Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mrs. Charles Darwin's Recipe Book

This time of year, once the 'holidays' are repacked into their storage boxes and stuffed in the attic or basement, small pleasures return to everyday life.  How peaceful to sit by the fire on a late Winter's afternoon when the necessary chores are completed for the day.  Dinner preparations are done, the candles are glowing, we pour an aperitif, throw on another log and a shower of sparks crackle and pop on the hearth. Through the windows I watch the birds arrive at the feeders for their last meal as dusk descends.  A large grey cat pads softly across the deck going who knows where for the night........snow is forecast.

The perfect time to pull out a new book.............received as a gift, purchased online, or with a gift card at a local bookshop, even borrowed from the library, or one that's been sitting on a shelf waiting patiently for you to find the time to open the cover and start reading.

Lucky me..............I recently received another beautiful book to read and review from publisher Glitterati Incorporated.

We English, often known for our eccentricities, have historically been at the forefront of the cooking scene, but not always described in glowing terms.  The peculiarity of some foods, and cooking methods of such, have been much lambasted.  The words, overcooked, mushy, grey, soggy, come quickly to mind. Travelers to the British Isles would return to their homeland bad-mouthing the poor and often inedible offerings, from ritzy London dining establishments to railway cafés out in the distant counties.  Much of that was true at one time.  However, away from the commercial restaurants there was always beautiful food being prepared in Britain's homes, be it the country estate of a wealthy duke, or the remote thatched farmhouse on a wild moorland......

      .............and then there was Mrs. Charles Darwin.  

Emma Darwin ~ 1840

Emma was married to her cousin Charles Darwin, both of whom were grandchildren of Josiah Wedgwood, of pottery and china fame.  Charles became world famous as a 19th century scientist and intellectual, and was author of many books on evolution, including On the Origin of Species.  Emma took time from caring for her husband whose health was poor, and giving birth to ten children, to run their household alongside several servants, like many Victorian women of her status.  Responsible for the domestic space at their comfortable country home, Down House in Kent, including feeding the family and entertaining, she also directed the kitchen staff and kept the accounts. 

In this beautifully photographed and illustrated book, based on Emma's small, handwritten recipe book, we not only are immediately absorbed by the story of this famous Victorian family in the brilliant introduction, we are also privy to viewing the original recipes written in Emma's own handwriting and the modern day versions of preparing some very interesting dishes.  It's not known how much cooking Emma did herself, but her knowledge of the way a kitchen was run was good.  Her recipes are what we call 'good plain cooking', but the chapter titled Puddings and Sweet Things shares marvelous rich desserts loaded with cream, eggs and fresh fruit, apparently loved by Mr. Darwin.  

Guess where I'll be on these cold wintry days - whipping up some great new dishes, and not one will be soggy or grey!

Mrs. Charles Darwin's Recipe Book is a great book for cooks interested in the Victorian era kitchen, recipe book collectors, and those who enjoy British history and stories of famous families.

Available here from Glitterati, Incorporated.

All images from 
Mrs.Charles Darwin's Recipe Book 
Revived and Illustrated
By Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway
Copyright 2008 
Published by Glitterati, Inc. www.glitteratiincorporated.com

Note:  I feel a small personal connection to the Darwin/Wedgwood family.  I discovered, while reading this wonderful book, that one of their china patterns was Wedgwood's EDME.  I have a much-loved coffee service and a graceful vase in this plain but elegant pattern.  Also, in the elegant and historic Hesketh Crescent where I often stay when visiting my hometown in England, one apartment displays a plaque by the front door.  Engraved are dates in the Summer of 1861 when Charles Darwin stayed there with Emma, and their daughter Henrietta, while researching and penning notes for another book following the publication of On the Origin of Species, the book described by Thomas Huxley as, "the most potent instrument for the extension of the realm of natural knowledge which has come to men's hands, since (the 18th century) publication of (Sir Isaac)Newton's Principia."  


