Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine, by William Carew Hazlitt


Cookery Books.

Part III.

In 1747 appeared a thin folio volume, of which I will transcribe the title: “The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, which far Exceeds Every Thing of the Kind Ever yet Published . . . By a Lady. London: Printed for the Author; and sold at Mrs. Ashburn’s, a China Shop, the Corner of Fleet Ditch. MDCCXLVII.” The lady was no other than Mrs. Glasse, wife of an attorney residing in Carey Street; and a very sensible lady she was, and a very sensible and interesting book hers is, with a preface showing that her aim was to put matters as plainly as she could, her intention being to instruct the lower sort. “For example,” says she, “when I bid them lard a fowl, if I should bid them lard with large lardoons they would not know what I meant; but when I say they must lard with little pieces of Bacon, they know what I mean.” I have been greatly charmed with Hannah Glasse’s “Art of Cookery,” 1747, and with her “Complete Confectioner” likewise in a modified degree. The latter was partly derived, she tells you, from the manuscript of “a very old experienced housekeeper to a family of the first distinction.” But, nevertheless, both are very admirable performances; and yet the compiler survives scarcely more than in an anecdote for which I can see no authority. For she does not say, “First catch your hare” [Footnote: Mrs. Glasse’s cookery book was reprinted at least as late as 1824].

Mrs. Glasse represents that, before she undertook the preparation of the volume on confectionery, there was nothing of the kind for reference and consultation. But we had already a curious work by E. Kidder, who was, according to his title-page, a teacher of the art which he expounded eventually in print. The title is sufficiently descriptive: “E. Kidder’s Receipts of Pastry and Cookery, for the use of his Scholars, who teaches at his School in Queen Street, near St. Thomas Apostle’s, [Footnote: In another edition his school is in St. Martin’s Le Grand] on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, in the afternoon. Also on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, in the afternoon, at his School next to Furnivalls Inn in Holborn. Ladies may be taught at their own Houses.” It is a large octavo, consisting of fifty pages of engraved text, and is embellished with a likeness of Mr. Kidder. For all that Mrs. Glasse ignores him.

I have shown how Mrs. Glasse might have almost failed to keep a place in the public recollection, had it not been for a remark which that lady did not make. But there is a still more singular circumstance connected with her and her book, and it is this — that in Dr. Johnson’s day, and possibly in her own lifetime, a story was current that the book was really written by Dr. Hill the physician. That gentleman’s claim to the authorship has not, of course, been established, but at a dinner at Dilly’s the publisher’s in 1778, when Johnson, Miss Seward, and others were present, a curious little discussion arose on the subject. Boswell thus relates the incident and the conversation:—

“The subject of cookery having been very naturally introduced at a table, where Johnson, who boasted of the niceness of his palate, avowed that ‘he always found a good dinner,’ he said, ‘I could write a better book about cookery than has ever yet been written; it should be a book upon philosophical principles. Pharmacy is now made much more simple. Cookery may be so too. A prescription, which is now compounded of five ingredients, had formerly fifty in it. So in Cookery. If the nature of the ingredients is well known, much fewer will do. Then, as you cannot make bad meat good, I would tell what is the best butcher’s meat, the best beef, the best pieces; how to choose young fowls; the proper seasons of different vegetables; and then how to roast, and boil, and compound.”

Dilly: —“Mrs. Glasse’s ‘Cookery,’ which is the best, was written by Dr. Hill. Half the trade know this.”

Johnson: —“Well, Sir, that shews how much better the subject of cookery may be treated by a philosopher. I doubt if the book be written by Dr Hill; for in Mrs. Glasse’s Cookery, which I have looked into, saltpetre and salt-prunella are spoken of as different substances, whereas salt-prunella is only saltpetre burnt on charcoal; and Hill could not be ignorant of this. However, as the greatest part of such a book is made by transcription, this mistake may have been carelessly adopted. But you shall see what a book of cookery I could make. I shall agree with Mr. Dilly for the copyright.”

Miss Seward: —“That would be Hercules with the distaff indeed!”

Johnson: —“No, Madam. Women can spin very well; but they cannot make a good book of cookery.”

