Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Food Studies. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 23 May 2024

The History of Cookbooksfree

The History of Cookbooksfree

  • Henry NotakerHenry NotakerIndependent Scholar


[This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Food Studies. Please check back later for the full article.]

The history of cookbooks describes the development of an old literary genre with an explosive growth from the last part of the twentieth century. Cookbooks are primarily collections of culinary recipes, written instructions often based on earlier oral communication. The cookbooks are handwritten, printed, or digitized in various forms on the internet. Most interest has been given to printed cookbooks, first published in Italy, France, and Germany in the fifteenth century and later spread globally. These books may build on local traditions, but many of them are translations from foreign languages, adapting advanced technology to local cuisine. The cookbook belongs to the handbook genre within nonfiction literature and has certain characteristics in composition, structure, literary style, format, typeface, design, and illustrations, features interesting for the student of book history, bibliographical science, and literature. The authors of the earliest printed books were men, many of them the printers or booksellers who published the books, but women took gradually over in northern Europe and the United States from the eighteenth century and in southern Europe only in the twentieth century. Most cookbooks include recipes for all sorts of culinary products, but there are also special books on one particular foodstuff, one particular type of dish, and special diets such as vegetarian, vegan, paleolithic, kosher, and halal. Cookbooks are important sources for the development of culinary traditions but also for any historical study. Apart from the practical instructions, cookbooks contain statements and references to social status, health, local produce, manners and customs, religion, taste, and aesthetics.


  • Food History and Anthropology

A History of Cookbooks

European cookbooks, in a process beginning in the thirteenth century that accelerated with the invention of modern printing, constitute a genre that has put its mark on cookbooks all over the world, independent of which cuisines were described. From the large Asian continent, we have documentation of great culinary traditions through thousands of years and also written texts about food. Many of these texts describe the quality and character of different foodstuffs, discuss the relation between food and health, or are meant for special religious or social occasions. The oldest known written recipes, carved in clay tablets in Mesopotamia from ca. 1700 BCE, were prepared for religious rites.1 There may, however, exist texts that would belong to the topic of this article, but this author only has knowledge of European (Germanic, Romance, and Slavic) languages. The focus therefore is on cookbooks from Europe and the Western world.

From Manuscript to Print

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines the cookbook (or cookery book) as “a book containing recipes and other information about the preparation and cooking of food.”2 Written instructions in cookery are documented in Greek and Roman Antiquity.3 There is, however, no establishment of a continuous tradition in Europe, even if certain examples of recipes may be found in books of different genres during the early Middle Ages. But at the end of the thirteenth century, a new era started with manuscript cookbooks in several languages. More than a hundred such manuscripts, most in English and French, have been documented4 and analyzed.5 These manuscripts show great differences as physical objects and literary products. Some of them consist of only a few pages, others of more than a hundred. Some are very simple collections of rapidly noted words with errors and inaccuracies. Others are beautifully—almost calligraphically—written with ornaments and illustrations painted in gold and bright colors. In some books, recipes are organized after a certain system, whereas others have different recipes that follow no particular order but are just put in pêle-mêle. In the early manuscripts, recipes might follow each other, separated only by a typographical mark, and it took a long time before the use of headings, with the name of the dish on a separate line, became the norm.

The advent of printing did not immediately change this pattern. It is important to remember that printing was not introduced with the intention of creating a new type of book but was instead a way to increase the efficiency in copying manuscripts. Recipe collections had been edited in various ways and were spread rather slowly, because they had to be copied by hand, an activity often performed by professional scribes. With the introduction of printing with movable types, many more cookbooks could be printed in a shorter time. But the visual aspect of the books was the same: the printed books looked very much like the manuscripts, and they were actually meant to do that. The typeface and the layout were modeled on the manuscript, because it was, after all, what a book should look like. But the gradual streamlining that had begun with manuscripts continued in the printer’s workshop, and it became more important as the book industry developed into a commercially successful trade. With printing, the number of cookbooks increased rapidly and became a necessary commodity in families of the most affluent classes, and with lower book prices, they gradually spread to other sectors of society with literacy and comfortable living conditions.

This did not mean that the handwritten cookbook disappeared, but it took on a new function. In institutions as well as in private households, manuscript cookbooks were kept with dishes considered by the residents as being of special value and part of their own particular tradition. Most important, this phenomenon, in the long run, was in families in which the housewife wrote down recipes collected from friends and relatives or copied from printed books. These handwritten cookbooks were often considered family treasures and handed down to new generations, who added their own recipes and adjusted the old ones to new ingredients and cooking methods. This was a living tradition at least into the mid-twentieth century but seems to have been superfluous with the arrival of TV and internet.

Printed Cookbooks in Europe

Printed cookbooks appeared in five languages in the incunabula period; in Latin in the 1470s; in German, French, and Italian in the 1480s; and in English in 1500. In the next century, cookbooks followed in Dutch, Low German, Catalan, Spanish, Czech, and Polish and then, in the seventeenth century, in Danish, Swedish, Portuguese, and Hungarian. There is little documentation of the motives—other than commercial—behind the publication of these books. Did the authors realize that they were pioneers? One Portuguese author, Domingos Rodrigues, exceptionally offered relevant commentary, stating in his preface that a cookbook was necessary to remember the recipes, but Portugal was without such a book, and that was the reason he decided to produce his book.6

There was no large and continuous cookbook production during this early period before 1700, only about a hundred titles in more than two hundred years, published in about 650 editions, most of them in German, French, Italian, and English.7 Almost half of the books in this period were published in the second half of the seventeenth century, and book production increased rapidly in the following centuries, only interrupted by wars and revolutions.

The increased production, starting at the end of the seventeenth century, did not immediately lead to cookbooks in new languages. More than three-fourths of a century passed before the first cookbook was published in Russian, one of twenty-one languages to get its first printed cookbook during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, cookbooks were produced in nineteen new languages. The total number of European languages or dialects with a printed cookbook is, according to the registration by this author, fifty-five. There are thirteen in Slavic languages, twelve in Germanic, eleven in Romance, four in Celtic, two in Albanian, two in Baltic, one in Latin and one in modern Greek. There are also books in non–Indo-European languages, six in Finno-Ugrian, one in Turkish (Turkic language family), one in Maltese (Semitic), one in Greenlandic (Inuit-Yupic-Aleut), and one in Basque (language isolate). One book is printed with Greek letters, one with Hebrew, one with Arabic, seven with Cyrillic, fifteen with Gothic typeface, and the rest with Roman typeface. European books with Gothic typeface gradually changed to Roman, Rumanian books changed from Cyrillic to Roman, and Turkish changed from Arabic to Roman. A German book on Jewish cuisine from 1854 is printed with Hebrew letters; this is before the first cookbook in Yiddish.

While most of the cookbooks in the early period (before 1700) were based on old manuscripts, most of the books from the 1770s onward were translations. Many of the translators chose to take recipes from cookbooks written in the language of their former or present rulers, representing the hegemonic culture in the area. The first Welsh and Irish books were translated from English, the first Finnish and Estonian books from Swedish, and the first cookbooks in Icelandic, Norwegian, Faroese, and Greenlandic were strongly influenced by Danish works. Books printed in languages or dialects within the Habsburg Empire (Slovene, Croat, Serb, Slovak) were translated from German, the official language of the Empire.

Many of the areas that got a cookbook in their own language reached political independence in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But books were also printed in languages spoken by minorities in European countries. The first was in Yiddish in 1896, followed by cookbooks in Basque and Galician in Spain, in Breton and Occitan in France, in Rhaeto-Romance dialects in Switzerland, in Frisian in the Netherlands, and in New Norwegian and Sami in Norway.

In addition to these books in national and regional languages, we may add a book in the artificial language Esperanto.8 The European cookbook spread to other continents around the globe as part of colonization of and settlements in foreign lands. Books in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, German, and other languages were brought from home and later also sold and even produced in the new areas. The United States soon began to print its own cookbooks, not only in English but also, as a result of great immigration, in French, Spanish, German, Yiddish, Italian, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian.9 In South Africa, a particular local dialect among the Dutch settlers developed into modern Afrikaans, which also got its own cookbook.10 An even more special case is the publication in 2000 of a cookbook in Haiti, written in the local patois Kreyòl Ayisyen, based on French vocabulary.11

Table 1. Short-title list of first printed cookbooks in European languages

[c. 1470]. Latin. Bartolomeo Platina. De honesta voluptate. [Rome].

