As the coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout the world, millions of Americans are doing our part to bolster public health by sheltering in our homes. Whether it’s because we have more time and desire right now to cook, or as some experts suggest, cooking is a way to channel our fear and anxiety, one thing is clear: this pandemic has led to an apparent rise (forgive the pun) in home cooking.
Homemade crumpets, clafoutis, cinnamon rolls, hot crossed buns, banana bread, rosemary and thyme sourdough crackers, and loaf after loaf of homemade sourdough bread have been appearing in social media news feeds nationwide. Alongside the abundance of baked goods, mouthwatering dishes such as “double fried french fries and Steak au Poivre” and “chicken on a bed of mirepoix with bell peppers and garlic, with a Tonnato sauce” have been asserting one’s culinary prowess while making friends jealous and very, very hungry.
SDSU Special Collections & University Archives is home to nearly 1000 historic cookbooks (999 to be exact!). The majority of our collection is in the Berlene Rice and Bonnie Zimmerman Cookbook Collection. The oldest cookbook in our collection is The Great Western Cook Book, or, Table Receipts, Adapted to Western Housewifery, published in 1857 (Read more: When a Recipe Was a ‘Receipt’). While we are unable to access our physical book collection right now, we thought it would be fun to share some historic resources to help get your culinary juices simmering.
Recipe for Rough and Ready Soup from the The Great Western Cook Book,
or, Table Receipts, Adapted to Western Housewifery.
The oldest known recipes can be found on ancient cuneiform tablets from the Mesopotamian region that date from between 1730BC to 1830BC and are housed in Yale University’s Babylonian Collection. Many of these recipes are for stews and broths, one of which has been decoded and tested by researchers. Up for the challenge? Give this Babylonian Lamb Stew with Beets a try!
Welcome to Medieval Times! The first cookbook published in English (late Middle English, that is - good luck!) was Forme of Cury, which was written by the chefs of King Richard II in 1390. Originally written on scrolls, a more modern reprint from the late 1700s can be viewed here (tip: skip forward to page 59 where the recipes begin). Perhaps some Noumbles (a soup or stew made from the viscera of animals or fish) or Pygges in Sawse Sawge (pork in sage sauce)?
Recipe for Noumbles from Forme of Cury.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, advances in printing and paper-making revolutionized not only how books were produced, but who could afford and own one. Widespread literacy and the abolishment of slavery after the Civil War both contributed to an increased demand for domestic manuals on managing the home and cooking. In 1796, the first known American cookbook titled, American Cookery, written by Amelia Simmons, was published in Hartford, Connecticut. Simmons combined traditional British recipes with local American ingredients and took into account the contemporary lifestyle of American cooks and eaters. Eliza Acton’s 1845, Modern Cookery for Private Families, was perhaps the first cookbook aimed at the everyday cook rather than a more professional chef. In 1866, the first known cookbook authored by an African American was published: A Domestic Cookbook: Containing a Careful Selection of Receipts for the Kitchen by Mrs. Malinda Russell.
Recipe for Diet Bread from American Cookery. (I'm not sure diet means what we think it means!)
Whortleberry Pudding from A Domestic Cookbook: Containing a Careful Selection of Receipts for the Kitchen by Mrs. Malinda Russell (Nope,
whortleberries are not a made up Willy Wonka food. They're bilberries, a cousin to blueberries).
Early recipes are far from what we think of as instructive today. Authors assumed a certain amount of culinary competence on the part of the reader. Although glimpses of the modern recipe format we know today can be seen in Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking (1884), detailed and precise instructions and standardized measurements were largely lacking until Fannie Mae Farmer’s The Boston Cooking School Cookbook was published in 1896. Notably, Farmer’s book also provides recipes for sustainability with tips for using food scraps and reworking leftovers into tasty meals.
Recipe for Curried Eggs from The Boston Cooking School Cookbook.
Hungry yet? Embrace your inner foodie bibliophile! Try some of the recipes hyperlinked above or check out these digitized collections of historic cookbooks online.
Cookbooks and Home EconomicsThe Cookbook and Home Economics Collection includes books from the Young Research Library Department of Special Collections at UCLA, The Bancroft Library at The University of California, Berkeley, and the Prelinger Library. These fascinating books take us back to an America in the early decades of the 20th century covering topics on cookery, textiles, family and home, budgeting, domestic sciences, and many other delightful topics.
Wellcome Library Recipe BooksExplore medicinal and culinary recipes through the ages with this collection of 16th-19th century domestic recipe manuscripts.
Service Through Sponge CakeThis collaboration between Indiana University and the Indianapolis Public Library focuses on Indiana cookbooks dating from the turn-of-the-century, with a special emphasis on fundraising cookbooks published by churches, synagogues and other community organizations.
Feeding AmericaAn online collection of some of the most important and influential American cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century. The digital archive includes 76 cookbooks from the Michigan State University Libraries' collection as well as searchable full-text transcriptions.
If you've been trying new recipes during the pandemic, we'd love to hear from you! Contribute the SDSU COVID-19 Memory Project .