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Research

Constructing the Politics of Cookery: Authorial Strategy and Domestic Politics in English Cookery Books, 1655-1670

  • Claire Saffitz

Corps de l’article

Among the various prefatory materials that introduce master cook Robert May’s 1661 cookery book, The Accomplisht Cook is a two-page description of a banqueting entertainment entitled “Triumphs and Trophies in Cookery, to be used at Festival Times, as Twelfth Day, &c.” Here, May instructs cooks on how to fashion a mock battle scene out of pasteboard, first outlining the construction of a miniature ship of war, adorned with flags and streamers and outfitted with pasteboard cannons filled with real gunpowder. Then, he says, whole eggs are to be blown out and filled with sweet rosewater and placed about the ship. Cooks should also construct a pasteboard stag filled with claret wine [1] with an arrow stuck into its side; this is to be placed in front of a fortified pasteboard castle complete with gates and a drawbridge. He then recommends the making of two pies, one filled with live frogs and the other with live birds, which are placed atop the turrets of the castle.

Before feasting commences, “some of the Ladies may be perswaded to pluck the Arrow out of the Stag, then will the Claret wine follow as blood running out of a wound,” May writes. The cannons should then be fired from the castle and ship “as in a Battle,” while the Ladies throw the rosewater eggs at one another to mask the smell of the gunpowder. Finally, the lids are lifted off the pies:

…so that what with the flying Birds and skipping Frogs, the one above, the other beneath, will cause much delight and pleasure to the whole company: at length the candles are lighted, and a Banquet brought in, the musick sounds, and every one with much delight and content rehearses their actions in the former passages. [2]

The above description betrays May’s deeply medieval sensibility toward aristocratic dining, which favoured extravagant feasting and elaborate displays of conspicuous consumption on noble tables such as the one detailed above. May, who had worked as a master cook for élite families in England and abroad for almost four decades at the time his book was published, finishes his description of such “triumphs and trophies” with a rather nostalgic remembrance of a bygone era: “These were formerly the delights of the Nobility,” he writes, “before good House-keeping had left England, and the Sword really acted that which was onely counterfeited in such honest and laudable Exercises as these.” Here May suggests his own awareness that after the trauma of civil war and regicide, such ostentatious displays had become outmoded by the dawn of the Restoration.

As May’s nostalgia indicates, the Restoration was a time of changing culinary attitudes. La Varenne’s Cuisinier François, translated into English in 1653, sparked a gradual movement seen on England’s élite tables away from the heavily spiced dishes of the Middle Ages toward a nouvelle cuisine that emphasized the distillation of food into flavourful essences. Although this nouvelle cuisine would not become the dominant style in Europe until the 17th century – and, indeed, cookery books from this time still feature Italian, Spanish, and even Turkish and Persian recipes – the French influence was growing in prestige during the Restoration. More aristocratic households began employing French chefs. In 1674, Charles II appointed a high-ranking French “pottagier” in his privy kitchen. [3] Other culinary changes were underway as well. Household accounts during and after the Commonwealth show a rise in fruit and vegetable consumption, as well as a growing variety of the types of fruits and vegetables available. Modes of service were also changing, as the presentation of dishes at courtly banquets was increasingly divided into distinct courses. Also emergent was a marked division between sweet and savoury flavours with sweeter dishes concluding the meal. After the Restoration, the use of a fork became obligatory practice for carving and serving others at élite tables.

Coinciding with these changing culinary patterns was a flurry of new printed cookery texts that began to appear in England in the late 1650s. Richard Appelbaum writes, over the course of the next several decades, “The book of the art of cookery enters into the general literary life of European culture; it enters into European consciousness, or to put it another way, into the European life of the mind.” [4] I argue in this article that male and female authors of cookery texts in the 1650s, sixties, and seventies debated not only changing ideas and behaviours surrounding cooking, serving, and feasting, but were also participating in a renegotiation and redefinition of other Restoration subjects such as public versus private spaces, domesticity, gender roles, and social class. In these texts, domestic spaces and activities – as well as the emerging form of the cookery text itself – become a sort of battleground on which men and women vied to construct and defend their authority as culinary experts and authors of printed cookery books. Simultaneously, the authors of cookery books were actively engaged in a debate about English nationhood in the Restoration and what kinds of people could or should participate in the politics of good housekeeping.

I consider in this article six cookery texts published between the years 1656 and 1670. With the exception of one book, The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth, all of the cookery texts discussed here were commercially successful, were sold at a relatively low cost, went through numerous editions in print, and circulated in significant numbers within the literate population. [5] I have divided the article into three analytical sections. The first section looks at two printed works of royalist propaganda that adopted the form of the cookery book. They are The Queens Closet Opened (1656), attributed to Henrietta Maria, and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth (1664), attributed to Elizabeth Cromwell. I show how these two texts, as male-authored works that reveal information about the private lives of women to political ends, strain the limits of the cookery book genre which contributes to their instability as texts. The second section deals with Robert May’s aforementioned The Accomplisht Cook, as well as another cookery book written by a male professional cook, The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1661) by William Rabisha. I demonstrate how both of these authors construct their authority as professionals and cookery book authors through a masculinization of the text and their insistence upon the indispensability of the male professional cook to the nation’s wellbeing. In the third section I look at the writing of Hannah Wolley, England’s first professional female writer and cookery book author. Wolley’s most popular book, The Queen-Like Closet (1670), shows her ability to synthesize, both formally and figuratively, a number of competing social dichotomies, as well as her ability to universalize good housekeeping as a patriotic national project.

