Manchester’s Elizabeth Raffald was once a household name. Mother of modern British food culture, she was one of the most significant figures in culinary history, but is today an obscure figure. Levenshulme food historian Neil Buttery talk through her great rise and tumultuous fall.
After becoming housekeeper at Arley Hall in Cheshire at age twenty-five, she married and moved to Manchester, transforming the Manchester food scene and business community, writing the first A to Z directory and creating the first domestic servants registry office, the first temping agency if you will. Not only that, she set up a cookery school and ran a high class tavern attracting both gentry and nobility. She reputedly gave birth to sixteen daughters, wrote a book on midwifery and was an effective exorciser of evil spirits.
These achievements gave her notoriety and standing in Manchester, but it all pales in comparison to her biggest achievement; her cookery book The Experienced English Housekeeper. Published in 1769, it ran to over twenty editions and brought her fame and fortune.
But then disaster; her fortune lost, spent by her alcoholic husband. Bankrupted twice, she spent her final years in a pokey coffeehouse in a seedy part of town.
Her book, however, lived on. Influential and often imitated (but never bettered), it became the must-have volume for any kitchen, and it helped form our notion of traditional British food as we think of it today.