Anna Maria Rückerschöld wrote four cook- and domestic science-books which were published during the second half of the eighteenth century. She also authored an insert which made the case for the importance of women’s education.
Anna Maria Rückerschöld was born in Hedemora. She was the third child in a family which eventually numbered ten children. Her father, Reinhold, made his career in Crown service and was eventually appointed a high court judge at the Svea hovrätt and he was ennobled. Anna Maria Rückerschöld’s mother, Emerentia, was the daughter of Christopher Polhem, an industrialist and inventor, and Maria Hoffman who lived at their manor in Stiernsund, just outside of Hedemora. Anna Maria Rückerschöld spent her early years both at the town estate in Hedemora and at the rural estate of Stjernsund, where she had her first kitchen experiences.
In 1750 Anna Maria Rückerschöld married Jonas Jakobsson Dahl, an accountant at the Svea hovrätt. Ten years later the couple settled at Sätra farm in what is now Upplands Väsby and from 1775 onwards they were members of the Maria congregation in Stockholm. Although they had a total of four children together none of them outlived their parents.
Anna Maria Rückerschöld wrote cookbooks. Several cookbooks were published during her lifetime which subsequently became famous, including that by Cajsa Warg which was released in several editions, as well as those of her predecessors Susanne Egering and Margareta Elzberg, respectively. These cookbooks were aimed at well-off households whilst Anna Maria Rückerschöld’s books, first released towards the end of the eighteenth century, were intended for a wider audience. The titles of her books reveal her target audience. The first, En Liten Hushållsbok, Innehållande Säkra underrättelser om rätta beredningen af hwarjehanda äteliga waror, Unga Matmödrar till Tjenst, was aimed at young so-called ‘middling-class’ women who had just started a family and were in need of the basics of good housekeeping. The book is not heavy on recipes and instead supplies robust advice regarding everyday food preparation, how best to preserve food as well as the necessity of good hygiene, frugality, and tidiness. Food was also expected to be appetising, as evidenced by all the advice regarding how to improve the taste of the most ordinary dishes. Some of Anna Maria Rückerschöld’s advice included how to make the best water-based porridge, how a simple meat-based soup can be livened up by the addition of two sugar-lumps, and the amount of salt required to preserve food without overwhelming the flavour.
Anna Maria Rückerschöld’s cookbooks were more than simple cookbooks. She advocated doing your own tasks, growing your own food and keeping your own animals whilst also being a frugal householder. Her arguments conformed to the contemporary mercantile ideals but also offered a re-evaluation of what was primarily considered ‘women’s work’. En liten Hushålls-bok was released in several editions and was followed up by Den Nya och Fullständiga Kok-Boken which was intended for the better-off in society going by the ingredients found in the recipes. The readers were expected to have already mastered the basics and this volume contained a greater number of recipes than her previous work. Anna Maria Rückerschöld continued to champion frugal housekeeping as she had done in her first book. It is impossible to miss the criticism of Cajsa Warg’s lavishness albeit her predecessor’s apparent wastefulness was understandable: Cajsa Warg’s work was aimed at larger and more refined kitchens which could afford that approach.
Anna Maria Rückerschöld was 71 years old when her second book was published. By then she had a wealth of lived experiences which she wanted to share. Her readers were exhorted to excel and to treat food preparation as the science that it actually was – albeit an underrated one – and not as something unimportant. Her advice was aimed at women of both the middle-class and of the upper-class, as well as house mistresses and women who were cooks. One section of the book, sub-titled ‘Copior Af några Utländska Matmödrars Portraiter’, contained short accounts of various mistresses’ shortcomings which were all intended to evoke an ideal for these women to follow.
Anna Maria Rückerschöld’s third cookbook, entitled Fattig Mans Wisthus och Kök, was published in the same year as her second book. The intended audience for the third book was lower-class metropolitan women as well as rural farming women. Minimal food supplies and having only the basics for survival should not cause distress by providing improved skills in making the best of what little one had. The dishes presented in the book are simple ones and the advice provided is straightforward. The book gained the larger silver medal by the Royal Patriotic Society.
A few years later Anna Maria Rückerschöld rounded off her writing career by releasing a 43-page pamphlet entitled Försök Til en liten Hushålls-Cateches, huru man skall förehålla Unga Flickor Deras rätta Bestämmelse i werlden. Förestäldt i Frågor och Swar. At this point, in 1800, Anna Maria Rückerschöld was 75 years old, she was a widow, and she had outlived her children. As before, she advocated the importance of skills for women and the need for education to enable the proper running of a household. Given that the book was presented in the form of a catechism, albeit one that was particularly focused on the inner workings of a household, it contains biblical references and the gender-roles described within the Bible. According to Anna Maria Rückerschöld the significance of the creation of woman as an aid to man did not mean that women therefore merely existed to satisfy men’s needs as this could lead to overvaluing empty flattery: “et gift, så mycket olyckligare för den stackars Flickan, som det kan hända, at den tiggaren, hwilken idag ligger för hennes fötter, kan inom få dagar som despot sparka henne med sina” (poison, of greater misfortune to the poor girl who, as sometimes happens, has a beggar lying at her feet today but within a few days’ time the same beggar can crush her with his own feet, like a despot).
Agneta Helmius, an intellectual historian, has studied Anna Maria Rückerschöld’s work and found that Anna Maria Rückerschöld probably also wrote the anonymous insert included in the 15 February 1770 issue of Almänna Magazinet. The journal was published by Carl Christopher Gjörwell, who was a friend of both Anna Maria Rückerschöld and her husband. The insert was titled "Det Olyckliga Swenska Fruentimrets Böne-Skrift till Allmänheten. Upsatt af Fru D**" and it was aimed at Sweden’s male population, containing pleas for the provision of requisite education for girls as well as demands for a positive re-evaluation in the expectations of women’s domestic skills. The advice and recommendations are reminiscent of what had been published in the cookbooks and the similarities lead Agneta Helmius to believe that Anna Maria Rückerschöld was the anonymous author. The signature, Fru D, which could hint at her husband’s surname of Dahl, seems similarly indicative. The third reason for Agneta Helmius’ conclusion regarding the author’s true identity is that Anna Maria Rückerschöld wrote a letter to Gjörwell towards the end of February that same year thanking him for having published a piece that she had penned. The letter emphasised her desire to remain anonymous.
Until 1993, when Agneta Helmius published her research into Anna Maria Rückerschöld, the "Böne-Skrift" has been treated as an anonymous contribution to the late-eighteenth century discussion of gender roles. If Agneta Helmius is correct in her conclusion – and it seems likely that she is – then Anna Maria Rückerschöld appears to have viewed her cookbooks as an important tool with which to disseminate her message. It seems equally clear that her target audience changed from the male readership of the journal to the women who were expected to master the art of food preparation without adequate training. Anna Maria Rückerschöld, through her cookbooks, used her initiative to disseminate the knowledge that was essential to women’s work but for which there were, as yet, no extant institutions.
Anna Maria Rückerschöld died in Stockholm in 1805.