- Georgiana Hill’s Household Manual Series: How to Cook Dinner in a Hundred Different Ways
Beginning in 1860, the publisher George Routledge and Sons published a series of small, affordable recipe books in a series called Household Manuals. These books were affordable because they had soft covers, were flimsily bound, and were printed on thin paper. Holding one in your hands feels very different from handling Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management. Beeton’s book is a heavy and expensive object; it is filled with over a thousand recipes, many of which would have been costly to prepare. Georgiana Hill was the author of the Household Manual recipe books, the first of which was The Cook’s Own Book: A Manual of Cookery for the Kitchen and the Cottage (1860). Hill was a prolific cookery writer in the 1860s. Although she has recently received the posthumous recognition of an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Hill is not a household name and never was. Material culture may offer part of the answer to why her books have not stood the test of time as well as many other cookbooks published in the same decade. [End Page 200]
Each of Hill’s thirteen Household Manuals is thin, but, for anyone who collected the whole series, they provided a far more comprehensive approach to cooking dinner than typical Victorian cookery compendiums. The Cook’s Own Book, published in 1860, offered general information about ways of cooking (how to roast, boil, grill, fry, etc.); how to make various standard sauces and gravies; and food buying, preparing, and preserving, all of which was considered the bare minimum of knowledge for anyone running a household at that time. This first volume was followed by twelve standalone specialized books, each on a specific dish or ingredient, with titles such as How to Cook Fish in a Hundred Different Ways (1866); Soups: How to Make Them in More Than a Hundred Different Ways (1867); Onions Dressed and Served in a Hundred Different Ways (1867); and How to Cook Vegetables in One Hundred Different Ways (1868). The 1860s saw the publication of a great many other books of recipes. These typically offered a comprehensive guide to household management followed by a great many chapters—for example “Sheep and Lamb,” “Game,” “Vegetables,” or “Puddings and Pastry”—but with only a few recipes in each chapter. It is in contrast to these—books with titles such as Cookery and Domestic Economy for Young Housewives (1862) or Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book (1868)—that Hill’s small but sophisticated publications stand out. For readers of many of the heftier recipe books on the market in the 1860s, recipes came along with wide-ranging domestic advice, on things as diverse as basic medicine and the law, how much to pay your servants, and the best month for washing the curtains. As objects, Hill’s books, containing only recipes, belonged solely in the kitchen. Other popular titles may have become part of the housewife’s reference library, objects to be valued and kept clean.
In the introduction to Cook’s Own Book, Hill suggests that hers was the “cheapest original treatise on the art yet produced” (3). She urges the effectiveness of the Socratic method, which she used in this book, but not in any of her other titles:
[B]y the method of conveying information through the medium of question and answer—quite novel in cookery books,—it is believed that the more important rules and directions will be more readily understood, and better impressed on the memory of young practitioners, than by the ordinary mode hitherto adopted.(3)
It was customary for cookery writers to make a claim for the importance of their books, presumably because all the books were so similar, making it difficult to claim originality. As objects to be given, kept, consulted, and passed down through the generations, these books needed to find ways to impress with their usefulness. Many authors used words such as “new” or “modern” to distinguish their publications. Cheapness was a less effective selling point to promote the preservation of a book as a...