Now that December is upon us, some of my blog posts may be of a festive nature. My family has recently uncovered our family copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management dating from 1888, so I thought that I would share some images of our copy, and of the festive recipes.
Who is Mrs Beeton?
Isabella Mary Mayson was born in Cheapside, London, in 1836. In July 1856 she married the publisher Samuel Orchard Beeton and took his name, becoming the Mrs Beeton that we know of today. She wrote monthly supplements in The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, and then in 1861 published the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. The book was aimed at middle-class women to help them navigate through married life. Isabella died young after complications resulting from childbirth, but her legacy lived on, and her husband, and then later others, updated her book throughout the years. The copy that my family owns dates from 1888 and includes colour plates and engravings to assist the reader. Whilst the pages are in fairly good condition, the binding and cover have not survived the years well, and the cover was replaced with brown paper at some point, which in turn has not survived well.
It is absolutely fascinating. Not just including recipes and recommendations for household management, the book also has adverts for the latest in modern technologies, like The “Piston” Freezing Machine and The Self-Feeding Refrigerator. The self-proclaimed ‘Christmas’ recipes number only three (although a section towards the back of the book provides numerous menus suitable for each particular month of the year). Let’s start with the Christmas Cake. At first glance the recipe and method of cooking doesn’t look dissimilar from the recipes that we use today. Personally I’m not a fan of fruit cake, so if there is any Christmas cake around I usually just eat the marzipan and icing, politely nibble a teeny weeny bit of the actual cake, and then try and fob off my uneaten cake to someone else (my father can usually be relied up to hoover up any unwanted food). I’m sad to say that Mrs Beeton’s Christmas cake wouldn’t have fared well with me at all, as it is lacking in marzipan or icing. On to the Christmas pudding, self-proclaimed to be ‘very good’. Again, out of personal preference it is not something that I like to eat, but Mrs Beeton’s recipe is quite intriguing. Firstly, she calls it a Christmas Plum-Pudding, although there aren’t any plums. However, the recipe appears to be similar to the Christmas puddings that we know of today. I like her suggestion of ‘1 wineglassful of brandy’. In my house, wine glasses tend to be quite full, so her recipe could be quite boozy! (Mary Berry would completely approve). This recipe calls for some decoration, unlike her Christmas cake, advising a sprig of holly to be placed on top of the pudding on Christmas day, followed by another wineglassful of brandy(!) to be poured over the pudding, so that it can be set alight and carried flaming ceremoniously to the dining table. The flaming pudding effect is something that my Mum tries to do whenever she has made her own Christmas pudding, but inevitably the flame has died out by the time the pudding reaches the dining room. Maybe we need to follow Mrs Beeton’s advice and tip a very full wine glass of brandy over the pudding, or just switch the lights off and set it aflame at the dining table. Mrs Beeton has also provided a Christmas pudding recipe for children, and rightly so with the amount of brandy recommended for her standard Christmas Plum-Pudding. I won’t be attempting to cook up any of Mrs Beeton’s recipes this Christmas, but I will be eating my fair share of festive food. I’m looking forward to goose fat roasted potatoes, giant Yorkshire puddings, bread sauce, mince pies and brandy butter. It’s well-known in the family that I require my own personal bowl of bread sauce at the dinner table, it’s definitely a highlight of Christmas dinner for me.
Are you a fellow Christmas lover? What is your favourite festive food?
[Anon.], ‘About Mrs. Beeton and Household Management’, Mrs Beeton, [n.d.] <http://www.mrsbeeton.com> [last accessed 28 November 2016]
Beeton, Mrs Isabella, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (London: Ward, Lock and Co., 1888)
Hughes, Katherine, ‘Mrs Beeton and the art of household management’, British Library, [n.d.] <https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/mrs-beeton-and-the-art-of-household-management> [last accessed 28 November 2016]