Posts Tagged ‘Modern Cookery for Private Families’

Classic Voices in Food is a new series of cookery books from publisher Quadrille. The nostalgic series rediscovers great cookery writers and heroes from as far back as the nineteenth century and is aimed at modern day cookery enthusiasts looking for a taste of times gone by. 

Publications which have been unavailable for decades, except to those ruthless collectors dropping lucky in a charity or second hand book shop, are being respectfully re-issued, unabridged, and given a new lease of life. Many are still relevant today and with interest in good food continually growing this series lets us revisit the books which started the food writing trend.  

The first two titles in the series launching this Spring are Madame Prunier’s Fish Cookery Book and Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families. The next two titles, Simple French Cooking for English Homes and The Gentle Art of Cookery, will be launching in September.


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Eliza Acton has been described as the first modern cookery writer, preceding Mrs Beeton by sixteen years. After trying her hand at teaching and writing poetry, she was encouraged by her publisher to turn her attention to something more practical; cookery writing. 

Modern Cookery for Private Families was first published 1845 and was an immediate success. The book remained popular for many years and was republished countless times. It wasn’t until the publication of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management that the success of the book started to dwindle. Modern Cookery however remained influential for many cookery book writers; Elizabeth David, Delia Smith and Mrs Beeton included. 

Modern Cookery made history, being the first cookery book to give detailed preparation and cooking instructions, to list ingredients with the exact quantities required and to discuss issues which may arise during the preparation of a dish along with advice on how to fix them. The book is filled with recipes she had quite clearly cooked and tested herself time and time again. She spoke from a wealth of experience. 

Her recipes were aimed at her peers; ordinary, middle-class, home cooks. At the time some of her audience may well have had staff, a maid or a cook, but Eliza made it possible for them to help out with grocery shopping, meal planning or step into the kitchen on such occasions when the staff weren’t available. Her book taught women how to provide their families with nutritious and tasty home-cooked meals.   

Modern Cookery for Private Families has stood the test of time and is well deserved of republication in the Classic Voices in Food series. The theme of the book resonates with the plight of many a modern British household. She argued that processed food, shop-bought bread, and the lost art of ‘preparing good, wholesome, palatable’ food was the cause of countless health problems and malnutrition. They may be different foods in question (fast food, microwavable ready meals or chocolate bars) and new health issues, such as obesity and heart disease, but it’s the same story. As a nation, we’ve forgotten how to cook, eat well and be healthy. 

In this book Eliza proves that you don’t have to be rich to eat good food. Understanding ingredients, knowing the best way to cook them, working with cheap ingredients and not wasting food can provide a far richer and wider range of meals than a few mistreated expensive ingredients. Just look now at the trend for cheap cuts of meat, eating in season when produce is abundant and therefore economical to buy, and the cries from influential food writers and chefs to get creative with leftovers, produce stocks from chicken carcasses and to make a little go a long way. In fact, it is traditional recipes for many of these ingredients from books like Modern Cookery which are today being re-invigorated by chefs, food writers and home cooks alike. 

This tome has 32 chapters covering everything from soups to baked puddings via souflles, curry and pickles. It’s a classic family cookery book full of wonderful traditional recipes which should be part of everyone’s cook book collection.

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