1485. German. Kuchenmeysterey. Nuremberg.

[c. 1486]. French. Taillevent. Le Viandier. Paris.

1487. Italian. Bartolomeo Platina. De la honesta voluptate. Venice.

1500. English. This is the boke of cokery. London.

[c. 1510]. Dutch. Een notabel Boecxken van cokeryen. Brussels.

1520. Catalan. Mestre Robert. Libre del coch. Barcelona.

1525. Spanish. Ruberto de Nola. Libro de cozina. Toledo.

1535. Czech. Kucharzstwij. Prague.

[1540–1547]. Polish. Kuchmistrzostwo. Kraków.

1570. Low German. Kökerye. Lübeck.

1616. Danish. Kogebog. Copenhagen.

1650. Swedish. Een lijten kockebook. Stockholm.

1693. Portuguese. Domingos Rodrigues. Arte de cozinha. Lisbon.

1695. Hungarian. Szakats mesterségnek könyvetskéje. Kolozsvar (Cluj).

1779. Russian. Sergei Drukovtsev. Поваренныя записки. Moscow.

1781. Estonian. Christina Warg. Köki ja Kokka Ramat. Tallinn

1795. Latvian. Ta pirma Pawaru Grahmata. Rubene.

1799. Slovenian. Kuharske Bukve. Ljubljana.

1800. Icelandic. Marta Maria Stephensen. Einfaldt Matreidslu Vasa-Qver. Leirá.

1813. Kajkavian Croat. Nova z-kup szlosena zagrebechka szokachka kniga. Zagreb.

1828. Greek. Ημαγειρική‎. Syra.

1831. Norwegian. Huusholdnings-Bog. Christiania (Oslo).

1838. Finnish. Gustava Schartau. Hywäntahtoisia Neuwaju Katowuosina. Helsinki.

1841. Romanian. K.N.-M.K. 200 рецете черкате. Iaşi.

1844/AH 1260. Turkish. Mehmed Kâmil. ملجأالطبّاخين‎. Istanbul.

[184?]. Welsh. Elizabeth Price. Holl gelfyddyd cogyddiaeth. Caernarfon.

1868. Croat. Ðuro Deželić. Nova hrvatska kuharitsa. Zagreb.

1855. Slavenoserbian. Jerotej Draganović.Србски Кувар. Novi Sad.

1870. Bulgarian. Petko Slaveikov. Готварска книга. Tsarigrad (Constantinople).

1870. Slovak. Ján Babilon. Prvá kuchárska kniha v slovenskej reči. Pešt’.

1878. Serbian. Katarina Popović-Midžina. Велики српски кувар. Novi Sad.

1893. Lithuanian. Liudvika Didžiuliene. Lietuvos gaspadinē. Tilsit.

1894. Maltese. Eduardo Luigi Vella. Ctieb tal Chcina. Malta.

1896/5656 a.m. Yiddish. Ozer Bloshteyn. קאכ-בוךפאריודישעפרויען‎. Vilnius.

1899. Norwegian (Nynorsk). Hulda Garborg. Heimestell. Kristiania.

1904. Rhaeto-romance (puter dialect). Rodolf Antoni Gianzun. Ricettas por budins et oter maglam. Samedan.

1905. Scottish Gaelic. Thomas Mackay. Seolaidhean Feumail mu Chocaireachd’s mu fhuineadh. Glasgow.

1907. Faroese. Helena Patursson. Matreglur fyri hvørt hús. Tórshavn.

1910. Ukrainian. Leontyna Luchakivska. Домашна кухня. Lviv.

[1922?] Basque. Julene Azpeitia. Osasuna, merketza ta yanaritzaz. Bilbao.

1927. Albanian (Gheg dialect). Alessandro Fracchioni. Amëlcina shpijake. Shkodër.

1928. Rhaeto-romance (Surselva dialect). Maria Derungs-Tomaschett. Cudisch de cuschinar. Glion.

1929. Albanian (Tosk dialect). Ida Dh. Antoniadhi. Embëlsira shtëpijake. Korçë.

1934. Greenlandic. Ingeborg Vestergaard. nerissagssiornermut najorĸutagssiat. Nûngme (Nuuk).

1938. Frisian. Simke Kloosterman. De Fryske petiele. Boalsert (Bolsward).

1942. Irish Gaelic. Brigid Russell. Cócaireacht. Dublin.

1952. Macedonian. D. Ilich and A. Drashkovich. мал практичен готвач. Skopje.

1959. Belarusian. Maria Stankevich. Вялікалітоўская (Беларуская) кухарка. New York.

1966. Occitan. Calistino Chanot-Bullier. Vieii receto de cousino prouvençalo. Marseille.

1973. Galician. Alvaro Cunqueiro. A cociña galega. Vigo.

1975. Breton. Soaz an Tieg. War ar gegin hag an daol: levrig kegin Lannuon (Lannion).

1993. Sámi (davvisámegiella). Marit G. Bongo. Bohccobierggus mállásat. Mierojavri.

2009. Sámi (julevsámegiella). I. Karlsen and N. Zelina. Sáme biebbmo vuorrasijida. Tysfjord.

2011. Kven. Karin Larsen. Kainun reseptii. Børselv/Pyssyjoki.

Cookbooks—A Nonfiction Literary Genre

The historical origin of the cookbook is an oral instruction, for example, given in a private home by a mother to her daughter(s) or in the kitchens of palaces or institutions (monasteries, hospitals) by a cook to his apprentice(s). This kind of instruction was made with actions and words, with demonstration and a corresponding explanation. When the number of recipes got to a certain level, recording became necessary to remember the details. But when the recipes were written down, the original context was lost, so the recipes depended on words alone. This demanded a greater focus on precise language and unambiguous terms. The increasing number of cookbooks, particularly after the invention of modern printing, gradually led to a codification of culinary terminology.

Most cookbooks are simply collections of recipes, practical instructions on how to prepare and serve different culinary products (dishes). A German linguist has classified technical and scientific texts, calling one category didactic–instructive.12 Within this category, she distinguishes between theoretical and practical knowledge—the textbook, primarily used in an institutional context, and the manual, a handbook used by individuals in specific situations. The cookbook is basically a handbook and fits as such into the place given it in the Dewey classification system, under Technology and not under Literature. But for researchers looking in old bibliographies, it is useful to know that cookbooks may be catalogued in categories such as physics, agriculture, medicine, and economy (household science).

That cookbooks are listed under Technology does not mean that they are completely without wider considerations and information. Elements typical for the textbook may be included in cookbooks—for example, general instructions and advice, what OED in its definition of a cookbook calls “other information.” In some cookbooks, there is also information not directly concerning food preparation, about health, customs, history, and so on, but this should be limited and not exceed half of a book if it is still to be called a cookery book. The basic text type in any cookbook is, after all, the recipe, generally called receipt in English before the nineteenth century.

The recipe has a rather uniform structure: a heading with the name (or description) of the dish and then the culinary instruction. From the mid-nineteenth century, a new structure evolved. The instruction was divided into two parts: first, a list of ingredients (generally also with the quantity) and then the description of the steps in the preparation of these ingredients. Beginning in the late twentieth century, a new step was taken: the instruction is often given in separate numbered points.

