The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
Modern Cookery for private families by Eliza Acton
Eliza Acton was born in 1799 and raised in Ipswich in East Anglia where she was possibly influenced by her father who was in the beer and wine trade. At the tender age of 18 she opened a 'finishing school' which taught deportment and the management of the household. She spent some time in France and became deeply respectful of French cooking. Alper claims that Eliza Acton "really wanted to be a poet, but her publisher convinced her that there was no market for poems by maiden ladies, but there was one for a good, sensible cookery book. She took this advice, which proved to be sound - the book was a classic for years."
Modern Cookery for Private Families is a classic that has influenced many cookbook writers ever since its publication in 1845 (it was first published under the title Modern Cookery, in all its Branches). Even the venerable Elizabeth David lists this book as the one that influenced her thinking the most.
Acton was born in Ipswich in East Anglia in 1799 just fifteen years after the birth of the famous Marie-Antoine Carême who revolutionised French cookery with the introduction of haute cuisine with its emphasis on rich, cream-based dishes and elaborate presentations.
We mention this because Acton's book is the very antithesis of this approach. Rather, the recipes are simple, straight-forward and reflective of the traditional recipes of England and Europe (and further afield) at the time. The amazing thing about her writing, however, is that most of the recipes still have currency today - almost two hundred years later!
The book is organised into 32 chapters starting with 37 pages of soup recipes and finishing with a short chapter on Foreign and Jewish Cookery which includes a still valid recipe for risotto a la Milanaise and one for a Syrian pilaw. However, there are many influences of India and the Middle East throughout the book.
The chapters also include descriptions of making stocks, sauces, soufflés, meat dishes, game, and many chapters devoted to puddings and desserts.
In the soup chapter you will find a wonderful recipe for Mullagatwany soup (her spelling) based on either rabbit or fowl, in the shell fish section there is a very tasty recipe for oyster sausages made from freshly-shucked oysters, beef lard and breadcrumbs, and in the vegetable section there is a recipe entitled Potato Boulettes that reads like a French equivalent of gnocchi.
But the section that really caught our interest and has provided the motivation to revisit traditional techniques is the section on puddings and desserts of all kinds. Most of the recipes are timeless and require no adaptation to modern ingredients or cooking styles. There are recipes for light currant dumplings, for bread puddings, for semolina puddings, for a very fine orange jelly, for a range of blanc-mange dishes and many, many more.
This is an inspirational book with an Aladdin's Cave of recipes and wonderful, timeless writing. It is an absolutely essential part of any serious cookbook collection.