Candy is Dandy

I do not think I would like to be suddenly transported to Regency England. I have an over-active Modern American sweet tooth, and I dare say the kind of sweets I like would be harder to obtain. For the most part, anything sweet had to be made. There were no corner grocers to run to, no 7-11 tempting one with three rows of candies and cakes, and no bakeries in the villages.

I found the blog for A Woman of Notes, ( which contained wonderful dessert ideas and information about how to make them. Still not the ready to eat items I am used to, but would be a possible substitute if I ended up rich and had a cook.

Another valuable resource is the Cook It! History Cook Book site ( which includes good guesses about what prehistoric man had for lunch. And I found lots of information about the timing of meals and how that changed from the 1600s to now at the blog The Regency Redingote (

Gunter’s, of course, in London, could provide an ice flavored with bergamot or lavender, maple or chocolate ( And the Historical Hussies’ blog includes information about chocolate that contradicts long-held beliefs. Chocolate was around in special chocolate houses, but again, in London, and proably not cheap. (

Regency Reflections has a couple of recipes for chocolate drops, with modern translations. (


But what about butterscotch, caramel, and cinnamon red hots? While butterscotch candy surely existed earlier, I am not finding anything written about it until 1817 in America. ( This same site has lots of good information on candy and food and when it first showed up. For instance, caramel is related to toffee, and showed up in the 18th century. Was it sold in stores or made at home? Alas, at home until 1880. And even more sadly, the cinnamon red hots I love were created in the 1930s.

Marzipan has been documented in England since the 15th century, and was most likely readily available but it’s just not the sweet thing my tooth craves. Licorice goes back into prehistory when it was used as a remedy for something or other. Again, not my favorite.

Well, what about puddings? Nice, sweet desserts, with whipped cream toppings! Ah. Many of you already know that “pudding” today in America is a horse of a different color than what was served in the past. Uncle Wiki tells us, “The word pudding is believed to come from the French boudin, originally from the Latin botellus, meaning “small sausage”, referring to encased meats used in Medieval European puddings.” Sausage? For dessert? Sounds like an erotic novel to me.

Pies? Food Timeline says it’s complicated, and that the first use of the word according to the OED occurred in 1303. They started out as large things, but gradually became portable. Even Arab cultures had proto-pies. (Does that make you want to find a way to create a pie using proteus? Only me?) I honestly expected to find that meat pies were the main use of pastries in England for years and years, but turns out sweet, fruity pies marched right along with the meat. “The distinction between savoury and sweet pies did not become really obvious in the cookery books until around 1720. The cooks closest to French culinary practice removed the sugar entirely…E. Smith gave pies with chicken and with lamb in both savoury and sweet versions, but allowed the confustion of flavours to persist in her vegetable and mince pies–in other words, those where the sweet-savoury association lingered the longest.”
The British Housewife: Cookery Books, Cooking and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Gilly Lehmann [Prospect Books:Devon] 2003 (p. 194-5)

Cakes also date back to ancient times, but were more bread-like, and sweetened with honey. The round cake with icing had to wait for improvements in ovens, ingredients to be readily available, and for baking powder to be invented. Then we need to separate the French idea of cake (gateau) from the English idea (think fruit cake), the former needing to be consumed as soon after baking as possible, the latter improving with age. Again, in London, at pastry shops, and some of the larger cities like Bath and Bristol, this could have been readily available but not in little villages unless a bakery was nearby. Side Note: An interesting recipe for Fire of London cakes dating from the times of the Stuarts. The fire was rumored to be started by little cakes that burned. (

In Regency England, syllabub was on its way out, and ice cream on its way in. ( solteties were no longer presented to the high table, paraded around the hall, and left on display or eaten. So thank the stars I will not have to worry about satisfying my sweet tooth in past centuries. Now if you will excuse me, I have some sugar-free chocolate pecan patties that need my attention.


