Saturday, October 15, 2022

Weekend Cooking: The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs

During this month I am focussing on cookbooks as part of National Cookbook Month. I did think that it might be a good opportunity for me to finally finish reading The Language of Love by Annabel Abbs. You would be right in assuming that this isn't actually a cookbook. It is, however, the story of Eliza Acton, who is creditted with writing the first modern cookbook for home cooks. It first caught my attention because of this gorgeous cover. Unfortunately it didn't keep my attention all that well because I started reading it six months ago and had to start reading it again this week.

When we meet Eliza, she is in London to meet with a publisher to try and get her book of poetry published. Unfortunately, the publisher is not interested at all, telling her to write gothic novels or a a cookbook. Only problem is, Eliza can't cook!

Eliza returns home to her family disappointed, but that soon after that is the least of her problems. Her father has lost all of the family's money and has to flee to France. Eliza, being a spinster daughter with no marriage prospects,  and her mother have to move to Tonbridge and run a boarding house. A far cry from the life of luxury that the family has previously led.

Eliza is only able to take a few personal items with her when they move, which include her poetry books, and at the last minute, some cookbooks from the chef.

Eliza is determined to learn to cook, and to write a cookbook, a better cookbook than those that are currently available:

"I've been studyng cookery writers and I can do better. Some of them are barely literate. The measurements are imprecise, the wording is inelegant. They lack clarity and the recipes themselves are unappetising." I glance at Mother - she is wringing her hands, her lips and jaws working soundlessly.

"I shan't be a cook. I shall be a cookery writer. It is perfectly seemly."

In the kitchen, Eliza is ably assisted by Ann Kirby, who comes to work in the kitchen. Ann has to work hard to overcome her beginnings. Her father is a drunkard and her mother is in a lunatic asylum, but Anne does have one advantage. She can read and right, and she has an inate ability to cook.

Together they work hard to feed the houseguests but to also test the recipes for the cookbook. But each of them have secrets, and there is also an inbalance between them. Can these two women truly become friends?

I mentioned above that Eliza Acton is creditted with the first modern cookbook. It is her that we have to thank for recipes as we know about them, with a precise list of of ingredients, timings, and handy hints and tips.

"When Mr Longman wrote to me with his terms, he  divulged a little more about the mysterious Lady, auhtor of the successful but deeply frustrating A new System of Domestic Cookery by a Lady. The Lady (a Mrs Maria Rundell) has been dead some years. But before dying she sold half a million copies of her cookery book, a fact underlined twice by Mr Longan in his letter. As if to say that is what he expects from my modest efforts. Half a million readers! 

I scan Mrs Rundell's recipe a third time, with a flutter of irritation. Why didn't the wretched woman arrange the ingredients in a simple list? It would be easier, I think, to list the ingredients in a simple list. It would be easier, I think, to list them myself rather than reading and re-reading the recipe over and over.

I shall write my recipes differently. I shall list the ingredients separately - and with precise measurements. Yes - with the most minute exactness! Surely women have enough tojuggleintheirheads without having to memoriselists of ingredients as they work? And it is women I shall write for."

I did find this to be an interesting read. The story is told using the alternate viewpoints of both Eliza and Anne. As a result we get to see two very different lives, both framed in the various rules that apply to them through society. Anne struggles with keeping the secret of her mother's lunacy, just in case people think it is in her blood, as well. Eliza has secrets of her own. And she wants more. Even an unexpected offer of marriage can not derail her from her dreams.

One of the things I liked about this book was that the chapter titles, which are mostly recipe names or at the otherwise food related. It took me a little while to realise that the chapter titles were not really tied into the events in the chapter. Some of them sounded delicious! Pear Meringue with Bon Chretian Pear or Orange Blossom Macaroons anyone? Others not so much! 

While the later cookbook Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management is probably more well known, there is plenty of evidence that many of her recipes were actually taken/inspired from Eliza Acton's earlier cookbook. What Mrs Beeton did differently was to put the list of ingredients at the top of a recipe, instead of at the bottom like Eliza did.

This book has also been published under the title of Miss Eliza's English Kitchen: a novel of Victorian cookery and friendship.

What reading this book has inspired me to do is to take a look at the one Eliza Acton cookbook that is available to download at my library.

Rating 4/5

 Weekly meals

Saturday - Eggs on toast
Sunday -  Steak, egg and chips
Monday - Butter chicken pizza
Tuesday - Roast pork gravy rolls
Wednesday - Presssure Cooker Spaghetti Bolognaise
Thursday - Chicken Pesto Pasta
Friday - Out for dinner

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home pageMiss Eliza's English kitchen: a novel of Victorian cookery and friendship


  1. This was called Miss Eliza's English Kitchen in the States. I thought it was only okay. I'm not quite sure why I didn't like it more, since it seems to be right up my alley.

    1. It should be right up our alleys. For me it was good without being great!

  2. The history of cookbooks has lots of interesting innovators and creative people, mostly women, mostly being inventive because their options were so limited. This sounds like a good read.

    best… mae at

    1. There certainly should be some interesting stories out there right?

  3. When I started reading your post I kept thinking it sounded familiar. I went to my list of books read, and found Miss Eliza's English Kitchen. And like Beth, I didn't care for it either.

  4. Quite a fascinating story about Eliza's life that let her to cooking and publishing. Very interesting read. Thanks.

  5. yes i think people just willy-nilly stole recipes from other cookbooks back in the day for their own books. naughty naughty :=)

  6. I love cookbooks and cooking. This sounds interesting!

    1. It's certainly inspired me to look at more cookbook related history

  7. Thanks for the review enjoy National Cookbook Month.



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