I recently made a thrilling discovery in my parent’s attic, an edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1915 by Ward, Lock & Co., Limited. My mother had carefully packed the treasured and well-loved hand-me-down into a storage crate. Unfortunately, the book was put to rest as it had become a little too well-loved and fallen into a rather parlous state. The first edition, printed in 1861, sold 60,000 copies and by 1868 sales had topped 2 million. The 1915 edition has twice the number of pages and is four times the size of the first edition. It includes hundreds of photographs, numerous coloured plates and over 2,000 new recipes contributed by Swiss Chef, Mr C. Herman Senn and his team. Herman Senn was a prolific writer of cookery books and one of the founders of the Universal Cookery and Food Association (UCFA), which evolved into the organisation now known as The Craft Guild of Chefs. Many of these new recipes helped to add an international dimension to the book. This edition also features a section on ‘Colonial and Foreign Cookery’, aimed at ‘…Britons living under other skies’, so that they could, ‘…learn how to combine the dishes of their adopted country with those of the Motherland ……and give a complimentary and characteristic repast when welcoming guests from abroad.’ (1915:Vii)
Isabella Mary Beeton (née Mayson) was born on the 12th March 1836 and died on 6th February 1865 after contracting puerperal fever following the birth of her fourth child. Mrs Beeton was a working journalist and made frequent contributions to her husband’s magazine, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. The Beeton’s first home was a large Italianate property at 2 Chandos Villas on the Woodridings Estate in Hatch End which they moved into after one month’s marriage in August 1856. The move to Hatch End was a turning point for Isabella. She found herself running a household and in charge of staff for the first time. She began to write extensively articles on all aspects of household management and cooking, to help over young women who had found themselves in a similar position of running a home for the first time. The readership for Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management was predominately low to mid-level members of the Victorian/Edwardian middle-classes. Her writing elevates mundane domestic tasks to the level of professional craft.
There are some food historians who believe Mrs Beeton’s book to have very little relevance for the modern-day cook, I beg to differ. Although many of the ingredients stated are no longer available, such as ivory dust, the techniques given in many of the recipes are still as useful and relevant today as they were 150 years ago. I look forward to bringing you some of my favourite selections from this edition.