Coffee with Mrs. Beeton

Over 150 years ago, a newlywed in her early twenties (much like myself), became dismayed at the state of homemaking in her generation. Her name was Isabella Beeton and she masterfully set out to create a series of articles to help newly married women successfully face the role of becoming “mistress of the home.”

“What moved me...to attempt a work like this, was the discomfort and suffering 
which I had seen brought upon men and women by household mismanagement.”

Her work was published from 1859-1861 in 24 parts, which would later be bound into a singular volume. Sadly, Mrs. Beeton died during childbirth in 1865 at the age of 28, so she was unable to see the truly lasting influence her devotions had on housekeeping and cooking for decades to come. Fun fact: Downton Abbey creators have relied often on her work for historical accuracy. 

Though the 1800+ Victorian-era recipes included predominate her work, there are also portions on household management. The roles of Mistress, Housekeeper, and various Kitchen Staff are discussed at length, with information ranging from the proper way to pay calls about town to comparisons on cooking equipment dating back to the early Roman Empire.

Some of her writing is entertainingly out-of-date for our modern lives, and a number of the recipes are truly horrible sounding (Boiled Marrow-Bones), but it is amazing to see the similarities that do still hold true today. Some nuggets of her advice include:

“Early rising is one of the most essential qualities....” “Indeed, when a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well-managed.”

“Cleanliness is also indispensable to health and must be studied both in regard to the person and the house, and all that it contains.”

“Frugality and economy are home virtues without which no household can prosper. ... 
We must always remember that it is a great merit in housekeeping to manage a little well.”

“Hospitality is a most excellent virtue...for, as Washington Irving well says, ‘There is 
an emanation from the heart in genuine hospitality, which cannot be described, 
but is immediately felt, and puts the stranger at once at his ease.’” 

Though remaining print copies of Mrs. Beeton’s original wisdom are a bit unaffordable (to put it nicely - $3,500), thanks to the University of Adelaide, the first edition text is available in entirety for free in three PDFs here, including scans of the original artwork.

As I pointed out to Strider, I fully recognize that I may be the only one weird enough to be fascinated by this kind of thing. Nevertheless, I think it is just incredible to have such historical household insight at our fingertips. However, if I’m not alone and you might enjoy it as well, check out the PDFs and join Mrs. Beeton and I for a cup of coffee and slice of homemade Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread.

I’ll leave you with a (slightly adapted) version of my favorite quote:

“...there are [no feminine accomplishments] which take a higher rank...than 
such as enter[ing] into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually 
dependent the happiness, comfort, and well-being of a family.”

P.S. - Don't forget...exciting news is coming this weekend!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the introduction to Mrs. Beeton and I am excited about the weekend's new deal! I love reading your blog and all the unexpected information that you share....so sweet!


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