The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs | Book Review

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs

God, I think, blasphemously, is in a sip of coffee.


I got approved in July 2021 for this…

Before I start on my review for this book, I have to apologise to the author for not providing it sooner. I was approved on NetGalley for this book in July, and while I started the book at the time, I left it off for a while so that I could give it some time. I should never do that. I requested The Language of Food because I had an inkling that it would probably be fantastic and one of those books that people rave about the next year. I was right, and I really should have reviewed it sooner. I joined the Random Things book tour for the book because I figured, at least this way I would make sure to read the book. The book comes out on the 3rd of Feb, so I can still say that I read the arc.


This post is brought to you by Random Things Tours! Anne, who schedules these, sends out some of the loveliest books for review and I’m so excited to be on a whole bunch of tours for her! I have four more besides this and each book is a gem!

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs comes out on the 3rd of Feb, 2022 (I know I said that before, but bear with me!).

It’s published by a different title in the US, Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen.


You know how we all take for granted that the recipe will list the ingredients at the start and will give you an estimated cooking time. Apparently, that wasn’t an actual thing for the longest time. The practice was started by Eliza Acton, the British food writer and poet after she produced one of the first cookery books aimed at the average, middle-class reader who wanted to make something at home.

It is believed, that when Eliza Acton was told to stop writing poetry and produce a recipe book she actually went ahead and spent ten years doing it. That book was Modern Cookery for Private Families, and not only did it make it the norm to list the ingredients and cooking time at the start of the recipe, but it also named recipes that no one had thought to do so before; everyone made them, they just never said it.

This is the story of how Eliza ended up writing that book, with the help of her maid Ann, who by some miracle, in that day and age, was able to read. She and Ann worked on the recipes together and became, friends and allies, in a world that was unceasingly unfair to the poor.

This book covers several really interesting themes. As a brown girl, one can really relate to what Eliza goes through at home; you aren’t married, can’t exactly live independently, and so you’re always subject to someone else’s rules and opinions. It doesn’t matter Eliza’s father is the one who had to file for bankruptcy, it’s her who needs to marry so that they can get out of it.

3rd Feb, 2022
How strange this world is – that no woman must admit to the pleasures of the table. She must prepare the table, of course. But without feeling. And she must eat of it – if only to live – but without expressing any pleasure in the process. For us of the fairer sex, food must be merely functional.

There is also the element of control over female appetite; notably, the only women who really appear to want food or hanker after it are the nurses, who seem sinister from our very first interaction with them. Eliza and Ann both love food, so does Eliza’s mother, but no one can appear to want it or enjoy the flavour. The room that Eliza wants to be the kingdom of women, the kitchen and the dining room, is ruled by men; the french cooks and waiters and butlers and owners, who put their hands on you the second they get the chance. The same man who can inspire Eliza is the same man who makes Ann feel sick; the differences in their status make them interact with almost different personalities.

Also, love how everyone was like the British are disappointing; how did you colonise so many places and not figure out how to flavour your food better??!?!?!!!

I will say that while the book was glorious in so many ways, I wasn’t able to give it 5 stars because I couldn’t fully invest in both of the two women. It’s only with the introduction of Susannah and the relationship between the priest and Ann explained that I was really invested, and that’s the last 20%. I would have liked it if the author had drawn that out more. I was also very sure that Ann and Eliza would be into each other, and certain lines really make you feel that way!

Her very presence makes my heart leap like a spring salmon. I will bear anything to stay beside her.


And it seems to me that her looks and gestures show meaning in the smallest and commonest of things. I cannot explain it but I feel it beneath my skin – and suppose it to be a wave of misplaced affection that must be kept hidden from Mother’s prying eyes.


But then later the author turns this into a sisterly or a mother-child relationship, which was odd. I was so sure that the big shame for Eliza’s mother was that her daughter was into chicks. That being said, this is still a solid 4 star book, and I have no doubt that many others will lean towards 5 stars rather than 4!

Eliza Acton, despite having never before boiled an egg, became one of the world’s most successful cookery writers, revolutionizing cooking and cookbooks around the world. Her story is fascinating, uplifting and truly inspiring.

Told in alternate voices by the award-winning author of the Joyce Girl, and with recipes that leap to life from the page, The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is the most thought-provoking and page-turning historical novel you’ll read this year, exploring the enduring struggle for female freedom, the power of female friendship, the creativity and quiet joy of cooking and the poetry of food, all while bringing Eliza Action out of the archives and back into the public eye.

England 1835. Eliza Acton is a poet who dreams of seeing her words in print. But when she takes her new manuscript to a publisher, she’s told that ‘poetry is not the business of a lady’. Instead, they want her to write a cookery book. That’s what readers really want from women. England is awash with exciting new ingredients, from spices to exotic fruits. But no one knows how to use them

Eliza leaves the offices appalled. But when her father is forced to flee the country for bankruptcy, she has no choice but to consider the proposal. Never having cooked before, she is determined to learn and to discover, if she can, the poetry in recipe writing. To assist her, she hires seventeen-year-old Ann Kirby, the impoverished daughter of a war-crippled father and a mother with dementia.

Over the course of ten years, Eliza and Ann developed an unusual friendship – one that crossed social classes and divides – and, together, they broke the mould of traditional cookbooks and changed the course of cookery writing forever.

This is less excerpt and more like a big quote I really like!

Of one thing I am sure: recipes speak. They carry within them their own language. And to remain anonymous is an act of cowardice. For when we strip away our name, we remove the certainty so necessary for a new housekeeper. I look at my shelf of recipe books: Carême’s Patissier Royal; Raffald’s Cookery; Glass’s Cookery; Clermont’s Cookery. Each name in proud, gleaming gilt. And it seems to me that these recipe-writers have been my companions, not only guiding me with their instruction but offering friendship – even as they infuriated me with their ill-measured ingredients and inelegant prose. They have softened the edges of my seclusion, filling my kitchen with accomplices. I turn over Mrs Rundell’s book and inspect the nameless spine. I shake my head, for the company is never nameless. What sort of woman ekes out her friendship in anonymity?

You should absolutely check out all the other posts on this tour stop!

One response to “The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs | Book Review”

  1. […] The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs | Book Review […]


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