Eliza Leslie (1797-1858) is best known for her literary contributions, including best selling cook books, expansive treatises on manners and home economy, and a large body of fiction. Publishing under the moniker Miss Leslie, her works consistently held a particular focus on middle-class American households, and contained detailed and nuanced instruction on how to manage every conceivable domestic task. Her cookbooks helped define what we now recognize as distinctly American cuisine, and her etiquette texts and fiction took clear tilts at European, and particularly British, mannerisms, helping define and craft a uniquely American middle-class culture, one that Miss Leslie argued was superior to that across the Atlantic.
Miss Leslie was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787, and lived most of her life there save a brief time spent in England with her family between 1793 and 1799. As a child she was privately tutored, and in the 1820s she attended Mrs Goodfellow’s cooking school in Philadelphia, the first American culinary school. Her first cookbook, Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1827) was composed of recipes she’d learned in the school. Leslie followed this text with nearly a dozen more cookbooks over the years and multiple books of manners, etiquette, and household management (most of which can be found among the University of Guelph’s Rare Books and Special Collections holdings). Leslie’s cookbooks provide ample evidence of the abundance of grocery variety accessible to the average American, in terms of meats, fruits and vegetables, and herbs and spices. They illustrate a seamless blending of colonial imports and North American produce, and provide a unique window into the eating and entertainment customs in America in the early 19th century.
In addition to her instructional writings, Miss Leslie wrote and published extensively in fiction, and was an editor for a ladies’ literary magazine.