Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

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Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management
Isabella Beeton - Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management - title page.jpg
Title page
Author Isabella Beeton
Original title Beeton's Book of Household Management
Language English
Subject Domestic economy
Genre Manual
Publisher S. O. Beeton Publishing
Publication date

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management is a guide to all aspects of running a household in Victorian Britain, edited by Isabella Beeton. It was originally entitled Beeton's Book of Household Management, in line with the other guide-books published by Beeton.

Previously published as a part work, it was first published as a book in 1861 by S. O. Beeton Publishing, 161 Bouverie Street, London, a firm founded by her husband, Samuel Beeton. Although she died in 1865, the book continued: nearly two million copies had been sold by 1868, and it remains in print (as of 2016).


The author, Isabella Beeton, was 21 years old when she started working on the book. It was initially serialised in 24 monthly instalments, in her husband Samuel Orchart Beeton's publication The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine; the first instalment appeared in 1859.[1] On 1 October 1861, the instalments were collected into one volume with the title The Book of Household Management, comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady's-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.[1]

In its preface she wrote:

I must frankly own, that if I had known, beforehand, that this book would have cost me the labour which it has, I should never have been courageous enough to commence it. What moved me, in the first instance, to attempt a work like this, was the discomfort and suffering which I had seen brought upon men and women by household mismanagement. I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife's badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways.

Beeton's half sister, Mrs. Smiles, was later asked about her memories of the book's development and recalled:

Different people gave their recipes for the book. That for Baroness pudding (a suet pudding with a plethora of raisins) was given by the Baroness de Tessier, who lived at Epsom. No recipe went into the book without a successful trial, and the home at Pinner was the scene of many experiments and some failures. I remember Isabella coming out of the kitchen one day, 'This won't do at all,' she said, and gave me the cake that had turned out like a biscuit. I thought it very good. It had currants in it.[2]

It was an immediate best-seller, selling 60,000 copies in its first year and totalling nearly two million up to 1868.[3] Today, despite the numerous copies published, a first edition of Household Management, in "top condition", can sell for more than £1,000.[4] In 1863, a revised edition was issued in instalments.

In 1866, a year after Isabella's death, Samuel was in debt due to the collapse of Overend and Gurney, a London discount house to which he owed money. To save himself from bankruptcy he sold the copyright to all of his publications for a little over £19,000.[5] Of that, the rights to Household Management were sold to publishers Ward, Lock and Tyler for £3,250,[5][6] although Beeton continued to run it. The early editions included an obituary notice for Beeton, but the publishers insisted it be removed 'allowing readers to imagine – perhaps even as late as 1915 – that some mob-capped matriarch was out there still keeping an eye on them'.[7]

Revisions to Household Management by its publisher, Ward Lock, have continued to the present day. The effort has kept the Beeton name in the public eye for over 125 years, although current editions are far removed from those published in Mrs. Beeton's lifetime.

By 1906, the book had 2,056 pages, "exclusive of advertising", with 3,931 recipes and was "half as large again" as the previous edition.[8]



The preface sets out the book's goal of providing "men" with such well-cooked food at home that it may compete with what they could eat "at their clubs, well-ordered taverns, and dining-houses". Mrs. Beeton claims that "I have attempted to give, under the chapters devoted to cookery, an intelligible arrangement to every recipe, a list of the ingredients, a plain statement of the mode of preparing each dish, and a careful estimate of its cost, the number of people for whom it is sufficient, and the time when it is seasonable", in other words to make the basics of cookery "intelligible" to any "housewife".

The first chapter, on "The Mistress", sets the tone of the book with a quotation from the Book of Proverbs, and cites also The Vicar of Wakefield with words about "The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy, who reclaims the one from vice and trains up the other to virtue", advocating early rising, cleanliness, frugality, good temper, and the wisdom of interviewing servants rather than relying on written references.

