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The Language of Food

by Annabel Abbs

Simon & Schuster

We tend to think of Mrs Beaton as the original “domestic goddess” but Eliza Acton was the first person to write cookbooks as we know them today.  Early cookbooks used to say things like “skin a rabbit, boil it with carrots and serve with gravy.”  Eliza Acton was the first person to give precise measurements and timing in a recipe, listed separately with a method written in an interesting and inspiring way to try to coax middle-class women into the kitchen, a place traditionally reserved for the staff.  Her cookbook Modern Cookery, in All its Branches: Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, for the Use of Private Families took ten years to write.

The Language of Food is the fictionalised account of Eliza Acton’s life.  It begins in 1835 with Eliza presenting a book of poetry to a publisher only to be turned away with the instruction to write a cookery book rather, as “women don’t write poetry”.  Despite being incensed and having never cooked in her life before, Eliza needs to earn a living so she sets her mind to learning to cook and to come up with a book.  She hires young, destitute Ann Kirby to help in the kitchen and together they discover, to their surprise, a mutual talent and passion for cooking and for recipe writing.

Based on the true story of Eliza Acton’s life and backed up with plenty of research into societal and cooking trends of the time, Annabel Abbs’s The Language of Food (Published in the US as Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen) gives us a window into the early days of home cooking.   A sumptuous feast of a novel about a woman who changed the course of cookery writing for ever.

Do listen to Jenny Crwys-Williams’s fabulous interview with Annabel Apps on Pagecast.

A Sensual feast of a novel, written with elegance, beauty, charm and skill. – Santa Montefiore

An empowering read … a story of independence and resilience that also celebrates the legitimacy of the culinary arts. - Good Housekeeping


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