More than 275 years have passed since Elizabeth Moxon penned her pioneering cookery book English Housewifry.
Featuring several hundred recipes, it is believed to have been the first to be published by a Yorkshire woman and dates back to 1741, when it was printed in Leeds.
Instructions for making the dishes, drawn from 30 years of experience, include such delightful descriptions as ‘a lump of butter the bigness of a walnut’ and sit alongside dinner party plans, seasonal menus, table layouts and guides on how to save food.
The work of Elizabeth, who sold copies of the book from her residence in Pontefract, proved so popular that it ran to multiple editions and even made it to London.
She has been described as trailblazer in English culinary writing, in a blog post by Wakefield Museums, and her book is thought to have paved the way for future cookery authors like Ann Peckham and Hannah Glasse.
Amy Charles, a member of the Forgotten Women of Wakefield (FWW) project, which is exploring and honouring the lost histories of the city’s women, has been researching Elizabeth’s life.
“There’s a lovely little description at the beginning of the book and by the sound of it, Elizabeth was well known in her community for being one of the leading cooks in the area and she was encouraged by her friend to publish [the book].”
Elizabeth was likely in her 50s when her book first made it to print. The recipes suggest she had access to “exotic foods” for the time, Amy explains, including oysters, lobsters, fruits and spices.
“Reading Elizabeth’s recipes I found that she was a very creative woman. Back in the 18th century it was accepted that the woman’s place was the kitchen, and it was not seen appropriate for women to earn money or find ways to express themselves outside of their marital duties.
“The kitchen was almost like sacred female territory and I believe Elizabeth used this to her advantage to help strengthen her voice and express herself creatively. She obviously had a natural talent at mixing herbs and ingredients, but also at setting and displaying food for large parties which required a lot of imagination.
“Elizabeth seems to have escaped the history books so it’s time her story is unearthed. She was a Yorkshire woman, who probably thought her life was of little consequence, yet courageously pushed for progress behind the boundaries that was put upon her. I think her story is inspirational even now to anyone who feels held back from pursuing something that seems impossible.”
An edition of Elizabeth’s recipe book is available to see at Pontefract Museum, where a series of workshops on Elizabeth and the district’s forgotten women are taking place until February.
Sarah Cobham, CEO of Dream Time Creative, the arts company behind the FWW project, says the museum commissioned the research, workshops and a blue plaque to honour Elizabeth. After its unveiling at Pontefract Town Hall in March, supported by Pontefract Civic Society and accompanied by a short play Amy is writing about Elizabeth, the plaque will likely be displayed on Finkle Street, where it is believe she lived.
“I am delighted that this commission by Pontefract Museum is highlighting just how rich the seam is of Forgotten Women from our area and how so many women from beyond Wakefield’s city walls also contributed to the cultural landscape of our region,” says Sarah. “It’s a positive and affirming step to be working with new partners who are so supportive of the concept of the FWW women project.”
For more details of the workshops, and to book, visit www.wakefield.gov.uk/museumevents