the Hannah of our concern

Happy 313th birthday. Also, I know what I want for dinner. And, 7 other things worth your time.

Happy 313th birthday to Hannah Glasse. I’m a few days early, but I don’t want to forget. (You don’t look a day over 175.)

A groundbreaking 18th century author, Glasse was basically the Julia Child or Martha Stewart of her time, best-known for her wildly popular English cookbook, which had an almost 21st Century title—and one of the best subtitles I’ve ever read: 

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy: Which Far Exceeds Anything of the Kind Yet Published

Her story is messy, however, starting right from birth. She was the illegitimate child of a woman named Hannah and a man named Isaac, who was inconveniently married to yet another woman—who also was named Hannah.

Yes, all 3 Hannahs, and an Isaac, all living together—along with with Isaac's two sons. No wonder that the Hannah of our concern described her childhood as “wicked,” and ran away at age 15.

She married an Irish soldier (“considerably older than her," according to a 2011 book, A History of English Food, by Clarissa Dickson Wright), and they had 10 children; five survived.

She was nearly 40 before she finally had the time to write the cookbook for which she would become known—or more correctly, not known, at least for a very long time, for two reasons:

  • First, because Glasse published pseudonymously, with the author credited simply as "A Lady." We can guess, but we don’t know why.

  • Second, because while the book "did make her quite a lot of money," according to Wright, Hannah’s Irish soldier-husband died just after it was published, "leaving behind quite a lot of debt," and forcing her to sell everything she owned—including the copyright.

Like so many entrepreneurs and successful women of her era, Glasse would have been completely forgotten were it not for historians and more modern authors like Wright who solved the mystery. But, her modern legacies include:

1. the mass market cookbook

Look on Amazon's list of the top 100 books, and cookbooks usually dominate. (Except when they don’t.) While The Art of Cookery wasn't the first cookbook, it was the first widely read one, self-consciously written in a tone meant for the masses. 

"If I have not written in the high polite stile," Glasse wrote in an introduction, "my intention is to instruct the lower sort, and therefore must treat them in their own way. ... In many other things in cookery, the great cooks have such a high way of expressing themselves, that the poor girls are at a loss to know what they mean." 

2. the "modern" dinner party

Were there dinner parties before Hannah’s book? Certainly, but Wright calls Glasse "the mother of the modern dinner party." The difference is that she suggested the idea of cooking the food itself should part of the draw—especially for families of lesser means.

"What she did was to come up with recipes that are so simple and well-expressed that women from ordinary middle-class households could give them to their cooks—or read them out loud—and be confident the end result would be a success," Wright says.

3. the "modern" palate

Hannah’s cookbook was English, and from nearly 300 years ago; of course it's heavy on heavy, traditional English food. But it's also modern and even radical for its time—for example, advising that care be taken in washing vegetables before cooking them, and cautioning against overcooking.

Hannah also includes some digs at the French, who she says have an undeserved reputation for fine cooking because they drown everything in butter. And, she includes a recipe "to make a currey the Indian way," plus, according to Wright, the first recorded recipe for fried potatoes.

Oh, but the ending

Sadly, Hannah’s story gets pretty darn Dickensian afterward. She spent time in debtor's prison, and died in 1770—outliving all but two of her children. Happy endings were in short supply in 18th century Britain, I suppose.

But, her book was published in 17 editions, and it was wildly popular in both Great Britain and the British colonies in America.

Unlike french fries and curry chicken, revenge and remembrances are dishes best served cold.

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7 other things worth your time

  • “Two men were arrested and charged on Monday for allegedly using bear spray on U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the Washington Post reports. Why it matters: Sicknick died from injuries he sustained while responding to the attack by pro-Trump rioters. Authorities have not determined whether the spray assault was the cause of Sicknick's death.” (Axios)

  • “A cascading number of European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — suspended use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame.” (AP)

  • “The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday said it would continue to crack down on unruly passengers, extending the zero-tolerance policy it implemented in January. Airlines have reported more than 500 cases since late December, according to the agency. Most of those cases were related to travelers who refused to wear face masks.” (CNBC)

  • “With obesity a factor in Covid-19 vaccine eligibility, many Americans are scrambling to find out their body mass index, or BMI. But experts say the meaning behind those numbers -- and how to lower them -- isn't always so clear-cut.” (CNN)

  • “The U.S. government plans to house up to 3,000 immigrant teenagers at a convention center in downtown Dallas as it struggles to find space for a surge of migrant children at the border who have strained the immigration system just two months into the Biden administration.” (AP)

  • “The Vatican on Monday forbade blessings of same-sex relationships, contradicting calls for the practice by progressive bishops in Germany and elsewhere, and setting a limit to the conciliatory approach to gay people that has marked Pope Francis’ pontificate.” (WSJ, $)

  • As a warning to others, a German man who got scammed out of 20 Bitcoin — worth about $1 million — explained how it happened. Short version: he fell for a scam on Twitter that suggested Elon Musk was giving a 2:1 return on the cybercurrency as a promo for Tesla. (He wasn’t.) (BBC)


Thanks for reading. Photo courtesy of Pixahive. I’ve written about Hannah at Inc.com. If you’re not a subscriber, please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.

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