The uniform structure has a tendency to seem stereotyped because of the repetitive form: take a fish, wash it, cut off the head and tail. The most important parts of speech in a recipe are nouns and verbs. The nouns describe kitchen equipment, ingredients, and the finished dishes. They are specified by adjectives (big casserole, roast chicken) or determiners (two carrots). The verbs describe the various culinary processes, modified by adverbs (boil slowly) or prepositional phrases (cut in cubes, fried over medium heat). In English, the most frequent form of the verb in descriptions of culinary processes is the imperative, known in cookbooks from the Middle Ages to the present. In other languages, there is more variety with use of different forms in the same recipe. There are also changes over time. In German, it started historically with imperative second-person singular; continued with imperative second-person plural, along with passive voice and constructions with the pronoun man (one); and then ended up with infinitive. Different theories have been proposed to explain these changes. It may have to do with how people address each other. An imperative singular may be felt as an order, a command from a superior person to a servant. The plural is more polite and also the passive form. The idea with infinitive may be that it is less formal and more neutral. In Swedish, however, where the historical development was more or less the same, the final form was a return to imperative singular. This may be a reflex of the way Swedes started to address each other in the last part of the twentieth century, practically eliminating the polite second-person plural (ni) for the informal second-person singular (du). In researching this grammatical phenomenon, it might be interesting to conduct a comparative study, looking at other handbooks, perhaps also the leaflets with the instructions accompanying new technical and electronic devices. The occurrence of stereotyped recipes has been pointed out, but recipes have also been given other literary forms such as rhymed verses, dialogue, and dictionary entries. Sometimes they are explained through questions and answers in catechism form or even integrated into the narrative in a book of fiction. These are all interesting exceptions, but they are, after all, exceptions, almost curiosities. There are, however, authors who have tried to break with the stereotype in other ways and made an effort to reach a freer form, for example, by referring to their own experiences, negative as well as positive. This may lead to the use of the personal pronoun “I,” which traditionally had been absent from this genre. The authors who launched a more personal style often had experience in other forms of literature, for example, fiction, but more often journalism and reportage. They had written recipes for newspapers and magazines and might even have chosen the personal pronoun “you” in an attempt to establish a closer relationship with their readers. They were including elements such as reflections, anecdotes, and memories, which related in different ways to the technical instructions.

Because a cookbook’s most typical function is to give a recipe for a given dish, it is important that such a recipe be easily found in the book. The index is a practical help, but not all indices were alphabetical, often just the names of dishes listed in the same sequence as in the book. The organization in chapters became a help here. There have always been various groupings of recipes according to common features. In some books, the dishes were grouped according to preparation methods, in boiled, fried, stewed dishes. Some books distinguished between different foodstuffs, vegetables, meat, fish, and fruit, but such organization might also be part of a larger system following the sequence of a meal. The common meal structure during the twentieth century began with appetizers and soups, followed by main dish(es) with fish or/and meat, with side dishes, generally of vegetables, and then dessert, sweets, fruits, or cakes. Most contemporary cookbooks follow this order, but in the twenty-first century, there is more variety, reflecting new and different individual meal forms and arrangements.

Illustration is a regular part of handbooks, with practical instructions showing in detail how things should be done. In cookbooks, however, illustrations, until fairly recently, have played a very modest part through the centuries. In the early period, they mostly had a decorative function and consisted of ornamental elements, such as vignettes and head- and tail-pieces. In some books, there were woodcuts or engravings of plants and animals, which corresponded to the basic ingredients in the described dishes.

Most useful were illustrations of carving techniques, how dishes of animals and fish should be cut into pieces before serving, something that often happened at the table at great banquets. A special form of carving was applied to fruits and vegetables, which were sculptured into spectacular forms that today probably would be called food art. There were also useful illustrations of pies in the form of animal heads and of cakes and other confectionary in various architectural forms, but these illustrations only showed the finished products, not the details in the necessary work to be done in preparation. It is the same with most cookbooks today, dominated by big artistic photos in beautiful colors, a necessary element in the modern coffee table books, best suited to the easy chair and not the kitchen worktop. In the second half of the twentieth century, some books began to appear that offered step-by-step illustrations corresponding directly to the recipe text. But it is only with the “live” recipes on television and film that the instruction became closer to the original oral instruction.

Authorship—Male/Female, Anonymous, Pseudonymous

Authorship is no easy term to discuss in the case of cookbooks, particularly not in the first centuries of printed cookbook production. Recipes and cookbooks were early attributed to famous cooks, some of them chefs at royal courts. This was probably a question of promotion; the names would give the books a special prestige, but many of the cooks mentioned on the title pages cannot be documented in other sources. And even if they had a documented history and had created great dishes, this does not mean that they had the necessary knowledge to actually write down the recipes. They belonged to a society with broad illiteracy, particularly among people engaged in manual professions. We have examples of cooks, however, who did not master the art of writing but were dictating the recipes to professional scribes who took care of the actual formulations.13 There are also examples of palace administrators who collected recipes from cooks and published them. The scribes were in many ways the direct forerunners to the editors in the book industry after the advent of printing. To this day, many creative cooks depend on help from others when the recipes are put on paper, and this is something they often receive from editors in the publishing houses. In recent years, a lot of celebrities—with or without culinary experience—have published cookbooks with the help of professional writers, who occasionally have been credited on the title page.

In the early period printers, publishers and booksellers (often overlapping professions) were in many ways the actual authors. They were on the lookout for recipes that could be printed in a cookbook, and like the medieval scribes, they made changes in the old text, added recipes from other sources, or dropped recipes they found outdated. An early example is the publisher of the first cookbook in Hungarian. He was a printer who made his career in western Europe, where he actually invented a new font, and when he returned to Hungary, he contributed to the standardization of the Hungarian language. In the preface to the cookbook, he is identified as the one who “edited” the recipes.14 There is nothing said about where the recipes came from, but there is reason to believe that they were based on one or more handwritten recipe collections.

This was at a time with no established rules about rights, as well as no contracts and copyright, and this led to a situation where whole books or parts of books were copied or plagiarized in new editions by different publishers, more often than not without a reference to the original source. The same thing often happened with translations from foreign languages. An exception here was a Croat author who actually put up full bibliographical information about the books he had taken the recipes from.15 But it seems in general that when recipes had been published, there was an idea of a common ownership to them. There was of course a more advanced form of copying by knowledgeable authors who only used the recipes as an inspiration, a starting point for an independent elaboration, making it if not into a new dish then at least into a new variety. Thus, the recipe became a link in a long process of culinary development. But this also means that authorship sometimes seems fruitless to discuss in this genre.

Even when a personal name was given on a title page, the real author is not always known. There are examples of men appearing as authors when the recipes in fact were created by women. In certain cases, this was admitted by the writers. One example was the English writer John Evelyn, who in his book about gardening had a selection of recipes. He stated that he had “received them from an Experienc’d Housewife.”16 A German schoolteacher in his dedicatory epistle to his own cookbook said that he had been willing to prepare for print a collection of recipes from Augsburg women.17 The authors may have admitted this by modesty or honesty or even by embarrassment, because this was really considered women’s work.

The first cookbooks printed with female names as authors on the title page were published in Germany18 and England.19 Women authors dominated the market in northern Europe during the eighteenth century, as well as in France, central and eastern Europe, and the United States in the nineteenth century. In southern European countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece), female cookbook authors were a phenomenon of the twentieth century. The difference between North and South has been explained by religious differences, as reading was more highly encouraged in the Protestant North.

Books were also published anonymously or pseudonymously, and therefore solid research, both bibliographical and biographical, may be necessary when cookbooks are used as sources. We know that novels were published in England by women under a male pen name, but the truth is that the opposite also happened. Men published novels with “By a lady” on the title page. It was no surprise, then, that cookbooks were also published by male hack writers, compilers, and self-proclaimed authors under a female pen name. These men knew that many housewives were skeptical about books by male cooks, because they assumed they were too much influenced by professional French chefs, ignorant of what kind of advice a housewife really needed.

Most of the female writers in northern Europe and Britain in the eighteenth century were housewives or housekeepers in large households, literate women with training in household work and planning. The same was true for central and eastern Europe. In France, male cooks were the rule in the estates of the aristocracy in the eighteenth century, and French cooks even took up posts in the homes of the aristocracy of other countries, some of them at royal courts. This became even more common after the French Revolution, when several of the aristocrat families fled from France. Later in the nineteenth century, certain French cooks became celebrities and published popular cookbooks. One of the most famous was Antonin Carême, who started as a pastry maker but became chef de cuisine for foreign minister Talleyrand. He was employed by the Russian czar, English noblemen, and finally the rich bankier James Rotschild. His work L’art de la cuisine Franςaise is a classic of nineteenth-century French culinary literature. But despite many prominent male chefs, women dominated the cookbook genre, except in southern Europe. In Italy, a cookbook by the intellectual Pellegrino Artuse became not only a bestseller but also a symbol of the new Italian unity, since it included recipes from various provinces and established a more national terminology than the strongly French-inspired recipes in earlier books. In Spain at the same time, another intellectual, Angel Muro, with a background in philosophy and engineering, as well as long experience as a writer and journalist, became known for great culinary works with recipes from the various Spanish provinces.