All of these texts participate in what Laura Knoppers calls a “politics of cookery” in the 17th century. Together they “link participation in domestic practices with the legitimacy and authority in the state.” [6] If, as these texts suggest, good housekeeping and hospitality were seen as essential to England’s strength as a nation, then who had authority over shaping and defining good domestic practices was of vital national importance. While scholars have primarily looked at 17th century cookery books either from the perspective of culinary history or as examples of royalist propaganda, I argue that these texts were an important locus for wider cultural and political discourse in the second half of the century. By exploring authorial strategy in these texts in the context of Restoration society and politics, I demonstrate that authors of cookery books actively participated in not only the formalization of the genre but in a class- and gender-based debate about the health of the English national body. Furthermore, in contextualizing and considering as a whole this specific corpus of major cookery books, my study serves to broaden our understanding of the sites, literary or otherwise, where such debates took place in the Restoration.

I. Historiography

Over the course of working on this project I have focused my research on four main areas of relevant historical study in the early modern period: the relationship between gender and public versus private spaces in Restoration society, the evolution of new patterns of sociability vis-à-vis printed conduct manuals and codes of etiquette, print culture and writings for and by women, and the history of cookery books. The interrelatedness of shifting social and political boundaries between the public and private, masculine and feminine realms is a central concern in this article. Michael McKeon’s argument that different categories of knowledge and thought were being increasingly articulated and differentiated throughout the early modern period has been foundational to my thinking. In TheSecret History of Domesticity, McKeon shows how the tacit division between public and private was being made more explicit following the Restoration, especially in print but in other areas as well. [7] A spatial metaphor for this growing divide is the redesigning of interior spaces in noble households throughout the 17th century. Specifically, the construction of private apartments for sleeping and eating coincided with the decline of the great hall as public space. This “separating out,” to use McKeon’s phrase, of the private from the public is expressed in the tremendous emphasis placed on domesticity and domestic practices during the Restoration.

The structure of the English household was one in which men and women performed separate tasks but their authority intersected in often confusing ways. Wives were understood to exercise sovereignty in specific areas such as childrearing and general household management and economy (or oeconomy, as it was called). Within the space of the kitchen, women performed or supervised food preparation and also possessed expertise in the manufacture of medical remedies. Aristocratic women did not do everyday cooking but oversaw genteel activities like preserving, conserving, candying, and other sugar-work. They also manufactured household items like soaps and perfumes, which had pseudo-medicinal purposes. The husband, however, maintained dominion over the household and his wife. Thus, the Restoration household could be a complicated battleground, “a busy, chaotic, threatening, playful, transgressive, and gory workplace,” as Wendy Wall puts it, where authority was shared and sometimes contested between men and women. [8] Boundaries between men’s work and women’s work continued to blur before and after the Restoration with respect to public and private divisions. Trained male cooks such as May and Rabisha helped to professionalize a household task typically performed by women servants. The manufacturing of many items once done inside the home by women was taken over by waged male craftsmen. At the same time that traditional women’s work was increasingly confined to final-stage production within the home, women from both the upper and middling classes found themselves in the position of participating within civil society as consumers. Starting in the final decades of the 17th century, also, women entered the public sphere as published authors.

Where and how men and women found themselves able to act autonomously had real political import in Restoration England. By the 17th century, the longstanding analogy between the household, family, and the state had acquired deep cultural resonance. This “patriarchist theory of the state” held that household order was the foundation of effective government. [9] The household was a little commonwealth in which men were sovereign but women acted in meaningful ways as arbiters of the family’s largesse and consumption habits. By the second half of the 18th century, according to McKeon, it had become common to measure the achievements of a culture by those of its women. [10] Household practices, and especially those performed by women, therefore took on cultural and political tones, contradicting other social norms that cast women as “the weaker vessel.” [11] Wall points out this inherent problem of analogizing family and state: “As such, texts nominating the housewife as the guardian of a national and Christian stewardship inevitably clashed with discourses that devalued the domestic realm as trivial, effeminate, or infantilizing.” [12] In ways previously unrecognized, Restoration-era cookery books are a site for these conflicting discourses.

Another significant area of historiography with which this article engages is the study of changing sociability patterns in early modern England. This article is concerned not only with issues of gender but class as well, and, as such, changing social values and structures in the Restoration come to bear on my study of cookery texts. In Hospitality in Early Modern England Felicity Heal argues that while good housekeeping remained an important 17th-century virtue strongly linked with England’s national identity, the period following the restoration of Charles II to the monarchy was one of increasing anxiety over a perceived decline in traditional hospitality which had always been administered through the great household. However, as Lords abandoned their country estates for urban life in London and at court, a new form of sociability emerged governed by the concept of “civility.” Polite society defined a gentleman based on individual expressions of correct manners and dress, facilitating social mobility and further contributing to the erosion of old-style hospitality. Heal writes, “When the reputation was defined by the ability to use appropriate modes of civility, or gain access to the correct London circles, the traditional household would no longer so easily lie at its heart.” [13] While Heal locates the collision between old-style hospitality and the new demands of polite society during the Restoration in conduct books, I find it in cookery books.

Anna Bryson’s From Courtesy to Civility makes a significant contribution to this area of scholarship. Although she looks at sources written exclusively by and for men, Bryson shows how books on manners and etiquette articulate new codes of politeness in early modern England. In response to previous scholars who have seen the “ideological loading” of manners as peculiar to 18th century commercial society, Bryson writes, “sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writing on social conduct gives ample evidence of ‘ideologically loaded’ conceptions of manners, conceptions which were an integral part of larger visions of social and political order.” [14] This contention drives this article, as does Bryson’s idea that “the regulation of the body personal, as much as that of the body politic, was the site of tension, conflict, and negotiation during the early modern period.” [15] As Lawrence Klein points out, politeness as a behavioural ideal was also closely tied to outward expressions of taste, meaning that middling men and women could aspire to aristocratic modes of entertaining and sociability within the home through the formal refinement of domestic interiors and aristocratic or courtly cuisine. [16] Therefore the cookery books I examine, in granting access to such cuisine, confront these new possibilities of social mobility.

