Addressing the Cook
Addressing the Cook: George Augustus Sala, Alexis Soyer and the Victorian Cookbook
In the mid-nineteenth century cookbooks were a relatively new form of commercial writing, one whose format and audience was still in the process of creation. While early cookbook writers such as Mrs. Beeton drew upon their experiences running their own households, and the collected knowledge passed down in handwritten “receipt” books, by the mid Victorian period male professionals—both chefs and men of letters—began to produce cookbooks.
This paper focuses on the relationship between the format of Victorian cookbooks and their intended audience through an examination of cookbooks written by celebrity chef Alexis Soyer and journalist George Augustus Sala. At mid-century Soyer experimented with a variety of formats meant to appeal to different classes of readers including expensive volumes of elaborate recipes for collectors, epistolary cookbooks for middle-class housewives, and more modest and simple collections of recipes and techniques for the working classes. By the closing years of the nineteenth century when Sala wrote his cookbook, not only the form but also the imagined audience for the cookbook had changed. The middle-class household is Sala’s audience, and he explicitly addressed its various adult members in a series of prefaces. The imagined audience for these early cookbooks had a profound effect on their format and style. This paper examines the interplay between writer, reader, text, and context in the development of this popular and commercially important genre.