Category Archives: Modern

The Heroine of the Cookbook Story

By Rachel Rich

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Every cookbook tells a story about itself, and the imagined reader it addresses is the heroine of that story. In the nineteenth century, following recipes meant embarking on a quest for respectability, stability and family happiness. The author offered guidance, and the reader was warned of the perils of leaving the path of good housekeeping. From start to finish, cookbooks in the nineteenth century had a fairly consistent tone… and a story that was repeated time and again. The introduction was where the reader—the protagonist—was introduced to herself through the eyes of the author-narrator.

Mrs Beeton’s introduction of the central character may the most famous, but it is not the only one. The heroine of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management is introduced as ‘the commander of an army’ and ‘the leader of an enterprise’. But others had already got the idea that the main character in the story of the cookbook played a role of national significance. As early as 1803, John Armstrong was placing the women of Britain centre stage in the success of the nation:

To the Young Females of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, This Work is most respectfully inscribed, as a new, safe, and pleasant Guide to the purest and most lasting sources of happiness, and which essentially depends on the just performance of the various Duties of their Sex, whether as Servants, Daughters, Wives, Mothers, or Mistresses of Families.[1]

Others were similarly confident about the importance of the reader, and the task she was undertaking in following the instructions which the author could provide. In 1837, one wrote:

The Collection of Domestic Receipts now presented to the public could not have been formed in any age but the present. The wisdom of this age has been to bring science from her heights down to the practical knowledge of every-day concerns’ and the number or its inventions and discoveries have kept pace with the increasing wants of man.[2]

Eliza Acton entrusted the heroine of her story with no less than the fate of civilization:

it is of the utmost consequence that the food which is served at the more simply supplied tables of the middle classes should all be well and skilfully prepared, particularly as it is from these classes that the men principally emanate to whose indefatigable industry, high intelligence, and active genius, we are mainly indebted for our advancement in science in art, in literature, and in general civilization.[3]

After carefully conveying the importance of her task to the reader, it was now the job of the author to explain the extent to which contemporary women were failing to become the heroines imagined by the author, thus introducing the possibility of adversity and defeat into the story.

Young women utterly ignorant and careless of domestic duties often think themselves fully qualified to undertake the duties and responsibilities of married life, while at the same time regarding it as derogatory to their dignity to cultivate knowledge on which, unless their husbands are very wealthy, the happiness of their homes must necessarily depend.[4]

In warning women of the adversity they faced, without the help of their cookbooks, Mrs Warren uttered this rousing cry:

Diligently and zealously learn and practise every domestic duty and every feminine accomplishment…and no longer will they say, “We cannot marry, our incomes will not suffice.” [5]

The recipes, then, formed the denouement. Once the tension was set up in the introduction, juxtaposing the importance of domestic management against the price of failure, the need for one more cookbook might seem obvious. But in case it was still an open question, many writers troubled themselves to impress upon the reader how different their own book was, and how important. Miss Renny, who’s What to do with Cold Mutton offered solutions for the use of leftovers, offered this explanation:

It may be thought unnecessary to add another to the already numerous list of books upon Cookery; books as various in their degree of excellence as in price. But this little Work does not profess to teach “the whole Art of Cookery:” it simply aims at supplying a want often felt by the young and inexperienced mistress of a household, where a moderate income, rather than position, renders economy advisable; and who, accustomed to every luxury and comfort in her father’s house, is yet ignorant of the art by which such culinary results are attained, and would gladly see her husband’s more modest table as well ordered, though by more simple means.[6]

The heroine of Miss Renny’s book is a young woman of modest means, who is willing to do what it takes to make a go of it: a true British heroine in the age of self-help and social mobility.

Every cookbook situates its imagined reader within the story of the recipes it holds. In the nineteenth century, cookbooks offered a fairly consistent message about the importance of domesticity to the nation’s success, always placing that story at the edge of the dark, looming clouds of the ruin that awaited women who would not follow the rules.