Cookery is introduced with words about "the progress of mankind from barbarism to civilization", with a mention of man "in his primitive state, [living] upon roots and the fruits of the earth", rising to become in turn "a hunter and a fisher"; then a "herdsman" and finally "the comfortable condition of a farmer." It is granted that "the fruits of the earth, the fowls of the air, the beasts of the field, and the fish of the sea, are still the only food of mankind", but "these are so prepared, improved, and dressed by skill and ingenuity, that they are the means of immeasurably extending the boundaries of human enjoyments. The text then swiftly passes to a description of simple measures like a table-spoonful, and the duties of servants.

The whole of the rest of the book is taken up with instructions for cooking, with an introduction in each chapter to the type of food it describes. The first of these, on soups, begins "Lean, juicy beef, mutton, and veal, form the basis of all good soups; therefore it is advisable to procure those pieces which afford the richest succulence, and such as are fresh-killed." The account of how to make soup consists of a single essay, divided into general advice and numbered steps for making any kind of (meat-based) soup. This is followed in early editions by a separate chapter of recipes for soups of different kinds.

Each recipe is structured into a title, a list of ingredients (with quantities, either natural—as a number of eggs or vegetables, a number of slices of ham—or measured in Imperial units—ounces of salt, quarts of water. The actual instructions are headed "Mode", as "Cut up the veal, and put it with the bones and trimmings of poultry". A separate section gives the overall preparation time, and the average cost as, for example, "9d. per quart".[a] Many recipes state in separate brief sections when a recipe is "Seasonable" and for how many persons it is "Sufficient". Finally, a "Note" gives any required advice, as "When stronger stock is desired, double the quantity of veal, or put in an old fowl."


First chapter of Book of Household Management

The following description refers to the 1907 edition; the book had been greatly extended in the decades since Mrs. Beeton's death (in 1865) to 74 chapters and over 2000 pages; the first edition had 44 chapters.

The book begins with general chapters on the duties of the "mistress", the housekeeper, and the cook. There follow chapters on the kitchen itself, "marketing" (choosing good-quality produce at the market), and (Chapter 6) an introduction to cookery. Together, these take up over 100 pages. Chapters 7 to 38 (roughly 1000 pages) cover English cooking, with recipes for soups, gravies, fish, meat (principally veal, beef, mutton and lamb, and pork), poultry, game, preserves, vegetables, pastries, puddings, sweets, jams, pickles, and savouries. Chapter 39 describes the "art of carving at table", supported by 11 illustrations. Chapters 40 to 50 (some 200 pages) give instructions for dairy products, vegetarian and invalid (sick person) cookery, making bread, biscuits and cakes, and beverages. Chapters 51 to 59 describe cooking in various international styles including French, German, Spanish, Jewish, Australian, South African, Indian, American and Canadian cookery. Chapters 60 to 68 provide guidance on matters from trussing poultry to the definitions of culinary terms, arranging meals, decorating the table, making menus and the duties of domestic servants. Chapters 69 to 73 describe "household recipes" and medical preparations. The final chapter, 74, offers "legal memoranda".

There is a detailed index. The edition includes advertisements for products such as "Lemco" beef extract and "Cadbury's Cocoa".


(The tomato's) flavour stimulates the appetite, and is almost universally approved. The Tomato is a wholesome fruit, and digests easily. ... it has been found to contain a particular acid, a volatile oil, a brown, very fragrant extracto-resinous matter, a vegeto-mineral matter, muco-saccharine, some salts, and, in all probability, an alkaloid. The whole plant has a disagreeable odour, and its juice, subjected to the action of the fire, emits a vapour so powerful as to cause vertigo and vomiting.

Book of Household Management sections 1158–1159. The conflicting opinions on the tomato occurring on the same page has been noted as seemingly careless editing.[9]

Despite professing to be a guide of reliable information about every aspect of running a house for the aspirant middle classes, the original edition devotes 23 pages to household management, then discusses cooking for almost all of the other 900.[9] Even with the emphasis on food some of her cooking advice is so odd as to suggest that she had little experience preparing meals.[9] As an example, she recommends boiling pasta for an hour and forty-five minutes.[9] Like many other British people of her social class and generation she adopted a distaste for unfamiliar foods, saying that mangoes tasted like turpentine, lobsters were indigestible, garlic was offensive, potatoes were "suspicious; a great many are narcotic, and many are deleterious", cheese could only be consumed by sedentary people, and tomatoes were either good or bad for a range of reasons.[9]

