Before Delia Smith, before Nigella Lawson, there was Isabella Beeton, the answer to a 19th century woman's prayers. In the preface of her book, Essential Beeton, edited by Alastair Williams, Mrs. Beeton remarks, 'I have always thought there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife's badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways.'
This part cookbook, part deadly serious manual, is an insightful look into life in the 19th century. Mrs. Beeton's recipes include not only ideas for preparing Pigeon Pie and Collared Pig's Face, but practical recipes too, like Apple Cheesecakes.
Mrs. Beeton goes into detail about everything. She describes how to choose the best meats, including tongue. (She says to 'ascertain how long it has been dried or pickled and to select one with smooth skin.') Mrs. Beeton includes with her cookbook a guide to running a household, which also has homemade recipes and instructions, such as the cure for chapped hands. And she includes a section on servants - how they should be chosen, their duties, etc.
Essential Beeton, with its somewhat out of date recipes and advice is part ridiculous, yet part useful. You can even make a Lark Pie - all you have to do is find nine larks. Good luck getting those at the grocery store.
Publishers Summersdale £9.99 ISBN 1 84024 416X