Jane Austen's heroines were a sociable lot.
In "Pride and Prejudice," Elizabeth Bennet, on being teased about the friendship between her sister, Jane, and Bingley, the new man in the neighborhood, replies:
"She has known him only a fortnight. She danced four dances with him at Meryton she saw him one morning at his own house, and has since dined in company with him four times. This is not quite enough to make her understand his character."
Possibly not, though after having run into him as six gatherings in 14 days, Jane would certainly not be thought hasty if she were to conclude that Bingley liked a party.
At 9 p.m. Sunday WETA will show the first of five episodes of "Pride and Prejudice" and, in emulation of Jane Austen's heroines, you might invite friends to watch the beginning of the series with you, first serving the kind of meal you would have encountered in rural England in the late 18th and early 19th century.
For a guide, you have only to read the book.
When the vulgar Mrs. Bennet gives a dinner at Longbourn to lure Bingley back to Jane, she gloats afterward that, "The dinner was as well dressed as any I ever saw. The venison was roasted to a turn -- and everybody said they never saw so fat a haunch. The soup was 50 times better than what we had at Lucases' last week and even Mr. Darcy acknowledged that the partridges were remarkably well done . . ."
And Bingley, the suitor, when pressed to give a ball at Netherfield responds, ". . . as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough, I shall send round my cards."
Or there is the light meal served to Elizabeth on an afternoon visit to Pemberly: ". . . cold meat, cake and a variety of all the finest fruits in season . . . the beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines and peaches. . ."
If a haunch of venison is more than your purse will bear, and if you don't want to go to the trouble of preparing game birds, there is always the joint, that roast of beef, lamb, pork or mutton so central to the English meal.
You could precede it with Bingley's white soup. Jane Grigson, in her book "Food With the Famous," gives a recipe based on a rich veal stock, chilled and degreased:
Boil the stock down to 2 1/2 pints.Put 2 ounces blanched almonds and 1 ounce white breadcrumbs into a blender, adding some of the stock so that you can liquidise them to a smooth paste. Strain into the remaining stock, pushing through as much as you can. Beat one egg yolk with 10 fluid ounces of whipping cream and add to the soup. Leave for two to three hours to develop flavor.
To serve, reheat, keeping below the boiling point, and add lemon juice, cayenne and salt to taste.
After the main course, put out a pyramid of fruits -- grapes, apples, pears -- and an English Stilton cheese. Then, later, see your guests off with a syllabub.
My favorite instructions come in a West Country recipe of 1800 which Jane Austen herself might have served:
"Milk the bowl full, direct from the cow if possible."
Since that probably is not possible you can try the simpler method of putting 1 pint whipping cream, 1/4 pound sugar, 1/3 pint white wine, the juice of 2 lemons and the grated rind of 1 lemon together in a bowl and beating till the mixture thickens, Pour in glasses and let stand for 5 or 6 hours before serving.