Eliza Acton was a cookery writer who pre-dated Mrs Beeton, and yet somehow seems to have been eclipsed by her. She was born in Battle in Sussex, in 1799 on April 17th… 217 years ago today!
Her father, John Acton, was a brewer; however the family didn’t stay in Sussex, but moved to Ipswich where Eliza grew up. Her health wasn’t very good, and although she and a friend started a girls’ school, for some reason this did not last very long, maybe because of Eliza’s health, and she moved to France for a while, presumably to convalesce.
The family moved to Tonbridge, in Kent, and it was there Eliza wrote her cookery book, Modern Cookery for Private Families which was published in 1845. Her book is still very readable and usable today, giving lists of ingredients as well as clear instructions, and little personal comments on some of her favourite recipes. She was the first cookery writer to present her recipes in this way, and for them to be appropriate for ordinary small households and not grand country homes. Her book became a best seller, and in fact Mrs Beeton “borrowed” many of her recipes, 150 in all!
Eliza moved to Hampstead and wrote a second book, which I’ve not come across, The English Bread Book, published in 1857, two years before her death.
As well as her cookery books, Eliza wrote and published many poems… here is one she sent to her sister:
If you want a good pudding, to teach you I’m willing;
Take two pennyworth of eggs, when twelve for a shilling,
And of the same fruit, that Eve once had chosen,
Well pared and well chopped, at least half a dozen;
Six ounces of bread – let your maid eat the crust,
The crumbs must be grated as small as the dust;
Six ounces of currants from the stones you must sort,
Lest they break out your teeth, and spoil all your sport;
Six ounces of sugar won’t make it too sweet,
Some salt and some nutmeg will make it complete;
Three hours let it boil, without hurry or flutter,
And then serve it up, without sugar or butter.