In considering the negotiation between male and female authors of printed cookery texts and the formal development of the cookery book itself, my article must contend with the history of women writers and cookery books in the early modern period. Kim Hall, Laura Knoppers, Suzanne Hull, Jayne Archer, and Madeline Bassnett have all written on the politics of 17th century cookery books and collectively advance the argument that these texts fashion English identity through the promotion of good domestic practices. In particular, Knoppers’ emphasis on how categories of public and private apply to women in cookery texts has contributed importantly to my thinking about this project. The works of Elaine Hobby, Sara Pennell, and Catherine Field on early modern women writers and women’s manuscript traditions have also informed my thinking about how women operate as subject and object in printed texts. My discussion of Hannah Wolley’s authorial strategy in the final section of this essay, however, somewhat challenges Hobby’s contention that women writers retreated back into their increasingly private homes after the Restoration and constructed their authority based on espousals of private virtue. This piece also owes due credit to Pennell’s and Field’s work on women’s manuscript traditions and the gendering of the recipe form, as few studies of cookery books from the Commonwealth and Restoration periods consider this historical perspective.

As McKeon points out, the history and development of the cookery book throughout the early modern period “provides a case study in the productivity of the gendered division of both labour and knowledge.” [17] While the kitchen becomes a contested space where male and female cooks compete as experts, so does the cookery book itself as women authors begin to invade the male-dominated realm of print. The cookery book was an emergent genre at the time of the Restoration. It developed over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries out of a number of medieval writing traditions, including household management guides, books of secrets, medical treatises, advice literature, and women’s manuscript recipe collections. According to Sara Pennell, in the early modern period cookery literature was an attractive and profitable genre for publishers and booksellers. Between 1650 and 1750 approximately 106 new culinary texts and 169 subsequent editions of texts already in print were published in English in England, Scotland, and Ireland. [18] It was an era when culinary abilities were becoming increasingly marketable because of a growing demand for domestic servants in urban centres.

As they became more popular, cookery books diverged from other types of books on household management and increasingly marketed themselves toward women starting in the late 16th century. According to Richard Appelbaum, “As they moved from manuscript culture to print culture, cookbooks became more and more self-consciously constructed as verbal performances designed for public release and prepared as acts of communication, an ‘author’ to a ‘reader’.” [19] They came more and more to incorporate elements like tables of contents and indices and began to divide recipes into categories based on types of dishes and modes of preparation. A general paradigmatic shift also takes place in which food and medicine are separated into distinct categories. While the cookery book began to develop certain conventions in the 17th century, it remained a mixed, elastic form. With this in mind, I argue that the authors examined here actively participated in the process of defining the cookery book as a genre.

English cookery books from the late 17th century are preoccupied with “courtly” cuisine and emulating the consumption patterns and social practices of the élite. The genre also begins to fissure along gendered lines during this period as we start to see cookery books written by and for male professional chefs in contrast to those written by women for female housekeepers. “Towards the end of the 17th century,” Abigail Dennis writes, “the market for women’s cookbooks began to shift slightly, from housekeepers themselves to middle- and upper-class mistresses who required manuals from which their servants could work independently.” [20] Many of these books contain rich prefatory materials that address a wide range of topics and often venture into the realms of cultural criticism, politics, and philosophy. These types of prefatory materials are central to this article, as it is primarily within this space that authorial strategy is defined.

II. The Queens Closet Opened and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth

The Queens Closet Opened (1655) and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth (1664) belong to a distinct body of royalist cookery texts from the 1650s and early 1660s that, as Madeline Bassnett and Laura Knoppers have pointed out, were used as polemical political tools in the decades before and after Charles II’s restoration to emphasize aristocratic and royalist social networks, promote courtly practices of the early Stuart era, and link the wellbeing of the national household to the monarchy. [21] The overt and covert political messages encoded in The Queens Closet Opened and TheCourt & Kitchin of Elizabeth are well established. [22]The Queens Closet Opened was one of the most popular printed texts of the latter 17th century. By 1684 it had gone through at least twelve editions. In contrast, The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth was published in 1664 and never reissued. Both were print commodities aimed at a middling, urban market.

Both books were also attributed to women – The Queens Closet Opened to the exiled queen Henrietta Maria and TheCourt & Kitchin of Elizabeth to former protectoress Elizabeth Cromwell. Scholars today, however, strongly doubt that either woman had any involvement in the texts and the real authors have never been identified. The Queens Closet Opened was written by W. M., possibly William Montagu, a close confidant and long-time servant of Henrietta Maria. [23] W. M. writes that he was one of the Queen’s “late servants” and had taken the recipes “from the true Copies of her Majesties own Receipt Books,” which the queen had apparently amassed from a wide array of aristocratic sources including royals, ladies, lords, countesses, and earls. [24] Henrietta Maria had been in exile in France for a decade when the book was first published in England in 1655 and probably had no knowledge of its existence. Laura Knoppers argues that royalist presses published The Queens Closet Opened in a response to previous attacks in print against Henrietta Maria, especially The Kings Cabinet Opened (1645), which had revealed scandalous correspondence between Charles and Henrietta Maria and portrayed the queen as manipulative, domineering, and foreign. The Queens Closet Opened counters this image, displaying Henrietta Maria’s “unimpeachable virtues” as a housewife. It emphasizes her Englishness and fitness as a queen by placing her within a network of previous English queens, earls, countesses, doctors, and charitable ladies. [25] The book implies a strong connection between good household management and a strong nation, making housewifery “into a branch of national government,” to use Jayne Archer’s phrase. [26]

As a work of acerbic satire, The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth is an even more overtly political text. The anonymous author – identified by one scholar as the printer Thomas Milbourne [27] – makes the case for the newly restored monarchy by haranguing the Cromwellian court for its deplorable stinginess and uncouthness. The book depicts Elizabeth as a low-class rube and plays off the plebeian tastes of the Cromwells, claiming at one point “that onyons and water were the chief Court sauce.” [28] Whereas Henrietta Maria is portrayed as a consummate queen and housewife, Elizabeth is depicted as an upstart who greedily profits from her new and ill-acquired status by committing such coarse acts as selling items she has received as gifts. “She is as stingy toward her husband’s table as she is toward the nation,” Knoppers writes. Elizabeth was unwilling or unable to act hospitably in her role as protectoress. [29] The implication in The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth is that Elizabeth’s poor household management skills and impropriety were detrimental to England.

