Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Mrs Beeton

Mrs Beeton Goes Vegetarian

Illustration of vegetarian dishes, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 edition

‘A Vegetarian Society has been founded at Ramsgate by a gathering of vegetarians from many parts of the kingdom.  Its objective is to promote the use of a farinaceous and fruit diet, in preference to the use of flesh.  At the head of the Society is Joseph Brotherton Esq, MP who stated that he had abstained from eating animal food for the last thirty-eight years, during which he had enjoyed excellent health.’

The Preston Guardian, Saturday 20th November, 1847

In 1847 the first Vegetarian Society was founded.  The inaugural meeting took place on 30th September, 1847 at a Physiological Conference staged at Northwood Villa Hydropathic Institute in Ramsgate.  The first public meeting of the society was held in Manchester the following year.  The Society had 889 members in 1853 and by 1897 membership had swelled to 5,000.  In 1908 The International Vegetarian Union was founded to oversea the growing number of individual Societies.  Mrs Beeton acknowledged this increasingly popular food movement and included a chapter on ‘Vegetarian Cookery’ in the 1915 edition of her Book of Household Management (first published in 1861). One of the key publications that influenced much of The Vegetarian Society’s early doctrines was John Smith’s (of Malton) Fruits and Farinacea – The Proper Food of Man. Smith also wrote a book on vegetarian cooking called Vegetable Cookery, published in 1866.

Vegetable illustration from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 edition

At the Vegetarian Society’s annual dinner in 1848 the members were treated to an extraordinary meat-free spread:

  • First course – savoury omelet; macaroni omelet; rice fritters; forcemeat fritters, onion and sage fritters; bread and parsley fritters; savoury pie; mushroom pie; potatoes; peas; cauliflowers; beetroot;
  • Second course – plum pudding; fruit tarts, moulded rice; moulded sago; cheese cakes; blanc mange; custards; creams; sponge cakes; grapes; currants; gooseberries; figs; nuts; almonds and raisins.

Mrs Beeton said of Vegetarianism: ‘In England the question has come to the front on the ground of dietetic reform, and a number of persons known as “Vegetarians” abstain from animal food altogether, or take it only in such forms as milk, cheese, butter and eggs. The stricter adherents, however, abstain from the use of some or all of these products.  Other people, while not classing themselves as vegetarians, consider that a less quantity of food than is generally eaten is sufficient to keep the body in good health, and avail themselves of the various dishes tastefully served at the numerous vegetarian restaurants which are now common in London and other large towns.’ (p. 1317, 1915 edition).

Vegetable illustration from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 edition

Here a few of my favourite vegetarian recipes from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition):

Hotchpotch Soup

Ingredients – 3 ozs of pearl-barley, 1 small cabbage, 2 carrots, 1 turnip, 2 onions, parsley and herbs, 2 ozs of butter, salt and pepper, 3 quarts of water.

Method – Put the barley on the fire with the cold water.  Scrape or grate one of the carrots, and put it aside in a little water.  Chop all the rest of the vegetables very small, and when the water boils put them in with the butter, salt and pepper.  There should be enough vegetable to make it rather thick.  Boil it all for 2 hours, then add the scraped carrots, and boil for another 30 minutes. Takes 3 hours to make and is sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

Spinach souffles from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 edition.

Asparagus Soufflé

Ingredients – 50 green asparagus heads, cooked and well-drained, 2 ozs of butter, 1 1/2 ozs of flour, 2 ozs of grated Parmesan cheese, 2 yolks of eggs, 3 whites of eggs, 1/2 a pint of milk, salt and pepper.

Method – Heat the butter in a stewpan, stir in the flour, and add the milk.  Beat and cook the mixture over the fire until it leaves the sides of the pan, then add the yolks of eggs, and a little salt and pepper.  Beat well, add the cheese, stir in the stiffly whisked whites of eggs, and lastly the asparagus heads, or the pureé thereof.  Turn into a well-buttered soufflé dish, and back in a moderately hot oven for about 20 minutes. Sufficient for 3 or 4 persons.

Macaroni and Cream

Ingredients -1/2 a lb of macaroni, 2 ozs of Gruyère cheese grated, 2 ozs of Parmesan cheese grated, 2 ozs of butter, 1/3 of a pint of cream, salt and pepper, triangles of fried or toasted bread.

Method – Break the macaroni into short lengths, throw them into boiling salted water, and boil rapidly for 20 minutes, or until tender.  Heat the butter, drain and add the macaroni, stir in the cheese and cream, and season to taste.  Make quite hot, and serve garnished with sippets of bread.  Takes 1/2 an hour to make and is sufficient for 2 or 3 persons.

