Hannah (Allgood) Glasse (1708-1770) published The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy in 1747. The book, which became the most popular cookbook of the eighteenth century, stands out for its practical advice, common sense recipes, and careful organization. It was written for the common cook to help in the preparation of economical meals. Glasse abandoned the "high polite [style]" of most cookbooks of the time to offer recipes and meal preparation advice to anyone "who can but read."
Glasse was born in London in 1708, the illegitimate daughter of Isaac and Hannah (Clark) Allgood. Her father was the son of Rev. Major Allgood, who held the position of rector of Simonsburn. Her mother was the daughter of Isaac Clark, a vintner who maintained his business in London. Hannah had at least one sibling, a half-brother named Lancelot Allgood (1711-1782) who served as sheriff and later as a member of Parliament as a representative of Northumberland. He was knighted in 1760. At the age of 16, Hannah secretly married John Glasse, son of a Scotswoman and Irishman, employed as a junior officer in the British army serving on half-pay. The couple had three sons and six daughters. At least four of the children died in infancy, and several of the surviving children later traveled abroad. Little else is known regarding Glasse's life except that in the fourth edition of The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy she identifies herself as "Habit Maker to Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden." She may be the "Hannah Glass of St. Paul Co. Garden" listed in a 1754 bankruptcy report published in Gentleman's Magazine.
Glasse's first book, published in 1742 in Dublin, was the Compleat Confectioner, which appeared in at least seven editions in Dublin and London prior to 1800. Her most famous work, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Which far exceeds any Thing of the Kind ever yet Printed, was published in 1747 in London, and went through ten editions before Glasse's death in 1770. In the 75 years after her death, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy continued to be reissued 16 more times, including one Edinburgh edition (1781) and two American editions (1805 and 1812). The early editions of the book were published anonymously, with the only reference to authorship being "by a lady." Only in the fourth edition did Glasse identify herself with the autograph of H. Glasse printed in facsimile on the beginning page of text and an elaborate advertisement printed in copperplate in a flyleaf opposite the title page presenting her as habit maker to the Princess of Wales. Eight years after her death, in the 1788 edition, Glasse's full name was first listed as the author, as she had by then become commonly associated with the text.
Listing 200 subscribers, mostly women, in 1747, Glasse claimed that her cookbook was intended to be used by servants and presented "in so full and plain a manner, that the most ignorant Person, who can read, will know how to do Cookery well." In a time when men wrote most cookbooks (namely professional cooks and chefs), Glasse's down-to-earth approach aimed at the common cook found a receptive audience. Clearly, based on its popularity, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy was well received by many ladies of the house as well as domestic cooks and servants. Nonetheless, not all reviews were positive. Some criticized Glasse for not being practical, economical, or original-the very principles upon which she endeavored to write the book. Others, more used to the formal cookbook writings of professionals, found the language too coarse and lacking evidence of an educated author.
Both those who disregarded the cookbook as unworthy of its notable success and those who found it refreshingly useful could make satisfactory arguments for their differing points of view. On one hand, the recipes often tended to be unscientific in nature and, as Samuel Johnson noted in 1778, no educated person would refer to saltpepper and sal prunella as two separate substances. Also, some of the recipes Glasse included were somewhat quaint and decidedly impractical for the common cook. For example, she suggests eels stewed in broth for medicinal use in cases of "weakly and consumptive constitutions." She also provides a recipe for "hysterical water" that requires a quarter pound of dried millipedes and a concoction that she claimed would ward off the London plague of 1665, which required a mixture of 47 different roots, flowers, and seeds. Yet another recipe, this one for seed cake, required four pounds of butter, four pounds of flour, and 35 eggs to be beaten together for two hours, hardly considered convenient by modern standards.
On the other hand, Glasse's recipes were clearly explained and the vast majority were contemporary, economical dishes. She gave clear, sensible directions in such practical matters as choosing fresh ingredients, using foods native to the region, and altering meals according to season. For example, in regard to deciding sufficient roasting time for a pig, she explains the need for considering certain factors. "If just kill'd an Hour; if kill'd the Day before, an Hour and a Quarter," she explains would alter the cooking time; however, she concludes that the best way to judge "is when the Eyes drop out." To test the freshness of an egg, she suggests touching the tip of the tongue to the large end of the egg to feel if it still holds warmth. Glasse also advised that green vegetables should not be overcooked: "All things green should have a little crispness, for if they are over-boiled, they neither have any sweetness or beauty." Although she provided several recipes aimed at medicinal use in a chapter entitled "Directions for the Sick," unlike many cookbook authors of the time, she did not emphasize the topic.
Glasse showed particular disdain for the French methods of cooking in the third chapter, entitled "Read this Chapter, and you will find how Expensive a French Cook's Sauce is." "If Gentlemen will have French Cooks," she declares, "they must pay for French Tricks." Noting a French cook's use of "six Pounds of Butter to fry twelve Eggs," she declares the obvious to her readers, "Every Body knows, that understand Cooking, that Half a Pound is full enough." Unique to her cookbook is an emphasis on creating attractive presentations of meals. Food was to be admired as well as consumed. For example, she considered pickled red cabbage to be of little use as an item on the menu, but recommends its use for garnishing dishes. The traditional proverb "First catch your hare" is commonly attributed to Glasse, but the phrase does not appear in Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy; however, she does write "Take your hare when it is cased" (i.e., skinned), which may have suggested the later saying.
The consistent popularity of Glasse's Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, resulting in 26 editions being issued with facsimile reprints still available today, gives testament to the impact of Glasse's cookbook on the common menus of the eighteenth century. Although all of her recipes were probably not original, as some of her critics suggested, her common sense advice, careful organization, and plain language provided a much-used resource in many eighteenth-century kitchens. Glasse covered a wide range of topics, including how to prepare fish, soups, puddings, pies, cakes, pickles, potted hams, and jellies, along with sections on making wine and beer and cooking methods of roasting and boiling. Other topics covered in the 22 chapters include: "To make a Number of pretty little Dishes fit for a Supper, or Side Dish, or little Corner Dishes for a great Table," "For a Fall Dinner, a Number of good Dishes, which you may make for a Table at any other Time," and "How to Market, and the Seasons of the Year for Butcher's Meat, Poultry, Fish, Herbs, Roots, Etc. and Fruit."
Although not nearly as popular as her cookbook, Glasse's 1760 publication The Servant's Directory, or House-keeper's Companion went through four editions by 1762. Also often attributed to Glasse are four children's books, all published posthumously: Cato, or Interesting Adventures of a Dog of Sentiment (1816), Easy Rhymes for Children from Five to Ten Years of Age (1825), The Infant's Friend (n.d.), and Little Rhymes for Little Folks (n.d.). Despite the success of the Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, it is probable that Glasse did not benefit financially from her work. If the Gentlemen's Magazine does in fact make reference to Glasse, it appears that she was forced to file bankruptcy in 1754 and in the settlement required to sell the copyrights to her book. If this was the case, Glasse did not receive compensation for any editions issued after 1754. She died in 1770 in Newcastle, Northumberland, England.
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