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

Morrow. Oct. 2021. 400p. ISBN 9780063066465. pap. $16.99. F
Poet Eliza Acton is initially insulted by the suggestion that she write a cookery book. She refuses to entertain such a notion, until her father faces bankruptcy. Suddenly, organizing recipes and creating culinary delights are her only options. To aid her in this endeavor, she hires Ann Kirby, a woman living in desperate poverty. The two women, though from vastly different backgrounds, forge an unlikely friendship as they work tirelessly on Eliza’s recipe book. Told from the dual perspectives of Eliza and Ann, this novel, based on actual events, chronicles the challenges they face due to gender and class; family pressures and obligations; and their hopes and dreams. Eliza’s recipe format, the first of its kind, is still used today. With Eliza’s writing skills and Ann’s organic talent for cooking, the women made a formidable team. Eliza broke barriers and has been a model for many future English authors and cooks alike.
VERDICT Abbs (The Joyce Girl) has written 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.
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