April may be National Grilled Cheese Month, but Jane Austen fans will be celebrating with her version of the favorite: Toasted Cheese.
A survey of the author’s letters reveals that Austen was quite a foodie — and toasted cheese was known to be her favorite.
If you’d like to dine like Jane Austen, use the recipe I’ve adapted from a “receipt” in Martha Lloyd’s “Household Book.” The book was kept by Jane’s close friend who lived with the Austen women at Chawton Cottage in Hampshire, England.
It was in this house that Austen wrote or revised all her major works — so perhaps the dish served as a muse for the numerous food references in “Mansfield Park” and “Emma.”
It may seem surprising to find so simple a recipe recorded, but it would be easy for a novice cook to leave out the mustard that gives the dish a distinctive tang. Imagine you’re the lady of the manor copying out the recipe for your cook. You’d want it prepared just right.
The original recipe’s final instruction to “send it up on toast or in paper trays” attests to the dish being more appropriate for supper rather than dinner, the main meal of the day. Suppers were often simple fare — cold meats, soup, leftovers — sometimes “sent up” to the family on trays set out in the drawing room.
To recreate this dish, I used Barber’s 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar from Somerset purchased at The Better Cheddar. This cheese melts uncommonly well under the broiler.
To achieve the beautiful brown top, Martha Lloyd would have used a salamander — an iron plate that was thrust into the fire until hot then suspended over the food until it was beautifully brown.Jane Austen’s Toasted Cheese 4 slices thickly sliced bread 2 tablespoons butter, softened 2 eggs 4 ounces grated cheddar cheese 4 teaspoons coarse or country style mustard
Place the bread slices on a baking tray and spread the open face with softened butter. In a mixing bowl, scramble the eggs then stir in the grated cheese and mustard.
Divide the cheese mixture evenly over the bread, spreading completely to the edges.
Place under a hot broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, watching closely until nicely brown. The addition of a simple salad or soup makes a good lunch or light supper.
Julienne Gehrer is obsessed with Jane Austen and is currently writing “Dining with Jane Austen: A Culinary Adventure through the Author’s Life and Works.” Follow the project at diningwithjaneausten.org .