This month's Food 'N Flix pick is The Jane Austen Book Club, a film based on the book of the same name by Karen Joy Fowler. Being a huge Jane Austen nerd (you'll see more evidence of this later in the post), this film is in my large collection of Austen-inspired films and adaptations and I was excited that Kimberly of Coffee and Casseroles selected it this month. (You can check out her announcement post here.) It inspired me to drag out my copy of The Jane Austen Cookbook (did I mention that whole Jane Austen nerd thing?) and have a little historical fun in the kitchen this weekend, adapting a couple of Georgian/Regency style recipes into more modern book club bites.
If you haven't seen the film or read the book, the title explains it pretty well... it's about a group of six--five women and one man--who form a book club around the six classic Jane Austen novels, reading a novel each month. The group's own lives and their various issues such as loss, infidelity, dissatisfaction, unrequited love, disappointment, etc. mirror many of Austen's own themes. (As one of the characters, Jocelyn, notes--"Reading Jane Austen is a freaking minefield.") As a person with a tendency to dip into Jane Austen (or Austen-inspired) books or movies when I need an escape from the real world, I can relate to finding solace and comfort there. It's good rom-com-dramady fun, light and sweet.
I read The Jane Austen Book Club
by Karen Joy Fowler several years ago and although I liked it, I
actually like the movie more. I attribute that to a combination of the
actors--Amy Brenneman, Jimmy Smits, Kathy Baker, and (an adorable) Hugh
Dancy to name my favorites--it's a great ensemble. I also like the way
that Robin Swicord, the director (and writer of the screenplay)
adapted the book--there are differences in some of the characters and plot points from
the book to the film that I think improved the story and there is less emphasis
on each character's backstory--which in my opinion made the book a
little 'draggy" at times. It is fun to match the various movie/book characters to Jane Austen's originals and Swicord gives some great commentary about the various match-ups of the
book's characters to Austen's on one
of the "extras" included on the DVD.
It had been a while since I had seen the movie and I had never watched it looking for food inspiration, so it was a fun challenge to decide what to make. For the most part, the food is shown in quick glimpses in the background--coffee and pastry at Starbucks, a few restaurant meals, a dozen eggs for a flan... Most of the book club fare is shown quickly--dips and finger foods and plenty of wine and cocktails. I ended up finding my inspiration in a conversation the characters had about setting up the book club at the local Starbucks where the group picks their books to host. Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) says, "Let's not get into the competitive cooking thing" while Bernadette (Kathy Baker) chants "Bake-off!" Jocelyn (Maria Bello) chimes in with "No, we'll do finger foods" and Sylvia says, "We can do takeout." It was Jocelyn's final food/hosting comment that got me thinking the most... "We have to create the Jane Austen mood."
If I were in an actual Jane Austen book club, you can bet that I would be trying to create the Jane Austen mood, and what better way than taking inspiration from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deidre Le Faye? I bought this cookbook at a used book store a few years ago with the intention of someday making White Soup to accompany one of my re-reads of Pride and Prejudice. (Yep--Jane Austen nerdiness...) That plan never quite happened and the cookbook has sat on my shelves, but I knew there had to be a recipe or two in there that would be appropriate for book club noshing.
I didn't really feel like baking and wanted something in the finger food category that was relatively simple. Marmalett of Aprecoks (aka Apricot Marmalade) quickly caught my eye. At the beginning of the movie, Sylvia and her husband are eating at the Marmalade Cafe--which I thought was an adorable name for a restaurant. Of course it is where he tells her he has been unfaithful and wants out of the marriage to be with the other woman so I feel a bit bad in having that as a small part of my inspiration--but oh well! ;-) A couple of pages later, I found a Raspberry 'Vinegar' (Cordial) which was a happy coincidence since I have been wanting to make a fruit 'drinking shrub' ever since enjoying an apple shrub in a cocktail a few months ago. (A shrub is a drinking vinegar, usually infused with fruit or herbs and used in sodas or mixed drinks.) The cordial recipe seemed close to a shrub, although I updated the preparation slightly due to time and served mine with soda instead of stirring it into cold water as the book prescribes. Both recipes--Apricot Marmalade on Baguette & Raspberry Drinking Shrub Sodas--were easy enough, fun to make, and really delicious.
Below are the recipes from the book, my updates/changes are noted in red.
The Apricot Marmalade is made with 'pipin' water--or apple water made from the peelings and cores of apples (natural pectin) which I thought sounded fun. To update the marmalade and turn it into an appetizer, I served it on grilled baguette with a schmeer of labneh (strained yogurt cheese) to offset the sweet.
