Meet one of the most successful cookbook authors in history, Mrs. Isabella Beeton. Yes, that Mrs. Beeton.
Although she died in 1865, just about a month before her twenty-ninth birthday (of peritonitis and puerperal fever, following the birth of her fourth child), Mrs. Beeton remains a household name through much of the English-speaking world.
Her book, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management has been reprinted, updated, and collected ever since it was first published in 1861.
In fact, I have two different versions in my own collection. One is my own copy of the 1992 edition that I bought shortly before I got married. The other is my mother’s long-cherished copy sans a publication date. My guess is that it dates back to somewhere between the late 1930’s and the fall of the British Raj. Why? Because of the sorts of recipes, the instructions included with them, the advertisements shown on the endpapers, and the fact that there is a significant section on cooking in India.
The recipes are, of course, a major reason for the long popularity of the franchise. Over time, old recipes that are no longer fashionable or practical have been dropped in favor of things more in line with modern tastes. The sheer range of recipes makes the volume a great choice if you only have room or interest for one or two cookbooks in your world. And despite the common wisdom, there have never been very many extravagant dishes, nor was anyone ever instructed to ‘first catch your hare.’ Mrs. Beeton didn’t worry about whether you found your meat at the market or in the local Lord’s woods. Her concern was making sure you cooked it in the tastiest, most healthful possible ways and carved it neatly so that every person at the table could get an equal and attractive share.
But there’s a great deal more to the Book of Household Management than just the recipes. After all, there’s a lot more to managing a household than cooking. From the first, the Book has included lots of information on cleaning, organizing finances, child care, and medical advice. My 1992 edition includes a rather fascinating section on legal issues, and the older one has a section to teach your servants how to wait at table properly.
Did Isabella know her stuff? Well, she was the oldest of four children. Her father, Benjamin Mayson, died quite early. Her mother then remarried a gentleman named Henry Dorling, who was a widower with four children of his own. The Dorlings proceeded to have another thirteen children. That made Isabella the eldest of twenty-two offspring. I’m guessing her emphasis on practical matters and economical management was based strongly in her early life.
You can find the complete text of the original book at ExClassics.com, but I’m going to go ahead and include one of the recipes here To Dress Carrots in the German Way:
TO DRESS CARROTS IN THE GERMAN WAY.
1101. INGREDIENTS.– 8 large carrots, 3 oz. of butter, salt to taste, a very little grated nutmeg, 1 tablespoonful of finely-minced parsley, 1 dessertspoonful of minced onion, rather more than 1 pint of weak stock or broth, 1 tablespoonful of flour.
Mode.– Wash and scrape the carrots, and cut them into rings of about 1/4 inch in thickness. Put the butter into a stewpan; when it is melted, lay in the carrots, with salt, nutmeg, parsley, and onion in the above proportions. Toss the stewpan over the fire for a few minutes, and when the carrots are well saturated with the butter, pour in the stock, and simmer gently until they are nearly tender. Then put into another stewpan a small piece of butter; dredge in about a tablespoonful of flour; stir this over the fire, and when of a nice brown colour, add the liquor that the carrots have been boiling in; let this just boil up, pour it over the carrots in the other stewpan, and let them finish simmering until quite tender. Serve very hot.
This vegetable, dressed as above, is a favourite accompaniment of roast pork, sausages, &c. &c.
Time.– About 3/4 hour. Average cost, 6d. to 8d. per bunch of 18.
Sufficient for 6 or 7 persons.
Seasonable.– Young carrots from April to June, old ones at any time.
See? No need whatsoever to catch your own hare. But you could cook that today, and it would still be nice with pork.