Both texts justify exposing private feminine spaces to the public realm of print by insisting that women’s virtues and vices within the household were matters of national importance. As Jayne Archer writes, “Transposing household management onto national politics, the receipt books published immediately following the Restoration could properly claim to be ‘domestic’ in both senses of the word.” [30] However, the male authors of The Queens Closet Opened and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth exhibit considerable self-consciousness over their invasion into the private lives of their female subjects and betray a sense of anxiety as writers of politically-toned recipe books aimed at women. The mixtures of political polemic and recipe book, male authorship and female subjectivity, result in these two books’ instability as texts belonging to the cookery book genre.

At the opening of The Queens Closet Opened, Henrietta Maria is figured as conferring a strong degree of authenticity and legitimacy on the text – her portrait graces the frontispiece, implying her tacit authorization of the recipes that follow. The title page states that the recipes contained inside The Queens Closet Opened “were honoured with her own practice, when she pleased to descend to these more private Recreations,” indicating that the recipes therein passed her personal muster. [31] Like many other books of the 1660s, The Queens Closet Opened is a text obsessed with the revelation of secrets. The “closet” in the book’s title, Knoppers writes, “overtly allude[s] to the architectural spaces that historians have linked with a new sense of privacy in this period, including the construction of small rooms and the increasing appearance of the closet.” [32] Knoppers argues that the book itself functions as a type of miniature closet or cabinet that the reader unlocks to find precious objects hidden inside. But in revealing Henrietta Maria’s “secrets” – a contemporary term that was frequently applied to medical remedies – W. M. must justify throwing open the closet doors and granting privileged access to her interior, private space. He does so by claiming that pirated copies of the recipes had already appeared in print abroad, and so: “had not the lock been first pickt to have opened the Closet of my distressed Soveraigne Mistresse without her royal assent,” W. M. would “sooner have parted with [his] dearest bloud, then to have suffered them to be publick.” [33] Such rhetorical genuflection suggests not only Henrietta Maria’s elevated royal status but also the anxious ground on which W. M. treads as a male author thrusting a woman’s private interior into the public domain of print.

The tensions between male author and female subject, public and private, are further complicated by the fact that authorship never sits on solid ground in the text. W. M. implies in his prefatory epistle that he is a mere amanuensis, stating, “there being few or none of these receipts presented to her Majesty, which were not transcribed into her book by my self, the Original papers being most of them preserved in my own hands.” [34] He is scribe, not author, while Henrietta Maria functions as a curator of sorts. Authorship remains indeterminate, even (and one could say, especially) given the long list in the beginning of the book of various royals, nobles, and doctors who contributed the recipes written therein. Many cookery books from this period pirated recipes from earlier texts, making the identification of a single “original” author impossible. This idea is strengthened by the close relationship implied between the printed book and Henrietta Maria’s manuscript recipe collection, which, if it existed, would have almost certainly featured recipes handed down over generations with no traceable origins. Furthermore, Jayne Archer argues that the formal features of The Queens Closet Opened are typical of the type of manuscripts compiled by early modern women. Once the reader moves beyond W. M.’s preface, she finds the recipes inside of an extremely ordinary quality. Written in a straightforward, detached style, they reveal practically nothing about Henrietta Maria and her personal tastes. [35] The result is a text in which any sense of authorship slowly evaporates to reveal a troubling tension between what is presented as a window into the private life of the Queen and her absenteeism from this space she is supposed to occupy.

Similarly destabilizing issues of authorship can be found in The Court & Kitchen of Elizabeth. The author betrays a similar anxiety as W. M. in throwing back the curtain that conceals a woman’s private tastes and behaviours inside the home. He expresses this concern in the dedicatory preface, desiring that the reader not think his book “an insultory, unmanlike Invective and Triumph” over Elizabeth Cromwell and her family. The author defends the viciousness of his attack by stating that Elizabeth was already a woman whose “Actions have infamed her to the World.” [36] Basically, he argues that Elizabeth had made herself vulnerable to such public invective by becoming a public figure in the first place, and therefore has no claim to her former privacy. Like W. M., the author of The Court & Kitchen of Elizabeth must go to considerable lengths to legitimize his actions as a male writer engaged in the act of making the private business of a woman public.

The author’s worry that the reader may think him “unmanlike” is particularly interesting. It indicates not only his anxiety over attacking a woman in print but, as I suggest, his anxiety over doing so within the genre of the recipe book. This uneasiness over the relationship in The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth between public and private, male and female, contributes to the formal indeterminacy of The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth as cookery book. Laura Knoppers writes, “Indeed, the text itself strains the genre of the cookery book with its multi-layered title page, learned citations, eleven-page Preface ‘TO THE READER,’ long ‘Introduction,’ and even longer narrative entitled ‘THE COURT and KITCHIN OF Mrs Elizabeth alias Joane Cromwell’.” [37] The genre of the cookery book is under strain, Knoppers suggests, because both the length and vitriolic intensity of the political satire in the preface overshadows any pretensions that the book makes to function as a practical cookery guide. The attacks on Elizabeth’s extreme parsimony and poor housekeeping cast her recipes in a deeply negative light and beg the question why a contemporary reader would want to cook dishes conceived in such poor taste. But if The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth fails as cookery text, it does not exactly succeed as satire either. “For all its lively detail and humour,” Knoppers writes, “The Court & Kitchin works against its own claim that Elizabeth’s unsuitability is self-evident.” [38] Its generic status is dubious on two levels, hinting further at the author’s own self-consciousness at having transgressed gendered lines.

