Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: 'Tea with Jane Austen' by Kim Wilson

Tea with Jane Austen is part of my JA collection, including Chawton mug

To paraphrase one of the most famous first lines in literature - it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single reader in possession of a good cup of tea, must be in want of a great book.

If you are good on that premise, we have just the tiny tome for you:  'Tea with Jane Austen' by Kim Wilson.

Brimming with interesting details about Jane's passion for England's number one drink, Wilson guides the reader through tea's important role in the Regency period. Starting with "tea in the morning" and ending with "tea. . , tonight", Wilson fills the chapters in between with fascinating facts as to where Austen and her society would shop for tea and accessories, the different variations of serving tea and the assorted health benefits that were ascribed to the drink at the time.

Kim Wilson at the JA festival in Louisville

We first met Kim Wilson in 2010 when she was the guest speaker at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, an annual event where throngs of Janeites gather for a weekend of much felicity.

Wilson is as engaging a writer as she is a speaker. She charmed the crowd with tales from 'Tea with Jane Austen' as well as her 2008 follow-up book, 'In the Garden with Jane Austen'.

Our visit to Chawton Cottage in 2011

It was in Wilson's first book where I learned that Jane Austen purchased her tea at Twinings - just exactly where it stands today - with the two Chinese figures over the door, to remind shoppers just where their tea had come. (In Austen's  time, tea was expensive and a target for poor substitutes - dregs, twigs or worse.)

We actually viewed the Austen teaspoons - and they were spectacular!

It was also in 'Tea with Jane Austen' where Wilson cites Jane's written record of a tea accessory purchase. Jane's mother bought a silver ladle and six teaspoons, which per Austen,
"[made]  our sideboard border on the Magnificent".

It was almost a year later after meeting Wilson  that my daughter and I visited one of Austen's homes, Chawton Cottage, in Hampshire England, and we were thrilled to actually view those six teaspoons on display in the dining room. And, yes - they were spectacular!

Chawton Cottage celebrating the 200th anniversary of S & S in 2011

In the dining room at Chawton where Jane wrote and drank tea

At the time of our visit, Chawton Cottage was celebrating the 200th anniversary of Sense and Sensibility. It was a special time to be there and, of course, bring home the commemorative tea mug.

Twinings tea store, looks very much the same as it did in Austen's time

That same trip, we made our pilgrimage to the Twinings on the Strand in London. As Wilson described in her book, those same two Chinese figures kept vigil on the entry to the tea store and it was a heady experience walking through those doors and purchasing tea at the same place Jane did a mere two hundred years before.

Rachel and I in Austen land (i.e., Bath, England)  in 2006, Chawton in 5 more years!

'Tea with Jane Austen' not only enlightens readers with Regency era tea facts, but pulls in tea references from all of Austen's novels and letters from Jane to her sister, Cassandra,  extolling the virtues of tea. As an added bonus, assorted recipes of the era such as  Plumb Cake to China Orange Jelly  are included in every chapter.

'Tea with Jane Austen' is tiny book, but stuffed with goodies. There's something for everyone, especially if one is in possession of a cup of tea and in need of great read.

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