[1] J. Armstrong, The Young Woman’s Guide to Virtue, Economy and Happiness, Newcastle: Mackenzie and Dent, c.1803. n.p.

[2] Anon. The New Family Receipt Book London: John Murray, 1837. p. vii.

[3] E. Acton, Modern Cookery, For Private Families. London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1861. p. viii.

[4] A. H. Miles, ed. A Look Inside: A Daily Household Guide. London: John Heywood, c. 1898. p. 118.

[5] Mrs Warren, How I Managed my Household on Two Hundred Pounds a Year. London: Houlston and Wright, 1864. p. iv;

[6] Anon [Miss Renny], What to do with Cold Mutton. London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1887. p. 111

Keeping up Appearances: Economy vs. Extravagance in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery

By Sophie Hill, with Rachel Rich

In their final year of study undergraduate at British universities produce a 10,000-word piece of original, primary source research, called the dissertation. It has been a great pleasure for me this year to supervise Sophie Hill’s dissertation. Sophie spent her year trawling through old recipes, and–I confess–reading them in more depth and detail then I often do. In the post below, Sophie focusses on how the content of recipe books aimed at middle-class housewives can be a perfect place to look for the tensions and contradictions involved in carving out an identity in a fast-changing world where reputations were often forged around the family dinner table. In choosing Mrs Acton’s book as her case study, Sophie helps to show that Mrs Beeton was not alone in creating this new genre of culinary writing which provided a script for respectable domesticity to the aspiring housewife.

Rachel


L0034889 Modern Cookery, Eliza Acton Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Spine details from Eliza Acton's 'Modern cookery.....' 1845 Modern cookery, in all its branches: reduced to a system of easy practice. For the use of private families / By Eliza Acton. Illustrated with numerous woodcuts Eliza Acton Published: 1845 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
The spine of Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery, 1845.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the culinary best-sellers of the past such as Hannah Glasses’ Art of Cookery (1747) had become increasingly outdated as a new market–with new needs–emerged for cookery books: the rising middle classes. Recipe books were increasingly aimed directly at this audience, such as Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery (1845).

Acton was aware of the audience she was addressing, stating in the introduction:

it is of the utmost consequence that the food which is served at the more simply supplied tables of the middle classes should all be well and skillfully prepared, particularly as it is from these classes that the men principally emanate to whose indefatigable industry, high intelligence, and active genius, we are mainly indebted for our advancement in science in art, in literature, and in general civilization (p. viii).

Recipe books intended for the middle classes provided the focus for my dissertation, which examined three well-known Victorian cookbooks and how they each reflected their target audience.[1] I did this through a close reading of the recipes, the ingredients they required, and the assumption each author made about what sort of equipment women had in their kitchens. Doing this highlighted the expectations placed on the middle-class housewife to practice good household economy, while simultaneously demonstrating the wealth and status of her family.

This idea was particularly well-illustrated in Modern Cookery which contains copious recipes for cheap, economical family-dishes like ‘Irish Stew’ and ‘Potato Soup’ whilst at the same time providing instructions for numerous extravagant, dinner-party recipes such as ‘Salmon à la Genevese’ and the aptly named ‘Fancy Jellies’.

Wood-engraving of one of Acton’s “fancier” recipes – Orange Jellies in Modern Cookery, 1845. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Wood-engraving of one of Acton’s “fancier” recipes – Orange Jellies in Modern Cookery, 1845. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The tension between economy and extravagance made visible by the different types of recipes that Acton includes in Modern Cookery was further highlighted by the ingredients used in each case. The idea of ‘household economy’ had was a mainstream concept by the time that Acton’s book was published–and the use of leftovers in meals played a key part in this. Acton’s recipes frequently demand the middle-class housewife religiously reuse whatever was left from previous dishes. Her ever-so-frugal recipe for ‘Economical Turkey Soup’ is an excellent example of this, as she directs the reader to use the ‘remains of a roast turkey, even after they have supplied the usual mince and broil.’[2]