The Queens Closet Opened and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth demonstrate that cookery texts were a site where domestic practices intersected with national identity. Both texts successfully participate in furthering the royalist political project, participating in what we may call the politics of 17th-century cookery. However, the overt politicization of the texts does not disguise – and, indeed, might actually account for – their inconsistencies in both form and content. Neither author lays an authoritative claim to the cookery book genre, leaving questions of authorship, form, and content open to subsequent exploration and definition by other authors.

III. The Accomplisht Cook and The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected

At the dawn of Charles II’s restoration, two professional cooks published two of the best- known English cookery texts of the 17th century: Robert May’s aforementioned The Accomplisht Cook (1660) and William Rabisha’s The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1661). Like the two previous texts, May’s and Rabisha’s works are royalist in tone; both men worked as master cooks for a number of important aristocratic households in England and abroad in the decades before civil war. Both The Accomplisht Cook and The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected constitute more formal and extensive recipe collections than had previously appeared in print in the English language. They were also among the first to include illustrations, organize the recipes into categories, and include indices. The Accomplisht Cook and The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected are also deeply nostalgic texts that hearken to a previous era when lavish entertaining and extravagant hospitality was the norm. Appearing in both are bills of fare for grand dinners that feature dozens of dishes and use expensive ingredients, reflecting a strongly medieval aesthetic.

Both authors write in elevated tones about revealing the “art of cookery” for the benefit of professional male readers. May addresses his text to “Master Cooks, and to such young Practitioners of the Art of Cookery,” while Rabisha writes that his book can only be of use to cooks who already “understand the nature of the ingredients proposed for the performance of any one thing.” [39] Both men express an anxiety over revealing the secrets of the trade and anticipate the backlash such disclosures might provoke. Rabisha writes:

I do not question but divers Brethren of my own Fraternity may open their mouths against me, for publishing this Treatise, pretending that thereby it may teach every Kitchen-wench, and such as never served their times, and so be prejudicial to the Fraternity of Cooks.

The knowledge contained in Rabisha’s and May’s books is presented as the private, protected province of this circumscribed male network of trade professionals who would have bristled at the thought of a common “kitchen-wench” usurping their domain. Both authors must therefore defend the publicizing of this secret knowledge, claiming, among other reasons, their desires to advance the craft of cooking, honour and pay tribute to the restored monarchy, educate young practitioners, improve the health of aristocratic households, and promote good housekeeping across the nation.

The rhetorical hoops through which May and Rabisha must jump to compensate for making possible the pilfering of their trade secrets by common female cooks – thereby rendering the services of a higher-paid, élite male professional unnecessary – reveals an important anxiety over the relationship between not only male and female cooks but over the form and function of the recipe book itself. May and Rabisha lay strong claims to authority as writers of cookery texts, denying the feminized literary form of the recipe while at once transforming and co-opting the cookery book genre into their masculine political projects. In both form and content, The Accomplisht Cook and The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected assert the elevated status of men as culinary professionals and cookery book authors. In very similar ways, May and Rabisha make a case for the indispensability of male cooks to the health of both the corporal body and the English body politic while gendering their texts with masculine tropes.

Most of what we know about May’s and Rabisha’s lives come from their books. May was born in 1588 in the parish of Wing, Buckinghamshire. A brief biographical sketch in The Accomplishd Cook tells us that he trained as a cook under his father, Edward Mays, “one of the ablest Cooks in his time,” before completing a five-year apprenticeship in France followed by another apprenticeship in London. [40] May then worked for a number of noble Catholic families throughout the 1630s, 1640s, and Interregnum. The Accomplisht Cook went through five editions by 1685, although May probably only lived to see the publication of the improved second edition in 1665. [41] Rabisha’s career followed a similar trajectory, although many details of his life are sketchy. He was born in 1625, possibly to a Yorkshire family. Rabisha writes in the preface to The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected that he trained “abroad in the late Kings Court” and then worked as a master cook in a number of aristocratic households in England and abroad before the civil war. [42] Rabisha died in 1661, the same year that the first edition of The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected was published, but his book went through at least four subsequent editions by 1675.

Where the authors of The Queens Closet Opened and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth express a sense of anxiety over writing within the confines of the cookery book genre, May and Rabisha actively assimilate more masculine literary tropes into their texts. Both use elevated language, referring to the “art” of cookery as belonging within the “arts and sciences” rather than the realm of women’s domestic work. Rabisha compares his efforts in The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected to the work of the “Astronomer, Mathematician, Navigator, Physician, Chirurgion, Farryer,” and many other “ingenious men of all Arts and Sciences” who gifted their knowledge to posterity through print. A brief dedication in The Accomplisht Cook book compares May to “Famous Cleaveland, or renowned Ben,” aligning May with contemporary writers in high public standing. [43] The numerous introductions to the texts are punctuated with classical and biblical allusions. The biographical sketch of May’s life, for instance, sets up an extended analogy between contemporary England and the Roman Republic, citing the importance of hospitality in both contexts and referring numerous times to Plutarch, Cicero, and Pompey. All of these literary conventions suggest that both May and Rabisha were attempting to de-feminize not only the practice of cooking but also the cookery book itself, bringing it into a male-dominated literary domain where they could more easily assert their rights as authors.

