Book Review | Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen

This will hopefully tide me over until we get more Great British Bake-Off.

In Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen by Annabel Abbs, Eliza Acton is struggling to get published as a poet, as this is viewed primarily as a man’s domain. Her publisher suggests she instead write a book of cookery, and she initially balks—until she explores the world of cooking for the first time and finds herself captivated by the poetry of a well-cooked meal. So she hires a young woman, Anne, to assist her in recipe testing. Anne, however, has problems at home (a mentally unstable mother and an alcoholic father) that she is desperate to keep a secret from the respectable Acton family. But Eliza has secrets of her own, an indiscretion from the past that causes her great pain. Still, these two manage to come together and become friends in their effort to create an accessible, informative, and even poetic cookbook.

If you read this and don’t walk away hungry, I don’t even know what to say to you.

Firstly, the descriptions of food in this are so great. It’s such an everyday thing, cooking, and it’s nice to see it romanticized and lauded as a calling in this book. Part of this is due to Eliza’s way of viewing the world, and part of it is likely the author’s own love of food shining through. It’s also fun to get a glimpse of what foods were cooked at the time that this book takes place. I had heard of Eliza Acton (thanks to Tasting History), and it’s fun to see this fictionalized version of her life.

I also found the friendship between Eliza and Anne really charming. It’s somewhat parental, but they’re on much more equal ground than that or than a typical master-servant relationship of the time. I really liked seeing how they care about and support each other.

It was also interesting to see the attitudes of the time, relating to either mental health issues, alcoholism, or having children out of wedlock. None of these are great attitudes, by modern standards, and it’s fun to watch how Eliza and Anne navigate and sometimes push back against these societal expectations.

However, while lots of this story moved at a reasonable pace, I think the ending came really abruptly. I feel like we could have had at least fifty more pages to explore what is merely summarized in the epilogue. To me, it seemed like Abbs just kind of got tired of writing and decided to just end the story quickly. This made certain things feel lacking in resolution, and was kind of disappointing.

In the end, though, Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen was an enjoyable, light-hearted read. The historical setting was really engaging, and the main characters were great. I wish the pacing were better, and that the conclusion was more in depth, but overall, I had a good time with this book.

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