But the Doctor’s philosophical cookery book belongs to the voluminous calendar of works which never passed beyond the stage of proposal; he did not, so far as we know, ever draw out a title-page, as Coleridge was fond of doing; and perhaps the loss is to be borne with. The Doctor would have pitched his discourse in too high a key.

Among the gastronomical enlargements of our literature in the latter half of the last century, one of the best books in point of classification and range is that by B. Clermont, of which the third edition made its appearance in 1776, the first having been anonymous. Clermont states that he had been clerk of the kitchen in some of the first families of the kingdom, and lately to the Earl of Abingdon. But elsewhere we find that he had lived very recently in the establishment of the Earl of Ashburnham, for he observes in the preface: “I beg the candour of the Public will excuse the incorrectness of the Language and Diction. My situation in life as an actual servant to the Earl of Ashburnham at the time of the first publication of this Book will I trust plead my Apology.” He informs his readers on the title-page, and repeats in the preface, that a material part of the work consists of a translation of “Les Soupers de la Cour,” and he proceeds to say, that he does not pretend to make any further apology for the title of supper, than that the French were, in general, more elegant in their suppers than their dinners. In other words, the late dinner was still called supper.

The writer had procured the French treatise from Paris for his own use, and had found it of much service to him in his capacity as clerk of the kitchen, and he had consequently translated it, under the persuasion that it would prove an assistance to gentlemen, ladies, and others interested in such matters. He specifies three antecedent publications in France, of which his pages might be considered the essence, viz., “La Cuisine Royale,” “Le Maître d’Hôtel Cuisinier,” and “Les Dons de Comus”; and he expresses to some of his contemporaries, who had helped him in his researches, his obligations in the following terms:—“As every country produces many Articles peculiar to itself, and considering the Difference of Climates, which either forward or retard them, I would not rely on my own Knowledge, in regard to such Articles; I applied therefore to three Tradesmen, all eminent in their Profession, one for Fish, one for Poultry, and one for the productions of the Garden, viz., Mr. Humphrey Turner, the Manager in St. James’s Market; Mr. Andrews, Poulterer in ditto; and Mr. Adam Lawson, many years chief gardener to the Earl of Ashburnham; in this article I was also assisted by Mr. Rice, Green-Grocer, in St. Albans Street.” Clermont dates his remarks from Princes Street, Cavendish Square.

While Mrs. Glasse was still in the middle firmament of public favour, a little book without the writer’s name was published as by “A Lady.” I have not seen the first or second editions; but the third appeared in 1808. It is called “A New System of Domestic Cookery, Formed upon Principles of Economy, and Adapted to the use of Private Families.” The author was Helene Rundell, of whom I am unable to supply any further particulars at present. Mrs. Rundell’s cookery book, according to the preface, was originally intended for the private instruction of the daughters of the authoress in their married homes, and specially prepared with an eye to housekeepers of moderate incomes. Mrs. Rundell did not write for professed cooks, or with any idea of emolument; and she declared that had such a work existed when she first set out in life it would have been a great treasure to her. The public shared the writer’s estimate of her labours, and called for a succession of impressions of the “New System,” till its run was checked by Miss Acton’s still more practical collection. Mrs. Rundell is little consulted nowadays; but time was when Mrs. Glasse and herself were the twin stars of the culinary empyrean.

