New College of the Humanities

The British Housewife

Patrick Dillon | Published in

The British  Housewife: Cookery Books, Cooking and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain
Gilly Lehmann
Prospect Books  566pp 
ISBN: 0 903018 04 8

If the Prospect Books computer was stolen, food history would take years to recover. The latest offering from this specialist publisher is Gilly Lehmann’s absorbing investigation into eighteenth-century cookery books, which she uses not only to reveal the what, how and when of Georgian eating, but as the starting-point for a more wide-ranging social study. Who wrote cookbooks and who bought them? What did they learn from them? This is a history of aspiration as much as of reality. We eat junk food while watching celebrity chefs on TV; eighteenth-century households might admire French cuisine on the page, but their habits could be very different.

The beginning of the century saw court cookery, inspired by Versailles, at its zenith. This was the age of ‘olios’ and ‘bisques’, of lavish ingredients tumbled together with baroque magnificence. The culinary stars were court cooks like Patrick Lamb. Significantly, though, publishing success went to women writers whose recipes often harked back to older practice, and who, Delia-like, simplified the court style to something people could try at home.

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