 Onion Pudding

Ingredients – 8 ozs of flour, 2 ozs of breadcrumbs, 3 or 4 ozs of butter (1 tablespoonful of olive oil may be substituted), 1 teaspoonful of baking powder, 1 saltspoonful of salt, water.  For the mixture: 3 or 4 large mild onions, 2 tablespoonfuls of breadcrumbs, 1/4 of a teaspoonful of sage, salt and pepper, 1 or 2 ozs of butter.

Method – Cut the peeled onions into small dice, place them in a pie-dish with the breadcrumbs, butter, sage, and season with salt and pepper, cover closely, and bake gently for 1 hour.  Rub the butter into the flour and breadcrumbs, add the baking powder and salt, and sufficient water to form a rather stiff paste.  Line a basin with the paste, put in the mixture when cool, cover with paste, and afterwards with 2 or 3 folds of greased paper, and steam for 2 hours.  Service in the basin, and send brown sauce to table separately.  Takes 3  1/2 hours to make and is sufficient for 3 or 4 persons.

Savoury Semolina

Ingredients – 4 ozs of semolina, 2 ozs of grated cheese, 2 ozs of butter, 1 teaspoonful of made mustard, pepper and salt, cayenne, breadcrumbs, 1 quart of milk.

Method – Boil-up the milk, sprinkle in the semolina, stir and cook for 15 minutes, then add the cheese, butter, mustard and pepper, salt and cayenne to taste.  Turn into a buttered gratin dish, or several china scallop shells, sprinkle liberally with breadcrumbs and cheese, and add a few very small pieces of butter.  Brown in a hot oven, and serve.  Takes 1/2 an hour to make and is sufficient for 3 or 4 persons.

Vegetable Goose

Ingredients – 1/2 a lb of breadcrumbs soaked in cold water, 1 onion, 1 teaspoonful of chopped parsley and herbs, 1 oz of butter, pepper and salt.

Method – Squeeze the bread nearly dry, and mash it, mix in the other ingredients, chopped small.  Butter a Yorkshire pudding-dish, put in the mixture, and bake in a good oven for about 3/4 hour. Serve hot and cut in squares.  Takes about 1  1/2 hours to make and is sufficient for 2 persons.

Lentil Porridge

Ingredients – 3 ozs of lentil flour, 1 pint of water, salt, butter.

Method – Put the flour and salt in a basin, with a little cold water, add the rest of the water boiling, put it on the fire, and boil for 20 minutes.  Stir in the butter just before serving.  Half lentil and half barley or wheat-flour is preferred by some, and makes a close imitation of the Revalenta Arabica, so much-advertised for invalids.  Takes 10 minutes to make and is sufficient for 2 persons.

Pea Fritters

Ingredients – Cold brose, or lentil porridge, breadcrumbs, herbs, onions, seasoning, flour, frying-fat.

Method – Mix the cold porridge about its own bulk in breadcrumbs.  Add a little chopped onion and sweet herbs, and seasoning  taste.  Shape the preparation into flat cakes, flour them, and fry a nice brown in the frying-pan.  Takes 10 minutes to make.

In strict vegetarian cookery suet is replaced by one of the nut batters, now so plentiful on the market.  In Italy and Corsica a flour made from dried chestnuts is much used. It is of a dark-brown colour, and richly nitrogenous.  Carefully used, it makes excellent puddings and cakes.’ (Mrs Beeton, p. 1342, 1915 edition)


Ingredients – 1/2 a lb of flour, 1/2 a lb of golden syrup, 2 ozs of butter, 1 teaspoonful of baking-powder, 1/2 a teaspoonful of ground ginger, 1 egg, salt.

Method – Mix the baking-powder and ginger with the flour, rub in the butter, add the treacle and the egg, well beaten, and mix all together; flour a pudding cloth, put in the mixture, and boil for 1 1/2 hours, serve with butter sauce.  Takes 2 hours to make and is sufficient to feed 2 or 3 persons.

Pastry Without Butter

Ingredients – 1 lb  flour, 1 teaspoonful of baking-powder, a small wineglassful of salad-oil, water.

Method – Mix the flour and baking-powder.  Add the oil to cold water, and stir the paste to a proper consistency for rolling.  Fold it over and roll it out 2 or 3 times, place on a baking tin, and bake immediately.

Vegetable illustration from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 edition.