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  • Writer's pictureHeather Moll

Book Review: Before Mrs. Beeton

I research the Georgian era and have even tackled a few 19th century recipes, so the name Hannah Glasse came up often. Imagine my surprise to learn that a different woman owned two food shops, a cookery school for young ladies, created the first domestic servants’ employment agency, ran inns, collated a street and trade directory, and wrote an influential cookery book The Experienced English Housekeeper.

Before Mrs. Beeton: Elizabeth Raffald, England's Most Influential Housekeeper

by Neil Buttery from Pen & Sword

Elizabeth Raffald was a household name whose national notoriety sadly did not outlast her influence.

This biography tackles not only Elizabeth Raffald’s life and influence, but also places her in a social context of Britain in the Georgian era and what life was like being in service.

This centered on social history in the long eighteenth century rather than adding new understanding to Raffald. Chapter 6 focusing on the cookbook was my favorite. There are few primary sources to inform us about Raffald’s life and it was a heavier focus on how the Georgians influenced how we consume and prepare food today rather than on her. A must-read for anyone interested in eighteenth century cookery.

As an aside, I was irritated by this statement and others like it about Raffald’s alcoholic husband:

However, it is easy to be too hard on John: surely another contributing factor to John’s habitual drinking was that he felt emasculated by his wife’s successes…

Tell me a man wrote this book without telling me a man wrote this book. Still, Elizabeth's story and a look at Georgian era cookery and its influence is worth reading.

What nonfiction reads are you planning to read soon?

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I admit I never gave much thought about who came before Mrs. Beeton. Interesting to think of other enterprising women back then. What I have to say about these so-called emasculated men is not fit for this blog.

Heather Moll
Heather Moll

It was an interesting read. The comments about her success justifying her husband to drink it were … well, disappointing, to keep it PG.

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