I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways.
September 18, 2007 7:08 AM   Subscribe

"To every 1 gallon of brandy allow 3/4 pint of Seville orange-juice, 1–1/4 lb. of loaf sugar...."

Now that's a a drink.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:25 AM on September 18, 2007

[this is marvelous]

I'd heard of this work, an early monument of cookbook writing, but hadn't ever read it. Thanks!
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:26 AM on September 18, 2007

I've heard from foodie mates that this book wrecked British cooking for a long time (rationing made it worse of course) and this is the root of the prejudice that UK food is bland, overcooked rubbish. Georgian food was full of spices and flavour in comparison. I'm sure others on here are better informed on these matters than me, but I have heard Beeton did some damage to the English palate.
posted by The Salaryman at 7:30 AM on September 18, 2007

"2581. Draught.—Twenty grains of sulphate of zinc in an ounce and a half of water. This draught is to be repeated in a quarter of an hour if vomiting does not take place"

This is pretty awesome - thanks, anastasiav!
posted by jonson at 7:34 AM on September 18, 2007

Ahh yes, Mrs B. was a stalwart in my family home... We had a much later edition that had advice about the new fashion electric cooking ranges amongst other things. We consulted her for medical diagnoses (usually even the most minor ailment could end in death), how often one should visit the nursery (one wouldn't want your children to get too attached to you), and soaked up advice about being a prudent wife (you should have a fresh ribbon in your hair when your husband came home from work, and don't bother him with the petty troubles of your day, his will have been much harder). We ate some of her food though, not the Turtle soup mind, but my Dad reckons her recipe for bread sauce is The Best.

"The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens"
posted by Helga-woo at 7:39 AM on September 18, 2007

Thanks, I had just about run out of ways to cook a calf's head.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:42 AM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is really quite impressive and very fun to read. I've been reading all the paste/crust recipes in the pudding section, and they're great and some are very sophisticated. I like the asides as well.

Thanks for the link.
posted by OmieWise at 7:45 AM on September 18, 2007

There's a fabulous book on the phenomenon that is Mrs. Beeton -- it's called The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton. Definitely worth checking out.
posted by mothershock at 7:48 AM on September 18, 2007

It's also cool to see that "cheesecake" didn't have cheese in it for Mrs. B. It seems to refer to consistency (there are recipes that have almonds as the base, and apples, neither with cheese).
posted by OmieWise at 7:50 AM on September 18, 2007

I'm loving this, thanks anastasiav!
posted by amyms at 8:05 AM on September 18, 2007

"...take 1/2 lb. each of pounded gum-arabic and lump-sugar, 1 oz. of green copperas, and 3 lbs. of brandy"

Now that's a drink. No, wait. That's shoe polish.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:31 AM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nice find.
posted by caddis at 8:51 AM on September 18, 2007

Derail: Does anyone know the name of an American woman who wrote a similar book in the 1830's. I thought when I saw this post that it was what I was looking for just last week, but I can't remember that lady's name.
posted by saffry at 8:56 AM on September 18, 2007

you might find it here
posted by caddis at 9:19 AM on September 18, 2007

The soup article is fascinatingly disgusting.

One example:
"DURING THE PERIOD BETWEEN THE BIRTH AND MATURITY OF ANIMALS, their flesh undergoes very considerable changes. For instance, when the animal is young, the fluids which the tissues of the muscles contain, possess a large proportion of what is called albumen. This albumen, which is also the chief component of the white of eggs, possesses the peculiarity of coagulating or hardening at a certain temperature, like the white of a boiled egg, into a soft, white fluid, no longer soluble, or capable of being dissolved in water."

Imagine that going into Betty Crocker.

I also love the period science: "Dr. Lyon Playfair .... says that the average quality of [beet root] flour contains about 12 per cent. of azotized principles adapted for the formation of flesh, and the average quality of beet contains about 2 per cent. of the same materials."
posted by dosterm at 9:19 AM on September 18, 2007

That celebrated, cultivated, underrated, and sadly, yes, belated Duke of English food writers, Alan Davidson, has this, and much more, to say about Mrs. Beeton in his Oxford Companion to Food:

...she was a beautiful young woman, married to a bright and enterprising young publisher, who started at the age of 21 to produce material for her husband's English Woman's Domestic Magazine, including the collection of vast numbers of recipes and information about how to run a household. She was only 25 years old when her work appeared in book form, and only 28 when she died (of puerperal fever, contracted giving birth to her fourth child--and having lost the first two in infancy).
posted by jamjam at 9:50 AM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


2157. The domestic duties of the butler are to bring in the eatables at breakfast, and wait upon the family at that meal, assisted by the footman, and see to the cleanliness of everything at table. On taking away...

