The Language of Food – Annabel Abbs

Published By: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 416
Released On: 02/03/2022

England 1837. Eliza Acton is a poet who dreams of seeing her words in print. But when she takes her new manuscript to a publisher, she’s told that ”poetry is not the business of a lady”. Instead, they want her to write a cookery book. England is awash with exciting new ingredients, from spices to exotic fruits. That’s what readers really want from women.

Eliza leaves the office appalled. But when her father is forced to flee the country for bankruptcy, she has no choice but to consider the proposal. Never having cooked before in her life, she is determined to learn and to discover, if she can, the poetry in recipe writing. To assist her, she hires 17 year old, Ann Kirby, the impoverished daughter of a war-crippled father and a mother with dementia.

Over the course of ten years, Eliza and Ann developed an unusual friendship – one that crossed social classes and divides – and, together, they broke the mould of traditional cookbooks and changed the course of cookery writing forever.

*****

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

This book was captivating from the very start to the very end. It’s entertaining, engaging, and historically very interesting. It’s fascinating to see the lives of two real-life (albeit with artistic license) headstrong women in what was a very heavily male-dominated world.

I was appalled at how the ‘lessers’ of society (the alcoholics, the mentally and physically ill) were treated in the 1800, which in the grand scheme of things, was not that long ago. There’s a lot to moan about regarding the current times we live in, but I do feel grateful that women have more of a position than 200 years ago.

I love reading recipe books and I own about 50 of them, but I’m ashamed to say I had not heard of Eliza Acton (but I had heard of Mrs Beeton, a writer I found out from this book who had stolen some of Eliza’s work and passed it off as her own). If Annabel Abbs’ writing is anything like Eliza’s was, it is then obvious how a recipe book could be written just as beautifully as a poetry book, with as much heart and magic. She makes even the simplest of dishes sound like a feast – something I find difficult to do considering food has to be seen, smelt, tasted to be enjoyed. At times, I forgot I was even reading someone else’s words, it felt like it could have been a history book in its accuracy.

I will do my best to source a copy of Eliza’s cookery book, and take more care and appreciation when reading others, for they all owe a great debt to Miss Eliza Acton.

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