Tragic Real Life Writers/Heroines


I believed for much of my life that I was destined to be a spinster, tragically alone as I wrote my stories and became a crazy bird lady. I knew several women in my church who fit that description as well. But then an odd year happened, and these older single women got married! Well, what would Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, or Louisa May Alcott say about that?


Jane, it seems, had an opportunity to marry, but found she could not surrender the life she lived to wed a childhood friend whom she did not love. In her time, marriage gave women some social security in later life. As Jane died tragically early, staying single was possibly the right choice for her.


Charlotte Bronte did marry, in her late 30s, and died while carrying her first child. For her, the man she chose loved her so well that he did not change any aspect of her life or writing. Her loss from his life was deeply wrenching, and the what-if the child has survived aspect tickles my fancy.


Louisa seems a much more tragic life than the other two, because she was convinced no man could love her without wanting to make her a domestic slave. She grew up in material poverty but with a wealth of close family, love, and faith. She felt so strongly about the right of freedom from slavery for all men that she went off to volunteer at a hospital during the Civil War. She contracted a nearly fatal disease, but the treatment used in those days left her an invalid for the rest of her life. She still managed to adopt her niece when her sister died, and so had the experience of raising a child.


Maybe because of my early imagination, and the way the life stories of these women impacts me, I love books about their lives and their possible lives. “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott” (Amy Einhorn/Putnam), by first-time novelist Kelly O’Connor McNees, had me laughing and crying as I listened to it on my commutes. The author imagines that at one time, Lou had a passionate relationship with a young man who was promised to another girl. The writing felt natural, and inspired me to reread via audiobook Louisa’s own best loved writing, Little Women. No wonder Ms. Alcott could never convince anyone the book was not autobiographical.


Romancing Miss Bronte: A Novel by Juliet Gael carried an equal sense of sharing the life of a remarkable woman. The difference is that the novel is based on actual events. Were this a Romance novel, the pair would have realized their undying love for each other much sooner. The events did take decades to unfold, but really, I wanted to cut to the chase a few times. However, you can’t know why Charlotte was who she was without sharing the deaths of all her siblings, and the stark loneliness of her life after they had gone.


Jane Austen is the writer many of us historical romance writers would like to be. Perhaps that is why there are several networks of Jane Austen Fan Fiction, and more historical sites than one can shake a keyboard at. While her writings have been subsumed into the horror genre via Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, there’s not that much out there that finds a secret winter or stolen spring when she found true love. She was in real life a stern moralist, so it is nearly impossible to imagine her off for a bit of illicit sex.


Several amusing memoirs exist written about people who discovered Jane Austen at some point. A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz is one I might look up, and her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869 is a must-read. But there is room in the days she spent at school, or the visits to her brother in London, for a story like The Lost Summer. And what about the gentleman believed to have been her secret sweetheart, and the one whose marriage proposal she first accepted and then turned down? Well, as the latter was a most unromantic figure of a man, it has to be the former. And yes, there is a book and a movie, the 2003 book Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Hunter Spence, filmed in 2007.


I am happy to report my own life took a lovely romantic turn, and I did not end up a crazy bird lady spinster. And I was blessed with two stepchildren to raise and enjoy family life in their company. One does no longer need to be a tragic heroine in one’s own right to be a writer of romances. And maybe there is an epic story idea for me in these three lives. I expect they watch over other women writers with encouragement and sparks of inspiration.



Contests: One Perspective

Robert A. Heinlein got his start as a published author when a short story of his, submitted to a magazine, caught the eye of John W. Campbell. I’ve heard and read that the story started as a contest entry, and by submitting it to Campbell instead, Heinlein earned much more than the contest would have paid him for first place. This version is reported on Wikipedia, but is not mentioned on the Heinlein Society web page. So who remains alive who would know?



I love Science Fiction, and I have a fun scifi romance that needs some planet building before I can go forward with it. But I submitted it to a contest, thinking there would be few entries in the scifi category, and it would be the best, perhaps, of those entries.



