Do you recognize the name Isabella Beeton? No worries if you don’t. Beeton is not very well known today, but in the 19th century she was a housewife’s best friend.
Beeton authored a guidebook entitled The Book of Household Management Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: With a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.
The book’s length matched its substantial title. It was more than 1,000 pages long.
The guide’s intended audience was newly middle-class women who would not have learned in their formative years how to, for example, hire servants.
Beeton wrote a column on domestic management and cooking for Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, a periodical owned by her husband. She was the the eldest of 21 children but had little cooking or housekeeping experience. Nevertheless, her column was a success, and the articles were compiled into a book in 1861.
Beeton died in 1865 at only 28 years old. Updated editions of The Book of Household Management continued to be published long after her death, and are still in print today.
The recipes that appeared in The Book of Household Management were accompanied by illustrations, but Beeton didn’t write them. They were plagiarized from other sources. Many had been submitted by the magazine’s readers.
Beeton did, however, tweak the recipes she “borrowed.”
“She was one of the first cookery writers to list all the ingredients at the beginning of the recipe, so that the housewife could make sure she had everything she needed before she started,” Professor Kathryn Hughes says. “She was also more accurate about timings and temperatures than any of her predecessors.”
Here is an example of a recipe. It appears in chapter 10, “Sauces, Pickles, Gravies, and Forcemeats.”
APPLE SAUCE FOR GEESE, PORK
INGREDIENTS – 6 good-sized apples, sifted sugar to taste, a piece of butter the size of a walnut, water.
Mode.—Pare, core, and quarter the apples, and throw them into cold water to preserve their whiteness. Put them in a saucepan, with sufficient water to moisten them, and boil till soft enough to pulp. Beat them up, adding sugar to taste, and a small piece of butter This quantity is sufficient for a good-sized tureen.
Time.—According to the apples, about 3/4 hour. Average cost, 4d.
Sufficient, this quantity, for a goose or couple of ducks.
The book also contained advice on how to properly run a household. Beeton took the role of guide very seriously. She felt keeping house was just as important as any man’s job, according to Hughes.
The following is from chapter 1, “The Mistress”:
AS WITH THE COMMANDER OF AN ARMY, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those acquirements, which more particularly belong to the feminine character, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependent the happiness, comfort, and well-being of a family. In this opinion we are borne out by the author of “The Vicar of Wakefield,” who says: “The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy, who reclaims the one from vice and trains up the other to virtue, is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from their quiver, or their eyes.”
Beeton also believed the proper running of a household contributed to marital bliss and would prevent a husband from straying.
Updated: 20 October 2020