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Persephone book no:

A New System of Domestic Cookery

by Mrs Rundell

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PREFACE BY JANET MORGAN
432pp
ISBN 9781903155745

A New System of Domestic Cookery by Mrs Rundell appeared first in 1806 and was frequently reprinted throughout the nineteenth century. The final edition was in 1893, when Mrs Beeton had been hugely popular for thirty years. It will be for food historians to work out why her book remained in print and Mrs Rundell’s vanished; but the fact is this is the first time Domestic Cookery has been reprinted for over a hundred years. We have used the 1816 edition, and are confident that most people will be able to cook from this book with ease, perhaps not as readily so as with Good Things in England but nevertheless nearly everyone will be able to adapt Mrs Rundell’s suggestions to present-day use with no difficulty.

We first came across her book in Jane Austen’s Cookbook by Maggie Black, since Domestic Cookery is one of the books Jane Austen would have used (had she cooked); our 1816 edition appeared in the same year as Emma. The Cookbook has ten of Mrs Rundell’s recipes: for beef-steak pudding, apple pie, solid syllabubs, apple puffs, salmagundy, oyster loaves, little iced cakes, pigeon pie, orange peel straws in syrup, and rout drop cakes.

We then read about Mrs Rundell in the Guardian – when the John Murray Archive went to the National Library of Scotland there was an article about her because her bestselling cookery book was the foundation for the success of John Murray as a publisher. The new Persephone Preface is by Janet Morgan, a writer and member of the Library Board of Trustees; she explains Mrs Rundell’s interesting but sometimes troubled relationship with the firm of John Murray. Domestic Cookery was, Mrs Rundell said, ‘intended for the conduct of the famillies of the authoress’s own daughters, and for the arrangement of their table, so as to unite a good figure with proper economy...This little work would have been a treasure to herself when she first set out in life, and she therefore hopes it may prove useful to others.’ As well as its extensive and varied list of ‘receipts’, more than a thousand, it addressed multiple daily domestic challenges. ‘To make Paste for Chapped Hands, and which will preserve them smooth by constant use...’; ‘To cement broken China’; ‘To take Stains of any kind out of Linen...’; ‘...To make Flannels keep their colour and not shrink...’; ‘...To dye White gloves a Beautiful Purple...’

And, Janet Morgan continues: ‘Daily life in the nineteenth century had a long agenda: “To make Pot Pourri; an excellent Water to prevent hair from falling off, and to thicken it [a mixture of unadulterated honey, tendrils of vines and rosemary-tops]; Black Ink; Fine Blacking for Shoes. Evidently Mrs Rundell did not keep to her morning room, marking up menus submitted by Cook, but was pleasurably engaged in growing, harvesting, and buying food. She reared her own hens in yards and poultry-houses built to her specification. Roosting arrangements and systems for deterring foxes and other predators were described. If the hens did not lay (she had a prescription to encourage them), she knew how to choose eggs at the market: “Put the large end of the egg to your tongue; if it feels warm it is new.” Butter, too, is best from home but, if none can be made there, she knew how to test the offerings at the butter-stall: “Put a knife into the butter if salt, and smell it when drawn out....” Tasting butter sold from barrels needs special persistence: “Being made at different times, the layers in casks will vary greatly; and you will not easily come at the goodness but by unhooping the cask, and trying it between the staves.” The dairyman surely forgives this customer, who, having dismantled his barrels, finds joy in the contents: “Fresh butter ought to smell like a nosegay.”’

Interestingly, Mrs Rundell’s book was also a bestseller in the United States (and has now been scanned in by Google): from 1806-44 there were fifteen American editions. And in that time there were sixty-seven English reprints, an astonishing number; which makes it even more inexplicable that Domestic Cookery vanished in the twentieth century. We are confident, however, that nearly two hundred years on Persephone readers will find it both useful and entertaining, as well as being a work of social history in itself.

Endpaper

A block-printed cotton in Lapis style 1808-15

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