Authors come in all shapes and sizes – and write about everything under the sun, from poetry and philosophy to pudding. Consider the telling tale of Hannah Glasse, who penned what may have been the world’s first “viral” cookbook and has been dubbed the “mother of the modern dinner party.”
I learned about her story because she inspired a Google Doodle: Today would have been her 310th birthday and because she had the chutzpah to become an author bold enough to claim her pot of ink and use it, her recipe for Yorkshire pudding still survives. And like many scribes, of course,, she faced her share of snares and pitfalls on the way to publication.
Born in 1708, Hannah was the illegitimate daughter of a London landowner. She was a housewife-turned-dressmaker, but it was her recipes for everyday British savories, not her stitching, that won her a place in at the authors’ table. Her tome, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, offered almost 1,000 recipes, from cheesecake, to roasted hare to cures for wayward sea captains — and became something of a bible for 18th century recipes. A few writerly tidbits:
Published in 1747, when it came out, her cookbook book didn’t even feature Hannah’s name; instead it bore the anonymous author credit: ‘By a Lady’.
It reportedly remained a bestseller for more than 100 years, though some claimed that she lifted many of her recipes from other sources.
It pioneered a breezy, conversational style; Hannah created an easy-to-read and apply guide designed to “improve the servants and save the ladies a great deal of trouble.” She addressed the reader and wrote in plain English, making her recipes much more accessible for servants and people who may have had trouble reading previous cookbooks.
It offered recipes for everyday British foods, including one of the earliest published recipes for Yorkshire pudding, but Hannah was also an innovator: she included one of the first British recipes for Indian curry, catering to Brits returning from overseas.
It didn’t bring — surprise! — much commercial success. Despite the popularity of her recipe book, Hannah had financial woes: she declared bankruptcy seven years after its publication and was forced to auction the copyright. She is said to have spent several months in debtors prison.
Wow! Three hundred years later, it’s still no picnic to pursue the writing life! Write on!