As you know, I love collecting cookery books from the 18/early 19th century. They are becoming increasingly hard to find in their original state, and prohibitively expensive to buy. But …there are always facsimiles (Hurrah!), and one of the best publishers of facsimiles and, indeed, anything to do with food, cookery and food history is Prospect Books.
The term National Treasure has become rather hackneyed due to over use in the past few years, but I doubt many in the foodie world would disagree that Tom Jaine, benevolent and genial proprietor of Prosepct Books, truly deserves the accolade/appellation.
His current catalogue is truly astounding, and so very tempting. This year he produced his fourth incarnation of Hannah Glasse’s amazing book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, which was first published in 1747. Also included are the additional receipts added by Hannah Glasse to the fifth edition of her book. This was the first recipe book published in English to give us a recipe for curry- The Indian Way- and should be an essential part of the collection of books of anyone who is interested in the social history of the 18th century, in my very humble opinion. If you go here, you can view a very generous sample of some pages from the Introduction and main text of this edition.
If you have never read an 18th century cookery book before, then I would urge you to begin with this scholarly but very accessible edition. In addition to the facsimile text, there are wonderful essays by Jennifer Stead and Priscilla Bain which aim to explain and dispel the myths about Hannah Glasse that have grown along with the fame of this book: namely that Mrs. Glasse did not actually write the book, and also that somewhere in her book exists the famous phrase, First catch your hare… something which is wittily alluded to in the woodcut on the cover, shown below:
The facts of Mrs Glasse’s life are fascinating: she was, in addition to being an author of books on cookery and servants, a supplier and marketer of Dr Lowers Tincture and a habit maker with her warehouse (shop) in Tavistock Street, London, patronised by the “court” of Frederick, Prince of Wales. She followed a career pattern common to many female writers of the 18th century: she wrote her book to in order to survive poverty and the improvidence of her husband, John. Her book was very successful, and was printed in many editions, though she lost control of the copyright after the fifth edition was sold, consequent upon her bankruptcy, in 1754.
Her writing methods are typical of the 18th century: to put it rather delicately, she borrowed a lot of her recipes. Priscilla Bain’s essays , Quizzing Glasse; or, Hannah Scrutinized and Recounting the Chickens: Hannah Further Scrutinized are tremendously interesting reads as she tracks down the sources for the recipes Hannah adopted, adapted, improved or simply failed to understand .
And in addition to all the above, the book also has a wonderfully scholarly and interesting Glossary, which is an education in itself. If anything confuses you- a cooking term or an ingredient- while you are reading Mrs Glasse’s fascinating recipes, then simply refer to the glossary to be found near the rear of the book, illustrated with some necessary and delightful line drawings, and all will be made instantly clear.
If you only have space for one 18th century cookery book, then I urge you to buy this one. It is a bargain, especially as at present there is a 25 % discount being offered on the list price of all the titles for sale from Prospect Books.