Apart from the Mid-Summer Solstice, of which there doesn’t appear to be any special foods attached, there is a bit of a lull in traditional festivals. So I thought we would have a bit of a change on the recipe front this month. As you may know I love reading old cookery books and am interested in our baking history. One of my favourite old cookery books is by Elizabeth Raffald, it is called the “Experienced English Housekeeper”, which was first published in 1769.
She was born as Elizabeth Whittaker in Doncaster in 1733 and was one of five daughters. All of the girls enjoyed a privileged upbringing in that they were taught to read and write by their Father – John Whittaker, who was a school teacher. This undoubtedly gave Elizabeth an enormous advantage in her remarkable career and with her writing later in life.
In 1748 aged just fifteen years old, Elizabeth worked for several families in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire before settling down to be the housekeeper for the Warburton’s of Arley Hall in Cheshire. It was here that she met her future husband John Raffald, he was the Warburton’s head gardener.
In 1763 they moved to Manchester, where John’s family were from. Elizabeth at some point trained as a Confectioner, so she put this to good use and started her business path by opening one confectioners shop and subsequently a second shop. Confectioners had a different meaning then, it refers to all things sweet such as cakes and pastries. The shop would probably have been more like a Deli, selling cooked meats, soups as well as bread and bakery products. Not just sweets and chocolate as we think of confectionary now.
Her Husband John sold flowers and seeds from a market stall and also ran a vegetable stall with other members of his family.
From the shop address Elizabeth ran the first employment agency for servants catering for the Manchester area. Ever the entrepreneur, in addition to the two shops and agency, in 1768 Elizabeth starts to advertise in the Manchester Mecury “Plumb Cakes for Weddings”. This was a year before she had her book published. In her book it would be the first time we would see a Wedding Cake as we would recognise it now. It shows the recipe for Bride Cake, covered in Marzipan and Icing. This combination had never been printed before.
It really is quite staggering what this woman achieved, an amazing business woman at a time when it was unheard of. Not only did she have a multi-faceted career, she had according to some reports sixteen daughters in eighteen years, but sadly only three survived.
In 1769 her book is published and another example of Elizabeth’s business acumen is that she understood that publishing piracy was rife, especially in cookery books. To avoid this she sold the book by advance subscription, to ensure that she benefitted financially. All 800 copies were sold this way on the first print run. She personally signed all copies in the first print run and the second run of 400. The book sold for five shillings each and the main selling point was that all the recipes were her original ones and hadn’t been in print before.
The book went on to further print runs and eventually it did end up being pirated, with 13 Authorised editions and 22 pirated ones. It was adapted for the American market in 1801.In 1773 she sold the publishing rights to the printers R. Baldwin of London for £1400, equivalent to £151,000 in today’s money.
The book was a huge success and she dedicated it to Lady Warburton who she stayed in touch with throughout her career. Elizabeth’s book was a favourite of Queen Victoria’s with passages of it copied into the Queens diary. This is interesting as it would have been an old cookery book by the time of Victoria’s reign. The Experienced English Housekeeper was published nearly a hundred years before the iconic Victorian book “ Beeton’s Book of Household Management”, which was first published in 1861.
After the book was published she had “many fingers in many pies” – she ran a couple of pubs in Manchester, set up a Post Office, in 1771 helped set up Salford’s first newspaper “Prescott’s Journal”, part owned the Newspaper Harrop’s Mercury, catered for a race course as well as her continuing Bridal cake business. She also co-wrote a book on Midwifery with one of the founders of Manchester Royal Infirmary, however this was found in manuscript form and it is unknown whether it was actually printed.
Some of her ventures made money and some lost a considerable amount. It is unfortunate that her Husband was a notorious alcoholic and they were often in debt because of his vices. At that time women had no legal rights, so all of the businesses were in his name.
On Thursday 19 April 1781 Elizabeth came down with spasms and died within the hour. She was buried at Stockport Parish Church.
I think she was an incredible person and it is a shame that she is largely forgotten, whilst the later Isabella Beeton gets a much larger share of the limelight.
Following is one of Elizabeth’s recipes. As with all books of this era the instructions are almost non-existent. I have tweaked it a bit, as the ingredients we have these days are slightly different. This would have required a lot of hard work to make this recipe in Elizabeth’s day, but now we can whizz this up in a matter of minutes with our electric whisks and reliable ovens.
Elizabeth Raffald’s Chocolate Puffs
Preheat your oven to 150c
You will need two baking trays lined, a bowl, a sieve, an electric whisk, 2 little bowls to separate your eggs, two tablespoons.
8oz Icing Sugar
1oz Cocoa Powder
2 Egg Whites
Weigh and Double Sieve your Icing Sugar and Cocoa Powder
Whisk your egg whites until really frothy, I used the whisk attachment on a freestanding mixer
Sieve again your sugar and cocoa mixture onto your egg whites.
Mix together again with the mixer, but I changed to a beater attachment, rather than a whisk.
It should be nice and glossy but stiff enough to hold its shape.
Put walnut size “blobs” on your baking sheet, leave a bit of room as they will puff up.
Bake at 150c fan for 30mins or until they are cooked. They should be nice and smooth on the top and still a bit gooey in the middle.
To me they are bit of a cross between a meringue and a macaron. They are much cheaper and quicker to make that French Macarons though and a lot less expensive as they don’t include ground almonds.
These little chocolate puffs are nice on their own with a coffee, or you could split them when they are cold and fill with whipped double cream like you would a meringue.
I think it is a great way of preserving our Baking Heritage by continuing to make these recipes now, I love that people have been enjoying making and eating this recipe for over two hundred years. TV shows quite often focus on recipes that use ingredients that we would find very odd, even repulsive. Sometimes there is often an element of freak show about the dishes that are shown. The reality is that most of the recipes were good, tasty and wholesome every day food that we have enjoyed for centuries.