2158. The first course ended, he rings the cook’s bell...

2159. At dessert, the slips being removed, the butler receives the dessert from the other servants, and arranges it on the table...

2165. The butler, we have said, has charge of the contents of the cellars, and it is his duty to keep them in a proper condition, to fine down wine in wood, bottle it off....

I thought they just... butled.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:14 AM on September 18, 2007

Be sure to check out the noble toast sandwich: "Place a very thin piece of cold toast between 2 slices of thin bread-and-butter in the form of a sandwich, adding a seasoning of pepper and salt." This sentence taught me more about England than three years of living there.
posted by sy at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2007

How's this for a breakfast of champions? Sure beats any latte at Starbucks. I intend to try it tomorrow morning.

1815. INGREDIENTS - Allow 1 new-laid egg to every large breakfast-cupful of tea or coffee.
Mode.—Beat up the whole of the egg in a basin, put it into a cup (or a portion of it, if the cup be small), and pour over it the tea or coffee very hot. These should be added very gradually, and stirred all the time, to prevent the egg from curdling. In point of nourishment, both these beverages are much improved by this addition.
Sufficient.—Allow 1 egg to every large breakfast-cupful of tea or coffee.
posted by donfactor at 10:29 AM on September 18, 2007

Thanks caddis, I found Mrs. Child's Cup Cake recipe, just what I wanted.
posted by saffry at 10:30 AM on September 18, 2007


1823. INGREDIENTS - To 4–1/2 gallons of water allow the pulp of 50 lemons, the rind of 25, 16 lbs. of loaf sugar,—1/2 oz. of isinglass, 1 bottle of brandy.

Mode.—Peel and slice the lemons, but use only the rind of 25 of them, and put them into the cold water. Let it stand 8 or 9 days, squeezing the lemons well every day; then strain the water off and put it into a cask with the sugar. Let it work some time, and when it has ceased working, put in the isinglass. Stop the cask down; in about six months put in the brandy and bottle the wine off.

Now, to figure out if loaf sugar is close enough to the sugar I buy at the store and where I can get some isinglass, which I actually know what it is. 19th century pruno, here I come!
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:46 AM on September 18, 2007

Here's isinglass available at Deborah's Pantry of Test-driven and Hard to Find Culinary Supplies. She apparently spends time making these sorts of recipes.
posted by OmieWise at 11:04 AM on September 18, 2007

This is fascinating. The chapter Children begins with her advice to new mothers to heed the wisdom of professionals (like herself), then digresses into the difficulties in handing one's children over to a nanny who, "from her social sphere, has probably notions of rearing children diametrically opposed to the preconceived ideas of the mother, and at enmity with all her sentiments of right and prejudices of position."

We see elaborate care bestowed on a family of children, everything studied that can tend to their personal comfort,—pure air, pure water, regular ablution, a dietary prescribed by art, and every precaution adopted that medical judgment and maternal love can dictate, for the well-being of the parents’ hope; and find, in despite of all this care and vigilance, disease and death invading the guarded treasure. We turn to the foetor and darkness that, in some obscure court, attend the robust brood who, coated in dirt, and with mud and refuse for playthings, live and thrive, and grow into manhood, and, in contrast to the pale face and flabby flesh of the aristocratic child, exhibit strength, vigour, and well-developed frames, and our belief in the potency of the life-giving elements of air, light, and cleanliness receives a shock that, at first sight, would appear fatal to the implied benefits of these, in reality, all-sufficient attributes of health and life.