However, because the Victorian housewife was charged with displaying middle-class status within the home and since food could ‘communicate many things about those who offered it; from financial wealth to the possession of cultural capital’[3], it was only fitting that Acton’s “extravagant” recipes emphasize the use of the finest and freshest ingredients. After all, these were dishes designed to impress. This is particularly well demonstrated in recipes such as ‘Lobster Cutlets (A Superior Entree)’, which Acton notes is an ‘excellent and elegant dish’ and includes in its ingredients

a couple of fine fresh lobsters’, ‘good béchamel sauce’ and ‘three or four ounces of the freshest shrimps.[4]

As I concluded in my dissertation, the presence of both economical and extravagant recipes, as well as the ingredients used in these recipes, is reflective of a wider tension. On the one hand, there was  the need for the middle-class housewife to display the signs of her family’s wealth and social status, thus distinguishing them from the working classes. This was done by providing luxurious dinner-party spreads. But on the other hand, the middle-class housewife needed to maintain the household’s economy.

Crucially, however, the extent to which Acton’s middle-class housewife could throw such parties was arguably hampered by the reality of budget constraints. After all, the number of cheap, economical recipes in Modern Cookery emphasises that the housewife had to be cautious with the food budget during the week–especially if she had any hope of maintaining the facade of extravagance displayed through dinner parties!

[1] These include: Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery (1845), Alexis Soyer’s The Modern Housewife (1849) and Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861).

[2]  E. Acton, Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845: 1855). Re-printed with an introduction by Jill Norman (ed) London: Quadrille Publishing Limited, 2011, p. 33.

[3] R. Rich, Bourgeois Consumption. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011, p. 101.

[4] Acton, Modern Cookery (re-printed 2011),  p. 91.

First Monday Library Chat: The Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds

Welcome to the March 2016 edition of the First Monday Library Chat. This month we have the great pleasure of traveling to Leeds and talking to Karen Sayers, Assistant Archivist at the University of Leeds.

The Cookery Collection is one of the key collections at the Brotherton Library and was awarded ‘designation status’ in 2005. Could you give us an overview of the collection?

‘The Art of Cookery’ Hannah Glasse, 1755. Cookery A/GLA. Title page of the 5th edition showing the index and the additional recipes in the appendix.
‘The Art of Cookery’ Hannah Glasse, 1755. Cookery A/GLA. Title page of the 5th edition showing the index and the additional recipes in the appendix.

The Cookery Collection is primarily focused on recipes for cooking, but also contains many works on food production, the medicinal use of food and gardening. An outstanding feature of the collection is the presence of various editions of popular texts such as Hannah Glasse’s ‘The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy’ and Eliza Acton’s ‘Modern Cookery, in All Its Branches’. These allow the researcher to track innovation and changes in taste and fashion. Glasse’s book was first published in 1747 and appeared in 20 editions in the 18th century. By the time of the fifth edition in 1755 Glasse was appealing to an audience with cosmopolitan tastes! A new appendix contains advice on how ‘to dress a Turtle, the West-India Way’ and ‘how to make India pickle’.

‘The Art of Cookery’ Hannah Glasse, 1755. Cookery A/GLA. Title page of the 5th edition showing the index and the additional recipes in the appendix.
‘A treatise on adulterations of food, and culinary poisons’, Friedrich Accum, 1822. Cookery A/ACC. Title page with a warning quotation from the Bible and an illustration of a snake and skull to reinforce the author’s message.

A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons’ by Friedrich Accum, (1820), is a practical text warning its readers of the dangers that can lurk in food including everyday items such as bread, beer and cheese. Accum was a practicing chemist who wanted to keep dangerous additives out of processed foods and to inform the public. His treatise was controversial as Accum was not afraid to name manufacturers who were adulterating food. However some of his revelations may have put readers off their favourite treats! Accum reveals that white wine can be adulterated with lead to make it clear, and ginger lozenges may contain pipe-clay as a part substitute for sugar.

