The contents of Household Management were published firstly as 24 monthly supplements in a magazine called The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. Isabella was just 25 at the time but her husband, Samuel Beeton, was a publisher and this magazine was one of his titles. He was responsible also for devising the magazine Boy’s Own and achieved initial success after securing the British rights to the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin by the American author Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Although we remember Isabella as a cook the title of her book suggests more. In fact it gives tips on childcare, managing servants, first aid, fashion and the use of local and seasonal produce. She was an early version of what today would be entitled a ‘home stylist’ able to provide advice and tips across a wide range of domestic topics appealing in her day to the Victorian woman managing her household. Very popular at the time, her ideas and opinions would make her a guaranteed star of TV, blogs, Twitter and magazines if she were living today.
What is particularly interesting is that with just one book she established a Beeton brand that remains recognisable today. In fact her husband recognised this and he went on to exploit the brand publishing titles such as Beeton’s Needlework, geography, pets, natural history, trees and other topics. Unfortunately he was not that successful a businessman and circumstances forced him to sell the Beeton name to the rival publisher Ward Lock.
The concept of a brand is considered a vital ingredient in the success of products, organisations and individuals today and Mrs Beeton provides a very early example of the ‘strength of the brand’. Sadly she did not live to see any success and fame as she died following the birth of her fourth child at the age of just 28.
What was special about Mrs Beeton’s recipes in 1861 was that they were presented to the reader in a standardized format that began by listing the ingredients and quantities followed by detailed preparation and cooking instructions in a linear fashion. In addition she showed the approximate costs of each serving, the seasonality of the ingredients and the number of portions per dish.
Inevitably with such a high profile figure there was criticism. Most injurious was that Isabella claimed many recipes for her own when in fact a large majority was sourced from others. These included other noted cooks and chefs of the time as well as individuals who were encouraged to send their recipes to the The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. Elizabeth David accused Mrs Beeton of encouraging plain English cooking and discouraging a sense of adventure.
However the title continues to sell and many new versions have updated and modernized some of the recipes while retaining Isabella’s original concepts. Testimony to the enduring strength of the brand is that Beeton appears in the Oxford English Dictionary as an authority on cooking.
Words to the Wise have re-editioned Isabella Beeton’s Jam-making and Preserves that is available in paperback or as an ebook.
The traditional marmalade season is not far off and Mrs B has a whole chapter devoted to ther topic with four different recipes for orange marmalade as well as lemon, peach, quince and tangerine versions.