Isabella Beeton born in 1836 was the original domestic goddess. This classic beef stew recipe is from her Book of Household Management, published in 1861!
You can buy all the ingredients for this dish at the bottom of the article
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in London in 1861, was a thousand page guidebook for Victorian ladies. It included instructions for every member of a bustling middle class Victorian household, from the mistress herself, to the housekeeper, cook, butler, footman, valet, laundry-maid, and many more.
She included advice on everything from legal and medical matters, hiring and paying servants, to choosing the most suitable colours for a ladies’ wardrobe. A reader can look up how to make Devonshire clotted cream, or their own furniture polish, or exactly how to slaughter and joint an ox.
Aspiring Victorian social climbers could pick up invaluable insights into polite society, when and how to visit friends and neighbours. The correct behaviour when hosting a dinner party, including a warning that under no circumstances should a “lady” gargle with the finger bowl water, in the manner of the Europeans.
This was the first book to compile recipes in a systematic way and set out a format of ingredients and then instructions that remains the format that we’re familiar with today. She compiled over 900 recipes from many sources, but tested each recipe herself before inclusion. The book was illustrated with colourful engravings, an innovation in itself, and all before she died at the age of 28, after the birth of her fourth child.
The book however has lived on after her death running to over 100 editions and increasing in size to 2000 pages. It is still in print today alongside a number of modernised versions and books of just the recipes. It is without doubt the most important recipe book in the English language and the style of book that almost all other recipe books follow.
Isabella was interested in more than just the recipe, but also in the source and nature of her ingredients. In this way her writings seem to be a long way ahead of their time and now seem very much in the “slow food” idiom, Perhaps we just lost our way in our rush for convenience over quality.
“In the department belonging to the Cook I have striven, too, to make my work something more than a Cookery Book, and have, therefore, on the best authority that I could obtain, given an account of the natural history of the animals and vegetables which we use as food. I have followed the animal from his birth to his appearance on the table; have described the manner of feeding him, and of slaying him, the position of his various joints, and, after giving the recipes, have described the modes of carving Meat, Poultry, and Game.”
In choosing a recipe from Mrs. Beeton’s book, I looked for a simple classic that is the basis for many more complex variations and also a dish that was not the product of Victorian tastes and culinary methods. I thought that whilst stuffed cod’s heads might be an economical way to feed 6 to 8 people it likely wouldn’t become a modern family favourite
So with the current cold weather a hearty beef stew seemed the ideal option. Mrs Beeton frequently recommends the addition of suet dumplings to boiled beef recipes, but she presumes that everyone knows how to make these. I have taken the liberty of providing this omission.
The original recipe calls for pale ale, but stout is another favourite, you can change the style of beer in the bundle. Mrs Beeton is also famous for liking her vegetables well boiled. You may well prefer to add the onions and celery at the start as she suggests, but to add the other vegetables after an hour or two to preserve their texture.
An Aga is the natural choice for any stew and very like the type of range Isobella would have been familiar with, however a crock pot will do a wonderful job as a more modern alternative. I think Isabella would approve, she was a great champion of modern kitchen appliances
- I halved the ingredients for four people, presuming that it is a whole meal not just a starter and used stewing steak instead of beef shin.
- I drank the surplus beer.
- I also used less water than called for, about a litre for the half recipe because I wanted more of a stew than a soup.
- I put it all in the Aga for around 3 hours (or slow cooker for about 6 hours.)
Mrs. Beeton’s HODGE PODGE SOUP/STEW
(from the Book of Household Management)
- 2 lbs. of shin of beef (900g)
- 3 quarts of water (3.4 litres)
- 1 pint of table-beer (500ml)
- 2 onions
- 2 carrots
- 2 turnips
- 1 head of celery
- pepper and salt to taste
- thickening of butter and flour.
- Put the meat, beer, and water in a stewpan; simmer for a few minutes, and skim carefully.
- Add the vegetables and seasoning; stew gently till the meat is tender.
- Thicken with the butter and flour, and serve with turnips and carrots, or spinach and celery.
- —3 hours, or rather more.
- Sufficient for 12 persons (as a starter)
- 150 g Self-raising Flour
- 75 g Suet (I use Atora)
- Small pinch of salt
- Cold water
- put the flour, suet and salt in a bowl and mix together. Add cold water a drop at a time until the mixture comes together into a dough. Divide the dough into 12 and roll each piece into a ball.
- After the stew has been in the oven for a total of 2 hours 40 minutes, remove the stew from the oven and place the dumplings on top of the stew – try to spread them out evenly. Replace the lid and then cook the stew for a final 20 minutes (3 hours in total in an Aga, double in a crock pot).
The bundle below is for the large full size recipe. You can alter the amounts and change the suggested beer and swap suet for butter by clicking on the buttons
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although we have tried to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.