One special group of nineteenth-century male authors should be mentioned. Between 1799 and 1870, most books published in new languages were written by intellectuals, academics, poets, and others with a strong interest in their local language or dialect. They saw their work as part of a nationalist struggle, most of them in eastern Europe under Russian, Austrian, Hungarian, and Ottoman dominance. These authors had little or no experience in the culinary field and therefore based their work on translations from foreign languages. They were important because they had what most cooks and housewives lacked, a solid knowledge of at least one foreign language, and they were thereby capable of introducing new and modern (and often more nutritious) dishes to a traditional and less economically developed society.

These authors were followed by a similar group of female authors who published the first books in new languages. The first cookbook in Lithuanian was written by an author of short stories,20 the first in Faroese by the author of the first play in this language and the founder of a journal in the Faroe Islands,21 the first in Basque by an author of short stories and books for children,22 the first in Frisian by a poet and novelist,23 and the first in Breton by a nationalist writer.24 These women had various degrees of culinary knowledge and experience, but they had more social consciousness than the men before them. They put more emphasis on simple and cheap dishes than the male translators, who presented foreign urban cuisine.

From around 1900, new authors with a different background entered the scene, particularly two (partly overlapping) groups. Books were now often written by teachers in cooking schools and in the school kitchens in primary schools (for girls). These institutions were influenced by new ideas about household education appearing from the mid-nineteenth century in Scotland and other European countries and then in the United States, teaching professional subjects called home economics or domestic science. One famous example in the United States was the cookbook by Fannie Farmer, who started as a pupil at Boston Cooking-School and finished as principal.25 These school teachers put great effort in establishing exact measures, raising the cookery profession to a more scientific level. They were probably also conscious of the need for detailed instructions for young women who did not have the long experience of professional cooks.

Other authors had backgrounds as journalists or editors in the ever more important periodical press. The French journalist Marthe Distel founded a magazine called La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu in 1895, which became the start of the Cordon Bleu cooking schools. In Italy, Ada Boni founded the magazine Preziosa in 1915 and published recipes later printed in her cookbook.26 In England, the most successful cookbook author Isabella Beeton started as a journalist in her husband’s The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, where she wrote about fashion, travels, and food, with the recipes printed in installments that ended up in the magisterial Book of Household Management.

These two groups—household teachers and journalists—were important authors all throughout the twentieth century, along with professional cooks in elite restaurants, who reached the height of fame in the closing decades of the century through international competitions such as Bocuse d’Or. Representatives of all these three groups found at the same time a new medium, television, and their popular shows laid the basis for new successful cookbooks in the opening decades of the twenty-first century. Cookbooks became one of the truly profitable sectors of the book industry, and the possibility of commercial success attracted new groups of authors, for example, celebrities and social media influencers of all sorts, who published their “favorite” dishes for the fans.

Prefaces—Explaining Motivation and Discussing Important Questions

The preface is one of the most important and interesting paratexts in cookbooks. It is mainly meant to reveal the raison d’être for publishing a new cookbook and the author’s personal motivation. Without a doubt, authors have published their cookbooks with good intentions, wanting to teach the public how to prepare nutritious and delicious food. But many seem to feel that their initiative may be thought pretentious, so they give assurances about their humble and modest attitudes, claiming they do not feel more knowledgeable than other cooks or housewives. On the other hand, they often contradict themselves when they attack and criticize earlier cookbooks and praise their own solutions. But whatever they say about their own motivation and intention, there is no doubt that a lot of cookbooks have been published for profit. Publishers and printers soon saw the commercial possibilities after Gutenberg’s invention when book trade became an important business. But also authors, even before copyright laws and the establishment of regular royalty systems, were eager to be rewarded, particularly women who were unprovided for, such as widows and single retired housekeepers. An example of this was the English Hannah Woolley, who wrote her first cookbook in 1661, after her husband’s death. Another book followed in 1663, but when she remarried in 1666, no new books were published until her new husband died in 1669: four books followed between 1670 and 1674. There are similar examples all the way up to the nineteenth century, but more recently, with the rapid growth in cookbook production, the initiative to publish new cookbooks often has come from publishers who found qualified domestic science teachers or cooks, then TV cookery hosts, and gradually an increasing number of celebrities.

Most prefaces are rather commonplace and do not use complicated expressions. But in the history of cookbooks, there have been prefaces and introductions or even dedicatory epistles where serious subjects and issues are treated in more intellectual ways. Already in the first printed cookbook, De honesta voluptate et valetudine, pleasure and health are discussed by the author Bartolomeo Platina, later chief librarian in the Vatican Library. He defends himself for giving recipes for delicate food, because it is healthy food. He even refers to the philosopher Epicurus, who had been condemned by the church as a hedonist but was rehabilitated by certain fifteenth-century philosophers, a view Platina found support for in works by Cicero and Seneca.

Discussion of health came back in many cookbooks later, occasionally with reference to Galen’s humoral theories. Also after new scientific medical ideas were launched in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, certain books continued to introduce their recipes by referring to Galenic concepts such as “hot” and “cold.” In the nineteenth century, the dietetic theories put forth by the chemist Justus von Liebig became popular and often introduced through prefaces written by scientists or medical practitioners.

Also, pleasure was taken up in later cookbooks and discussed in relation to taste rather than to morality or religion. In a seventeenth-century cookbook, excesses in contemporary cuisine were criticized, for example, piles of food on the plates and too much salt, pepper, and strong spices.27 This criticism was in accordance with the classical ideas and criticism of the baroque period. It was typical for the new ideas in French cuisine at this time, with local herbs instead of hot Asian spices. In the eighteenth century, when certain philosophers (Voltaire, Montesquieu) turned to culinary terms when they explained the meaning of art concepts, a preface in a cookbook explicitly compared painting and cuisine.28 The way a painter mixed different colors was a parallel to how a cook mixed various ingredients. Their ambition was to reach a harmony that satisfied the taste. This preface was not written by the man behind the recipes but by an intellectual, the man of letters A. G. Meusnier de Querlon.29 It is in other words more of a special exception than a normal average preface. But the comparison between art and cuisine became popular and tended to crop up in books about food later.

A preface in a cookbook written by another person than the recipe author is not common, but there are interesting examples. In The Art of Eating, a collection of the cookbooks by M. F. K. Fisher, the poet W. H. Auden wrote a preface where he told about how he enjoyed reading recipes, which for him were a form of mysteries, and he considered that this was a book more for the library than the kitchen shelf.30 Fisher’s books are very original and border on the so-called gastronomic literature, where recipes play a minor role if they are included at all.

Terminology—Linguistics in Cookbooks

Important in a cookbook are, as already stated, precise language and unambiguous terms in the description of ingredients, dishes, and culinary processes. Many such words were well known long before the first cookbooks were written, for example, foodstuffs, both animal and vegetal. Such old words often developed differently within local dialects and languages, but it is still possible when reading the cookbooks to find similar terms within the dominant European language families. One example is fish, Fisch, and fisk in Germanic languages; pesce, pescado, and poisson in the Romance family; and different forms of ryba in the Slavic languages. Some terms are even similar in more than one family, such as the Germanic milk, Milch, and mjolk, which entered the Slavic languages, probably through Old Church Slavonic and became moloko, mleka, and so on.

But the situation was completely different, more dependent on local circumstances, when new products entered Europe from other continents at a time when the first cookbooks appeared. Oranges became known in Europe in the late Middle Ages, and most languages used variations of orange, a word with origins in India. On the other hand, in Scandinavian and East Slavic languages, the term became apelsin, apple from China (where the orange actually came from). In Greek, it was called portukali, a name also used in Turkish, Bulgarian, and Romanian, perhaps an indication of where the first oranges came from in this southeastern corner of Europe.

A far more important group of new products arrived in the early modern period from the Americas. A few of them are known in most European languages by more or less the same name, variations of vanilla, chocolate, and avocado. Other products have different names, but the differences did not follow the borders of language families the way older native words had done. Variations of potato and kartoffel are found in all the three dominant families, in addition to varieties of names meaning “earth apple/pear”: French pomme de terre, Dutch aardapel, and varieties of krumpir (from German Grundbirn) in Slavic languages. Tomato, tomate, and domat are found in all three language families and in Greek, but the Italian pomodori was picked up as pomidor in Russian and other Slavic languages. Today, all these names are perceived as national the same way older words are, but there is no doubt that a study of cookbooks may be important for historians researching when and how the new foodstuffs found their place in the cuisines of the various European countries.

