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Catherine Emily Callbeck Dalgairns

The Practice of Cookery

The Practice of Cookery

Catherine Emily Callbeck Dalgairns wrote "The Practice of Cookery Adapted to the Business of Every-day Life." It was published in 1829, and republished up until 1860. An 1830 Boston / New York edition had 1419 recipes in it. The 1840 (8th edition) was published in Edinburgh by Robert Cadell. The 1845 edition, published by Richard Griffin, had 1597 recipes in it. Later editions included additions such as a third appendix which were not written by her.

Catherine was an upper-middle class amateur foodie. The goal of the book was to enable any cook or housekeeper of limited experience to know how to prepare well most dishes in fashion at the time. She hoped that, at the same time, it might "be no less useful to the mistress of a family, if required for occasional reference." She stated at the outset that she was not providing any new recipes, but trying to select the best amongst those "already established in public favour." She either tested them herself, or relied on the opinion of "persons whose accuracy in the various manipulations could be safely relied upon."

Instead of doing all her introductory remarks lumped together at the beginning of the book, she put relevant remarks at the start of each chapter. She provided both a chapter list at the front, and an index at the back.

Some reviewers thought her book was too "Scottish."

1845 Chapter List for "The Practice of Cookery":

1. Soups14. Creams, Custards, &c.
2. Fish15. Cakes, &c.
3. Beef16. Preserves
4. Mutton17. Vinegars, Pickles
5. Lamb18. Domestic Wines
6. Veal19. Miscellany
7. Pork20. Poultry Yard
8. Poultry21. Dairy
9. Curries22. Brewing
10. Game23. Kitchen Garden
11. Gravies, Sauces, &c.24. Bees
12. Vegetables25. Pigs
13. Pudding, Pies, TartsAppendix

Chronology of her life

Catherine was born into a privileged family in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI), approximately in the late 1780s. She had three sisters, and two brothers. She was very much a child of the British Empire. Though born on Prince Edward Island, she had relatives in Ireland, England and in the American colonies.

Her parents were Phillips (sic) Callbeck (1743 to 28 February 1790) and Anne Coffin (1752 to 15 October 1826.) Her father was Attorney-General and Surrogate-General of Probate of the Island of St John (aka Prince Edward Island), then president of His Majesty's Council for the same colony. He owned 20,000 acres of land there. During the American Revolution, he was taken prisoner during a sally by two American privateers into Charlottetown Harbour, taken south to the American colonies, and handed over to Colonel George Washington. Washington set him free with a letter of apology.

On 11 September 1808, Catherine married Peter Dalgairns (born in Scotland on 29 October 1793 [1].) The couple left PEI sometimes shortly afterward, even though Peter owed a good deal of money to his brother-in-law. [1] The couple lived first in London, then moved to Dundee, Scotland around 1822. In 1829, she published her cookbook. The couple never returned to Prince Edward Island [2]. They both died in Dundee, Scotland: Catherine on 1 March 1844 and Peter in 1853. [1]

Occasionally, you may see her referred to as perhaps the first "Canadian" cookbook author. Her Canadian association is tenuous, though, and mostly an accident of birth. It may be more accurate to term her, as does Mary F. Williamson, a 'British North American'. [3]

Authoritative, detailed work on her life has been done by Mary F. Williamson of York University (Toronto, Canada.)


[1] Williamson, Mary F.. "Catherine Emily Callbeck Dalgairns." Email to Randal Oulton. 7 June 2008.

[2] Sources such as The Prince Edward Island Register newpaper and the books of Lorne Callbeck assert that Peter returned to PEI by the 1830s, where Peter was chosen the Speaker of the House of Assembly. This is incorrect. The Speakers of the PEI House of Assembly over the period were:
    • John Stewart (1825 to 1831);
    • Ewan Cameron (1831 to 1835);
    • George Dalrymple (1835 to 1839);
    • William Cooper (1839 to 1843.)

[3] Williamson, Mary F.. The publication of "Mrs. Dalgairns' Cookery": a fortuitous nineteenth-century success story. Toronto, Canada: Bibliographical Society of Canada. 22 March 2007.

Literature & Lore

PRACTICE OF COOKERY, Adapted to the Business of every day Life. By Mrs. Dalgairns.

We like the title of this book -- there is promise in it, for practice is better than profession in any thing but the law of arrest. We are gross enough too, in our hearts, not to like the name of a professed cook -- thank our stars, now nearly forgotten. There is so much science implied in the name, so much theory, than which alone in cookery, at least, nothing is less inviting. We should conceive the intention of this book to bring cookery home to the business of every man's mouth -- his breakfast, luncheon, dinner, and supper practice, and heartily do we wish that all mankind were in a condition to avail themselves of these four quotidian opportunities of testing Mrs. Dalgairns's book.

"A perfectly original book of Cookery," says Mrs. D. "would neither meet with, nor deserve, much attention; because, what is wanted in this matter, is not receipts for new dishes, but clear instructions how to make those already established in public favour." This reasoning is very just, for none but the most thankless of gourmands, or the gourmet who wished to affect the sorrows of the great man of antiquity, -- would sit down and weep for new worlds of luxury. Good cookery is too rarely understood and practised to justify any such wishes; and to prove this, let the sceptic go through Mrs. Dalgairns's 1,434 receipts, and then "tire and begin again."

Our respected editress assures us that "every receipt has either been actually tried by the author, or by persons whose accuracy in the various manipulations [3] could be safely relied on."

[3] This is an unlucky word for a cookery book. Why not say operations? Mrs. D. Mrs. D! you have not escaped the scientific mania that is mounting from area to attic throughout this country. Such a term as manipulation sounds well enough in Mr. Brande's laboratory at the Royal Institution, but would be quite out of place in the kitchen of either of the hotels in the same street. A footman might as well study the polarization of light whilst cleaning the drawing-room windows.

From a table of contents we learn that among them there are the following methods:--

Soups 105
Fish 115
Beef 70
Mutton 31
Veal 60
Gravies, Sauces, &c. 104
Puddings, Pies, and Tarts 263
Creams, Custards, &c. 134
Cakes and Preserves 182

What more can mortal man desire, "nay, or women either." Appended to them is much valuable information concerning the poultry-yard, dairy, brewery, kitchen-garden, bees, pigs, &c. so as to render this Practice of Cookery a truly useful and treasurable system of domestic management, and a book of matters-of-fact and experience. The subject is too melting -- too tempting for us to resist paying this tribute to Mrs. Dalgairns's volume."

-- Reviewer unnamed. The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. Vol. 13 Issue 367 - 25 Apr 1829. Page 12.

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Oulton, Randal. "Catherine Emily Callbeck Dalgairns." CooksInfo.com. Published 06 June 2006; revised 22 December 2009. Web. Accessed 05/21/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/catherine-emily-callbeck-dalgairns>.

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