Unlike earlier cookbook authors, such as Hannah Glasse, Beeton offered an "emphasis on thrift and economy".[1] She also discarded the style of previous writers who employed "daunting paragraph[s] of text with ingredients and method jumbled up together" for what is a recognisably modern "user-friendly formula listing ingredients, method, timings and even the estimated cost of each recipe".[1][10]


The recipes were largely drawn from the most successful cookery books of the day: as the New York Times put it, "Isabella [Beeton] plagiarized only the best".[11] The copying was recommended to Mrs Beeton by a friend, Henrietta English, who advised that "Cookery is a Science that is only learnt by Long Experience and years of study which of course you have not had. Therefore my advice would be compile a book from receipts from a Variety of the Best Books published on Cookery and Heaven knows there is a great variety for you to choose from."[12] The largely unacknowledged "variety" included Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families,[13] Elizabeth Raffald's The Experienced English Housekeeper, Marie-Antoine Carême's Le Pâtissier royal parisien,[14] Louis Eustache Ude's The French Cook, Alexis Soyer's The Modern Housewife or, Ménagère and The Pantropheon, Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Maria Eliza Rundell's A New System of Domestic Cookery, and the works of Charles Elmé Francatelli.[15][16][17] This led to the later charge that "Mrs Beeton couldn't cook but she could copy".[18] Her biographer Kathryn Hughes recounts that Beeton's "first recipe for Victoria sponge was so inept that she left out the eggs" and that her work was "brazenly copied ... almost word for word, from books as far back as the Restoration".[18] The influential 20th-century food writer Elizabeth David dismissed her as "a plagiarist"[19] and later wrote: "I wonder if I would have ever learned to cook at all if I had been given a routine Mrs Beeton to learn from".[20]


Full-page colour plate of puddings from the book

The 1907 edition runs to some 30 full-page colour plates, and over 100 full-page illustrations in monochrome. These include photographs, such as of the housekeeper standing with hands behind her back in her kitchen, facing the first page of Chapter 2, "The Housekeeper". There are 11 illustrations of types of fish, such as "steamed sole" and "soused mackerel", and another of "fish entrées".

Colour plates include "Fruit", showing fruits such as apricots, white and black cherries, white, red and black currants, a melon, strawberries and varieties of plums, all piled high on circular dishes or fruit stands.

Influence and legacy[edit]

The book gives an historically significant insight into Victorian domestic management. Although it is not a modern book, it has been frequently reprinted in Britain and is available to this day. The name "Mrs Beeton" still has iconic status in Britain: most people recognize it and know its connotations, although relatively few have actually come into contact with a copy. The phrase "first, catch your hare", while popularly thought to originate here, was already proverbial when the book was written; Hannah Glasse's earlier The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy (1747) contained the phrase "first case [i.e., skin] your hare".[21][22]


The preface of Wilhelmina Rawson's Queensland Cookery and Poultry Book (1878), published in Australia, observes that: "Mrs Lance Rawson's Cookery Book ... is written entirely for the Colonies, and for the middle classes, and for those people who cannot afford to buy a Mrs Beeton or a Warne, but who can afford the three shillings for this."[23][24]

The Oxford English Dictionary recognised that, by the 1890s, Beeton's name "was adopted as a term for an authority on all things domestic and culinary".[25]

A chapter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel A Duet, with an Occasional Chorus (1899) is entitled, "Concerning Mrs. Beeton"; a character declares: "Mrs Beeton must have been the finest housekeeper in the world, therefore Mr. Beeton must have been the happiest and most comfortable man".[26][27]


Mrs Beeton has been described as "the grandmother of modern domestic goddesses", like Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith, who saw, as Beeton did, the need to provide reassuring advice on culinary matters for the British middle classes.[1] However, while Lawson and Smith "insist that cooking can be easy, fun and uncomplicated", Beeton "acknowledges the labour and skill required to cook well".[1]

The food writer and chef Gerard Baker tested and revised 220 of Beeton's recipes, and published the result as Mrs. Beeton: How To Cook (2011).[28]

