18th century cookery writer in jail


The Fleet Prison where Hannah Glasse was taken in July 1757. Image from Robert Chambers’ Book of Days / Wikimedia Commons.

Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) was responsible for producing one of the most popular 18th century cook books, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.   It remained in print for nearly a century and it is back in print today thanks to Prospect Books, which publishes a facsimile of the 1747 edition.The Art of Cookery covered everything an 18thcentury cook ought to know, from roasting and boiling to pies, puddings and preserves.  The book also contains some surprising recipes such as how to “Make curry the Indian Way” and ketchup that will last 20 years!

This is one of her recipe for parsnips,

“They should be boiled in a great deal of water, and when you find that they are soft (which you will know by running a fork into them) take them up, and carefully scrape all the dirt off them, and then with a knife scrape them all fine, throwing away the sticky parts; then put them into a saucepan with some milk, and stir them over the fire till they are thick.  Take great care they don’t burn, and add a good piece of butter and a little salt, and when the butter is melted sent them to table.”

When Hannah was born in London her mother and father were not married, at least not to each other.  Nevertheless Hannah was given her father’s name, Allgood, and was absorbed into his Northumberland family.   At the age of 16 she moved to London and promptly married an Irishman called John Glasse.

If her husband had been a better provider it is possible that Hannah would never have written The Art of Cookery.  She had some money from her father but this was not enough to avoid financial worries, especially as her family grew.  She gave birth to ten (or possibly eleven) children, although only five survived into adulthood.  Selling subscriptions for the cook book was just one of Hannah’s money making ventures.

For a while it was looking good.  Hannah and one of her daughters were running a shop in a smart part of London but Hannah had borrowed heavily and, in 1754, she went bankrupt with a debt of over £10,000 pounds.  To help sort things out she sold the copyright of The Art of Cookery.  A few years later Hannah was in financial trouble again and this time she ended up in debtors’ prison.  First the Marshalsea Prison and later the Fleet Prison.  There is some uncertainty over what exactly happened to Hannah after that.  We know that she went on to produce two more books, The Servants Directory and The Compleat Confectioner, but it isn’t clear whether she wrote these while in prison or having got out of jail.

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A poet who wrote a cook book


Eliza Acton (1799-1859) wrote some excellent cook books in the mid-19th century and she has a lot of fans amongst modern chefy types.   Unfortunately she must have been publicity shy because I can’t find a picture of her.

The daughter of a brewer she was born in Battle, Sussex but grew up in Ipswich, Suffolk.  As a young woman she was sent to France for her health, where she probably had an unhappy love affair.  Certainly her book of poems, published in 1826, contained a number about unrequited love.

Her publisher suggested that instead of more poetry she ought to write something more practical.  After years of work the book she produced, Modern Cookery for Private Families, first published in 1845, was immensely popular.  She wrote for people like herself, that is to say middle class but of modest means.   Her biggest innovation was to list the ingredients needed in a recipe, something that is standard practice today.  The recipes she gives are sensible and the instructions clear.  It is no coincidence that Delia Smith wrote the forward in a recent biography of Eliza Acton. 

Modern Cookery for Private Families gives recipes for all sorts of cooking and, despite Eliza’s warning of the health risks of eating too much rich food, she includes a chapter on cakes but in the introduction she vents her disapproval,

“Amongst those which have the worst effects are almond, and plum pound cakes, as they are called; all varieties of the brioche and such others as contain a large quantity of butter and eggs.   The least objectionable are simple buns, biscuits, yeast and sponge cakes, and meringues; these last being extremely light and delicate, and made of white of egg and sugar only, are really not unwholesome.”

Having earned a decent amount from her writing Eliza moved to Hampstead where she worked on her last book, The English Bread Book, which was published in 1857.  This was a more scholarly work in which she advocates making bread at home to avoid the adulterated loaves on sale.  It didn’t have the same popular appeal as her earlier work but it too has passed the test of time.  It is fairly easy to get copies of her books and they are definitely worth reading and cooking from.

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.