Names of dishes were generally rather simple, a word or a combination of two words describing the foodstuff (aïoli from oil), the cooking method (fried pork), the type of dish (fish soup), the kitchen equipment (paella, a frying pan), the color (sauce verte), or the form (croissant). Some terms refer to personal names, often interpreted as an indication of a person involved in the creation or use of the dish, such as Jenny Lind soup, allegedly consumed by the famous singer to protection her voice. But most such dishes (e.g., Beef Wellington or Napoleon cakes) have no documented links to the persons mentioned. Such names were often the product of creative fantasy or jocular entertainment, as when a pasta variety is called radiatori because it looks like a car’s radiator. A name may also be looked at as nonsensical because the meaning of the word has changed. One example is a Danish cookie called vrøvl, a word literally meaning “nonsense.” But in an earlier period when the name was given, the meaning of vrøvl was “shred,” which made sense for the way the little cookie was formed.

Names indicating geographical areas are very common. In the period from the late eighteenth century and into the twentieth, with a growing conscience of national identity and the emergence of political and cultural nationalism, the concept of “national dish” became popular. But as many scholars have pointed out, a lot of so-called national traditions are more recent than first thought and may even belong to what has been termed imaginary or invented traditions. This may also be true of many of the names of dishes that indicate where a dish is coming from. The names of such geographical names have only seldom been documented. This does not mean that the indicated origin always is false. When dishes were called Polish, Hungarian, or Lombardian in early works, it is absolutely possible that they had crossed frontiers within a common European court culture where all sorts of fashions, not to speak of brides, also crossed frontiers. In the nineteenth century, the Austrian Empire had a certain culinary fame, with names referring to Vienna (Wiener-schnitzel), Linz (Linzer-Torte), and Salzburg. The English cookery book author Eliza Acton is full of humble respect mixed with professional pride when she introduces the last recipe in one of her cookbooks: “At the moment of going to press, we have received direct from Vienna the following receipt, which we cannot resist offering to the readers for trial.”31 The recipe was for “A Viennese Soufflé Pudding, called Salzburger Nockerl.” Nockerl was actually German for gnocchi but rather surprisingly became a term for this special soufflé.

The foreign influences are most evident in cookbooks translated from or based on foreign books, because they bring in ingredients, technology, and dishes unknown in the local cuisine and consequently unknown in the local language. In some cases, a foreign term is just used in its original form, as when a Romanian book presents Mandelkuchen and Krapfen without translation.32 The explanation may be that the two authors were academics without culinary experience and therefore did not find any corresponding local words. Today, the cookies are called tort de migdale and gogoşe. Other German words, however, have become household terms almost everywhere (e.g., Apfelstrudel). Varieties of the word Strudel are used in most European languages.

In most cookbooks, there were new terms made by a literal translation of the original, as when the German Butterteig in Slovenian was called Masleno testo.33 Sometimes only a part of the word was translated, for example, in Danish Butter-Dey. In some cases, the authors who tried to coin new national terms were aware of the fact that many of their elite readers already knew the foreign name, so they put up both terms; for example, in a Croatian cookbook, both Schnitzel and Teleći popećak appear.34

The most important influence in terminology came from French, as a result of the new culinary techniques and methods developed in France from the seventeenth century onward. New types of dishes spread from France to countries all over Europe, followed by a terminology that was adapted in various forms and to different degrees in the European languages. English cookbooks very often followed the original French orthography. Isabella Beeton35 has a list called “Explanation of French terms used in modern household cookery,” and there we find bouillon, compote, consommé, croutons, mayonnaise, purée, roux, and ragout (without the circumflex). Also in German and Russian cookbooks, there are many words in more or less original orthography, but in other languages, there are also adaptations to the grammar and spelling in the local language or dialect. In Italian cookbooks, we find filetti, costoletta, and marinata; in Spanish, vinagreta, compota, and stofada; in Scandinavian, buljong; in Estonian, puljong; and so on. In some cases, the author entered both the original word and his translation. In the first Icelandic cookbook, the author used the word for soup (Suppe in the Danish original) adapted as súpa but also an Icelandic substitution, mauk, which is a thicker soup, more like a mash. The author used the French spelling of gelée, but he also made an adaptation to Icelandic orthography: skele.36 In many cookbooks, French names of dishes were literally translated; in a Slovenian cookbook, Boeuf Royale was called Kraljevo goveje meso (royal ox meat), while Consommé à l’empereur in a Croat cookbook was translated as Carska Juha (tsar soup). The term “à la” (short for à la manière), quoted above, was very popular in French as in other cookbooks. It indicated the place or person who the recipe was thought to come from, even if this was not often documented.

In Beeton’s list of French terms, there were also verbs describing the culinary processes: désosser, flamber, glacer, paner, sauter, and trousser. Such terms were and still are used in many languages, often adapted to local orthography and grammar. In Spanish books, we find blanquear, glasear, saltear, brasear, and gratinar; in German, blanchieren, farcieren, and panieren; and in Russian, farširovat’ and panirovat’.

From the last part of the twentieth century, new terms appeared, particularly for names of dishes. Some of them were still French, but now there were also many from other countries and continents: donuts, pizza, scampi fritti, osso buco, mozzarella, gazpacho, paella, moussaka, avocado, tortilla, bruschetta, pesto, tiramisu, tzatziki, burritos, enchiladas, guacamole, tacos, couscous, wok, sushi, and satay.

A study made by this author of the development of culinary terminology in Norway in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries shows changing attitudes to foreign terms. In an early period, the words were just used in the original orthography. Then, in the first part of the twentieth century, most words were adapted to the local orthography. But in the last part of the twentieth century, new words arrived in their original form from French, Spanish, and Italian. Asian words were often transcribed in English. It would be interesting to see if a similar development has occurred in other languages.

Social Aspects of Cookbooks

Cookbooks are commercial commodities, and publishers looking for profit will obviously be conscious of which markets their books will appeal to. The intended market was sometimes mentioned directly in the preface to a cookbook, but there are several other ways to observe or detect social differences among the cookbooks.

The Titles

There are several books with titles referring to the top level of society, for example, court and royalty.37 But books may also appeal to the elite by referring to exclusive quality and taste, the elegant world.38 This should not be interpreted as a wish to stop other more modest people from buying the books. The point is rather the opposite. By mentioning court cookery, the publisher hoped to tempt the wealthy higher bourgeoisie, whose members wished to demonstrate their status through symbolic objects, houses, wagons, furniture, clothes—and a refined cuisine. On the other hand, books with simple and common dishes were aimed at a completely different market, for poor or frugal housewives.39 Some authors excelled in different books for different classes, but early on, there were also authors who tried to reach different markets with the same book by using titles appealing both to the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie40 and to rich and poor.41 There were also books for both common and elegant cuisines,42 but during the twentieth century, titles referring directly to rich and poor disappeared. In came instead titles about “everyday cuisine” and “inexpensive dishes.”

The Physical Object

There were very few cookbooks printed in large folio format—best known from early Bibles and academic works. A smaller format was more practical in the kitchen, and the octavo soon became the most common; only in Germany did quarto cookbooks last a bit longer. Books with confectionary were in some cases, particularly in England in the early modern period, printed in the same volume as medical advice and recipes for cosmetics. These books, directed to ladies in the upper classes, often exclusive editions with ornamental decoration on the pages, were printed in small 12mos and 16mos, a format many women at that time knew from prayer books or other devotional works.43 There were also differences in the number of pages, between large, voluminous books and small, thin pamphlets. Typeface was originally Gothic but gradually shifted to Roman in southern Europe before 1700. Northern Europe (e.g., Germany and Scandinavia) went through this change much later, but the change had the same social significance in the North and the South. It occurred first in books directed to the elite and only later to the broad public, who were less literate and took longer to get used to the new script.

The Price of Cookbooks

The price of the early books made it difficult for all but a few people to buy them. Even when printing efficiency developed and books gradually became cheaper, they were still not accessible for families with limited resources. A few authors were aware of this. In the very first sentence in a cookbook published in the Faroe Islands, the author writes that she has wanted to publish a book that did not cost too much.44 On the west coast of Norway, an author wrote a cookbook that cost 2,40 crowns.45 This was not expensive at the time, but when the second (expanded!) edition was published, the price was reduced to 1,25. The author wrote in the preface that she had put the price so low because she wanted “the poor to be able to buy it.”46 The cost of the books had to do with size and quality of paper and production. In the early period of book production, many books were sold without a cover, so people could go to a bookbinder and choose how much should be spent on a cover. But soon the booksellers advertised books with different prices, for example, The Art of Cookery by the famous British author Hannah Glasse: “Price 3 s. stitched and 5 s. bound.”47 The price of a cover, however, was not the same for all materials; there was a difference between cloth and leather. Big, beautiful cookbooks could easily cost twenty times as much as a small booklet. In the last part of the twentieth century, the luxurious coffee table cookbooks were among the expensive books on the market, making them the ideal gift to friends “who have everything.”

