18th century housekeeper does it all


A portrait of Elizabeth Raffald printed in 1782, the year after her death.

Elizabeth Raffald (1733-1781) is a food heroine for writing The Experience English Housekeeper, a practical 18th century cookery book.  She was one of those amazing women who did everything, making the rest of us look like lazy slatterns.  And, in between all the work, Elizabeth gave birth to between 6 and 15 children (the records are vague and sources differ).

The Experienced English Housekeeper was first printed in 1769 and reprinted many times during the next 60 or so years.  The book gives recipes for all sorts of things, from Yorkshire goose pie and spun sugar webs to cherry brandy and pickled walnuts.   It also gives instructions on how to lay a table out for a party.  In the introduction, Elizabeth explains that she had worked for 15 years as a housekeeper in “great and worthy families” and the book was dedicated to her last employer Lady Elisabeth Warburton of Arley Hall, Cheshire.  It was at Arley Hall that she met John Raffald, the head gardener who became her husband.

Soon after marrying the Raffalds moved to Manchester where Elizabeth set up several businesses.  She established herself as a confectioner, supplying the newly rich of Manchester with the fancy goods they needed for entertaining in style, for example, table decorations and cakes, as well as the kind of things you’d find in a delicatessen, like potted meats, lemon preserves, mushroom ketchup and anchovies.   Realising that her customers needed servants she set up servant exchange and, in 1772, she compiled the first directory for the growing city of Manchester, which included an alphabetical list of tradesmen.

Later the Raffalds made the short move to Salford where they ran an inn called King’s Head and a coffee-house.  They had some financial difficulties but their creditors only really moved in after Elizabeth’s sudden death in 1781.  She was survived by her husband, just three of her children and, of course, her cookery book.

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