  1. That was so interesting Mary. I love to "read" cookbooks more than cook....lol....That looks like a beautiful addition to the cookbook shelf. That was cool about the connection. Small world. Stay safe and warm.

  2. Mary, thank you for that wonder review of this book! That book really sparks my interest and I have added to my list! I love your description of sitting by your fire reading-just wonderful!!

  3. Hello dear! Hope you are doing well. Sounds like a lovely book. Everything is fine down here except for the weather... it has been raining every single day since I arrived. Miss you! Love,

  4. Hello Mary
    Looks like I'll be tracking down a copy of this one! Thank you for sharing your pleasure in reading it :o)
    Best wishes
    Rose H

  5. Mary, what a great review. I share Mr. Darwin's tastes in rich desserts, so I know I would find this a very engaging book. And being interested in the Victorian era and the everyday life of those times...sounds right up my alley. I shall look for it!

    10 children! Gosh...but I suppose that was not so unusual then.

  6. Mary, that looks like a beautiful book. I'm sure it is very interesting. I may have to find a copy for myself. Carla

  7. Mary, this looks to be a lovely read as well as offering something for those who cook. Great gift idea for one of my friends. Thank you for sharing!
    Stay warm, dear friend. ~ Sarah

  8. Hi Mary. Lovely to meet you. This is a return visit - have really enjoyed your post today and am just about to put you on my blog list, so I shall be paying a return visit before long. Do call again.

  9. Hello dear Mary, we are home from Florida and our grandson's wedding was wonderful. I posted it today.

    I love this post about his wife's cookbook. Such lovely and gracious times. The bit of history truly was interesting. I too would enjoy reading Emma's cookbook. Just the illustrations hold a certain fascination don't they?

    We too are relaxing and enjoying a huge amount of snow. This is the third day of falling snow. It is quite stunning to look out our tall windows and see mother nature at work on our mountain. Our view is completely gone from the cloud of falling snow. I love cooking on days like this. A bit of wine sounds delicious too.

    Stay warm and don't go out in this weather. I am turning my fireplace on. Your post has inspired me.
    Love, Jeanne

  10. I haven't come across this, it does sound rather intriguing, I like historical cookery books. I must say too that I had no idea that Charles
    Darwin was related to Josiah Wedgwood.

  11. Oh Mary..this book looks so interesting. What a small world with your connection with it!! smile..

    xoxo Gert

  12. Because I recognized one of the author's names, I googled a bit and found this very interesting interview about the book: http://www.jsonline.com/features/food/37151349.html

    It looks like a fascinating read.

  13. How interesting! Another reason for loving blogs - the best book recommendations.

  14. Oh I just love new books. This one sounds fascinating. We are hoping for snow tonight. It would be the first for us this winter. It is cold enough and a few flakes were falling when I ran to the market for supplies to make a warm soup. I think I will curl up with a good book tonight. Thanks for the inspiration.

  15. Such an interesting post, you are a very talented book reviewer, dear Mary.
    I learned things that I didn't know before about CD, fascinating.
    Mrs Darwin sounds like a formidable woman and yet looks so sweet and appealing.
    A true Victorian. Corsets of steel, perhaps?
    I'm certainly going to add this book to my groaning shelf of cookery books.
    Thanks for another great recommendation.

  16. Great post and what an interesting book, will have to order it for sure. The cover alone makes it worth it! This is such a nice blog and I have had fun taking a look. I am new to blogworld but loving it....started a new blog just a bit over a week ago about the building of our new home and my love for decor, design and all of lifes beautiful things.
    Please take a look if you can. Thank you!


  17. Hmm...wild strawberries being sold at the Cambridge train station. I didn't buy any and I can still smell them and almost taste them. Kicking myself!!

  18. It is always so interesting to read how cookbooks come about and the people who write them. Have you found a "favorite" recipe yet from it?
    Take Care,


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