It’s quite possible that Stopfordians were sizzling steaks over 200 years ago, if Mrs Elizabeth Raffald’s eighteenth century recipe book “The Experienced English Housekeeper” is anything to go by.
The book includes titles like “Mutton Kebobed”, “To barbicue a pig”, “To barbicue a leg of pork”. The Oxford English Dictionary of 1888 acknowledges Elizabeth Raffald as being amongst the first recorded sources in the English language to use “barbicue” as a cookery term. Originally, a barbecue was a framework ( often used for sleeping on ) to support above a fire, meat that is to be smoked or dried. Barbecues became social gatherings as early as 1764, only 5 years before Mrs Raffald wrote her first cookbook.
In the book, she was also the first cook to offer the combination of “bride cake”, almond paste, and royal icing. It was a definitive work of instruction for fine dining using basic cooking principles, aimed at novices. She is also thought to have devised the modern Eccles cake, using flaky pastry instead of a yeast based mix.
Who was Mrs Raffald? This remarkable woman was born in 1733. As a young woman she became a housekeeper at Arley Hall in Cheshire.The then Elizabeth Whitaker married head gardener, John Raffald, a member of an old Stockport horticultural family, in 1763. They set up in business at the Bull’s Head in Manchester and Elizabeth became renowned for her cold collations, elegant French cuisine and eye-catching confectionery. So successful were her recipes that in 1769 she published 800 of them in her best-selling cookbook, nearly a century before Mrs Beeton published her world-famous work.
Plenty is known about the public life of Mrs Raffald – how she wrote the first trade directories of Manchester, organised an employment agency in her own home, ran a cookery school and studied French, whilst still managing to run a succession of hostelries. Manchester has recognised the talents of this energetic lady with a commemorative plaque in Shambles Square.
Less is known about Mrs Raffald’s private life, except that she found the time to produce sixteen daughters, only three of whom survived her. The Raffald family had been florists, gardeners and seedsmen in Stockport since the sixteenth century. As well as the gardening side of things, they kept a public house on Stockport’s Millgate for many years, where Elizabeth was a regular guest. Elisabeth died in 1781 & was buried in St Mary’s Parish Churchyard directly opposite the pub
Elisabeth’s nephew, George Raffald Junior later rebuilt the pub on the same spot & was the first landlord of the new Arden Arms, (now the only original building left standing on that side of Millgate )
In those days , the nearby river Goyt ran a little cleaner and brighter than it did a few decades later. At the bottom of Millgate it flowed past fields, gardens and the old corn mill. It is an idle but pleasant thought that it might have carried with it, on warm summer evenings, the sounds of revelry, and perhaps the scent of Mrs Raffald’s barbecued “kebobs”.