Mrs Beeton In The 21st Century

Isabella Beeton was a successful Victorian writer her writing career began after her marriage to wealthy publisher Samuel Beeton at the age of 20.  It wasn’t long before Isabella became involved in her husband’s publishing company. She was an editor and she wrote articles on cooking and household management.  Isabella began writing a monthly supplement to the ‘English Woman’s Domestic Magazine and in 1861 The Book of Household Management was published.  The book gave advice on every aspect of running a Victorian household.   From there Mrs Beeton went on to write numerous books such as, Cookery In All It’s Branches, Mrs Beeton’s Family Cookery, Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery, Mrs Beeton’s All About Cookery, Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book and Mrs Beeton’s Cookery.

As a proud owner of Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book, I have to confess that the only pages I had read until recently have been the recipes. I don’t have a huge household to run so I didn’t think that the advice on Victorian life would be of any use to me.  However, I began to read through the tips and advice that Mrs Beeton gave to the Victorian housewives of her time and I found that although the advice was aimed at a different generation some of that advice may still be of use in the 21st Century.

I have selected some of Mrs Beeton’s ‘Kitchen Maxims to share with you and you can judge for yourself if they are relevant in today’s world.

‘There is no work like early work.’

‘A good manager looks ahead.’

‘Clear as you go, muddle makes more muddle’

‘Dirty saucepans filled with hot water begin to clean themselves.’

‘One egg well beaten is worth two unbeaten.’

‘A stew boiled is a stew spoiled.’

‘Salt brings out flavours.’

‘Pour nothing but water down the sink.’

Mrs Beeton was a firm believer in testing food. Yes, even in those days there were tests to ensure that only the best quality goods were used in the kitchens of Victorian households.   According to Mrs Beeton many food products of the time were ‘adulterated’ and it was desirable to test them.  I wonder how many of the tests hold true in today’s world.  Here are some tests for you to try. Let me know how you got on with them.

Ground Coffee: – Pick up some of the coffee in the palm of your hand and press firmly.  If it sticks together in a ball or clumps, it contains some ‘adulterating’ substance.  Pure coffee falls apart when you open your hand.

Mushrooms: – When cooking mushrooms, for safety’s sake place a clean sixpence, (it would be a 5p today I would imagine), in the vessel on which they are being cooked.  If the silver shows the least discolouration, the mushrooms will be unfit for use.  NB:  I would not recommend doing this unless you have completely sterilized the 5p.

Tinned Fruit: – When using tinned fruit, always plunge into the contents of the tin a bright steel knife. Let it remain a few moments and if there is the smallest degree of copper present, it will be found on the blade.

Tinned Meat: – A sure and simple method of testing all tinned foods is to press the bottom of the tin with the thumb.   If it makes a noise like a machine oil can when it is pressed,  the tin is not air-tight and the contents therefore are unfit for use.

Mrs Beeton also predicted the value of labour saving equipment, in her book she said ‘One day the dream of every labour saving housewife may be realised.’  ‘Then we shall see a house with kitchen and scullery combined and the walls white-tiled with the floor of rubber composition, soft to the fee and easy to keep clean.’    This shows a forward thinking lady.

Mrs Beeton died in February 1865 but her books are still going strong today, and many of the tips and advice that she gave still have some relevance in the 21st century.  Her books are not only informative but they give a good insight to life inside the households in the Victorian era.


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