The Price and Prestige of Ingredients

A close study of the contents of cookbooks soon reveals a difference in ingredients, not only in the number and variety but also in quality and prestige, accompanied by a difference in prices. Certain fish species were more appreciated than others, some cuts of meat more attractive, and certain vegetables more exclusive than others. In several countries, imported foodstuffs were particularly popular. In a Russian cookbook from the late eighteenth century, we find among the proposed ingredients Dutch cheese, French bread, German onion, Parmesan cheese, English butter, and Rhine wine.48 These were products known and appreciated for their taste in many areas of Europe, but often their fame was of course just as important as their taste.

Meat as such has in historical perspective been a privilege for the few. The English cook of Italian descent Charles Elmé Francatelli, author of elegant cookbooks, has in A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes the following introduction to the recipe for an economical vegetable pottage: “In France, and also in many parts of Europe, the poorer classes but very seldom taste meat in any form; the chief part of their scanty food consists of bread, vegetables, and more especially of their soup, which is mostly, if not entirely, made of vegetables.”49 In this recipe, the following vegetables are recommended: carrots, turnips, parsnips, cabbage, peas, beans, and potatoes. There are, however, no asparagus, artichokes, endive, truffles, tomatoes, and many others that Francatelli has recipes for in his more luxurious cookbooks, where there also is an abundance of meat dishes, of course.

Another cookbook, published with the rather exceptional title Primitive Cookery, even mentioned the price of the finished dishes. It praised those “without either fish, flesh or fowl; with a bill of fare of twenty dishes that will not cost above two-pence each.”50

Meat was exclusive, but game even more exclusive. In a book for the lower middle classes, an author writes, “I find dishes of game and poultry superfluous in this little book because common people rarely buy this.”51 Today, few cookbooks limit their suggested ingredients in this way since most European countries have markets with ingredients from all over the world, both cheap and expensive.

Specialized Cookbooks

Most of the cookbooks discussed in this overview have been what we can call “general cookbooks” with recipes for all sorts of dishes and foodstuffs. But among the many recipe collections produced are books that are specialized in one way or another. In the Dewey decimal classification system, where general cookbooks have the call number 641.5, there are various kinds of books with their own decimals: books for beginners, for gourmets, for children, for schools, for institutions, for hospitals, for military, for people at sea, for picnics, and many other people, sectors, or occasions. These books are normally organized the same way as general cookbooks, by types of dishes, by foodstuffs, or a combination of the two. But some books (e.g., those geared toward children) may choose simpler, not too complicated terms. Books for soldiers in the field or sailors on a boat who do not have the same access to all sorts of foodstuffs and may depend on simpler cooking equipment have to be adjusted to these conditions.

There are books specializing in certain dishes, such as soups, pasta, and sushi, or in specific foodstuffs, not only in fish or vegetables but even more specifically in cod, trout, tomatoes, or mushrooms. These books are in principle similar to a separate chapter in a general cookbook, but often with a higher number of recipes and greater variation. Books with dishes from a specific country or region may choose to organize the recipes in a way that better suits this area, for example, starting with tapas in a book of Andalusian cuisine. Books describing various cooking appliances, whether gas, electricity, or microwave, often have to give more detailed technical information and explain particular terms.

Many of the cookbooks have tempting and luxurious dishes, but there is also a small group of books with simple and above all inexpensive dishes. The most extreme of these books—or rather booklets—were often published during wars and crises and contained advice on how to prepare food from vegetable products found in the wild. One example is a plant described in several publications in subarctic areas. The plant is generally known as Icelandic moss or Icelandic lichen, with the scientific name Cetraria islandica. It was described as food in Iceland by an Icelandic scholar, who said the lichen was boiled with whey.52 A Norwegian scholar referred to use of the lichen mixed with grains to make flour.53 After the Napoleonic wars, a Russian apothecary gave recipes for flour, soups, and jellies,54 and his book was translated into Lithuanian.55 Then the plant was described in detail in a little Swedish book with dishes made from roots, seeds, and other plants,56 and this book was published in a Finnish translation.57 These publications are examples of how recipes for the most unbelievable edible products may spread over a large area, but they also illustrate the difficulty of deciding what should be called a cookbook and what not.

Religion and Ideology in Cookbooks

There are cookbooks in which the culinary ambitions are just as important as in other cookbooks but are subordinate to a higher principle built on religious or ideological beliefs and convictions. The religious aspect may be mentioned immediately in the preface, with references to God or the Bible, or even in the title itself, as in The Lithuanian Housewife or Guidance on How to Properly Use God’s Gifts.58 But this may of course also be a sort of topos.

An important religious element is found in recipes following dietary rules established by tradition or by religious authorities. In medieval Europe, the consumption of meat was banned during certain fasting periods that occasionally included almost half the year. Important for a cookbook in this context was to find the best alternatives to meat; in most cases, these were different preparations of fish. It was a great challenge for cookbook authors, and cooks of course, to invent new and tempting dishes for the most exclusive elites. But fish was not the same thing for everybody in societies with great social differences. The rich, often with fishing privileges in rivers and lakes, had access to the most sought-after freshwater fish species, while poor people, if they had means to buy fish at all, had to do with salt herring and dried cod. The cookbooks had recommendations about how to prepare fish so it looked like meat, in form and in color. There were also a lot of edible creatures that normally were not counted as fish, for example, whales and other ocean mammals, turtles, snails, frogs, and fish-eating seabirds. Even beaver, especially its tail, was considered a delicacy.

Not only meat was banned, but in certain periods, the ban also included other animal products, such as milk, cream, butter, cheese, and eggs. These products were used in many dishes, and the cookbooks and the cookbooks gave recipes for the established alternatives known in most societies (e.g., almond milk and butter).

Many of the poorest families ate more or less vegetarian and felt abandoned in fasting periods when they were forbidden to freshen the simple meal with a little bit of salt pork. This was a dilemma pointed out by Protestant agitators during the Reformation and also by the Catholic reformer Erasmus, who argued against the abuse of fasting rules by the Church. But in countries dominated by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, cookbooks continued with special chapters for fasting dishes, a practice discontinued in Protestant areas. In Russia, Orthodox cookbooks distinguished between the periods without meat and more stricter periods, when also fish was banned.

The Jewish cookbooks published in Europe in the nineteenth century were of course without such items as pork, rabbit, shellfish, and blood, forbidden in the official kashrut. These books gave practical advice on how to slaughter animals and remove the blood, as well as how to clean vegetables for insects, also forbidden to eat. There were also recipes explaining how to manage the proscription against milk products and meat in the same meal. In dishes where butter and cream normally were used, it was recommended to use goose fat and egg yolks when meat was one of the ingredients. To circumvent the law forbidding work on the Sabbath, the cookbooks suggested dishes that might be prepared before sunset Friday and cook slowly in an oven until the next day.

Most of the cookbooks were written in German but also printed in other central European countries. The most popular German book, by Rebekka Wolf,59 was translated into Polish60 and Dutch,61 and many of the recipes entered the first cookbook in Yiddish.62 In one of the most famous Jewish cookbooks in English, the author recommended suet in dishes where the English used bacon and lard.63 She also praised the sausage chorissa, developed in Sephardic circles on the Iberian Peninsula and made with beef instead of the original pork used by the Christian population. In the United States, there were some early Jewish cookbooks, written by reformist German Jews, in which the kosher rules were less strict,64 but this seems to have been a temporary phenomenon. Among the American books, there were also several written in Yiddish.65

Vegetarians have different arguments for not eating meat, and among vegetarians, there are various attitudes toward other animal products. Some vegetarians have basically made their choice based on what they consider is a healthy diet, while others refer to moral or other principles, and then there are many who consider the health aspect and the moral aspect as two sides of the same coin.