For the book's 150th anniversary in 2011, the Royal Society of Chemistry planned to feature one of Beeton's recipes. Due to the financial climate at the time in wake of the Great Recession, the Society selected Beeton's Toast sandwich; a dish that Beeton included to cater to the less well-off.[29]

In 2012, the food economist for the British television period drama Downton Abbey described Beeton's book as an "important guide" for the food served in the series.[30]


The book has appeared in many editions, including:[31]


  1. ^ "d" means a penny, 1/240 of a pound sterling.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Russell, Polly (2010-12-03). "Mrs Beeton, the first domestic goddess". Financial Times. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  2. ^ "THE HOME PAGE.". The Advocate (Burnie, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 20 June 1936. p. 12 Edition: DAILY. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Stark, Monica (July 2001). "Domesticity for Victorian Dummies". January Magazine. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  4. ^ Miller, Judith (2010-03-21). "Cookery Books". Millers' Antiques Guide. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  5. ^ a b "MISCELLANEOUS.". The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 18 March 1867. p. 4. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  6. ^ "How successful was Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management?". Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper (1257). 23 December 1866. Archived from the original on 18 February 2010. 
  7. ^ Barnes, Julian (2003-04-05). "Mrs Beeton to the rescue". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  8. ^ "THE COOKERY BOOK.". Western Mail (Perth: National Library of Australia). 25 August 1906. p. 38. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Bryson, Bill (2011). At home : a short history of private life (1st Anchor Books ed.). New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 978-0-7679-1939-5. 
  10. ^ Stringer, Helen (2000-01-19). "Mrs. Beeton Saved My Life". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  11. ^ Shapiro, Laura. "'The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton,' by Kathryn Hughes: Domestic Goddess". New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Spain, Nancy (1948). Mrs Beeton and her Husband. Collins. p. 115. OCLC 3178766. 
  13. ^ Hardy, Sheila (2011). The Real Mrs Beeton: The Story of Eliza Acton. History Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-7524-6680-4. 
  14. ^ Broomfield, Andrea (Summer 2008). "Rushing Dinner to the Table: The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine and Industrialization's Effects on Middle-Class Food and Cooking, 1852–1860". Victorian Periodicals Review 41 (2): 101–23. JSTOR 20084239. 
  15. ^ Hughes, Kathryn (2006). The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton. HarperCollins. pp. 198–201, 206–10. ISBN 978-0-7524-6122-9. 
  16. ^ Hughes, Kathryn. "Mrs Beeton and the Art of Household Management". British Library. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  17. ^ Brown, Mark (2 June 2006). "Mrs Beeton couldn't cook but she could copy, reveals historian". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. 
  18. ^ a b Brown, Mark (2006-06-02). "Mrs Beeton couldn't cook but she could copy, reveals historian". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  19. ^ Leith, Prue (14 August 2005). "The original domestic goddess". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  20. ^ Cooper, Artemis (2000). Writing at the Kitchen Table – The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David. Michael Joseph. p. 45. ISBN 0-7181-4224-1. 
  21. ^ "QUOTATION: First, catch your hare". 
  22. ^ Mayes, Ian (3 June 2000). "Splitting Hares". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 March 2015. 
  23. ^ "The Queensland Cookery and Poultry Book.*.". The Queenslander (Brisbane: National Library of Australia). 5 March 1887. p. 391. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  24. ^ "Advertising.". The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia). 30 December 1886. p. 3. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  25. ^ Etty, Claire. "The language of cooking: from 'Forme of Cury' to 'Pukka Tucker'". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  26. ^ Wikisource:A Duet, with an Occasional Chorus/Chapter XI
  27. ^ "BOOKS, PUBLICATIONS, ETC,.". Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW: National Library of Australia). 25 July 1906. p. 34. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  28. ^ Sitwell, William (2012-04-18). "What Mrs Beeton did to us". The Spectator. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  29. ^ "RSC press release: Mrs Beeton's toast sandwich". Retrieved 2015-11-09. 
  30. ^ Krystal, Becky (2012-12-31). "On 'Downton Abbey,' aspic matters". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  31. ^ "Book of Household management". WorldCat. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 

External links[edit]