Thursday, April 10

Eliza Acton

Elizabeth 'Eliza' Acton (April 17, 1799 - February 13, 1859) was an English poet and cook who produced one of the country's first cookbooks aimed at the domestic reader rather than the professional cook or chef, Modern Cookery for Private Families. In this book she introduced the now-universal practice of listing the ingredients and suggested cooking times with each recipe.

Isabella Beeton's bestselling Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861) was closely modeled on it. Contemporary chef Delia Smith is quoted as having called Acton "the best writer of recipes in the English language." Modern Cookery long survived her, remaining in print until 1914 and available more recently in facsimile reprint. Her recipes are still in wide circulation.

Acton was born in Battle, Sussex, the eldest of the five children of Elizabeth Mercer and John Acton, a brewer. The family returned to Suffolk shortly after her birth, and there she was raised. At the age of seventeen she and another woman opened a school for girls in Claydon, near Ipswich, which remained open for four years. Her health was precarious and she apparently spent some time in France where she is rumoured to have had an unhappy love affair. She published her Poems (1826) after returning home and they enjoyed some small success. She subsequently published some single, longer poems, but it was her Modern Cookery (1845) that garnered her the widest acclaim; it was an immensely influential book which established the format for modern writing about cookery. Shortly after its publication she relocated to London, where she worked on her next and final book, The English Bread Book (1857). Along with recipes and a scholarly history of bread-making, this volume contained Acton's strong opinions about adulterated and processed food.

Acton, her health never strong, died in 1859 and was buried in Hampstead.