Vegetarian cookbooks had been printed since the end of the seventeenth century, but the breakthrough came in the nineteenth century, both in Europe and in the United States. One of the famous American books in the genre was Science in the Kitchen by the health reformer Ella Eaton Kellogg.66 In her book, one of the important aspects was how to find alternatives to the meat dishes that were so widely popular at the time. The substitutes were vegetables and grains, but she presented her dishes with names such as steak, fricassee, cutlets, and roasts.

Nationalist ideology also found its way into cookbooks. We are not talking about so-called national dishes, which is a long and special discussion, but of a more aggressive xenophobic nationalism under which foreign products were banned. These were particularly important in Germany and Italy during the fascist period, when cookbooks opened with praise to the Führer Hitler and the Duce Mussolini.67 In Germany, the nationalism and authoritarian attitudes were combined with antisemitism.

Cookbooks as Sources to Culinary Practice

The cookbook is an important source for the development of culinary practice in a region. Recipes change. New foodstuffs appear on the market with new names, and new culinary ideas are introduced and new dishes created, reflecting changes in taste. The language changed with technological development from open fire via electric stove to microwave, with new ways to describe and indicate heat (slow fire, 200 degrees, 100 W). Another change concerns the measures for volume and weight. Many countries ratified the Metric Convention of 1875, but how soon were the changes introduced in the cookbooks? What kinds of measures are in use in countries where the metric system is not ratified? How often did cookbooks providing traditional measures for volume and weight also list metric ones? This was done in some American cookbooks at the time.

When such changes as described above are observed and catalogued, it is important to distinguish between these recipes and the more general commentaries in cookbooks. It is necessary to remember that a recipe is not a description of the actual culinary practice in an area. The recipes give instruction in how a dish may be prepared, but it does not tell us whether this dish was cooked or eaten in that area. Many of the cookbooks were translations from foreign works, often with origins in more economically developed areas with more variation in the cuisine than, for example, in a traditional society.

This means that it is not enough to have a close reading of the recipes. In many cases, more than one book needs to be included if the ambition is to say something general about the development in a period or a region. Also, when a study includes different editions of a book over a longer period, it is important to be careful. A study of book history will demonstrate that even when a full revision is promised on the title page, there are still old and even outdated recipes. A possibility is to compare the editions with new books, but many new cookbooks picked recipes from earlier books, and therefore it is so important to get relevant information about the author and the editorial practices of the publishing house. In other words, it is necessary to get a solid picture of context, of all the circumstances around the creation of a cookbook, before any final judgment is made (e.g., bibliographical and biographical). To give one example: a Norwegian cookbook from 1888 had many different recipes for dishes with tomatoes. Did this mean that tomatoes had entered the Norwegian cuisine? No. Tomatoes were hardly mentioned in other cookbooks at that time and became common only several decades later. A study of the background for the 1888 book showed that the author had spent five years in Constantinople (Istanbul), where tomatoes played an important part in cookery. A closer reading of the recipes also revealed that the author herself knew this was an unknown fruit, because she felt it necessary to explain what a tomato looked like, a flattened red onion.68

It is often necessary to look for context when new foreign dishes are described. In the first Russian cookbook, many French terms are used. But some of these words are listed in a glossary at the end of the book, “Interpretation of culinary terms.”69 In this list, we find konsome, kotleti, farš, and žele, which may suggest that they were not so generally known in Russia and therefore needed an explanation. Other French words, however, appeared in the text without any explanation (e.g., sup, sos, and krem), so they may have entered the language earlier.

But the cookbooks do not only give instructions in recipe form on how to prepare and cook ingredients. In introductions, remarks, and small commentaries, the authors often reveal actual information about the food practices in their societies. They complain about the difficult access to certain products, emphasize which are the best seasons for certain foodstuffs, warn against falsifying of butter and flour in certain shops, and give ideas about how to slaughter and pluck a bird and, at a later stage, how it is possible to buy a hen ready prepared for the pot. All this information from recipes and commentaries may then be compared to what is found in other sources, local histories, archives, statistics, dictionaries, memoirs and biographies, and even personal letters. The compilation and evaluation of all this information is true fascinating detective work for a food history researcher.

Further Reading

  • Bruegel, Martin, and Bruno Laurioux, eds. Histoire et identités alimentaires en Europe. Paris: Hachette, 2002.
  • Capatti, Alberto, and Massimo Montanari. La Cucina Italiana. Rome: Laterza, 1999.
  • Coron, Sabine, ed. Livres en bouche. Paris: Hermann, 2001.
  • DiMeo, Michelle, and Sara Pennell, eds. Reading and Writing Recipe Books 1550–1800. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2013.
  • Dose, Hanna. “Die Geschichte des Kochbuchs,” in Beruf der Jungfrau. Edited by Gisela Framke and Gisela Marenk, 51–70. Oberhausen: Graphium Press, 1998.
  • Ehlert, Trude. “Les manuscrits culinaires médiévaux témoignent-ils d’un modèle alimentaire allemand?” in Histoire et identités alimentaires en Europe. Edited by Martin Bruegel and Bruno Laurioux, 121–136. Paris: Hachette, 2002.
  • Faccioli, Emilio. L’arte della cucina in Italia. Torino: Einaudi, 1987.
  • Fink, Beatrice. Les liaisons savoureuses. Saint-Étienne: Publications de l’Université, 1995.
  • Floyd, Janet, and Laurel Forster, eds. The Recipe Reader. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
  • Gillet, Philippe. Le goût et les mots. Paris: Payot & Rivages, 1993.
  • Gloning, Thomas. “Textgebrauch und sprachliche Gestalt älterer Kochrezepte (1350–1800). Ergebnisse und Aufgaben,” in Textarten in deutscher Prosa. Edited by Franz Simmler, 517–550. Bern: Lang, 2002.
  • Görlach, Manfred. “Text Types and Language History: The Cooking Recipe,” in Text Types and the History of English. Edited by Matti Rissanen, Ossi Ihalainen, Terttu Nevalainen, and Irma Taavitsainen, 121–140. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2004.
  • Hoskins, Richard, ed. Food and Language. Totnes: Prospect Books, 2010.
  • Hyman, Philip, and Mary Hyman. “Les cuisines régionales à travers des livres de recettes.,” Dix-huitième Siècle no. 15 (1983): 65–74.
  • Jäderberg, Lars. “Matrecept från tre sekel en genrestudie.” Språk och Stil no. 5 (1995): 93–119.
  • Jansen-Sieben, Ria. “From Food Therapy to Cookery-Book,” in Medieval Dutch Literature in Its European Context. Edited by Erik Kooper, 261–280. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “Jewish Cookbooks,” in Encyclopedia Judaica. Edited by Thomson Gale, Fred Skolnik and Michael Berenbaum, 2nd ed. Vol. 5, 200–203. London: Bureau of Jewish Education, 2007.
  • Laurioux, Bruno. Le Règne de Taillevent. Paris: Editions de la Sorbonne, 1997.
  • Lehmann, Gilly. The British Housewife. Totnes: Prospect Books, 2003.
  • Mennell, Stephen. All Manners of Food. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
  • Notaker, Henry. A History of Cookbooks. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017.
  • Prato, Katharina. Die Süddeutsche Küche. Graz: Leykam, 1858.
  • Revel, Jean-François. Un festin en paroles. Paris: Pauvert, 1979.
  • Robaschik, Sigrid. “”Russischsprachige Kochrezepte,” in Fachtext als Instrument und Resultatkommunikativer Tätigkeit. Edited by R. Glaser, 106–114. Leipzig: Karl-Marx-Universität, 1988.
  • Sapounaki-Dracaki, Lydia. “Modernizing the Traditional Greek Diet: The Role of Cookery Books 1833–1914,” in The Landscapes of Food. Edited by Marjatta Hietala and Tania Vahtikari, 198–212. Helsinki: Suomalainen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2003.
  • Theophano, Janet. Eat my Word. Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote. New York: Palgrave, 2003.
  • Thoms, Ulrike. “Kochbücher und Haushaltslehren als ernährungshistorische Quellen,” in Wege zur Ernährungsgeschichte. Edited by D. Reinhardt, U. Spiekermann, and U. Thoms, 9–50. Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1993.
  • Wheaton, Barbara Ketcham. L’office et la bouche. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1984.
  • White, Eileen, ed. The English Cookery Book. Totnes: Prospect Books, 2004.
  • Willan, Anne. The Cookbook Library. Oakland: University of California Press, 2012.


