Catherine Dickens' 19th century cookbook offers recipes for 20 and "frequent toasted cheese"

By Ben Miller | 07 September 2016

Catherine Dickens’ cookbook, written during the mid-19th century, includes an introduction by Charles Dickens, writing as Sir Charles Coldstream

A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' wife, catherine
© Charles Dickens Museum
Catherine Dickens sought a straight-to-the-point title when she created her slim hardback cookbook during the early 1850. Writing under the pen name Lady Maria Clutterbuck (a character she’d been in a play at Rockingham Castle, the Northamptonshire inspiration for Bleak House), Dickens wanted to answer the “ever-recurring inquiry” about teatime grub, forming “bills of fare” for gatherings of up to 20 diners.

“It is to rescue many fair friends from such domestic suffering,” she wrote, claiming mealtime was a dreaded occasion “only exceeded in its terrors by the more awful time of dinner.”

“I have consented to give to the world the bills of fare which met with the approval of Sir Jonas Clutterbuck, believing that by a constant reference to them, an easy solution may be obtained to that most difficult of questions.”

A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' wife, catherine
© Charles Dickens Museum
Dickens was a fan of fromage. Capitalising on the family’s cheese toaster, several of her plans involve melted cheese.

That early toaster was effectively a fondue set, involving a dish which held cheese above a container of hot water. Mustard, pepper and port of butter could be added if the recipe turned out dry, and Dickens enjoyed combining it with a watercress salad.

The critics, according to her eldest son, Charley, admired the little book, but warned that “no man could possibly survive the consumption of such frequent toasted cheese.”

A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' wife, catherine
© Charles Dickens Museum
The 1852 edition, which has just been bought and put on display by the Charles Dickens Museum in London, features a line-up of lobster cutlets, rabbit curry, rice dumpling and mashed and brown potatoes for two or three eaters.

Her Italian cream required cream, powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon rind to be whipped for nearly an hour, and her menu for 20 includes vegetable soup, turbot with smelts, shrimp sauce, roast saddle of mutton, boiled fowls, tongue, oyster curry, rice, pork cutlets and spinach, as well as more potatoes, beetroot salad, cabinet pudding, marmalade tartlets, custards and macaroni.

Louisa Price, the museum Curator, says the book is an important part of the current exhibition which aims to reflect more of the life of the woman who met Dickens when she was the teenage Catherine Hogarth.

A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' wife, catherine
© Charles Dickens Museum
“The cookbook is a reminder of skills and qualities that are often sidelined when Catherine is discussed,” observes Price.

“The book, which ran to five editions, reflects her Scottish heritage and her culinary experiences living abroad in places like Switzerland, Italy and France.

“The couple often entertained and the book is clearly written by someone who knows how to juggle the realities of catering for larger dinner parties with a small kitchen – for example, preparing items in advance and serving things cold.”

A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' wife, catherine
© Charles Dickens Museum
A Scotch Minced Collop contains two pounds of finely-chopped fillet of beef, stewed with salt, pepper, gravy, ketchup and Harvey’s sauce before being served “very hot” with a “fried sippet of bread.”

Elsewhere, a lamb’s head is instructed to be halved, boiled and browned in an oven with a salamander. “Catherine has an astute understanding of seasonal cookery, as well as the nuances of meat cookery,” says Price.

“She provides a range of examples of how to prepare dishes on a stovetop, baked in an oven or on a bottle jack – a device which rotates meat on a spit.

“The book is a wonderful addition to the exhibition and fills a significant gap in our collection. Though we have often referenced the publication, and used its contents to illustrate the culinary life of the Dickens family here at Doughty Street, we have never owned a copy until now.”

A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' life, catherine
Catherine Dickens in 1879© Charles Dickens Museum collection

Catherine Hogarth

  • Married Charles Dickens in 1836. They lived together for the next 22 years.

  • Had ten children, two of whom were born at Doughty Street, in the first sixteen of those years, as well as travelling to America and living abroad.

  • When they separated, Catherine moved to 70 Gloucester Crescent near Regent’s Park, where she stayed for 21 years, outliving Charles by nearly a decade.

  • Charles Dickens painted a harshly negative portrait of his wife during this time, suggesting that Catherine was constantly depressed and an uncaring, unfit mother.

A series of events, Hearing Catherine: The Artist’s View and Hearing Catherine: An Evening of Stories and Songs take place at the museum on September 8 and 21 2016. Visit the museum events page for details.

A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' wife, catherine
© Charles Dickens Museum
A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' life, catherine
Engraving of Catherine Dickens after Maclise© Charles Dickens Museum collection
A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' wife, catherine
The Dining Room at London's Charles Dickens Museum© Charles Dickens Museum
A photo of a 19th century cookbook written by charles dickens' life, catherine
The Kitchen in the museum© Charles Dickens Museum
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Three places to see kitchens in

, North Yorkshire
With its stone sink, cast-iron range and linen hanging above to air, the Cottage Kitchen is where the 19th century housewife spent her time washing, cleaning and cooking. The kitchen has a variety of household utensils once in daily use, including an early washing machine and a heavy mangle.

Royal Gunpowder Mills, Essex
Explore war-time life with reconstructions from the 1940s. Experience the sights and sounds as you step inside an Anderson air-raid shelter, peek into a war-time kitchen and browse in a 1940s general store.

Anne of Cleves House, East Sussex
Henry VIII granted this beautiful timber-framed house to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of her divorce settlement. Let your imagination take you back to the 16th century as you wander through the kitchen or gaze at the rafters in the high roof of the hall.
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