Soyer's Shilling Cookery - Coffee lessons for the poor

Here Soyer describes a 'simplified way of making coffee'. The reader is encouraged to save used coffee grounds, and to re-use them the following day. Soyer writes of a tea party he recently attended in St Giles, one of London's poorest districts, at which he offered his hosts a coffee-making lesson. The occasion is described in romantic terms: Soyer is 'received like a princess in a fairy land' into a room ornamented with wall flowers and 'pyramids of muffins and crumpets'.

About Soyer's Shilling Cookery

Alexis Soyer (1809-58) made his reputation as chef at London 's prestigious Reform Club. Soyer loved to perform, and many regard him as Britain 's first celebrity chef. He was a brilliant self-promoter. He marketed a range of his own products: kitchen equipment, recipe books, sauces and relishes; he opened his own art gallery; and he even conducted tours of the Reform Club's state-of-the-art industrial kitchens. On the day of Queen Victoria 's coronation he prepared a breakfast at the Reform Club for over 2000 people.

But Soyer was equally concerned to improve the standard of cookery amongst the poor. A Shilling Cookery for the People is full of practical advice, based on the assumption that many readers could not afford the ingredients for complicated recipes.

The book is typical of Soyer's desire to democratise the rules of cookery - bringing to the masses techniques that in France were part of an everyday culinary vocabulary. For example, in one chapter Soyer describes a visit to a house in St Giles (one of London 's poorest parishes), where he performs a lesson in coffee making.

Much of the book is in the form of personal letters written to friends, creating a cosy and somewhat romantic authorial voice - a stark contrast to Mrs Beeton's militaristic tone.

Soyer devoted much of his life to a number of philanthropic projects. He worked on Irish famine relief, creating the first properly designed soup kitchen. And he worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, improving the diet of wounded soldiers. The Morning Chronicle said of Soyer, 'he saved as many lives through his kitchens as Florence Nightingale did through her wards.'

Taken from: Soyer's Shilling Cookery for the People
Author / Creator: Soyer, A.
Publisher: Routledge & Co
Date: 1855
Copyright: By permission of the British Library
Shelfmark: RB23 A 21664