  • 1. Jean Bottéro, Textes culinaires mésopotamiens (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrowns, 1995).

  • 2. Oxford English Dictionary, Cookery Book, 2023.

  • 3. C. Grocock and S. Grainger, Apicius. A Critical Edition (Totnes: Prospect Books, 2006).

  • 4. Carole Lambert, Du manuscrità la table (Montreal: Les Pressesde l’Universite, 1992).

  • 5. Bruno Laurioux, Le règne de Taillevent (Paris: Sorbonne, 1997).

  • 6. Domingos Rodrigues, Arte de cozinha (Lisbon: João Galrão, 1683).

  • 7. Henry Notaker, Printed Cookbooks in Europe 1470–1700 (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2010).

  • 8. Johanna Shorter-Eyck, La internacia kuir-libro (London: Brita Esperantista Asocio, 1971).

  • 9. E. Brown and B. Brown, Culinary America (Manfield Center, CT: Martino, 1996).

  • 10. Elizabeth J. Dijkman, De Suid-Afrikaanse Kook-, Koek- en Resepteboek (Paarl: Paarlse Drukpers, 1891).

  • 11. 84 resèt kwizin ak kèk konsèy pratik (Cayes, Haïti: Imp. D’expression et diversité, 2000).

  • 12. Susanne Göpferich, Textsorten in Naturwissenschaft und Technik (Tübingen: Narr, 1995), 124.

  • 13. Franz de Rontzier, Kunstbuch von mancherlei Essen (Wolffenbüttel: Fürstliche Druckerei, 1598).

  • 14. Anon, Szakats Mesterségnek könyvetskéje (Koloszvár: Tótfalusi Kis, 1695).

  • 15. Đuro Deželić, Nova hrvatska kuharica (Zagreb: A. Jakića, 1868).

  • 16. John Evelyn, Acetaria (London: Benjamin Tooke, 1699), fol O 1.

  • 17. Georgius Mayr, Ein kunstreich und bewert Kochbuch (Augsburg: Philipp Ulhart, 1579).

  • 18. Anna Wecker, Ein köstlich new Kochbuch (Amberg: Forster, 1597).

  • 19. Hannah Woolley, The Ladies Directory (London: Milbourn/Dring, 1661).

  • 20. Liudvika Didžiuliene, Lietuvos gaspadinē (Tilsit: Otto von Mauderodé for Ūkininkas, 1893).

  • 21. Helena Patursson, Matreglur fyri hvørt hús (Tórshavn: Dímmalætting, 1907).

  • 22. Julene Azpeitia, Osasuna, merketza ta yanaritzaz (Health, Economy and Cookery) (Bilbao: Editorial Vasca, 1922?).

  • 23. Simke Kloosterman, De Fryske petiele (Boalsert: A. J. Osinga, 1938).

  • 24. Soaz an Tieg, War ar gegin hag an daol: levrig kegin (Lannuon: Barr-Heol, 1975).

  • 25. Fannie Farmer, The Boston Cooking School-Book (Boston: Little, Brown, 1896).

  • 26. Ada Boni, Il talismano della felicità (Rome: Edizione della Rivista Preziosa, 1925).

  • 27. L.S.R., L’art de bien traiter (Paris: Jean Du Puis, 1674).

  • 28. Franς‎ois Marin, Suite des dons de Comus (Paris: Pissot, Didot, Brunet, 1742).

  • 29. Marie-Renée Morin, “Une cuisine nouvelle,” in Livres en bouche,ed. Sabine Coron (Paris: Hermann, 2001), 205.

  • 30. W. H. Auden, Forewords and Afterwords (New York: Vintage, 1993), 484–491.

  • 31. Eliza Acton, Modern Cookery for Modern Families (London: Brown & Co., 1855), 620.

  • 32. K.N.-M.K., 200 рецете черкате (Iaşi: Foaia Sătească, 1841).

  • 33. V.V., Kuharske Bukve (Ljubljana: Kleinmajer for Andrea Gassler, 1799).

  • 34. Deželić, Nova hrvatska kuharica.

  • 35. Isabella Beeton, Book of Household Management (London: S.O. Beeton, 1861), 44–46.

  • 36. Marta Maria Stephensen, Einfaldt Matreidslu Vasa-Qver (Leirárgørdum við Leirá: Islands Konúnglega Uppfrædingar-Stiptun, 1800).

  • 37. T. Hall, The Queen’s Royal Cookery (London: Bates and Bettesworth, 1709); and Robert Smith, Court Cookery (London: T. Wotton, 1723).

  • 38. Anon., Kochbuch für die elegante Welt (Leipzig: Voss, 1819).

  • 39. Anon., The Frugal House-Keeper (London: s.n., 1791).

  • 40. Franς‎ois Massialot, Le cuisinier roïal et bourgeois (Paris: Sercy, 1691).

  • 41. Jóninna Sigurðurdottir, Ny matreiðslubok fyrir fátæka og rika (Akureiri: s.n., 1915).

  • 42. Henriette Davidis, Praktisches Kochbuch für die gewöhnliche und feine Küche (Bielefeld: Velhagen and Klasing, 1847).

  • 43. Anon., The Accomplished Lady’s Delight (London: B. Harris, 1675).

  • 44. Helena Patursson, Matreglur fyri hvørt hús. Føroysk kókibók (Tórshavn: Dímmalætting printing office, 1907).

  • 45. Marie Landmark, Husholdningsbog (Kristiania: Lund, 1892).

  • 46. Marie Landmark, For Landsbygden (Bergen: Nilsen, 1900).

  • 47. H. Glasse, The Art of Cookery (London: For the author, 1747).

  • 48. Sergei Drukovtsev, Поваренныя записки (Moscow: Imperial University Press, 1779).

  • 49. Charles Elmé Francatelli (s.a.), A Plain Cookery for the Working Classes (London: For the author, 1852), 47.

  • 50. Anon., Primitive Cookery (London: J. Williams, 1767).

  • 51. Hanna Winsnes, Husholdningsbog for tarvelige Familier (Kristiania: Malling, 1862).

  • 52. Eggert Ólafsson, Reise igiennem mIsland (Sorø: Lindgrens Enke, 1772).

  • 53. Hans Strøm, Underretning om den Islandske Moss (Copenhagen: Møller, 1785).

  • 54. Fedor Brandenburg, О пользе употребления в пищу так называемаго исландскаго моху (St. Petersburg: First Army’s Printing Office, 1822).

  • 55. Fedor Brandenburg, Apey darima walge ysz kiarpiu islandu (Vilnius: Marcinauskis, 1823).

  • 56. Gustava Schartau, Wälmenta råd i miszvext-år (Stockholm: Eckstein, 1831).

  • 57. Gustava Schartau, Hywäntahtoisia Neuwaju Katowuosina (Helsinki: Wasenius, 1838).

  • 58. Didžiuliene, Lietuvos gaspadinē.

  • 59. Rebekka Wolf, Kochbuch für Israelitische Frauen (Berlin: s.n., 1853).

  • 60. Rebekka Wolf, Polska kuchnia koszerna (Warzawa: M. Ziemkiewicz, 1877).

  • 61. Rebekka Wolf, Kookboek voor israëlitische huisgezinnen (Almelo: T. Blenken, 1881).

  • 62. Oyzer Bloshteyn, Kokh-bukh far Yudishe froyen (Vilnius: Matz, 1896).

  • 63. Judith Montefiore, The Jewish Manual (London: T. & W. Boone, 1846).

  • 64. Bertha Kramer, Aunt Babette’s Cook Book (Cincinnati, OH: Bloch, 1889).

  • 65. Barbara Kirschenblatt-Giumblett, “Jewish Cookbooks,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, ed. Thomson Gale, Fred Skolnik, and Michael Berenbaum, vol. 3 (London: Bureau of Jewish Education, 2007).

  • 66. Ella Eaton Kellogg, Science in the Kitchen (Chicago: Modern Medicine Pub., 1893).

  • 67. Erna Horn, Der neuzeitliche Haushalt (Munich: Madø, 1934); Elisabetta Randi, La cucina autarchica (Florence: L. Cionini, 1942).

  • 68. Marie Blom, Husholdningsbog (Kristiania: alling, 1888).

  • 69. Drukovtsev, Поваренныя записки.