Women with writerly aspirations in the early 1800s had few options for publication. Most female writers were advised to stick to gothic novels, bits of poetry, or cookery. Even if they had never cooked. Such was the case for Elizabeth Acton, whose desire to become a poet was derailed by a publisher who rejected her manuscript but offered her the opportunity to write a book of household cookery.
Annabel Abbs creates a fictional world that gives life to Acton’s plan to create her book by taking everything wrong with previous cookery books (such as the lack of an ingredients list, concise temperatures, measurements or cooking times) and making them better. In real life Acton’s family was destitute and she and her mother ran a boarding house where she tested all of her recipes with the help of one kitchen assistant, Ann Kirby.