We also have interesting cookery manuscripts including recipe books compiled by individuals. One 18th century notebook MS 894 signed by Mary Lee and Henry Danvers Hodges has recipes for ‘cake, a good one’ and, less appetisingly, ‘soop meagre’. Mixed in with the recipes are cures for various ailments such as ‘The American Receipt for the Rheumatism’. The recipe, which involves a lot of garlic, ought to be effective as the writer claims that ‘a hundred pounds has been given for it’.

For those of us interested in the history of archives, I wonder, could you tell us a little more about the history of The Cookery Collection?

The Cookery Collection began with a donation of 1,500 printed volumes and some manuscript volumes presented to the library by Blanche Legat Leigh in 1939. The oldest item in her collection is a Babylonian clay tablet of about 2,500 BC inscribed with a list of foods in cuneiform; and the oldest European book is Platina’s ‘De Honesta Voluptate’ in a 1487 edition printed in Venice.

In 1954 the Times Bookshop in London held an exhibition ‘Cookery Books 1500-1954. Some books from the Blanche Legat Leigh collection were on display. This encouraged a private collector, John F. Preston, to donate 600 British volumes published from 1584 to 1861 to Leeds in 1962. These include the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

In the 1980s Leeds acquired the Camden Library Cookery Collection. The most notable feature of this collection is its coverage of English cookery books published from 1949 to the mid-1970s. Special Collections acquired the Michael Bateman Collection in 2011. Bateman was a pioneering food journalist who wanted to enhance people’s diets and palates through his writing.

Beer and ale brewing has been a popular topic on our blog of late, I was delighted to see that the Brotherton has a rich collection of texts on the history of brewing. Could you tell us a little more about the Chaston Chapman collection?

Alfred Chaston Chapman (1869-1932) was an analytical and consulting chemist who worked primarily in relation to brewing. He was President of the Institute of Brewing from 1911-1913. His collection of books on the history of brewing was donated to the University of Leeds in 1939. The subjects covered include wine and winemaking, distillation and the distilling industry, drinking customs, ciders and whisky, and legal issues surrounding alcohol.

The brewing collection makes for fascinating reading and contains some entertaining and amusing titles. Of note are ‘The Anatomy of Drunkeness’ a Glaswegian publication from 1840, and ‘The History and Science of Drunkenness’ an illustrated volume published in 1883.

The Chaston Chapman collection is relevant to student social life both past and present, containing an 1835 edition of ‘Oxford Night Caps: Being a Collection of Receipts for Making Various Beverages Used in the University’. An intriguing collection of concoctions, it contains a recipe for Oxford Punch. Among the required ingredients are six glasses of calves-feet jelly, the juice of four oranges and ten lemons, half a pint of white wine, a pint of French brandy and a pint of Jamaica rum.

Can you highlight one or two of your favourite items?

3)‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’, Batty Langley, 1729. Large Cookery A/LAN. Plate 3, showing the blossom on different varieties of peach trees.
3) ‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’, Batty Langley, 1729. Large Cookery A/LAN. Plate 3, showing the blossom on different varieties of peach trees.

As a keen gardener one of my favourite items in the collection has to be ‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’ by the delightfully named Batty Langley. It is full of practical advice for the gardener on the growing of fruit including peaches, cherries, plums and grapes. Langley gives practical advice on pruning and caring for plants and about picking and preserving their fruit. He asserts that cherries ‘are best eaten from the Trees, after a shower of rain’, adding helpfully ‘but most commonly out of spring water after dinner’. Langley has drawn detailed illustrations of the blossom, buds and fruit of various trees.

3)‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’, Batty Langley, 1729. Large Cookery A/LAN. Plate 24, showing different varieties of plums.
3) ‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’, Batty Langley, 1729. Large Cookery A/LAN. Plate 24, showing different varieties of plums.

 

What tips can you offer to help users find them via your catalog or finding aids?

The best tip is to access the Cookery Collections Guide on Special Collections’ webpages. This is a good way to gain an overview of the content of the collection. A dedicated search box enables the users to carry out searches within the cookery collections only. The webpage for the collections’ guide provides direct links to some of our major holdings including Cookery Printed Books and the Michael Bateman Archive.

