Miss Eliza's English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship
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...