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11 Aug 2020

The Hill House cookbook

Written by Taylah Egbers, Visitor Services Supervisor, The Hill House
A built-in painted dresser with plates on shelves against the wall. The worktop has boxes and jars on it.
The dresser in the kitchen at the Hill House
You had to have nerves of steel if you were planning to cook in Victorian and Edwardian times. We opened an old cookbook at the Hill House and discovered that no measurements or amounts are listed and there are no instructions on items needed, portion size or cooking times!

Mrs De Salis’s cookbooks were designed to offer short and to the point recipes for any ‘lady of the house’, particularly households who no longer or never had a cook. Mrs De Salis wrote books about cooking, household management, dogs and even raising poultry! Though many of her recipes included items that wouldn’t be found in the everyday kitchen, such as oysters, her books were wildly popular and did contain simple recipes such as ‘Victoria Sandwiches’ two slices of bread, sardines, mustard and crest [cress] to finish.

A battered cover of an old cookbook: 'Savouries a la mode' by Mrs De Salis.
The copy at the Hill House of one of Mrs De Salis’s extremely popular cookbooks

Of course, the Blackie family had their own cook and tablemaids to make and serve the food. At the time of the 1911 census, the Hill House had in their service, Bessie Mackintosh (Cook), Susan G Wilson and Agnes Pear (Tablemaids).

Handwritten extract from the 1911 census, showing the names of five servants at the Hill House.
Extract from the 1911 census, showing five of the servants at the Hill House

Cook Bessie Mackintosh would have enjoyed making these delicious recipes by Mrs De Salis in our large open kitchen. Charles Rennie Mackintosh (no relation) designed the kitchen to have a built-in dresser (see main picture), an east-facing range and large westward facing windows, helping the kitchen to receive generous amounts of light late into the afternoon. This space would have been a hive of activity, and the cook would have not only provided meals for the Blackie family of seven, but also for all the servants – which at any time could have been up to an extra six people.

Mrs De Salis’s books were revolutionary at the time for many Victorian and Edwardian housewives and cooks. We love these recipes so much that we have used one of Mrs Anna Blackie’s favourites in our cafe! So the next time you visit us at the Hill House, why not try it and explore our fantastic original kitchen to find Mrs De Salis’s cookbook.

The Hill House encased in a protective 'box'.
The Hill House encased in its protective Box

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