We have also grouped all our Cookery Printed Books and Cookery Manuscripts together in two distinct collections to help researchers to navigate the catalogue. If you want advice or wish to visit Special Collections please email us.

“For English Girls … in the Eastern Empire”: Housekeeping in British India

By Cynthia D. Bertelsen

An Indian household can no more be governed peacefully, without dignity and prestige, than an Indian Empire.
~ Steel and Gardiner

British Bungalow in India During the Raj. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.
British Bungalow in India During the Raj. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The British Empire at its zenith stretched across more than fourteen million square miles, ruling nearly half a billion people. Social and racial attitudes forged during the long period of colonial and imperial rule still prevail on many levels today. To survive the many unknowns of tropical daily life, British women relied on nineteenth-century household manuals.

Arjun Appadurai, in his much-cited “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India”, commented that “[t]he spread of European ideologies of household management in the colonies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is an important topic for comparative research.” Books such as these provided more than just recipes; they also outlined cultural beliefs and hinted at the overall agenda of Empire–the so-called civilizing mission, wherein women were expected to create a little England amidst the dust, heat and teeming masses of India.

These prescriptive texts form a sub-set of the larger genre of household manuals, of which Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Managementfondly dubbed Mrs. Beeton–became one of the most popular and long-lived of the nineteenth century. Studying these materials offers culinary historians numerous insights into subliminal communication of “Othering” attitudes by which a relatively small number of British administrators and other personnel ruled the British Empire.

Mrs. Beeton certainly accompanied many women’s voyages out to India, but a whole spate of similar cookbooks, geared specifically toward the Anglo-Indian* housewife, appeared later in the nineteenth century. Women wrote most of these, but some were written by men. For example, Robert Flower Riddell, an Army surgeon at the Nizam of Hyderabad’s court, first published his Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book in 1841. The women had lived through it all, following their husbands from one lonely posting to another, suffering through brutal heat in the tropical sun, challenges of feeding families on slim provender, and dealing with servants.

Flora Annie Steel. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Flora Annie Steel. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the best and most thorough of those books was The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, by Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner, dedicated “To THE ENGLISH GIRLS to whom fate may assign the task of being house-mothers in our eastern empire”. The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook followed not only in the footsteps of Mrs. Beeton, but also took heart from a number of other books, such as Riddell’s. Steel and Gardiner’s book underwent at least ten editions between 1888 and 1921 and became the bible of existence for many young English women in India. And elsewhere in the British Empire.

A common theme in these books concerned servants, and more specifically cooks, usually older Muslim men. The creation of social distance made it possible for the household to run as efficiently as the empire, or at least to aspire to do so. Authors accomplished by including derogatory comments, particularly after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Servants were described as dirty, dishonest, and childish. Steel and Gardiner warned young housewives in India to beware of “the dirty habits which are ingrained in the native cook” (13).

Chapter XXI, “Advice to Cook”, spoke directly to the cook (225):

The next point is to keep yourself clean. Cooks must use their hands a great deal. Some things are better done with the hand than with spoon or fork, but not with dirty hands; so keep a piece of soap and a towel handy by the sink for constant use, and don’t use your hands unnecessarily. Don’t, for example, stir eggs into a pudding with your fingers. They do it very badly.

The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, and similar household books, promised to turn British women into astute managers who perpetuated the idea of Empire by creating the essence of England in their households… even if those households abutted up to steamy jungles or vast plains on the Indian subcontinent.

As Steel and Gardiner stated (220), these cookbooks assisted them in the

knowledge really required by a mistress which is that of half-practical, half-theoretical and wholly didactic description which will enable her to find reasonable fault with her servants.

In other words, household management books served as reference books. But a close reading suggests that they also served as models for creating the “Other.”

*Anglo-Indian as used here refers to the British housewife, not as the term now denotes people of mixed British and Indian heritage.