Any history geek or culinary enthusiast worth their salt has of course heard of the cooking leviathan Mrs Isabella Beeton and her infamous Book of Household management, but she wasn’t as I’m sure you’ll all be surprised to know the only female entrepreneur in this particular arena at the time. The name Agnes Marshall I am sure probably means very little to you, but and here is the thing… it really should.
Agnes Bertha Marshall was born on the 24th August 1855 and lived to become an English culinary entrepreneur and one of the foremost cookery writers of the Victorian period. Not only was she this but was also a pioneer in terms of the home production of ice cream and frozen desserts, an endeavour which led to her being dubbed ‘Queen of Ices’. In the time before any form of practical domestic refrigeration techniques or indeed technology, her successes in this area quite dramatically, for an individual increased the demand in London for ice imported from Norway. Marshall’s 1888 cookery book contained what is possibly the earliest publication of a recipe for an edible ice cream cone ‘cornets with cream’, so we can all definitely thank her for that at least.
So very little is known about Marshall’s early life with the exception that she was born in Walthanstow, her father one John Smith was a clerk he however died whilst she was still young and her mother remarried. It was also written later in her life in the Pall Mall Gazette however that Marshall was a student of the culinary arts from a young age and ‘practiced at Paris and with Vienna’s celebrated chefs’.
Over the course of her lifetime Marshall wrote four books Ices Plain and Fancy: The Book of Ices (1885), Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Book of Cookery (1888), Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes (1891) and Fancy Ices (1894). Marshall also gave numerous public lectures on cooking and ran a successful agency for domestic staff. She was also notably granted a patent for an improved ice cream machine that could freeze a pint of ice cream in five minutes, a quite remarkable feat for the time not only this but she suggested the use of liquid nitrogen in the making of ice cream, a practice which would not become common for around a decade later.
She and her husband established the prestigious Marshall School of Cookery in Mortimer Street in 1883 and also published a popular weekly magazine entitled, The Table, from 1886. This when she moved to London where she purchased the National Training School of Cookery from its owners, creating from it the aforementioned Marshall School of Cookery and building an impressive prestige and clientele. The later decades of the Victorian era saw the relatively modest beginnings of what would come to be termed domestic science and with its development the entrepreneurial Agnes Marshall boosted the schools number of pupils from a pitiful 40 within 2 years to thousands on numerous day to yearlong courses. Her pupil demographic was understandably extensive from those in domestic service sponsored by employers to aristocratic ladies who felt themselves in need of a suitable pastime. The curriculum taught was also revolutionary as it “offered specialty instruction in cooking, including lessons in curry from an English colonel who had served in India and classes in French haute cuisine taught by a Cordon Bleu graduate.”
Marshall also sold numerous culinary supplies such as leaf gelatine and equipment such as a surprisingly extensive range of jelly moulds, advertising such wares religiously in her recipes and in her books. Other such things sold were cutlery, cast-iron equipment, baking powder, flavourings, vegetable food colorants and by 1888 an edible ‘cornet a la crème’ an ice cream cone made from ground almonds. Not only this but with the eventual advent of a kitchen shop her students cuisine was sold directly to the general public.
Agnes Marshall’s lectures became legendary in her own time and she surprisingly had time (with all her other endeavours) to schedule six talks per week in Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and Newcastle with her second tour visiting an additional 12 cities. Despite her live culinary demonstrations given on consecutive Saturdays in London sometimes drawing huge crowds and exceptionally complimentary reviews, Marshall found little success in the US despite her fame in Europe.
By the mid 1890’s Marshall began to decrease her workload from cooking, teaching, administration and writing to instigating Yule dinners and a system of winter soup kitchens for the growing percentage of Victorian poor.
Unfortunately after her death in 1905 just a month short of her 50th birthday, the rights to her books were sold to Mrs Beeton’s publisher, Ward Lock and her husband took control over the business that they had previously run together resulting ultimately in its failure. Marshall was just as popular, if not more so than Beeton in her day why then is her name not spoken with just as much frequency in the kitchens of amateur and professional cooks alike. In the late Victorian era the name A.B. Marshall could be seen everywhere but by the time of her tragic death she had sunk into relative obscurity with the destruction of her property and personal goods in a 1950’s fire further burying her extensive legacy which rivalled that of Beeton in the eyes of her contemporaries.
Marshall’s influence in her own time and for a while after her death was extensive however as she passionately denounced canned food and the often substandard meals provided on the railways, she also campaigned for greater year round availability of fresh produce and properly trained kitchen staff. Indeed it seems that she foresaw numerous reasonably modern developments within industry such as the expansion of automobile travel, fad diets, supermarkets, dishwashers, refrigerated transport, chemical purification of water and the popularization of freezers particularly and perhaps not surprisingly given her title in terms of ice cream.
And so it is that below I shall include an A. B. Marshall recipe in the hopes that perhaps you will cook it and thus remember a woman who was a not only a pioneer, but a pioneer in a time where women were still thought incapable of conducting business. This seemingly unknown figure in my opinion deserve the same status as Mrs Isabella Beeton, so its Mrs Agnes Marshall cook, lecturer, business owner, writer, inventor, campaigner, charity worker and pioneer, got it… good!
‘Put a quarter of a pound of fresh butter into a basin, and work it with a wooden spoon till quite white like cream; add a saltspoonful of ground ginger, the finely-chopped peel of two lemons, a teaspoonful of vanilla essence, and three ounces of castor sugar; mix these together for a few minutes, then add two ounces of finely-sifted flour, two ounces of ratafia biscuit crumbs, the raw yolks of four eggs, half a wineglassful of brandy or liqueur, and colour a pale salmon colour with Marshall’s Liquid Carmine; then add the eighth of an ounce of Cowan’s Baking Powder, whip five whites of eggs to a stiff froth and mix with the other ingredients. Butter a plain mould, dust it over with dried cocoanut and ratafia crumbs; then fill it with the mixture, and let the pudding steam for eighty minutes; when cooked turn it out on to a hot dish, and serve at once with Apricot sauce or Albert sauce round the base.’
Mrs A. B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book Of Extra Recipes – I have made this recipe before and it is quite yummy… watch out for the kick of brandy though it’s quite severe.