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The Language of Food

The International Bestseller - "Mouth-watering and sensuous, a real feast for the imagination" BRIDGET COLLINS

About The Book

‘Exhilarating to read - thoughtful, heart-warming and poignant, with a quiet intelligence and elegance that does its heroine proud’ Bridget Collins

Two women
Ten years
A recipe for success

Eliza Acton, despite never having boiled an egg, became one of the world’s most successful food writers, revolutionizing cooking and cookbooks around the world. Her story is fascinating, joyful and truly inspiring.

The award-winning author of The Joyce Girl seamlessly intertwines recipes and meticulously researched history, serving up the most thought-provoking and page-turning historical novel you’ll read this year. Explore the enduring struggle for women’s freedom, the exhilarating power of friendship, and the creative joy of cooking, through the life of Eliza Acton – finally out of the archives and into the public eye.

England, 1835. Eliza Acton dreams of becoming a poet, but when she takes her new manuscript to a publisher, she’s told that ‘poetry is not the business of a lady’. Instead, he demands a cookery book.

Eliza is hesitant but when her bankrupt father is forced to flee the country, she has no choice but to comply.

Although she has never cooked before, she is determined to learn and to bring her skills as a poet to the craft of recipe writing. She hires young, impoverished Ann Kirby as her assistant and, before long, the two women develop a radical friendship crossing the divides of age and class. Together, Eliza and Ann break the mould of traditional cookbooks, changing the course of food writing forever. But in the process of doing so, their friendship is pushed to its very limits.

About The Author


Annabel Abbs is the new rising star of biographical historical novels. She grew up in Bristol, Sussex and Wales before studying English Literature at the University of East Anglia and Marketing at the University of Kingston. Her debut novel The Joyce Girl was a Guardian Reader’s Pick and her second novel Frieda: The Original Lady Chatterley earned critical acclaim including Times 2018 Book of the Year. She regularly appears on national and regional media, with recent appearances on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and Sky News, and is popular on the literary festival circuit. She was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, the Caledonia Novel Award and the Waverton GoodRead Award. Annabel lives in London with her husband and four children. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (March 2, 2023)
  • Length: 416 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781398502253

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Raves and Reviews

‘Best Feel Good Books of 2021' Washington Post

‘Best New Historical Novels’ New York Times

“A compelling tale of friendship, freedom and food” BBC History Magazine

“Based on real-life events, The Language of Food shines a light on the woman who invented the recipe as we know it today, and whose fascinating story has long been overlooked” History Revealed Magazine

“Based on the life of cookbook writer Eliza Acton, this is a really charming historical novel that’s full of gorgeous recipes and descriptions of food. At its core is the heart-warming story of the class-defying friendship between Eliza and Ann Kirby, her kitchen help” GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

“This charming story of a friendship that was formed in a kitchen is based on the real life of food writer and poet Eliza Acton, who created one of Britain’s first cookery books. I loved the bond that she and her kitchen help Anna Kirby forge despite the huge difference in their class; they’re both very determined women. A fabulous historical novel” PRIMA

“Eliza Acton had never even boiled an egg so how did she become a successful cookery writer? We find out in this beautiful fictionalisation of her life. It is 1835 and poet Eliza is told by her publisher to write a cookery book instead. Disheartened but determined, she hires teenagers Ann Kirby to help her. Over the next 10 years they develop a friendship that sees them change the face of cookery writing forever” WOMAN & HOME

"Before Nigella, before Julia Childs, before even Mrs Beeton, there was Eliza Acton who dreams of being a poet but in 1835, the only way for her to get published and to keep her family in funds is to write a cookery book. To this end, Eliza takes on a maid, Ann Kirby, and forge an unlikely partnership even as Eliza embarks on writing what is now considered the first modern cookery book.Told from both Eliza and Ann’s voices, The Language Of Food, is a feast for the senses and also shows that its friendship, rather than food, that nourishes the soul. Julie And Julia but make it Victorian!" RED

“Cleverly wearing together the story of how Modern Cookery for Private Families came to be written, the author divides the narrative voice between Acton and Kirby, her housemaid, two women from different backgrounds, but who share the same feelings of frustration and loneliness… The pair are beautifully fleshed out characters, who become adept at the balancing of tastes, textures and unfamiliar spices” COUNTRY LIFE

"A feast for the senses, this inspiring book is about friendship, passion and determination. I loved it!" MY WEEKLY

"The two women’s exploration of food and friendship is winningly told and we are rooting for Eliza in her quest for independence and publishing success. The novel comes with some of Eliza’s recipes; and I can gluttonously report that the chocolate custards are as delicious as the novel" THE TIMES

“Eliza Acton had never even boiled an egg, so how did she become of the top cookery writers of all time? We find out in this beautiful fictionalisation of her life” WOMAN and WOMAN'S WEEKLY

'A sensual feast of a novel, written with elegance, beauty, charm and skill in a voice that is both lyrical and unique’ Santa Montefiore

‘I love Abbs’s writing and the extraordinary, hidden stories she unearths. Eliza Acton is her best discovery yet’ Clare Pooley

'A feast for the senses, rich with the flavours of Victorian England, I prepared every dish with Eliza and Ann and devoured every page. A literary - and culinary - triumph!' Hazel Gaynor

‘Exhilarating to read - thoughtful, heart-warming and poignant, with a quiet intelligence and elegance that does its heroine proud’ Bridget Collins

'A sumptuous banquet of a book that nourished me and satisfied me just as Eliza Acton’s meals would have... I adored it' Polly Crosby

‘An effervescent novel, bursting with delectable language and elegant details about cookbook writer, Eliza Acton. Don’t miss this intimate glimpse into the early English kitchens and snapshot of food history’ Sara Dahmen

‘Wonderful... Abbs is such a good story teller. She catches period atmosphere and character so well’ Vanessa Nicolson

'Two of my favourite topics in one elegantly written novel - women’s lives and food history. I absolutely loved it' Polly Russell

'A story of courage, unlikely friendship and an exceptional character, told in vibrant and immersive prose' Caroline Scott

‘Richly imagined and emotionally tender’ Pen Vogler

'Characters that leap off the page, a fascinating story and so much atmosphere, you feel you're in the kitchen with Eliza - I loved it.' Frances Quinn

'I was inspired by Eliza's passion, her independence, her bravery and ambition. Like a cook's pantry, The Language of Food is full of wonderful ingredients, exciting possibilities and secrets. Full of warmth and as comforting as sitting by the kitchen range, I loved it' Jo Thomas

'A delightful read' Nina Pottell

'Clever, unsentimental, beautifully detailed and quietly riveting' Elizabeth Buchan, author of Two Women in Rome

‘A wonderful read’ John Torode

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