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Modern Cookery for Private Families

by Eliza Acton

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First published in 1845, this iconic text was authored by an aspiring poet. Eliza Acton, who was urged to ditch the sonnet for the syllabub—aka a frothy 16th-century drink made from curdled milk—takes liberties with her Victorian classics, lacing recipes for Christmas pudding and Italian ‘maccaroni’ (an early incarnation of Spaghetti Bolognese) with her signature wit.

from the publisher

The most widely used of all the Victorian cookery books, much admired for its limpid style and incomparable recipes, and for the classic English style it represents. Eliza Acton's receipts show English cookery at its very best, before the over-elaboration of late Victorianism overtook it. She was writing for small families, so quantities in the recipes hardly need to be altered.

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Features & Stories

Q&A: Annabel Abbs on Eliza Acton

Q&A: Annabel Abbs on Eliza Acton

Annabel Abbs’s new novel (Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen in the US and The Language of Food in the UK) tells the story of Eliza Acton, author of the ground-breaking Victorian cookbook Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845). Abbs’s novel explores the creativity and joy of cooking and aims to bring Acton out of the archives and back into the public eye. The book is being made into a television miniseries by CBS in the US by Stampede Ventures, which will give Acton and her work some well-deserved limelight.

Recommended by

Frances Bissell

Food writer

It was either Miss Acton or Prospect Books’ facsimile edition of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery but in the end it has to be the writer cook who paved the way for us all, in a sense, because Eliza Acton was the first to write down a recipe in the formula with which we are familiar today, including a list of ingredients, a detailed method, observations and cooking time, and recipes which were designed to be used in the home, every day, rather than restaurant or banquet food. Published in 1845, Acton’s food is extraordinarily modern and her writing is detailed to the point of being an extremely good read.

The Gastrogays


We’ve got such an odd fascination with old cookbooks, the classical of the classic texts. While we’d rarely even contemplate making anything from it, this book is fascinating to see how the diets and tastes have changed over the years, as well as how ingredients once described as “exotic” are now commonplace and marvel at antiquated cooking methods and measurements. We often play around with recipes from it, to see if we can put a modern take on an almost extinct dish.

Glyn Hughes

Food historian

This is the first modern cookery book. Acton, born in Sussex, was one of the first writers to give complete lists of ingredients and their quantities and described her method as being 'reduced to a system of easy practice'. 'Modern Cookery' continued to be updated and re-issued until well into the 20th Century. She is also slightly famous for her poetry.

Annabel Abbs

Novelist, cook and food blogger

My number one, of course! Acton is regarded as the inventor of the modern cook book and of the recipe, but she was also the inventor of gorgeous ‘food prose’ – as befitted her poetic past. Her Apple and Ginger Soup, Chocolate Custards and Acton Gingerbread are family favourites in my house.

Regula Ysewijn

Food photographer, writer and graphic designer

Where do I start? Her fantastic writing as if you are reading a novel? Her clear views agains adulterated food and the use of chemicals? The fact that although she clearly loved France, she also respected and loved British food and culture? She should have been remembered, not Mrs Beeton.

Richard Corrigan


One of the country’s first cookbooks aimed to demystify the secrets of the stove to the domestic readers. A Victorian Nigella Lawson if you want... The infamous Mrs Beeton’s book of household management was closely modelled on it, if not a little ‘borrowed’ in places.

Geraldene Holt

Professional food writer and broadcaster

Eliza Acton's books reveal years of practical experience in a 19th century kitchen. She was a Francophiile with a discriminating palate who understood the challenge and delight of domestic cooking which she described with a fine turn of phrase that is a joy to read..

Emma Kay

Food writer

The marvellous, brilliant and talented cook, Eliza Acton was plagiarised by Beeton and neglected within the annals of culinary history for decades. She combined original cookery writing with specific timings and measurements, long before it was common practice.

Sybil Kapoor

Writer and broadcaster

I use an unabridged facsimile published by Southover Press Beautifully written, I always return to this book when I want to regain a sense of the simplicity and beauty of British cooking. Her recipes work, but you can just use it for ideas.

Bridget Henisch

Medieval food historian

Annie Gray

Food historian

Jill Norman

Author and editor

Henry Notaker

Literary historian

Mary-Anne Boermans

Cookbook author