The judges saw me coming. When they didn’t get the large number of entries required in the scifi category, they combined it with fantasy. My showing was poor and some of the comments from the judges very discouraging. (Although in rereading some of them, the judges are spot on, and the whole experience will be valuable when I get back to that planet)



The bottom line is that the story was far from ready for even a Beta reader, but I thought I could beat the odds. My Regency, The Mouse and Miles, on the other hand, is getting pretty good critiques on Scribophile, and I even have a following of Regency fans. I love Regency because Idon’t have to build this world, and it’s not Star Trek or Babylon 5 or even, gods forfend, Twilight-based. It is an open to the public writing arena.



My first Regency, Emily’s Heart, won a Romance Writers of America San Diego chapter contest 20 years ago. The first 7 pages submitted caught the attention and hearts of the judges. I thrilled to the announcement that I had won, but on the other hand, the rest of the story lacked sexual tension, a plausible plot, and needs lots of work. I still have it in my “Someday” pile.



I thought about submitting M&M to a contest, since the need for more income has gotten urgent, and if I could get the attention of an agent or editor, I might be off and running as a published author. But when the time came ti decide about entering, I found I would rather take an on-line workshop to improve my writing. (I’m also taking Karen Ritter’s class on self-publishing, another good use of available funds!) The decision was not easy, and the contest I had in mind was low on submissions.



This made me wonder why I even bother writing at all if I don’t believe my end product is good enough to win a contest with a high number of entries. Self-doubt and lack of forward momentum are useful story-building elements, but for a writer they steal away your writer’s soul. And that is what has to be in any sotry for it to shine and attract readers.



Writer’s Digest’s web page ( lists a bunch of contests, but they are all pretty niche like Young Adult, Thriller, and Poetry, but they do have a romance competition I will need to check out.



Writer’s Views’ web page ( lists contests that have $0 cost for submissions, so I have to look at that one more closely. Sitcom, screenplay, and poetry all come before the romance story contest.



Chantacleer Book Reviews ( is offering a package of $20,000 in prizes, but if you win one of their contests, you only get part of that. They also announce winners of big contests, and the Women’s Fantasy/SciFi winner, The Maiden Voyage of the Mary Ann, by Linda Reed has my interest.



But I feel more at home with Romance Writers of America chapter-sponsored contests. These members live and breath romance, like I do, and are encouraging no matter what the outcome. I have decided to make a goal, and publish it here so that you can check with me in early January. I pledge to enter the Great Expectations contest for unpublished works, sponsored by the North Texas RWA chapter. It’s only $20 to enter, and I have until December 29th to get a novel polished enough so that the first 5,000 words become the best ever submitted.



The contest judges are published authors, the second round judges will be editors, announced later, and there are cash prizes for First, Second, and Third place. While contests will never take the place of a good critique group, the feedback from any submission is worth the admission price.



The world of books and publishing has change since Robert A. Heinlein’s days, more than most futurists of that century could foresee. There are more routes to being a published author than through contests and magazine submissions. Deciding on the path that is right for you takes serious thought on what you can afford and what you are hoping to get in return. The path you select will require your complete dedication and belief in yourself. May you live long and prosper.




Your Hero Needs Horses, Your Heroine Needs Lap Dogs! Part 2

Hedgehogs were probably kept as pets in Regency England and Europe by little boys who found them while hiking around in the countryside. Old tales probably still existed about the hedgehog skewering fruit and other food on its quills and carrying it home that way. Hedgehogs were supposed to have two anal passages, and to mate standing up because their spines got in the way otherwise.

For a time, you could claim a three pence bounty on hedgehogs, due to the menace they posed to dairy farms and chicken coops. I haven’t uncovered how the little creatures were able to steal milk right from the cow, but they were also blamed for stealing eggs. Hedgehogs often like a little egg, with or without toast, but they are incapable of breaking a chicken egg shell.

The hedgehog is the original predictor of spring, but as there are no hedgehogs native to the New World, we switched to the groundhog. The hedgehog was also a good source of nutrition for many people. I read that some Gypsies still consume hedgehogs, and that would not surprise me. More civilized people are a bit too squeamish about eating cute little animals. But on the edge of survival any food will suffice.

