Tucked in the row of cookery books in our dining room, we have an edition of Mrs Beeton’s Every-Day Cookery. Although it’s from 1923 and the sections on household management had been updated, the great bulk of the book is the same as it was when it was first published in 1861. To my knowledge we’ve never actually used the recipes, perhaps not surprisingly, since the measures are archaic and many of the ingredients seldom used today. Some of the dishes are also rather strange – I’m not sure that “stewed ox-palate” would go down very well at a dinner party.
However, I’ve always found the book a fascinating insight into what the average middle class family might have been eating 100-150 years ago. One of my favourite parts is the front- and back-matter, where advertisements for gelatine and beef tea jostle for space with promotions of new-fangled labour-saving devices and adverts for guidebooks and advice manuals. In this post, I have gathered together some of the most interesting advertisements. It’s interesting to see how unsubtle advertising used to be, to discern the influence of the British Empire on the circulation and promotion of material goods, and to note how contemporary concerns such as economical living and the use of natural foodstuffs were played upon, just as they are today.
Some food products have distinctly imperialist overtones:
Other advertisements promote different brands of the same product, each claiming superiority over the other by virtue of purity and taste:
Several of the food products advertised still exist today, though one or two have been put to unexpected uses: