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One of the very best wedding presents I was given when I got hitched back in 1975, was a huge Mrs Beeton's household advice and cookery book, first published in the late part of the 19th century. Although some of the ideas within were very old-fashioned, I nonetheless was able to turn to it whenever I needed advice on all sorts of domestic things, especially cooking.
At some point, my Mrs Beeton's bible got lost, probably in a house move, and a couple of years ago I spotted a hugely abridged version on sale, namely The Best Of Mrs Beeton's Easy Every Day Cooking, so bought a copy and have off and on used it ever since.
The book is hardback, with a pale green and white paper cover, bearing the title in a font which is supposed to look quaintly old-fashioned, and a small image of a print of Mrs Beeton herself, with one of her quotations printed on the back ("Dine we must and we may as well dine elegantly as well as wholesomely.") There are 250 pages, made of fairly good-quality, semi-shiny paper.
The recipes contained within are, like most cookbooks, divided into sections such as soups, starters, main meals (which in turn are divided into lamb, beef, chicken, fish etc. sections), following on with things such as salads, buffet foods and sauces. There is a comprehensive index at the rear of the book, preceded by a couple of sections which give conversion tables from imperial into metric, microwaving advice and oven temperature conversion tables.
Throughout the book, the font (size and type) used is very readable, with the ingredients lists for the recipes being in bold. Each recipe states how many people it is intended to serve, with some giving a little written preamble, and others offering suggestions on how the recipes can be varied. Scattered through the book are a few tips, originally suggested by Mrs Beeton herself. Sadly, unlike the original Mrs Beeton book, there are no colour plates showing stages of cooking the recipes, or ingredients used. A few black and white line drawings are scattered around, but they aren't very detailed, so I'd not recommend using them as a guide to how a completed dish should look.
A large number of the recipes in this book are originals, just how I remember them from my old and long-lost Mrs Beeton tome, but others have obviously been tweaked, no doubt with the intention of making them more appealing and perhaps more palatable to a modern-day 'foodie'. For instance, various ingredients used in some of the recipes simply weren't available or even invented in Mrs Beeton's era. As an example, one (vegetarian) recipe includes tofu, which I don't think anybody in the UK had heard of until around the late 1970s, and another suggests using a food processor, plus many of the dishes are at least partly cooked in a microwave oven.
Although I haven't tried all of the recipes in this very much abridged modern-day Mrs Beeton offering, I have worked my way through a significant number of them and can say that providing the instructions are obeyed right down to the last full-stop, they do work.
I do miss the household tips and other interesting/useful paraphernalia from the original book though, but if this particular publication were to contain those extra details, it would be much bigger and no doubt much more expensive. There is still a vague olde worlde feeling to the concept of cookery and eating present in at least half of the recipes, but those which have been tampered with to keep up with the epicurean times, have lost some of their original charm and soul. Also, there aren't any dessert recipes present, which I personally find a little strange.
Some of the recipes are more complicated to follow and achieve success with than others - it really does depend on how experienced a cook anybody is, and how adventurous. This is a book which I would guess isn't a good one to start learning to cook from, as it does pre-suppose a certain degree of knowledge.
All in all though, despite some alterations and omissions, The Best Of Mrs Beeton's Easy Everyday Cookbook is a useful collection of recipes which are largely tasty, providing the instructions are adhered to, and I'd recommend it for any bookshelf....you may find yourself consulting it quite often, as I do whenever I want to cook something a bit more upmarket than beans on toast.
At the time of writing, there are twelve used copies of The Best Of Mrs Beeton's Easy Everyday Cookbook for sale on Amazon, with prices ranging from £12.76 to £43.16, plus a £2.80 delivery charge. I bought my own copy new when it was first published in 2005, paying £5.99 for it in a London branch of W H Smiths. The way prices have leapt astronomically during the few years since buying my own copy and with the cheapest of used copies on Amazon being £12.76, possibly indicates that to buy the book new now, you could be kissing goodbye to £15 at the very least, so despite the advantages, I'm not sure that it would be worth such a price as it probably doesn't contain anything too much different to many other cookbooks. However, if it is possible to pick up a copy somewhere for a significantly lower price, then I'd definitely recommend it to be a good and useful purchase.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~