Following the recent success of our cookery demo and talk for Sophia Waugh’s new book, Cooking People, cookery school owner, Barbara Crick, gives her verdict on a foodie’s guide to home cooking over the last few centuries.

I’m probably not the only one with a Mrs Beeton cookbook on their shelf, passed down from a relative and looking rather battered around the edges. The one I have is All About Cookery, a new edition from 1909 (after Mrs Beeton’s death). The book gets pulled down from time to time and I read with amusement the tiny typeface, look over the colour pictures (yes, colour pictures!) and work out how a modern cook would recreate the dishes.

So I would consider myself reasonably familiar with a Mrs Beeton cookbook, but I have absolutely no idea who Mrs Beeton was, or indeed any of the other historical female cookery authors. This is where Waugh steps in with her Cooking People: The Writers Who Taught The English How To Eat, adding flesh to these characters and drawing a colourful historical context to their books.

Her relaxed style of writing makes the reader feel like they understand why the women wrote these books and what their readers gained from them. I love the way Waugh is not shy to mention the more scandalous tales from these women’s lives, details which these days would be worthy of front page tabloid coverage.

Following on from the overview of the five female authors, Waugh reproduces a selection of their recipes. From these I’ve created a shortlist of dishes I now have on my ‘must do’ list- Elizabeth David’s Fasoulia (haricot beans cooked in vast amounts of olive oil with herbs, garlic and tomato), Hannah Glasse’s Mushroom Sauce for white fowl (plenty of cream in this one!) and Eliza Acton’s Venetian Fritters (these sound like some kind of rice pudding with fruit added then made into patties and fried in butter – yummy).

Waugh’s love of food comes over in her writing and her personal asides connect her to the cookbook authors she is discussing and makes you feel how real they were. The authors all targeted the mass market (previous books had been aimed at the high class cooks in stately homes and the like), with recipes that are written to reassure the average reader that they can cook nutritious meals on a modest budget. Sound familiar?

These women were the Nigella Lawsons and the Delia Smiths of their time and the books they wrote shaped the way our predecessors cooked and ate. Their names may not all be well known, but nevertheless they should be recognised as crucial in our country’s culinary development.

This book provides the reader with a condensed version of the history of English food through the examination of five authors whose lifetimes cover 1622 to 1992. Modern cooks (and eaters) love knowing the provenance of their food, so if you want to extend your food knowledge into the history of our nation’s food, this is essential – and enjoyable – reading.

The book is available from Chawton House Library at a special price of £15 (RRP £20) with proceeds helping support the charity’s work. To buy a copy call 01420 541010 or email

Barbara Crick runs the Emsworth Cookery School in Emsworth, Hampshire.