Eliza Acton

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from Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1871. p.48.)
Title page of Poems by Eliza Acton (London: Longmans, 1826. p.48.)

Elizabeth "Eliza" Acton (17 April 1799 – 13 February 1859) was an English poet and cook who produced one of the country's first cookbooks aimed at the domestic reader rather than the professional cook or chef, Modern Cookery for Private Families. In this book she introduced the now-universal practice of listing the ingredients and suggested cooking times with each recipe. It included the first recipe for Brussels sprouts.[1] Isabella Beeton's bestselling Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861) was closely modeled on it. Contemporary chef Delia Smith is quoted as having called Acton "the best writer of recipes in the English language."[2] Modern Cookery long survived her, remaining in print until 1914 and available more recently in facsimile reprint. Acton was an influence on Isabella Beeton.[3]


Acton was born in Battle, Sussex, the eldest of the five children of Elizabeth Mercer and John Acton, a brewer. The family returned to Suffolk shortly after her birth, and there she was raised. At the age of seventeen she and another woman opened a school for girls in Claydon, near Ipswich, which remained open for four years. Her health was precarious and she apparently spent some time in France where she is rumoured to have had an unhappy love affair. She published her Poems in 1826 (see 1826 in poetry) after returning home, and the book enjoyed some small success. She subsequently published some single, longer poems, but it was her Modern Cookery (1845) that garnered her the widest acclaim; it was an immensely influential book which established the format for modern writing about cookery. Shortly after its publication she relocated to London, where she worked on her next and final book, The English Bread Book (1857). Along with recipes and a scholarly history of bread-making, this volume contained Acton's strong opinions about adulterated and processed food.

Acton, her health never strong, died in 1859 and was buried in Hampstead.


  • Poems (London: Longmans, 1826)
  • "The Chronicles of Castel Framlingham" (poem, was in the moviesSudbury Chronicle, 1838)
  • "The Voice of the North" (commemorative poem about the first visit of Queen Victoria to Scotland in 1842)
  • Modern Cookery for Private Families (London: Longmans, 1845)
  • The English Bread Book (1857)

Recipe for Bakewell Pudding[edit]

1½-2lb mixed preserves
10 egg, yolks only
½lb sugar
½lb butter
lemon brandy or other flavouring, to taste
This pudding is famous not only in Derbyshire, but in several of our northern counties, where it is usually served on all holiday-occasions. Line a shallow tart-dish with quite an inch-deep layer of several kinds of good preserve mixed together, and intermingle with them from 2-3oz of candied citron or orange rind. Beat well the yolks of ten eggs, and add to them gradually ½lb of sifted sugar; when they are well mixed, pour in by degrees ½lb of good clarified butter, and a little ratafia or any other flavour that may be preferred; fill the dish two-thirds full with this mixture, and bake the pudding for nearly an hour in a moderate oven. Half the quantity will be sufficient for a small dish.
Baked in moderate oven, ¾ to 1 hour.
This is a rich and expensive, but not very refined pudding. A variation of it, known in the south as an Alderman's pudding, is we think, superior to it. It is made without the candied peel, and with a layer of apricot-jam only, 6oz butter, 6oz of sugar, the yolks of six, and the whites of two eggs.[4]


  1. ^ Pearce, Food For Thought: Extraordinary Little Chronicles of the World, (2004) pg 144
  2. ^ Interview.
  3. ^ "Acton, Eliza (1799–1859)". Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Gale Research Inc. Retrieved 8 January 2013. (subscription required)
  4. ^ BBC Food

Further reading[edit]

  • Ray, Elizabeth. “Acton, Eliza (1799–1859).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 29 Apr. 2007.

External links[edit]