Today is Jane Austen’s 238th birthday. The Austen fandom is alive with accolades to her, sharing how her books have influenced us as individuals, our culture, our literature, and particularly the way we see romance. And the Austen fandom will do such lofty topics proud.
We at Jane Started It! have chosen to do none of this. We angle more to the ordinary, the common, and the just plain ridiculous. We think it is time dear Jane was repaid for all the entertainment she’s given us over the years. What better way than to introduce her to a part of our culture that intersects with her novels? Yes, dear reader, it’s true confession time. For whenever most of us sit down to read, we also eat. And what do we eat? Of course you know. Junk Food.
Now if you are a food purist, we ask that you loosen your corset and put aside your prejudices against BHT, artificial colorings, artificial flavorings, high fructose corn syrup, and sodium pentothal — those modern, chemical wonders Jane has missed over the years.
On the whole, the foods we chose to introduce to Jane are not completely nutritionally wicked. In our case, portion size is more the problem! So, if we just put it all out there, confusion might work as quantity control.
The first from Robin Helm wasn’t so out-of-this world: roast beef, gravy, and potatoes. Jane would have had roast beef, but having it cooked in a Crock Pot was the modern twist. To explain that you can good a beef roast without even being in the house would mean explaining electricity. The concept of this visible energy was floating around the scientific community of Jane’s day but she may never have lived in a house with an enclosed oven so perhaps the Crock Pot would be the real wonder to her. Robin also mentioned making her a Punchbowl cake. I’m thinking that is a southern treat and she’ll have to explain that one when she drops by.
Pamela Aidan thought Jane would like bacon-wrapped water chestnuts in Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. I’m thinking the Aidan household has been partying and finger foods have been playing a big role. While we’re at it, hamburgers would be a great item to show Jane. The sandwich was around and the burger is a riff on that. Of course Americans take it to new heights with the super galumping burger:
The junk food Susan Kaye would really like to show Jane is Cheetos. Not so much for the snack itself but to watch her amazement when that unnatural, neon orange crust builds up on her fingers. Will she daintily suck it off, trying not to be vulgar? Or, would she search out a finger bowl to rid herself of the residue?
Both Robin and Laura Hile went Mexican and respectively thought that nachos and build-your-own tacos would be appropriate. See? Healthy. Kind of, depending on how thick you lay on the veggies compared to the meat and cheese sauce. (But what, we wonder, would Jane think of avocados?)
This brought us to a discussion of how to eat the above goodies. And where.
Now, we know the roast beef is an at-the-dining-room-table meal. Most of us do. But the others, this is finger food at its finest. We have read that in the Regency they ate with their fingers more than we would think, but when you consider that Americans in the 21st century can pretty much eat away from home for every meal, and, never touch a utensil stronger than the spork, I think we could give Jane a run for her money.
This brings us to where to eat our mass-produced delicacies. Maybe I’m telling on myself, but I think we need to go right to the couch, the alter of food and entertainment in our time.
Now, the modern couch will be new to Jane. I am trusting the set dressers of BBC, PBS, and A&E got it right and that couches in Jane’s day were a nightmare. They were lovely, wood turning marvels that fetch high dollars when at auction.
However, we have become used to cushy, upholstered behemoths that dominate the room. That being the case, we will proudly introduce her to chairs, loveseats, and even sectionals that recline, massage, apply heat, store cold drinks, and have pouches for the three-remote minimum most living rooms require. When paired with a wide-screen TV, there is no reason to indulge in Jane’s favorite hero/heroine pastime: the long walk. Heck, even short ones are unnecessary if you have family members willing to bring you snacks and drinks.
So, what item of junk food do you think Jane Austen would like? Add your favorite to this celebration buffet.
Happy Birthday to you, Jane. Happy birthday to you.