A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Miss Eliza's English Kitchen by Annabel Abbs- Feature and Review


In a novel perfect for fans of Hazel Gaynor’s A Memory of Violets and upstairs-downstairs stories, Annabel Abbs, the award-winning author of The Joyce Girl, returns with the brilliant real-life story of Eliza Acton and her assistant as they revolutionized British cooking and cookbooks around the world.

Before Mrs. Beeton and well before Julia Child, there was Eliza Acton, who changed the course of cookery writing forever.

England 1837. Victorian London is awash with exciting new ingredients from spices to exotic fruits, but Eliza Acton has no desire to spend her days in the kitchen. Determined to be a poet and shamed by the suggestion she write a cookery book instead, she at first refuses to even consider the task. But then her father is forced to flee the country for bankruptcy, shaming the family while leaving them in genteel poverty. As a woman, Eliza has few options, so she methodically collects recipes while teaching herself the mysteries of the kitchen. And to her surprise, she discovers she is not only talented at cooking—she loves it.

To assist her, she hires seventeen-year-old Ann Kirby, the impoverished daughter of a war-injured father and a mother losing her grip on reality. Under Eliza’s tutelage, Ann learns about poetry, cookery, and love, while unravelling a mystery in her mistress’s past. Through the art of food, Eliza and Ann develop an unusual friendship and break the mold of traditional cookbooks by adding elegant descriptions and ingredient lists, that are still used today.

Told in alternate voices, this is an amazing novel of female friendship, the ensuring struggle for freedom, the quiet joy of cookery, and the place of food in creativity all while bringing Eliza Acton out of the archives and back into the public eye.



Miss Eliza's English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and FriendshipMiss Eliza's English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship by Annabel Abbs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen by Annabel Abbs is a 2021 William Morrow Paperbacks publication.

Eliza Acton’s original plan to become a poet came to an abrupt halt when a publisher dismissed her work and then had the audacity to suggest she write a cookery book. To make matters worse, her father suffered a reversal of fortune, prompting him to leave the country. Eliza, with limited options, reconsidered the publisher’s suggestion that she write a recipe book.

But first, she must familiarize herself with a kitchen and gather recipes to add to her book. To help her with this task, she hires Ann Kirby, an impoverished young woman hoping to provide proper care for her ailing mother. Together, these women forge a bond while creating a series of popular cookbooks. It was a friendship that grew over time and endured for a lifetime.

The story is told in dual narratives. Eliza’s thoughts and personal goals and challenges are very different from those Ann Kirby endured, but the women complemented one another beautifully.

The characterizations are well done, with both women growing emotionally, gaining confidence and strength as individuals and as partners, each achieving their own personal and professional satisfaction.

I really enjoyed this story, based the real Eliza Acton and her English cookery books, which I must confess, I was totally unfamiliar with.

As a frequent reader of historical fiction, it is common to encounter dual timelines these days, which is okay most of the time, but not really my favorite, which was why I enjoyed the format the author used in this novel. Instead of a dual timeline, she used dual first-person narratives from the same time period. This made the story much more effective for me.

The truth about Mrs. Beeton’s book is also interesting, and is something people should be made aware of, in my opinion.

Overall, this is a lovely story of two very different women, from very different walks of life, coming together to create something worthwhile and helpful to generations of cooks who have benefitted from Eliza’s organization and instructions on not only the proper ingredients, but the steps needed to make the dishes a success. This format is still widely utilized today and has influenced several high-profile chefs over the years.

Culinary enthusiast, and fans of strong historical female characters will not want to miss this one!



Annabel Abbs is the award-winning author of The Joyce Girl, a fictionalised story of Lucia Joyce, daughter of James, and her relationship with Samuel Beckett. It won the Impress Prize for New Writers and the Spotlight Novel Award, and was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, the Caledonia Novel Award and the Waverton Good Read Award. The Joyce Girl was a Reader Pick in The Guardian 2016 and was one of ten books selected for presentation at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, where it was given Five Stars by the Hollywood Reporter. It is currently being adapted for stage and screen.

Her second novel, Frieda, is a fictionalised story of Frieda Weekely, the German aristocrat who eloped with DH Lawrence and who was the inspiration for Lady Chatterley. It was a 2018 Times Book of the Year. Her 2019 non-fiction book, The Age-Well Project, explores the latest science of longevity and has been serialised in the Guardian and The Daily Mail.

Her journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Irish Times, Tatler, The Author, Sydney Morning Herald, The Weekend Australian Review, Psychologies and Elle Magazine.

She earned a BA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, where she now sponsors a post-graduate scholarship in creative writing, and an MA from Kingston. She was born in Bristol, and now lives in London and East Sussex. Follow her on Twitter at @annabelabbs, or visit her website, www.annabelabbs.com.

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