, and although I think it too good for your eggs, I cannot deny that it would be a fine match for them.” To avoid offending either lady I have chosen a combination of the two herbs. In deference to Lady Cumberland’s dislike of curly parsley I chose flat leaf.

The instructions for beating the 4 eggs include straining them, which I didn’t do, but I did carefully beat them so as not to create a froth which apparently is “so unsightly.”
I added 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon and 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley to the beaten eggs. I then spread 20g of butter around the pan and added a further 20g of butter in small chunks to the mix. I added salt and pepper to taste. Pouring the eggs into the pan I gently cooked them, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan. I removed them from the heat before they were fully cooked, allowing the residual heat to cook them to my liking. A serving of toast and tea completes the dish.

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Mark’s recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of tarragon either fresh or dried. Parsley, either curly or flat leaf, is not used. Obviously Mark has chosen Lady Cumberland over Mrs B – a brave choice indeed!

I can only hope Mrs B and Lady Cumberland approve of my tweaks 🙂