Coming down to our own times, the names most familiar to our ears are Ude, Francatelli, and Soyer, and they are the names of foreigners [Footnote: A fourth work before me has no clue to the author, but it is like the others, of an alien complexion. It is called “French Domestic Cookery, Combining Elegance and Economy. In twelve Hundred Receipts, 12mo, 1846.” Soyer’s book appeared in the same year. In 1820, an anonymous writer printed a Latin poem of his own composition, called “Tabella Cibaria, a Bill of Fare, etc., etc., with Copious Notes,” which seem more important than the text]. No English school of cookery can be said ever to have existed in England. We have, and have always had, ample material for making excellent dishes; but if we desire to turn it to proper account, we have to summon men from a distance to our aid, or to accept the probable alternative — failure. The adage, “God sends meat, and the devil sends cooks,” must surely be of native parentage, for of no country is it so true as of our own. Perhaps, had it not been for the influx among us of French and Italian experts, commencing with our Anglo-Gallic relations under the Plantagenets, and the palmy days of the monastic orders, culinary science would not have arrived at the height of development which it has attained in the face of great obstacles. Perchance we should not have progressed much beyond the pancake and oatmeal period. But foreign chefs limit their efforts to those who can afford to pay them for their services. The middle classes do not fall within the pale of their beneficence. The poor know them not. So it happens that even as I write, the greater part of the community not only cannot afford professional assistance in the preparation of their meals, which goes without saying, but from ignorance expend on their larder twice as much as a Parisian or an Italian in the same rank of life, with a very indifferent result. There are handbooks of instruction, it is true, both for the middle and for the lower classes. These books are at everybody’s command. But they are either left unread, or if read, they are not understood. I have before me the eleventh edition of Esther Copley’s “Cottage Comforts,” 1834; it embraces all the points which demand attention from such as desire to render a humble home comfortable and happy. The leaves have never been opened. I will not say, ex hoc disce omnes; but it really appears to be the case, that these works are not studied by those for whom they are written — not studied, at all events, to advantage.

Dr. Kitchener augmented this department of our literary stores in 1821 with his “Cook’s Oracle,” which was very successful, and passed through a series of editions.

In the preface to that of 1831, the editor describes the book as greatly enlarged and improved, and claims the “rapid and steady sale which has invariably attended each following edition” as a proof of the excellence of the work. I merely mention this, because in Kitchener’s own preface to the seventh issue, l2mo, 1823, he says: “This last time I have found little to add, and little to alter.” Such is human fallibility!

The “Cook’s Oracle” was heralded by an introduction which very few men could have written, and which represents the Doctor’s method of letting us know that, if we fancy him an impostor, we are much mistaken. “The following Recipes,” says he, “are not a mere marrowless collection of shreds and patches, of cuttings and pastings — but a bonâ-fide register of practical facts — accumulated by a perseverance, not to be subdued or evaporated by the igniferous Terrors of a Roasting Fire in the Dog-days:— in defiance of the odoriferous and calefaceous repellents of Roasting, Boiling — Frying, and Broiling; — moreover, the author has submitted to a labour no preceding Cookery-Book-maker, perhaps, ever attempted to encounter — having eaten each Receipt before he set it down in his Book.”

What could critics say, after this? One or two large editions must have been exhausted before they recovered their breath, and could discover how the learned Kitchener set down the receipts which he had previously devoured. But the language of the Preface helps to console us for the loss of Johnson’s threatened undertaking in this direction.

Dr. Kitchener proceeded on different lines from an artist who closely followed him in the order of publication; and the two did not probably clash in the slightest degree. The cooking world was large enough to hold Kitchener and the ci-devant chef to the most Christian King Louis XVI. and the Right Honourable the Earl of Sefton, Louis Eustache Ude. Ude was steward to the United Service Club, when he printed his “French Cook” in 1822. A very satisfactory and amusing account of this volume occurs in the “London Magazine” for January 1825. But whatever may be thought of Ude nowadays, he not only exerted considerable influence on the higher cookery of his day, but may almost be said to have been the founder of the modern French school in England.

Ude became chef at Crockford’s Club, which was built in 1827, the year in which his former employer, the Duke of York, died. There is a story that, on hearing of the Duke’s illness, Ude exclaimed, “Ah, mon pauvre Duc, how much you shall miss me where you are gone!”

About 1827, Mrs. Johnstone brought out her well-known contribution to this section of literature under the title of “The Cook and Housewife’s Manual,” veiling her authorship under the pseudonym of Mistress Margaret Dods, the landlady in Scott’s tale of “St. Ronan’s Well,” which appeared three years before (8vo, 1824).

Mrs. Johnstone imparted a novel feature to her book by investing it with a fictitious history and origin, which, like most inventions of the kind, is scarcely consistent with the circumstances, however it may tend to enliven the monotony of a professional publication.