Given her own short life and lost children, the resigned bitterness in those two eleborate sentences is touching, even in spite of the grating class prejudice.
posted by maryh at 11:05 AM on September 18, 2007

Isinglass can be found at many homebrew stores online
posted by neat-o at 12:32 PM on September 18, 2007

Loaf sugar can also be found at Deborah's Pantry. However, she warns that isinglass found at home-brew stories is not suitable for old recipes, as it's not pure enough.
posted by jokeefe at 12:51 PM on September 18, 2007

Mrs. Beeton died of puerperal fever, a not uncommon hazard in those days:

The first recorded epidemic of puerperal fever occurred at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris in 1646. Hospitals throughout Europe and America consistently reported death rates between 20% to 25% of all women giving birth with intermittent epidemics with up to 100% fatalities of women giving birth in childbirth wards.
posted by jokeefe at 12:57 PM on September 18, 2007

From "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top"
With isinglass curtains you can roll right down
in case there's a change in the weather

from Wikipedia:
Isinglass (collagen) should not be confused with Isinglass (mineral) which is made from sheets of mica and was once commonly used as a heat-resistant substitute for glass.
posted by Cranberry at 1:51 PM on September 18, 2007

I just saw a movie version of her life a few months ago on PBS. They played it so fun, she talked to the camera. I recommend it if you like period pieces a la Masterpiece Theater.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 1:51 PM on September 18, 2007

My wife collects old and quirky recipe books, and I bought her a 1920s edition of Mrs Beeton for her wedding present. It's a remarkable document; every home should have one. You could reconstruct an entire way of life from it; the section on the duties of various household servants demonstrates that the past truly is a foreign country, while other parts are completely true and useful today. The section on house-moving I remember being fascinating; "three removes is as good - or as bad - as a fire".
posted by WPW at 3:41 PM on September 18, 2007

Mrs. Beeton: 2165. The butler, we have said, has charge of the contents of the cellars, and it is his duty to keep them in a proper condition, to fine down wine in wood, bottle it off....

Ambrosia Voyeur: I thought they just... butled.

They did, originally; "bottling" ---> "bottler" ---> "butler"
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:57 PM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Man. I've gotta get me some servants.
posted by Flunkie at 3:57 PM on September 18, 2007

Thanks so much for posting this. I have most of a copy of the 1898 edition (missing its front cover and entire index) and it's scary reading at times. I've never been game enough to try any of the recipes included but the book as a whole (particularly the notes for servants and the portion at the front detailing what a good kitchen should have in it) is such a fascinating read. A snapshot of the times, indeed.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:44 PM on September 18, 2007

Man. I've gotta get me some servants.

Sure, and you'll probably get tons of applicants. "Servant to flunkie" -- there's an impressive line for the résumé.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:10 PM on September 18, 2007

Cranberry: thank you. I was wondering about the crunchiness of some of those recipes.

Jesus, though, I now understand how she ruint British cooking: boil green beans for twenty minutes? And here I was sneaking raw ones at the farm.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:20 PM on September 18, 2007

Allow 1 new-laid egg to every large breakfast-cupful of tea or coffee...

donfactor, you'll want to keep the tea of coffee below about 60C, otherwise an egg-drop beverage-of-your-choice soup will result. I tried this (just) once with hot chocolate, and the results were... less than satisfying.
posted by bonehead at 6:28 AM on September 19, 2007

PORK CHEESE (an Excellent Breakfast Dish).

especially if you don't like cheese
posted by johnny7 at 8:02 AM on September 19, 2007

Derail: Does anyone know the name of an American woman who wrote a similar book in the 1830's. I thought when I saw this post that it was what I was looking for just last week, but I can't remember that lady's name.

You're thinking of Mrs. Dunwoody's Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping: Timeless Wisdom and Practical Advice. Which I can say, even as a guy with poor housekeeping practices, is an awesome book.
posted by TungstenChef at 11:05 AM on September 19, 2007

"To make Pomade for the Hair.

Another Recipe for Pomatum.

2254. INGREDIENTS - 8 oz. of olive-oil, 1 oz. of spermaceti, 3 pennyworth of essential oil of almonds, 3 pennyworth of essence of lemon.

Mode.—Mix these ingredients together, and store away in jars for use."

Now wait just a second. 1 oz. of what?
posted by operalass at 12:47 PM on September 19, 2007

Sperm whale nose wax, basically. Doesn't everyone have some in their medicine cabinet?
posted by bonehead at 12:59 PM on September 19, 2007

Thanks for that, bonehead; for a moment I thought Mrs. Beeton had gone all Farrelly brothers on us.
posted by operalass at 1:17 PM on September 19, 2007

To tell the truth, I'm not so certain that whale sinus hork is any better.
posted by bonehead at 1:29 PM on September 19, 2007

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