Saturday, December 26, 2015

The More Things Change...

by Maria Grace

There’s an old saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same.  It rang very true as I  was reading my newest, or should I say oldest, favorite cookbook: New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded up Principles of Economy; and Adapted to the Use of Private Families, by Mrs. Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell (1745-December 16, 1828). ‘Mrs. Rundell’ as it was often referred to, was the most popular English cookbook of the first half of the nineteenth century. The first edition came out in 1806, several later editions were published with additions by other contributors.

She begins her cookbook with a rather lengthy discussion of the need to manage a household properly. Her first recommendation is that the mistress of a household should be aware of the state of her household’s fortune and be careful to manage with a mind to her budget. How often does that bit of advice appear in ladies’ magazines of today?  Language and style aside, Mrs. Rundell could have been writing for a magazine of today.

Mrs. Rundell laments the effects of increasing prices. “Generally speaking, dinners are far less sumptuous than formerly, when half a dozen dishes were supplied for what one now costs; consequently those whose fortunes are not great, and who wish to make genteel appearance, without extravagance, regulate their table accordingly.” When we bemoan inflation at the grocery store, we are certainly standing in the shadow of our ancestors.

To cope with the effects of increasing prices and limited incomes, she recommends careful accounting.  To that end, she insists “few branches of female education are so useful as great readiness at figures.” Long before it was fashionable or popular, Mrs. Rundell recommended that girls study math! Who would have guessed?

Not only were her educational recommendations forward thinking, but her practical suggestions were too. She recommends using cash not credit for every day purchases and argues that the use of credit “may have much evil influence on the price of various articles.” Likewise, she cautions ladies to avoid buying unnecessary articles just because they are good bargains. However, they should stock up on paper, soap and candles which keep well and are in constant consumption. Though for my household it would be light bulbs, toilet paper and laundry detergent, the advice remains sound.

One final point Mrs. Rundell made left me laughing out loud, not because it was ridiculous, but rather because I had taught the very same advice in a budgeting and money management course my husband and I have taught over the years. She says, “Some people fix a stated sum to be appropriated to each different article and keep the money in separate purses.” Sounds remarkably like setting a budget for each category of spending and the setting aside that amount of money in separate envelopes, doesn’t it? I would never have guessed that bit of advice had been penned at least 200 years ago.

It just goes to show that there really is nothing new under the sun!

For anyone interested, replica editions of Mrs. Rundell’s book have been published and the original itself is available free online.


 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournRemember the Past, and Mistaking Her CharacterClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.


  1. Thank you for sharing. This very book showed up as recommended for me on my google books account 2 days ago and I added it to my very long TBR. How funny! :)

  2. Totally agree. I write historical fiction that takes place in the 19th/early 20th century and the more research I do, the more I see how practical the Victorians were (much more so than we are today). Of course it starts to wane as the era progresses and consumerism takes hold.



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