Many of us pull together a royal spread to watch a royal wedding. As I did for William and Kate’s nuptials, I hosted an offering of choice delights for Harry and Meghan’s festivities. I gathered my friends and served elderberry and lemon cupcakes, finger sandwiches, and a host of hors d’oeuvres and chilled Champagne. When I was in college and Sophie and Edward married, I went a simpler route with prepared crumpets and Earl Grey tea.
We may have also catered to athletic fans from time to time, offering a menu of hearty fare to celebrate a significant sporting event. For such an occasion, we might even get fancy and carve vegetables into cucumber cups or fan a serving tray with crudités.
Now, imagine trying to help your best Regency earl–friend host a card game.
Well, unless they’re pickled, raw vegetables are out. In the early 1800s, some believed raw vegetables caused illness.
In my latest book, An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler, Daniel Thackery, the new Lord Ashbrook, wishes to invite the fellows over for an evening of vingt-et-un, a popular card game. He has not entertained in ages. The busy barrister (and father of a toddler with special needs) hasn’t been up for socializing since the loss of his wife two years earlier. Now he’s ready but rusty and in need of advice.
“The soup was fifty times better than what we had at the Lucases’ last week; and even Mr. Darcy acknowledged, that the partridges were remarkably well done; and I suppose he has two or three French cooks at least.”
—Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
In the world of the aristocracy, where gossip and innuendo can be spread like sweet Devonshire cream, he needs to be careful and think about catering to his guests.
“The man who says he does not like a good dinner is either a fool or a liar.”
—Henry Luttrell, 1800s
Henry Luttrell was the man you wanted to take advice from. Everyone wanted him at your dinner party. He wasn’t titled. He wasn’t wealthy or even a peer. What this illegitimate man–turned politician–turned author was to Lord Byron, the Duchess of Devonshire, Sir Walter Scott, and many others of the ton was an amiable food critic and witty conversationist—two things every Regency party craved.
Luttrell would suggest to Ashbrook to stick to the basics—good eats. During the Regency, dinner and supper were two different meals, the former being hearty and filling and served around five o’clock. The latter were light and offered at eleven o’clock.
Given that Ashbrook’s vingt-et-un card game starts after sunset and will run late into the night, he will offer his guests a choice. That way they can eat and wager as much as they like.
He’ll make Luttrell proud by covering the basics:
Though Ashbrook does not drink alcohol, he offers his guest a variety of beverages, all served in spotless crystal goblets. They can enjoy lemonade, rum, brandy, or a choice of red wines.
For the plating, he employs a sideboard that hosts Wedgwood dishes brimming with lobster, pheasant, and roasted plantains. He will also serve cold meats, cheeses, and loaves of bread. And then for something sugary, he’ll offer cakes, tarts, or his favorite sweet, currant and carraway shortbread.
Seating is key to a great evening. Ashbrook chooses the best room in the house: his formal dining room. The large mahogany table invites a crowd and will hold the cards without cramming plates. The chairs are well-padded and comfortable. The proper lighting is available from the sconces mounted on every wall to highlight the betting and teasing that has to happen amongst his friends with their friendly wagers.
The one thing he’s not concerned with is who sits next to whom. These men are friends—friends of differing stations, but none require such pomp. These are the people he considers his found family. They are there for the food, the laughs, and the hope that Ashbrook will lose a few hands of vingt-et-un before tucking his daughter into bed.
About the Author
Vanessa Riley is an award-winning author of Regency and historical romances featuring dazzling multicultural communities and powerful persons of color. To fuel her interest in the Regency and early-Victorian eras, she made time for attending Renaissance fairs and consuming period novels and films while obtaining her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Historical Novel Society, as well as a Christian Book Lovers board member. A frequent speaker at women’s events, she lives in Georgia with her military husband and teenage kid. Visit her online at VanessaRiley.com.
About An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler
Masterminded by the ton’s most clever countess, secret society The Widow’s Grace helps ill-treated widows regain their reputations, their families, and even find true love again—or perhaps for the very first time …
Surviving a shipwreck en route to London from Jamaica was just the start of Jemina St. Maur’s nightmare. Suffering from amnesia, she was separated from anyone who might know her and imprisoned in Bedlam. She was freed only because barrister Daniel Thackery, Lord Ashbrook, was convinced to betray the one thing he holds dear: the law. Desperate to unearth her true identity, Jemina’s only chance is to purloin dangerous secrets with help from The Widow’s Grace—which means staying steps ahead of the formidable Daniel, no matter how strongly she is drawn to him.
Married only by proxy, now widowed by shipwreck, Daniel is determined to protect his little stepdaughter, Hope, from his family’s scandalous reputation. That’s why he has dedicated himself not just to the law, but to remaining as proper, upstanding—and boring—as can be. But the closer he becomes to the mysterious, alluring Jemina, the more Daniel is tempted to break the very rule of law to which he’s devoted his life. And as ruthless adversaries close in, will the truth require him, and Jemina, to sacrifice their one chance at happiness?