Miss Eliza's English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship (Paperback)
Do you love a good recipe book? If you do, do you have any idea where and how the recipe books we have today came to be?
Miss Eliza's Kitchen is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Miss Elizabeth Acton. Elizabeth Acton produced the very first English cooking book for the everyday housewife that provides a list of measurements and precise instructions for cooking. Though if you do manage to find yourself a copy of Elizabeth's Acton's book somewhere, the list of ingredients will be at the end rather than at the beginning of each recipe. Nevertheless, can you imagine having to make something with no list of ingredients and no measurements? Just 'a bit' of this, and 'a touch' of that?
The story is told alternately by Ann (servant) and Eliza (Miss of the house). We get a good view of the way each of them thinks and how, although their lives are completely different, some of their fears and internal struggles are oh so similar.
Eliza wants more than the world of her time allowed a woman of her age that was still single to have and do. She wants to write poems and ends up writing a cookbook instead. I dare you not to be hungry while reading this one, it is virtually impossible. Annabel Abbs did a great job at describing every little morsel of food in perfect detail, from the look, to the taste, to the aroma. Eliza has a wonderful soul, but throughout the book she realizes her struggles are perhaps not as harsh as those less fortunate, such as Ann. And towards the end, we also find that her struggles are not as simple as being a spinster, there is more to it.
Ann also wants more than what the world of her time allowed a woman of her station. She is very poor, with a drunk as a father, and a mother with serious mental health issues. She ends up working as Miss Eliza's assistant and the two bond over food. Ann is very young and it is interesting to watch her grow as a woman. It is also at times disturbing, man at that time could get away with just about anything done to the help and Annabel Abbs does not shy away from that while writing this book.
Miss Eliza's Kitchen was mesmerizing from beginning to end. Kept me engaged and wanting to know how it would all unfold. Although this is a work of fiction, it is based on very real facts, which made the story a lot more interesting and intriguing. Once I finished I had to go and see what was real and what was fiction. All in all, a fantastic book, just don't read it while hungry, it won't help things...— Anne Zastrow
One of the Season's Best Historical Fiction Novels by the New York Times!
Good Housekeeping Book Club Pick for November!
A Country Living Best Book of Fall!
A Washington Post Best Feel-Good Book of the Year!
In a novel perfect for fans of Hazel Gaynor’s A Memory of Violets and upstairs-downstairs stories, Annabel Abbs, the award-winning author of The Joyce Girl, returns with the brilliant real-life story of Eliza Acton and her assistant as they revolutionized British cooking and cookbooks around the world.
Before Mrs. Beeton and well before Julia Child, there was Eliza Acton, who changed the course of cookery writing forever.
England, 1835. London is awash with thrilling new ingredients, from rare spices to exotic fruits. But no one knows how to use them. When Eliza Acton is told by her publisher to write a cookery book instead of the poetry she loves, she refuses—until her bankrupt father is forced to flee the country. As a woman, Eliza has few options. Although she’s never set foot in a kitchen, she begins collecting recipes and teaching herself to cook. Much to her surprise she discovers a talent – and a passion – for the culinary arts.
Eliza hires young, destitute Ann Kirby to assist her. As they cook together, Ann learns about poetry, love and ambition. The two develop a radical friendship, breaking the boundaries of class while creating new ways of writing recipes. But when Ann discovers a secret in Eliza’s past, and finds a voice of her own, their friendship starts to fray.
Based on the true story of the first modern cookery writer, Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen is a spellbinding novel about female friendship, the struggle for independence, and the transcendent pleasures and solace of food.
About the Author
Annabel Abbs grew up in Wales and Sussex, with stints in Dorset, Bristol and Hereford. She has a degree in English Literature from the University of East Anglia and a Masters in Marketing from the University of Kingston. After fifteen years running a consultancy, she took a career break to bring up her four children, before returning to her first love, literature.
Her debut novel, The Joyce Girl, won the 2015 Impress Prize for New Writing and the 2015 Spotlight First Novel Award, and was longlisted for the 2015 Caledonia Novel Award and the 2015 Bath Novel Award. Her short stories and journalism have appeared in various places including Mslexia, The Guardian, The Irish Times, Weekend Australian Review, Elle, The Author, The Daily Telegraph, Psychologies and the Huffington Post. She has been profiled in Writing Magazine, Sussex Life, Next NZ, Litro and Female First. Her blog, www.kaleandcocoa.com, was featured in the Daily Telegraph in August 2015 and May 2016.
She lives in London and Sussex with her family and an old labrador. Annabel tweets (sporadically) on books, writing and the arts at @annabelabbs.
"In Miss Eliza's English Kitchen, Abbs serves up a brilliantly imagined tale in which Eliza Acton finally gets the recognition she deserves. A feast for the senses, rich with the flavors of Victorian England, I prepared every dish with Eliza and Ann and devoured every page. A literary—and culinary—triumph!" — Hazel Gaynor, New York Times bestselling author of When We Were Young & Brave
"I love Abbs’ writing and the extraordinary, hidden stories she unearths. Eliza Acton is her best discovery yet." — Clare Pooley, New York Times bestselling author of The Authenticity Project
"An effervescent novel, bursting with delectable language and elegant details about cookbook writer, Eliza Acton. Don’t miss this intimate glimpse into the early English kitchens and snapshot of food history." — Sara Dahmen, author of Copper Iron and Clay: A Smith’s Journey
“A sumptuous banquet of a book that nourished me and satisfied me just as Eliza Acton’s meals would have... I adored it.” — Polly Crosby, author of The Illustrated Child
"Wonderful...Abbs is such a good story teller. She catches period atmosphere and character so well." — Vanessa Nicolson, author of Have You Been Good
“In Miss Eliza's English Kitchen, we learn of the bankruptcy that forced Eliza into genteel poverty and her father into clandestine exile, of Ann’s desperate attempts to cope with a ne’er-do-well father and a mentally ill mother... Eliza and Ann take turns narrating, but at all times food is foremost.”
— New York Times Book Review
“An empowering read about the woman who changed cookbooks forever … It’s a story of independence and resilience that also celebrates the legitimacy of the culinary arts.” — Good Housekeeping
"Desperate to get your Downton Abbey fix and love a good historical fiction read that's inspired by a true story? Miss Eliza's English Kitchen is just what you need." — Country Living
“Beautifully written by bestselling author Annabel Abbs, this engrossing novel tells the tale of real-life poet and feminist Eliza Acton, who was well-known for her poetry, but less so for her major innovations in food and recipe writing.” — Organic Spa Magazine
“Abbs chooses the brilliant tactic of giving both Eliza and Ann equal time as point-of-view characters in this novel; because their voices are so distinct, and because they occupy such different classes, we get a portrait of Victorian domestic life that is both encompassing and finely detailed…” — Historical Novels Society, "Editor's Choice"
“A fascinating, long overdue tribute to the unconventional Eliza Acton, the woman who revolutionized the English cookbook. Ann’s and Eliza’s drives for independence is inspiring, and their passion for cooking will awaken readers’ inner chef.” — Library Journal (starred review)