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Ruth Herbert, The St James Cookery Book 1894 - Emma

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June 21st, 2019


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06:46 pm - Ruth Herbert, The St James Cookery Book 1894
Ruth Herbert, The St James Cookery Book 1894

The St. James's Cookery Book (1894) is an odd book, in that it takes a position of utmost respectability and snobbishness but was written by Louisa Ruth Herbert, a well known stage actress and model (which, by Victorian standards, was to say a well known loose woman).
Herbert was born in 1831, daughter of a brass founder. She married but separated and became an actress under the name Ruth Crabbe. She worked at the St James theatre. She specialised in comedy and burlesque, and was known as a beauty.

She modelled for Rossetti in the late 1850s. He wrote:

‘I am in the stunning position this morning of expecting the actual visit at 1/2 past 11 of a model whom I have been longing to paint for years – Miss Herbert of the Olympic Theatre – who has the most varied and highest expression I ever saw in a woman's face, besides abundant beauty, golden hair, etc.’

She clearly had smarts as well as beauty, as she managed the St James from 1864 to 1868, and then married again. She published the St James Cookery Book under her married name. All the hints on home management are uncompromisingly pro-management.

‘Do not feel, as too many mistresses do, that you are intruding when you go into the kitchen. Never forget that the house is yours, and that you are responsible for the disposition
of the stores bought with your or your husband’s money.’

One hard and fast rule should be made in every house, and
that is, that whatever comes into a house belongs to the
master and mistress ; and I hold that a servant looking
upon dripping and other things that have cost her mistress
money as her “ perquisites ” is dishonest, and has nothing
to recommend it but custom, and that custom should be
abolished…’

Servants at this time earned very little but were meant to get their board and traditionally had certain perquisites such as being able to sell off coffee grounds or ends of candles. You’d have thought someone who started off at the bottom end of the ladder would have had more sympathy.

The recipes certainly show the changes industrialisation had wrought in cooking in the half century from Eliza Acton to Ruth Herbert. The first step in Acton’s jelly calls for dismembering calves’ feet. The first step in Herbert’s is to take ‘half of a sixpenny packet of Nelson’s Gelatine’. Her cooking is a lot closer to our own, with its reliance on ready made conveniences.

I wonder if she had some kind of marketing arrangement with Nelsons as the 1903 edition I read contained advertising for the company in the inside cover.

In short, Herbert was a very attractive woman who did well for herself. But you would not want to have worked for her.

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