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Mrs Beeton's Cookbook and her Life

Updated on July 18, 2014

Mrs Beeton

Mrs Beeton
Mrs Beeton

Mrs Beeton's Cookbook

Who was Mrs Beeton?

Mrs Beeton was a Victorian entrepreneur extraordinaire. She is probably the most famous cookery writer in British history, ahead even of Delia Smith and the beautfiul Nigella Lawson.

In the popular imagination Mrs Beeton was a Victorian lady of a certain age, who wrote the definitive work on cookery and household management, thus imparting her vast storehouse of knowledge and commonsense on the running of the home to the Victorian middle class. Rather like a middle-class Queen Victoria.

The truth, however, is somewhat different. Isabella Mary Mayson was born on 12th March 1836 at 24 Milk Street, Cheapside, London. She was the eldest of 21 children, who grew up in the Grandstand at Epsom racecourse in Surrey, where her stepfather, Henry Dorling, was clerk. She married Samuel Orchart Beeton, a book and magazine publisher, on 19th July 1856, at the age of 20 and died on 6th February 1865, aged just 28.

Click here for an Ebook of Mrs Beetons Cake and Pudding Recipes with original illustrations by a contemporary artist and illustrator

In those seven short years, despite the often tragic circumstances of her life, she managed, by her tireless effort and hard work, to establish herself as the universal authority with regard to household management.

Although her famous book reinforced the Victorian belief that a woman’s place was in the home, she herself was an astute businesswoman and something of a workaholic. She also wrote her articles and her book out of need rather than any particular desire.

She was only 21 when she began cookery writing, but she was so disorganised that in her first recipe for Victoria sponge she left out the eggs ! She was also something of a plagiarist, it is said that many of the recipes were copied from earlier writers, although in her defence she never claimed that the book's contents were original and, in any case, there is no copyright on recipes! If she were alive today she would undoubtedly have been at home on the Internet, making money online as a work at home mom.

In her definitive biography of Mrs Beeton, “The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton” Kathryn Hughes writes that many recipes were brazenly copied by Mrs Beeton, almost word for word, from numerous books, including some dating back to the Restoration.
But, says Hughes, "Although she was a plagiarist, she was adding value. She was an extraordinary innovator."

Her first radical innovation was to put the ingredients at the start of her recipes !

Her second innovation was to say how long something should be cooked for !


Between 1859 and 1861, Mrs Beeton wrote a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. In October 1861, the supplements were published as a single volume under the wondeful and all-encompassing title of “The Book of Household Management Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort” now known rather more simply as “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management” or, due to the large number of recipes it contains, “Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook”.

In her short life she had four children, two of whom died before they were two years old In January 1865, the day after her fourth child was born, she contracted puerperal fever and died a week later, aged 28. Her husband lived for another 12 years before dying of tuberculosis in 1877 aged 46.

They are both buried in West Norwood Cemetery, South London under a simple headstone.

Mrs Beeton's Cookbook contains 1,112 pages and over 900 recipes and is one of the best-selling cookbooks ever written.

In her Preface to her book Mrs Beeton said :

“I must frankly own, that if I had known, beforehand, that this book would have cost me the labour which it has, I should never have been courageous enough to commence it. What moved me, in the first instance, to attempt a work like this, was the discomfort and suffering which I had seen brought upon men and women by household mismanagement. I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife's badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways. Men are now so well served out of doors,--at their clubs, well-ordered taverns, and dining-houses, that in order to compete with the attractions of these places, a mistress must be thoroughly acquainted with the theory and practice of cookery, as well as be perfectly conversant with all the other arts of making and keeping a comfortable home.”

Some of her advice includes : -

When butter has become very rancid, it should be melted several times by a moderate heat, with or without the addition of water, and as soon as it has been well kneaded, after the cooling, in order to extract any water it may have retained, it should be put into brown freestone pots, sheltered from the contact of the air. The French often add to it, after it has been melted, a piece of toasted bread, which helps to destroy the tendency of the batter to rancidity.

With Christmas aproaching fast here is one of Mrs Beeton's Mince Pie Recipes for your delectation.

And one of her cheescake recipes :

1219. INGREDIENTS.-- ¼ lb. of sweet almonds, 4 bitter ones, 3 eggs, 2 oz. of butter, the rind of ¼ lemon, 1 tablespoonful of lemon-juice, 3 oz. of sugar.

Mode.--Blanch and pound the almonds smoothly in a mortar, with a little rose- or spring-water; stir in the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the butter, which should be warmed; add the grated lemon-peel and -juice, sweeten, and stir well until the whole is thoroughly mixed. Line some pattypans with puff-paste, put in the mixture, and bake for 20 minutes, or rather less in a quick oven.
Time.--20 minutes, or rather less.
Average cost, 10d. (about 4p)
Sufficient for about 12 cheesecakes.

See here for an illustrated Ebook of Mrs Beetons Cake and Pudding Recipes


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    • Singular Investor profile image

      Singular Investor 6 years ago from Oxford

      Heloooooooo - yeah Mrs Beeton's old and going strong - must be all that good food she recommends in her Cookbook ! You should get a prize for being the first to comment !

    • profile image

      heloooooooo 6 years ago

      wowowowow shes old