I love finding old cook books; ones from an era virtually alien to most of us these days. The nice people at Quadrille publishing have a new serious of books called 'Classic Voices in Food' and Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton is one of them. 'Modern' cookery refers to advanced cookery of the 19th century and this 636-page novelesque book of recipes has no photography, just a few sketches, which is enough to put most people off. But I promise you that once you start reading it, the somewhat strange practises and intricacies of this special book will have you hooked. Everything one could possibly want to know about basic kitchen prep and repertoire is contained in this book.
The chapters cover various different meats and fish, sauces, stocks, soups, pickling and preserves as well as desserts and puddings galore. It really is an authentic insight into a typical 19th century kitchen, giving you a glimpse inside the laborious preparations, skill and elaboracy that would be needed in order to prepare any meal for a typical, wealthy house of that era. Some of it is absolutely staggering and beyond mind-boggling; to think that people spent all day creating masterpieces of this ilk outside of a restaurant environment isn't remotely plausible these days. Most wealthy people forego this sort of dining in favour of quick, every day fixes or restaurant dining. Only formal entertaining can hold a candle to the lengths cooks went to in the 19th century and even then, we have so many gadgets, tools and new fangled innovations that cut the processes down so drastically that it is not even worth a comparison.
Wonderful recipes like Blancmange, Mock Turtle Soup and the scary-sounding Brain Cakes are all nods to the trends of the period. Serving food that was not the height of chic, would be an utter 'faux pas' for well-to-do families of the era. I especially loved the hilariously titled chapter on 'Foreign and Jewish Cookery' - a sweeping generalisation that would have been completely appropriate for the time. I have read this book, as you would a novel, from cover to cover and I think it is truly wonderful. I would highly recommend this as a very special and unique edition to any cook's book collection. Another title which I am yet to lay my hands on but is also from the same 'Classic Voices in Food' is Madame Prunier's Fish Cookery Book. If Eliza Acton's book is anything to go by, I am certain there is plenty to learn from both books and that they each posess a certain charm that will have long been forgotten in the more modern titles that grace the shelves of shops and homes, alike.
Modern Cookery For Private Families - By Eliza Acton
Available from Amazon priced at £10.99