Both men carve out space for women and traditional female knowledge forms in their texts, but without relinquishing their authority as authors and cooks. While May dedicates his work solely to prominent male aristocrats, Rabisha dedicates his to important female patrons. The vast majority of the recipes in both volumes instruct the cooking of flesh, suggesting a division of kitchen labour in which men prepared meats while women engaged in more delicate processes such as candying and preserving. However, May’s text does feature a final section on medicinal remedies – traditionally an area of women’s expertise – but he justifies its inclusion by affirming his desire to promote good bodily health. He makes serious claims to complete authority in this area, boasting that only The Queens Closet Opened, “which was so enricht with Receipts presented to her Majesty … ever contained so many profitable Experiences as in this Volume.” [44] Only the queen herself, then, can boast knowledge exceeding May’s. He maintains that his book is still accessible to women of a middling sort who oversee the running of a more modest household, for he still hopes that “they may give, though upon a sudden Treatment, to their Kindred, Friends, Allies and Acquaintance, a handsome and relishing entertainment in all seasons of the year.” Rabisha and May thus acknowledge women in their roles as household managers and practitioners of good hospitality (thereby also expanding their potential readership and profits), but neither concedes any ground to female authority over matters of cooking or recipe authorship.

Nor does either author make any great effort to sublimate their strong royalist leanings in their books. Each nostalgically remembers a golden age of magnificent hospitality before civil war. May wistfully recalls “those Golden Days of Peace and Hospitality” from an earlier Stuart era when “those Triumphs and magnificent Trophies of Cookery” adorned the tables of England’s élite. [45] May and Rabisha are openly scornful of the austerity of the Interregnum period and celebrate the Restoration as the return of magnificent hospitality and grand feasting. “Hospitality which was once a Relique of the Gentry, and a known Cognizance to all ancient Houses, hath lost her Title through the unhappy and Cruel Disturbances of these Times,” May writes. [46] Rabisha praises his noble patronesses as “upholders and nourishers of all ingenuous Arts and Sciences, and in particular, that of the said Mysterie of Cookery” who practiced hospitality “even in those late covetous destructive times under the Cloak of Frugality.” [47] He then compares the return of the king and other formerly-exiled families to “the Sun in the Firmament, which keeps not his light and heat for himself, but in his Gradual revolution, freely bestows himself to the giving of life, freeing and cloathing the whole Universe.” In particular, though, it is the “food and rayment, they pay for, by which all men live,” that keeps the nation revolving “like a great Wheel.” [48] Feeding others as an act of hospitality thus ensures England’s continued security and prosperity. Just as the authors of The Queens Closet Opened and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth equate proper housekeeping with a well-ordered nation, so May and Rabisha connect hospitality and feasting among the nobility to the wellbeing of England.

If, as May and Rabisha suggest, England’s noble families ought to re-establish magnificent hospitality for the good of the nation, they would need a professional cook to do it. Or, more accurately, they would require a small army of professionals, as one can hardly imagine a single cook preparing the kind of feasts described in the pages of May’s and Rabisha’s books. In this sense, the authors make a strong case for the indispensability of their “fraternity” of professionals. And just as male cooks contribute to national wellbeing through the practice of their art, May and Rabisha see themselves as performing a similar service as authors of informative and instructive cookery books. A prefatory verse poem “On the Unparalell’s Piece of Mr. May His Cookery” in The Accomplisht Cook glorifies the text as a work of national importance:

See here a Work set forth of such Perfection,

Will praise it self, and doth not beg Protection

From flatter’d greatness, Industry and pain,

For gen’ral good, his aim, his Countrey gains;

Which ought respect him… [49]

The poem figures May as England’s master cook (calling him “Native May”) and characterizes him as the architect of national feasts. In re-introducing England to the methods and manner of courtly feasting, then, May’s text sees itself as a tool of nation building.

The Accomplisht Cook and The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected insist upon the vital nature of the male cook in English society. At the same time, May and Rabisha assert their own authority as authors of the recipe book genre with important political agendas. Unfortunately for May and Rabisha, however, their books fail to anticipate the ways that Restoration society was leaving behind older social codes built around hospitality and adopting a new form of sociability governed by the more individualized concept of civility. In championing out-dated notions of hospitality and the need for such expensive, labour-intensive dishes, The Accomplisht Cook and The Whole Art of Cookery Dissected ignore the more modest capabilities of middling housewives who nonetheless desired means of participating in polite, commercial society. We turn next to Hannah Wolley, whose cookery books proved extraordinarily popular in the decade or so after May and Rabisha published their books. Herself a woman of middling status, Wolley gave her middling readers a practical means of participating the national project of good housekeeping.

IV. Hannah Wolley’s The Queen-Like Closet

Hannah Wolley (also written Woolley or Wooley) is often celebrated as England’s first female professional writer, preceding Aphra Behn by a decade. [50] Beginning with The Ladies Directory in 1661, she wrote and published eight different cookery books before 1675. In addition to giving medical remedies and alimentary recipes, Wolley’s books also dispense advice on how to run a proper household. Her most popular book was The Queen-Like Closet, first published in 1670. It went through at least four subsequent printings and sold for two shillings. Wolley’s books are directed at middling female readers and provide non-aristocratic women with the knowledge and know-how to emulate the élite domestic practices of England’s great houses. According to Elaine Hobby, the principal concern of Wolley’s works is to “educate her upwardly-aspirant woman reader in how to present herself, and her home, as richer and more fashionable than they really are.” This aspirational quality of her books suggests an analogy between Wolley and the 21st-century Martha Stewart. [51]

Born in 1622, Wolley worked in an aristocratic household between the ages of 17 and 24 at a time when it was common for young women to work as domestic servants before marriage. In 1646 she married Jeremy Wolley, master of the Newport Free Grammar School in Essex. Mrs. Wolley cared for the boarders at her husband’s school and assisted him in running its operations. In 1653 the couple moved to Hackney, a village north of London, where together they ran another school until Mr. Wolley’s death in 1661. That same year she published her first book, The Ladies Directory. By 1666 Wolley had moved to Westminster and was remarried to a gentleman widower named Francis Chaloner. By the time she published The Queen-Like Closet in 1670, Wolley had been widowed a second time and was living in London. In her lifetime she gave birth to four sons and two daughters. Her precise death date is unknown but it is usually placed around 1675 when she ceased publication of new work. Wolley’s other important cookery texts include The Cooks Guide (1664) and The Accomplisht Ladies Delight (1675).