Monkeys could have been kept as pets. Many royals did so, and as the Navy went to ports in the Mediterranean and Africa, sailors naturally could have bought or obtained a monkey to enliven the boring days between ports or action. If a hero was in the Navy, or the heroine from a naval family, a monkey would not be out of place at all.

Lots of material exists documenting the use of monkeys, baboons, and other primates as farm laborers, gathering everything from coconuts to rhubarb, and even pounding rice. Can you picture a Regency household with a trained monkey serving at table?

Deer became a very popular pet in the US Colonies, second only to squirrels. Taken young, they could be completely tamed for a few years. When puberty dawned, however, the animal became a bit harder to maintain. If a character in a story came from the Colonies or had served there, chances are good a deer may be a logical pet to introduce.

However, most people in Regency England were content with dogs and horses, and some cats. The more exotic animals they saw after paying a few pence in menageries or circuses. Astley’s is the most ofter referenced entertainment, and seems to have been quite a show. One could see breath-taking equestrian events, and a pig doing math. But for exotic animals, you must go to the Tower of London and see the Royal Menagerie. You might see the grizzly bear, the lions, or the alligator. You might also be unlucky enough to be there when an animal made an escape, and be a victim or see a worker there killed or maimed. How exciting!

Less bloodthirsty, the leopard at the Tower loved to jump and steal parasols, umbrellas, and anything else she could get to. She was so quick and agile that the person who lost the item didn’t always know it until the leopard had completely shredded her prize.

Some country homes had their own collections, which I bet delighted any visitors. Knowsley Hall of Liverpool had an impressive collection, started by the 13th Earl of Derby 20 years before the Royal Zoological Society began. When sold in 1851, it was advertised as the largest living collection in existence. Reproduction was the sole reason for the earl’s collections, and he occasionally turned down a single specimen if he felt he could not reasonably obtain a mate for the animal. The earl also hired Edward Lear to catalog and illustrate his collection. During this time, Mr. Lear composed The Owl and the Pussycat for the children in the Knowsley nursery. (This link will take you to a site where some of the beautiful color plates of the animals and birds can be seen. )

Traveling menageries satisfied the more common folks’ desire to see exotic animals. A showman headed the troupe, and the number of animals ranged from a few to many. In 1804, George Wombwell, a shoemaker, bought a pair of boa constrictors from a sailor, and began showing them around in drinking establishments. He made good money, and expanded his collection. Soon he had the largest in England. But being trained as a shoemaker and inclined to be a showman, he knew little about the care of these animals. The mortality rate was high, but he could still profit by either selling the body to a taxidermist or museum collection, or having the animal mounted so he could continue to show it.

An interesting note, Wombwell bred the first lion in England. He also took his collection regularly to Bartholomew Fair where he competed for an audience with another exhibitor. At one of these fairs, Wombwell’s elephant died unexpectedly, so the competitor put up a huge sign advertising that he had the only living elephant at the fair. Wombwell got the better of the situation by advertising he had the only dead elephant at the fair. Seems people were more thrilled with the thought of seeing a deceased pachyderm which they could poke and touch and get very close to, if you didn’t mind the smell.

Now I return to the question of which animal to have my heroine chase through the halls of an inn. If I return to that manuscript, at least I know I have made the choice much more difficult through my research. But I am tipping the scales towards a boa constrictor, pun intended.

Next week I will muse on the usefulness of entering contests.

Your Heros Need Horses, Your Heroines Need Lap Dogs!

Is the title of today’s blog a true statement? Well, in historical novels, the first part is mostly true. You need to explain how your people get around. If the Main Characters are well off and aristocrats, they will no doubt have a stable of horses for different needs, such as carriages, riding, hunting, and so on. But if your hero is an impoverished third son taking Holy Orders, he most likely will walk everywhere, which explains his trim and muscular physique, and will hire a chaise or borrow a cart when the need arises. Your penny-pinching villain will do the same, and your heroine governess will be lucky to afford the mail coach.

