Eliza Acton: the writer of the first modern English cookery book

Explore – how the food we eat has changed since Eliza Acton wrote her book

Discuss – the impact of trade and immigration on our food habits

Discover – how science and technology has impacted on the food we eat and how we source it

Subject Areas

  • History – Social history, history of food, cooking in Great Britain
  • PSHE – Diet, nutrition and lifestyle, role of food in different cultures
  • Geography – Origins of traditional and novel foods, social and economic reasons for trade

Possible Topics

  • How different the ingredients used by Eliza are from those we use today
  • Different ways of preserving food over the past century
  • Changes in our kitchens and the utensils we use over the past century
  • Effect of changes in diet on public health

Suggested Activities

  • Discussions: Why do so many people love to cook?
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of ready meals and fast (processed) foods?
  • Writing and cooking a favourite recipe, or creating a group or class cook book with illustrations
  • Keeping a food diary for a week; a school/class survey of favourite foods and reasons for liking them

The Impact of science and technology in the 19th century on food

The rapidly growing population in the 19th century increased the demand for food. Scientific and technological innovations played important roles in helping solve this problem:

  • The invention of the steam engine and railways meant that fresh meat, fish and dairy produce could be sent from where it was produced to where the people were living very quickly and cheaply; and
  • The invention of canning technology meant that cheap meat could be shipped from Australia, and that all sorts of produce – such as carrots, soup, and vegetable stew – could be preserved without being salted or pickled.

All of this increased the range of food choices for ordinary people, and hence their interest in better cooking.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

The Telegraph Media Group Limited 2011.

The Real Mrs Beeton: Eliza Acton the Forgotten Founder of Modern Cookery, by Sheila Hardy with forward by Delia Smith (History Press 2011)

Modern Cookery for Private Families, by Eliza Acton.(Quadrille, London 2011)

The Elegant Economist, by Eliza Acton (Penguin, London 2011)

The English Bread Book, by Eliza Acton (2009).

Further Resources

Recipes and food information http://britishfood.about.com/

Nutrition Information: https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/nutrition_calculator

This page was last updated on December 2nd, 2020.


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