In an interesting parallel to W. M.’s unauthorized work as Henrietta Maria’s amanuensis in The Queens Closet Opened, a male hack writer hired by the bookseller Dorman Newman published a work under Wolley’s name entitled The Gentlewoman’s Companion without her permission in 1673. The book included a lengthy biographical section on Wolley’s life in which the writer makes a bold case for improving women’s educations and defends a woman’s right to marry for love. Such statements have led scholars in the 20th century to seize upon The Gentlewoman’s Companion as an example of a proto-feminist work. [52] However, in A supplement to The queen-like closet (1674), Wolley repudiates the hack writer’s work, calling it “scandalous, ridiculous, and impertinent.” [53] Elaine Hobby argues that the use of Wolley’s name on the cover of The Gentlewoman’s Companion is strong evidence that her works were seen as particularly saleable commodities. [54]

While she can’t be called a proto-feminist exactly, Wolley often takes a stance on moral and political issues in her works. In The Queen-like Closet, she frequently intersperses the recipes with commentary on matters of social or political significance, moving at times unexpectedly back and forth between practical and intellectual subjects. As a result, Elaine Hobby writes, “readers find themselves encountering observations about gender division, or about poverty, or about the meanings of language, or about the lives of women and of the author in particular, in between or in the midst of instructions about the proper running of home and family.” [55] I argue that this is part of Wolley’s authorial strategy. In developing a more flexible type of cookery text, she successfully constructs her own authority as author, housewife, and Englishwoman. Though aware that as a female writer she trespasses male-dominating territory, Wolley ably exploits the cookery book form to her own ends as an author and authority on feminine subjects. The Queen-like Closet displays her authoritative knowledge of cookery and housekeeping, synthesizing and integrating into a “compleat” whole a number of fluctuating dichotomies such as public and private, male and female, ignorant and informed, middling and aristocratic.

The reference to Henrietta Maria’s The Queens Closet Opened in the title of The Queen-Like Closet suggests that Wolley was attempting to attract a readership easily wooed by the promise of secret knowledge. Her strategy appears successful, as The Queen-Like Closet became Wolley’s best-selling work. She displays no anxiety over revealing her secrets, only confidence: “I do assure you it is worthy of the Title it bears, for the very precious things you will find in it,” she writes of the book. [56] While Wolley presents The Queen-like Closet as a cabinet filled with precious secrets, in it she greatly expands upon her earlier works, reprinting old recipes and adding new materials like bills of fare and a section on household management and service. At over 300 pages, it is also longer and more encyclopaedic than either May’s or Rabisha’s books. Like a cabinet of individual drawers, however, The Queen-like Closet organizes and compartmentalizes the knowledge it contains into discrete sections, giving the text the same intimate closet-like quality that Knoppers ascribes to The Queens Closet Opened. The doors open to reveal not a cramped interior but a window into a wide realm of culinary and domestic knowledge.

Wolley’s book is synthetic in that it combines within a unified whole a wide variety of culinary knowledge, breaking it down into digestible parts. While the first section of the book contains the type of recipes typically produced by women, such as perfumes, healthful waters, and preserves, the second section addresses “all manner of cookery, for Fish, Flesh & Pastry.” [57] Wolley thus stakes a strong claim to expertise in all areas of cookery, feminine or otherwise. Within the individual sections, though, she organizes the recipes according to no discernible pattern or principle. Medicinal remedies are mixed in with procedures for pickling, preserving, candying, as well as recipes for cakes, creams, puddings, and possets. Sweet sometimes mingles with savoury. There is also a noticeable mixture of styles in the inclusion of recipes for “Spanish Candy,” “French Bread,” and “Italian Bisket.” Furthermore, many recipes range in level of difficulty from extremely simple, like Wolley’s “To make Clove or Cinamon Sugar” (consisting of a single sentence instructing the reader to “put sugar in a Box, and lay Spices among it, and close up the Box fast, and in a short time it will smell and tast very well”), to excessively long and complicated. [58] Directions for how “To make a Rock in Sweet-Meats,” for instance, take up nearly five pages, require several prior preparations, and seem every bit as elaborate as May’s courtly entremets[59] Wolley’s book thus integrates and synthesizes a wide array of culinary types and styles to help her reader achieve what she calls a “Compleat Table.”

Within the text, Wolley paints non-culinary subjects such as class and gender with the same amalgamating brushstrokes, skilfully blending together a number of competing social dichotomies in the Restoration period. She notes the decreasing rigidity of Restoration society, writing that a maid ought to find satisfaction in her work, for “she will make her self happy also, for by her Industry she may come one day to be Mistress over others.” [60] One could imagine both maids and mistresses alike being pleased with this counsel. Wolley’s understanding of good English hospitality is also informed by her awareness of the possibilities of both downward and upward social mobility. She tells housewives, “If any poor Body comes to ask an Alms, do not shut the door against them rudely, but be modest and Civil to them … and think with your selves, that though you are now full fed … yet you know not what may be your condition another day.” [61] Although Wolley acknowledges that English society has grown increasingly fluid, she still recognizes the importance of conspicuous symbols of social rank. Indeed, her expert status as a writer of cookery books rests on her ability to prescribe methods of service and codes of hospitality appropriate to a household’s relative social standing. For example, she gives “A Bill of Fare for Gentlemens Houses of Lesser Quality,” from which she says “you may also know how to order any Family beneath another, which is very requisite.” [62] Her text achieves a balance between encouraging middling readers to aspire to higher social rank while affirming and validating the existing social hierarchy.

