English Cookery Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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These are exemplified for the general public by that of Mrs beeton (1861) and for almost as many people by the work of her illustrious predecessor, Eliza acton (1845). Both belong to the mid-century and there are interesting things to be said about the decades before and after their books appeared.

The first half of the century was dominated, at least in terms of number of copies printed, by Mrs Rundell (1806), whose book A New System of Domestic Cookery had run into scores of editions by the 1860s. It began modestly enough as a relatively short compilation of recipes and surprised John Murray, the publisher, by its extraordinary success. It did not include many novel features, although it did have one of the first English recipes for tomato sauce; but it was evidently perceived as a highly practical work, neat in size and not encumbered by masses of obsolescent recipes such as weighed down many of the late 18th-century books with which it was competing. It must also have seemed less intimidating than a potential rival, the cookery book by the eccentric Dr Kitchiner (1817), entitled The Cook’s Oracle, festooned with footnotes and digressions, full of cookery lore but aimed more at people with a literary bent than at ordinary cooks. Kitchiner was perhaps the first English writer to be strongly influenced by grimod de la reynière, but he claimed also to have studied a very large number of earlier English cookery books, which he lists.