In the late nineteenth century, as the constantly expanding middle classes in both Britain and America began to get their bearings, food came to take on noticeable importance. Signifying that one had indeed arrived, sophisticated food, particularly in entertaining, was de rigeur. The larder, the kitchen and the table borrowed heavily from the Continent, proclaiming that a new worldliness had entered the very heart of the home. Not only did one eat French or Italian or Spanish food, it was also necessary to be knowledgeable and conversant in these cuisines. The burden fell in particular on the mistress of the household, who had to select the menus both for family meals and for grand dinner parties—and then had to instruct the cook in making the dishes. To the rescue, there appeared a number of manuals and guides that bridged the gap between aspiration and performance.
“Cooks,” writes Nancy Lake in Menus Made Easy, “are not generally gifted with fertile imaginations, and are inclined to get into a routine which is a source of annoyance to those who desire a variety of dishes, if not for themselves, at least for their friends.” In this compact book, published in 1884, she presents menu-making strategies and lists hundreds of dishes with their original French names and, rather than a recipe, a brief description suitable for planning and writing up meals. From Huîtres a la diable (devilled oysters) to Oreilles d’agneau farcies (stuffed lambs’ ears) and Châtaignes croquantes (crystallized chestnuts pounded with sugar and eggs), Lake makes it possible to read or write a menu and to design extravagances worthy of one’s new hard-earned affluence.
This copy is undated but is clearly an early edition, probably from the mid-1890s. The case is clean and attractive, covered with brown cloth, nicely stamped in gold and black. Other than very light wear at the corners and some puckering at the top and bottom of the spine, it is Very Good-plus. The book’s contents are clean and unmarked, with a few (4 or 5) pages dog-eared and straightened. The endpapers were printed on extremely flimsy stock, the one in front torn and now repaired and that in the rear present but detached. These flaws have no bearing on the binding, which is sound and sturdy. Over all, a Very Good copy of an interesting book