Pets are a different matter entirely. Not much before the Georgian era, which ushered in the Regency, animals were not kept as pets in Europe. While researching for this blog, I learned that archeologists have found a paleolithic era tomb in which the human was laid to rest with his companion dog (and I do not want to think that the dog was likely killed for this honor, but it seems likely) resting in his or her arms, a hand affectionately placed on the animal’s shoulder. This burial is in Northern Israel, and provides the earliest recorded link of the respect and bond between humans and domesticated animals.

But in most of the world, dogs were kept for herding, hunting, and eliminating pests. Cats were welcome for the last task as well. During the hardest times for humans, these servants were the first to go. In fact, cats were a sure sign that the old widow who barely stayed alive at the edge of the woods was, in fact, a witch. So while the companionship of pets would have brought some comfort to many, they also brought an opening for scared neighbors to take some horrible actions.

Regency Romance heroines often have lap dogs, because this was a fashion at the time. If they live in the country, they may have a cat, or have to rescue kittens when the mother cat doesn’t come home. One of my earliest writing teachers felt the use of pets in Regencies was a cliché, and we should avoid it like, well, like the plague. My first Regency romance needed to use an escaping pet to bring the MCs together. I had to think of a smart animal to use in place of a puppy or a kitten.

Understand, this was before I became a crazy bird lady. I don’t know that a parrot or mynah bird would have worked. I chose to use a piglet. (Side note: A Chinese ideograph for “home” combines pig under a roof.) I could not find any sources in my research documenting the keeping of any pigs as pets until very recently. I know there had to be a rare and unusual person or two who did keep a pet pig. But that would not have been normal or usual, and as evolved in my story, the piglet eventually had to be placed in a farm where it would live probably less than a year before transforming into yummy things like bacon, ham, and sausage.

While researching the pig, Uncle Google continuously offered me links to guinea pig information. A guinea pig, or cavy, certainly is a period pet for the Regency era, and would have worked fairly well in my story. Except that they aren’t very affectionate until a relationship has developed, and that didn’t work with my plot.

Parrots would work in the plot, but that would be a border-line cliché. Song birds were not that common as pets until the early 20th century when canaries ruled. Mynahs would have worked, again as period with the trade and administration of government in India, but a mynah escaped would be difficult to recover.

Reptiles? Oh, yes, picture a Regency heroine chasing a monitor lizard or iguana through a hotel. Picture the hero getting up the courage to touch the thing. Seriously, had he a gun at hand he would shoot it, most likely. Miniature horses were kept only by the really rich, royalty, and not the same as the mini horses we have today. Monkeys were period, having been kept by sailors for a few centuries, but not very lady-like. Another issue with both monkeys and parrots would be the constant deposits of, shall we say, guano on the shoulders of the pet keeper.

I want to look further into animals like the hedgehog and more domesticated animals, but that will have to wait for another day. I will take time here to say that I see a correlation to the rise in popularity of pets, dogs especially, to the way children were raised at the time. Not to say there weren’t deep and loving relationships between parents and children, but the mode of the day for the middle and upper class was to pass your children off from birth to others. Wet nurse, nanny, governess or tutor, and so on. These main members of the child’s world might often pass away or leave for reasons unknown. And the nanny or tutor might not be a cheerful or affectionate soul.

Where could a lonely boy or girl turn for unwavering affection, devotion, and companionship? A dog would fill the space admirably. A kitten or cat might possibly do, but dogs were more reliable. Cats were rarely kept in any safe place at night, and could be killed by local foxes or under coach wheels while out prowling. But dogs usually had a bed in the kitchen if not in someone’s bedroom, or at the very least in the stables or kennels. I know from my own childhood that the presence of a pet can make up for the lack of many things, and I believe this held true in other times.

Next week, I will explore more pets and look at the various collections of exotic animals in Regency England.