Recipe writing from the 18th to the early 20th centuries

On these pages you will find a selection of old recipes that both exemplify some of the key under-represented characters in British culinary heritage, as well as demonstrating significant dishes from their eras.

First published in 1817 William Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle is a wonderfully written, illustrated and informative cook book that contains a level of detail, which only a cook themselves would be able to relay. Like Eliza Acton, who would not emerge for at least another twenty years, Kitchiner’s style was comprehensive, commonsensical and written from personal experience. Whilst many recipe writers throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century shockingly and regularly plagiarized each others work, there is an originality to Kitchiner’s recipes that were frequently tried and tested during his notorius dinner parties and through tireless scientific experimentation in his own kitchen. An interesting, witty, eccentric polymath – Like so many of his time, Kitchiner has sadly dropped off the radar of history’s influential cook’s. His ‘potatoes fried in slices’ may actually be the first example of a published recipe for crisps in England.

Cooks Oracle William Kitchiner 1817 potaoes fried in slices

George Edwin’s Cups and their Customs is a charming little book recalling the history and traditions attached to mixed drinks and punches in Britain. Published in 1863 it reflects on bygone times and lost forgotten folklore, making it a truly interesting historical account of drinking customs and recipes.

Cups and Customs Recipe

Edwin’s recipe for a ‘Wassail Bowl’, which in the nineteenth century was still frequently drunk on Christmas Eve is illustrated above. In Jesus College, Oxford, we are told it was also drunk on the Festival of St. David, out of a silver gilt bowl holding ten gallons, which was presented to the College by Sir Watkin William Wynne, in 1732.

When I think of nineteenth century Victorian female advocates of culinary excellence, I tend to consider both Eliza Acton and Agnes Bertha Marshall. Two women well ahead of their time and sadly once again transcended in the record books by cultural ‘heroines’ such as Isabella Beeton. Who mostly just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Unlike much of the plagiarized work of Beeton, Acton cooked every dish she wrote about in her own kitchen. She also pioneered the use of quantities and cooking times and provided proper detailed ‘methods’ alongside the recipes themselves. This recipe for the popular nineteenth century dish Mock Turtle Soup (in which a calf’s head frequently substituted for the turtle) taken from Eliza Acton’s 1845, Modern Cookery For Private Families, nicely demonstrates her wonderful art for communicating the recipe and its method for the absolute benefit of the reader/cook.

Eliza Actons Mock Turtle1Eliza Actons Mock Turtle2

As mentioned, Agnes Bertha Marshall was a cook, educator, writer, inventor, entrepreneur and all round culinary genius. Perhaps due to dying relatively young at the age of fifty; the rights to all her work sold and her business badly managed after death, Agnes’s legacy was not retained. She established the elite Marshall’s School of Cookery and toured the country demonstrating her own personalised inventions for the kitchen. In particular she excelled in manufacturing small scale early refrigeration units to make ice cream. The following recipes from her Book of Ices, first published around 1885 demonstrates her creativity in this area.

A.B Marshall from Book of Ices

We tend to associate food rationing primarily with the Second World War, but of course it was very much enforced throughout and for a time after the First World War, as May Byron’s Rations Book recipes for rice pie, rissoles and creative sausages from 1918 determine.May Byron's Rations Book 1918


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