After three prefaces in the fourth edition before me (8vo, 1829) we arrive at a heading, “Institution of the Cleikum Club,” which narrates how Peregrine Touchwood, Esquire, sought to cure his ennui and hypochondria by studying Apician mysteries; and it concludes with the syllabus of a series of thirteen lectures on cookery, which were to be delivered by the said Esquire. One then enters on the undertaking itself, which can be readily distinguished from an ordinary manual by a certain literary tone, which certainly betrays a little the hand or influence of Scott.

But though the present is a Scottish production, there is no narrow specialism in its scheme. The title-page gives a London publisher as well as an Anglo-Athenian one, and Mrs. Johnstone benevolently adapted her labours to her countrywomen and the unworthier Southrons alike.

I imagine, however, that of all the latter-day master-cooks, Alexis Soyer is most remembered. His “Gastronomic Regenerator,” a large and handsome octavo volume of between 700 and 800 pages, published in 1846, lies before me. It has portraits of the compiler and his wife, and many other illustrations, and is dedicated to a Royal Duke. It was produced under the most influential patronage and pressure, for Soyer was overwhelmed with engagements, and had scruples against appearance in print. He tells us that in some library, to which he gained access, he once found among the works of Shakespeare and other chefs in a different department, a volume with the words “Nineteenth Edition” upon it, and when he opened it, he saw to his great horror “A receipt for Ox-tail Soup!” Why this revelation exercised such a terrifying effect he proceeds to explain. It was the incongruity of a cookery book in the temple of the Muses. But nevertheless, such is the frailty of our nature, that he gradually, on regaining his composure, and at such leisure intervals as he could command, prepared the “Gastronomic Regenerator,” in which he eschewed all superfluous ornaments of diction, and studied a simplicity of style germane to the subject; perchance he had looked into Kitchener’s Preface. He lets us know that he had made collections of the same kind at an earlier period of his career, but had destroyed them, partly owing to his arduous duties at the Reform Club, and partly to the depressing influence of the nineteenth edition of somebody else’s cookery book — probably, by the way, Ude’s. The present work occupied some ten months, and was prepared amid the most stupendous interruptions from fair visitors to the Club (15,000), dinners for the members and their friends (25,000), dinner parties of importance (38), and the meals for the staff (60). He gives a total of 70,000 dishes; but it is not entirely clear whether these refer to the 38 dinner parties of importance, or to the 25,000 of inferior note, or to both. The feeling of dismay at the nineteenth edition of somebody must have been sincere, for he winds up his preface with an adjuration to his readers (whom, in the “Directions for Carving,” he does not style Gentle, or Learned, or Worshipful, but HONOURABLE) not to place his labours on the same shelf with “Paradise Lost.”

Soyer had also perhaps certain misgivings touching too close an approximation to other chefs besides Milton and Shakespeare, for he refers to the “profound ideas” of Locke, to which he was introduced, to his vast discomfort, “in a most superb library in the midst of a splendid baronial hall.” But the library of the Reform Club probably contained all this heterogeneous learning. Does the “Gastronomic Regenerator,” out of respect to the fastidious sentiments of its author, occupy a separate apartment in that institution with a separate curator?

It seems only the other day to me, that Soyer took Gore Lodge, and seemed in a fair way to make his removal from the Reform Club a prosperous venture. But he lost his wife, and was unfortunate in other ways, and the end was very sad indeed. “Soyez tranquille,” was the epitaph proposed at the time by some unsentimental wagforpoor Madame Soyer; it soon served for them both.

But nearly concurrent with Soyer’s book appeared one of humble pretensions, yet remarkable for its lucidity and precision, Eliza Acton’s “Modern Cookery in all its Branches reduced to an easy practice,” 16mo, 1845. I have heard this little volume highly commended by competent judges as exactly what it professes to be; and the quantities in the receipts are particularly reliable.

The first essay to bring into favourable notice the produce of Colonial cattle was, so far as I can collect, a volume published in 1872, and called “Receipts for Cooking Australian Meat, with Directions for preparing Sauces suitable for the same.” This still remains a vexed question; but the consumption of the meat is undoubtedly on the increase, and will continue to be, till the population of Australasia equalises supply and demand.


Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:42