By Rachel Rich
Georgiana Hill was a prolific cookery writer around the time when Mrs Beeton published her Book of Household Management (1861). Each woman wrote from an educated perspective, drawing on history and mythology to contextualise the ingredients they wrote about. Isabella Beeton was a young, successful journalist, who probably spent very little time in the kitchen. Much less is known of Hill’s life, but the introductions to her many publications, as well as the recipes themselves, suggest certain possibilities.
Unlike Beeton, whose Book includes recipes for every food imaginable, and advice about every aspect of domesticity, Hill keeps her focus solely on the food. In the introduction to The Gourmet’s Guide to Rabbit Cooking, In One Hundred and Twenty-Four Dishes (1859), Hill discussed her childhood fascination with rabbits, before moving on to their culinary purpose–a flight of fancy one can only imagine Mrs Beeton would have found pointless if not downright distasteful. Whereas Beeton depicted herself as the solidly English, economical and practical mistress of a well-run home, Hill consciously allied herself with the French ‘who possess an aptitude for delicacy of expression of which an English cook is totally deficient.’ Hill went on to write that ‘the charm of rabbits consists in their being so easily and agreeably accommodated (mark the word), and in their capability of producing a variety of compositions, which, if proceeding from the hands of an able artiste, may, for elegance, be ranked among the most recherché dishes that can dignify the table of refined and enlightened amphitryons.’
Hill’s recipes also differed from Beeton’s. Beeton started every recipe with a list of ingredients, then methodically went through the instructions, and finished with information about time, cost, number fed, and seasonability. Hill did not take up such modern practices, keeping rather to the traditional, discursive from. Thus, recipe 56 ‘To Curry Cold Rabbit’ reads:
Cut up two good-sized onions, one cucumber, two apples, and a slice or more of ham and cut into dice. Put these things into a stewpan, with a quarter of a pound of butter, and stir them well until they are done; then add your pieces of rabbit, and the juice of a lemon strained from the pips; shake it for a few minutes, pour in a pint of good stock, and let it simmer for twenty minutes, skimming frequently. When done, you can either dish it as it is, or arrange the rabbit in your dish, and strain the sauce through a sieve over it. Serve boiled rice apart.
The difference between Hill and Beeton is that Hill was writing as a cook and food enthusiast who assumed that her writers shared her passion. Beeton was writing for women for whom she imagined the running of the home to be a serious business: ‘As with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house.’ Clearly each book found an audience and a market, but where Beeton wrote condescendingly to (imagined) morally and intellectually weak housewives, Hill chose a more neutral approach, calling herself ‘An Old Epicure,’ and eschewing domestic advice in favour of a specialist’s approach to food preparation.