The Jane Austen Cookbook notes that "when made before 1740, marmalett might be either a fruit paste or a whole-fruit jellied conserve made with apple-water and sometimes called a jelly. Preserves like these, including jams. stayed largely unchanged until the nineteenth century."
Mamalett of Aprecoks
Adapted from The Jane Austen Cookbook
12 oz /350 g dried apricots
10 fl oz/275 ml/1 1/4 cups apple water (see method below)
1 1/4 lb/350 g/3 cups preserving sugar (I used 2 cups coarse sugar)
Cut up dried apricots and soak in water for several hours or overnight. While soaking them, make apple water as follows: was, peel, and core cooking apples (I used Gala apples), and put the peelings and cores into a large saucepan. They should just be covered when you add 1 pint / 575 ml water. Simmer, covered, until they are very soft and the water is well flavoured. Measure the water to make sure you have well over 10 fl oz / 275 ml apple water. (Note: I added a cinnamon stick and a tangerine peel to my apple peels before simmering for extra flavor.)
Drain the apricots and put them in a large sauce pan or a preserving pan with the sugar. Add the apple water and bring slowly to the boil, skimming occasionally. Cook steadily until the syrup sheets a spoon and drips from it slowly in blobs, then skim again and test for setting quality by dropping a few drips on a cold plate. They should 'jelly' on contact with the plate.
Pour the marmalett into hot jars: to avoid making air bubbles, pour it down the side of the jar. Take out any bubbles that do form by prodding with a skewer. Cover the preserve with waxed paper circles and leave to cool. Once cool, cover the jar or jars and label them with the name of the preserve and date made. Do not rely on your memory. Store the marmalett in a cool, dry place. (Note: I poured into a sterile canning jar, cooled, capped jar and stored in fridge.)
About the raspberry cordial, The Jane Austen Cookbook notes: "This used to be a great treat for country children, but is more often used now as a drink for wise drivers. (Orgeat was a similar cooling drink made from barley or almonds and orange-flower water.)"
Raspberry "Vinegar' (Cordial)
Adapted from The Jane Austen Cookbook
(Makes about 3 pints)
3 lb /1.4kg fresh or defrosted frozen raspberries
3 pints/1.7 litres/7 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
Put the raspberries and vinegar in a bowl and leave. covered for 5-6 days, stirring occasionally. Mash well and strain through a jelly bag without extracting any pressure. Measure the liquid and allow 1 lb /450g sugar to each pint of liquid. Bring to a boil slowly, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes. Skim and leave until cold.
(Note: Due to time constraints, I used a hot-process method and used 12
oz thawed, frozen raspberries. I made a simple syrup with one cup sugar
ad one cup water, heating it in a medium saucepan until the sugar
dissolved. I then added the raspberries and brought to a simmer,
reducing heat to low, and simmering until the fruit melts into the
liquid--about 20 minutes. I stirred in 3/4 cup champagne vinegar and 1/4
cup white balsamic vinegar and simmered for another 5 minutes or so.I
strained the shrub into a jar, discarding the solids and letting it cool
before storing, tightly covered in the fridge.)
Pour into sterilized bottles or jars and seal tightly. Use a tablespoon of raspberry vinegar in a glass of cold water as a cooling drink or to soothe a cold or fever. If you want a fuller flavoured drink, use a little more of the mixture. (For sodas, I added 1 Tbsp to a short glass, topped with ice and poured in soda water, garnishing with fresh berries and a rosemary sprig.)
Notes/Results: Both the jam and the shrub were fabulous--great flavor and fun to make, with a little cooking history lesson thrown in too. If I hadn't procrastinated and given myself more time, I would have tried the cold process version of the shrub and plan to remake it that way soon, but I was really pleased with the flavor of the hot processed one. It has a sweet-tart taste that makes for a sophisticated soda and will be a wonderful base for cocktails. I see plenty of shrub experimentation in my future. The sodas made a good pairing with the marmalade-spread baguettes, they and the labneh kept the too-sweet factor down. I did reduce the sugar by about a cup in the jam and worried that it might not set up, but it was not a problem with the natural pectin from the apple water. I liked the extra touch of flavor that the cinnamon and tangerine I added to the simmering apple water gave the marmalade and since I prefer a chunky jam, I didn't break up my apricot pieces too much. I will happily make both recipes again. The only downside was getting the lyrics to Lady Marmalade stuck in my head for hours... Itchi gitchi ya ya da da... ;-)
The deadline for December's Food 'N Flix is today and Coffee & Casseroles will be rounding up the entries on her blog soon. If you missed out on this month's fun and like food, movies and foodie movies, consider joining us for January's pick: Failure to Launch, hosted by Amy's Cooking Adventures.