Saturday, February 18, 2023

Before Mrs. Beeton: Elizabeth Raffald, England's Most Influential Housekeeper

Before Mrs. Beeton is a fascinating biography of Elizabeth Raffald, the Georgian period's own answer to Martha Stewart, written and annotated by food historian Dr. Neil Buttery. Due out 28th April from Pen & Sword, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

I was familiar with Mrs. Beeton, but completely unfamiliar with her predecessor and inspiration Elizabeth Raffald. The author does a wonderful job of providing a meticulously researched and annotated academically rigorous biography in layman accessible language and at the same time succeeds in making it really interesting. The book is quite simple graphically, there aren't a lot of illustrations, but there are a number of facsimiles, photos, and line drawings contained in an appendix in the back of the book. The author has also included notes and annotations, as well as a comprehensive index.

It's not a cookbook in much of a sense of the word, or at least not chiefly a cookbook, there are only a few recipes here, in an appendix. There is however, broad ranging historical background, social commentary, history, quite a lot of drama, and some pathos, retelling the rise and fall of Mrs. Raffald. The author has gone to great pains to delineate the subtleties and explain the background minutiae showing the differences between ingredients, preparation methods, and cooking fuels from the 1700s compared to the modern day. 

Five stars. This would be a superlative choice for foodies fascinated by history as well as for historical re-creators/SCA folks.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes. 

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