Wolley’s views on gender exhibit a similar flexibility. Unlike May and Rabisha, she makes no attempt to assign a gender to the English cook, writing: “The Cook, whether Man or Woman, ought to be very well skilled in all manner of things both Fish and Flesh, also good at Pastry business, seasoning of all things, and knowing all kinds of Sauces.” [63] A cook’s skill and experience are more important than his or her gender, she argues, perhaps implying by extension that the same is true of the cookery book author. As a mixed form combining male and female knowledge types as well as various social viewpoints, Wolley’s text successfully dodges many of the rhetorical traps that trip up May’s and Rabisha’s works. Consequently, The Queen-like Closet exhibits fewer internal tensions and problems of authorship than the works previously considered here. Wolley herself comes to embody the synthesis that her text performs, as she moves more or less unproblematically in and out of public and private spaces, the print and domestic realms.

Wolley concludes her text with a statement about her ultimate aims as an author: “I have taken this pains to impart these things for the general good of my Country,” she writes. [64] Wolley clearly sees herself as performing a service not only to Ladies and housewives, but to England as well. In dedicating her book to “all Ladies, Gentlewomen, and to all other of the Female Sex who do delight in, or be desirous of good Accomplishments,” Wolley makes good housekeeping into a broad national project in which all women could participate. Whereas May and Rabisha tried to keep such activity restricted to the domain of the male professional, Wolley gives middling Englishwomen the requisite tools to advance the cause of nation building through advocating correct domestic practices.

In her discussion of women’s manuscript recipe collections, Sara Pennell points to a general “diversification of domestic literature out from the socially circumscribed precious ‘closet open’d’ genre of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries,” also noting an increasing inclusivity with which women were identified in these manuscript collections as practitioners of the genteel domestic arts. As Pennell writes, by the 18th century, “The ‘compleat housewife’ emerged not only as a household ideal, but as a national exemplar.” [65] I argue that Wolley’s writings also follow this shift, and that as a commercially successful author she communicates this “national exemplar” of the ideal English housewife to a wider reading public. For Wolley, writing and publishing a cookery book is itself an act of hospitality. “Courteous Reader,” she writes in one of her many asides, “I have given you, as I think, a very fill Direction for all kinds of Food, both for Nourishment and Pleasure,” [66] suggesting perhaps a sense that her books in a way “nourish” the reader with culinary knowledge. Wolley feeds the reader figuratively, and in teaching practicable recipes, almost literally. In this way, her book promotes the national wellbeing while performing it simultaneously.

V. Conclusion

Long before the social and political trauma of civil war, regicide, and non-monarchical government, English men and women expressed deep concern over the political consequences of their domestic practices. The belief in the close association between household order and effective government formed the bedrock of the early modern social order. [67] As Wendy Wall writes, “Scholars agree that the link between household and commonwealth was radically reconfigured in the mid-17th century in the wake of the Civil War.” [68] Upon the restoration of Charles II to the throne, concern over the health of the English household – and, by extension, the nation – intensified as English society underwent a restructuring of social and political attitudes. New boundaries were erected to delineate expanding categories of social thought while older ones were redrawn. From this context of disorder and reorder emerges the genre of the cookery book.

Like other cultural productions of the Restoration era, the texts I consider above articulate strong views about proper modes of behaviour in a period of fluctuating political and social mores. Restoration-era cookery books argue that the re-strengthening of the nation starts inside the household. This article contends that authors of cookery books from 1655 to 1670 were engaged in a debate about which members of English society – male or female, middling or aristocratic – could participate in the national politics of cookery and household management and in what kind of setting: public or private. In doing so, they shaped their authority on domestic practices and as authors of a genre that was finding its definitive form in these years. Both W. M. and the author of The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth clearly articulate the idea that private habits and tastes have serious bearing on public reputation and nationhood. However, as unauthorized male authors uneasily drawing back the curtains on female interiors, W. M. and the author of The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth fail to construct authoritative texts and therefore render null the information contained inside their volumes. May and Rabisha, alternately, gendered both the cook and the cookery book author as strictly male, making the project of English nation building a predominantly male one as well as one reserved for the upper classes. However, their texts fail to recognize the ways that English society had transformed since before civil war as avenues for entering polite society continued to expand. Finally, Wolley formally digests previous cookery books to create a synthetic, authoritative text that positions women of all classes – with Wolley herself at the fore – as collective actors in the strengthening of the national household.

Previous scholars have looked at ways that these texts articulate ideas about gender, politics and domesticity. However, none has considered them together as a related body of work engaged in a process of negotiation within the context the Restoration social and political orders. Ultimately, these texts enrich our understanding of the realigning categories of public and private life in the Restoration, and therefore contribute to our understanding of the Restoration itself as a period of transformation. As intersections of domestic practice and national identity, cookery books are seen here as engaging in a wide range of social and political debates and should not be dismissed as texts pertaining exclusively to domestic matters. In looking to cookery books for clues about how ordinary people might have adopted and assimilated new behaviours and tastes into their own lives, this study dovetails with other scholarly work on the socio-political nature of cookery books in later centuries or in other national contexts.

Parties annexes

Parties annexes