Cookbooks Through The Ages

October is National Cookbook Month, so in celebration of this holiday tell us your favorite cookbook and why in the comments below throughout the month for a chance to win one of the pictured Cookbooks!

A cookbook is a  reference book for the kitchen that contains a collection of recipes. The earliest cookbooks were often lists of haute cuisine dishes as a record of the chef’s favorites or to train cooks for upper-class staff.

According to author and journalist William Sitwell, who wrote A History of Food in 100 Recipes, it is believed that the first recipe collection De re Coquinaria (Of Culinary Matters) was written in Rome around 10 A.D. by Marcus Gavius Apicius. Next, the cooks of King Richard II wrote The Forme of Cury in 1390, on the large banquets they prepared. The first large-scale printed cookbook is believed to be from Bartolomeo de Sacchi, a Roman writer in 1475, titled De Honesta Voluptate et Valitudine ( On Honourable Pleasure and Health). However, this volume of 250 recipes started a trend of plagiarism as it only contained 10 original pieces.

And the plagiarism continued. The first published English cookbook The Boke of Cokery, in 1500, is believed to have plagiarized recipes from older books. In 1746, Hannah Glasse, the first domestic goddess, published The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, which continued to be republished until 1843. However, a quarter of the recipes were copied word-for-word from a 1737 book The Whole Duty of a Woman.

Interest and intrigue in writing down recipes and influencing home cooks continued to grow. In 1796, Amelia Simmons in Hartford, Connecticut, wrote the first American cookbook, according to the Library of Congress, American Cooke. It is filled with traditional recipes that used native American ingredients, such as corn meal and squash.

Chefs today still use the books of legendary French chefs Antonin Careme, whose most influential work was the five-volume encyclopedia L’Art de la Cuisine Francaise, 1833-34, and Georges Auguste Escoffier’s, who is considered the father of modern cooking, Le Guide Culinaire, 1903. These books were written for professional chefs and staff. Culinary schools still use Escoffier’s book in the classroom.

By Égoïté (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Égoïté (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In the 1950s home cooking had lost some sophistication and excitement. Many people celebrate Elizabeth David, a British cookery writer, for revitalizing home cooking with her A Book of Mediterranean Food.

In the 21st century, it seems like almost every blog on the Internet is dedicated to recipes. Cookbooks are released constantly and media articles are written celebrating the best cookbooks of the month, season or year. And a cookbook’s place is no longer just in the kitchen. They are placed on coffee tables for their rich imagery or in home libraries for research or to be collected.

According to Publisher Weekly, the three best-selling cookbooks in 2014 were Make It Ahead by Ina Garten, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays by Ree Drummond and Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook by Thug Kitchen. And if you are looking for stats on chef-driven cookbooks, Amazon’s three best sellers for professional cooking are The Flavor Bible (2008) by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, Essential Emeril: Favorite Recipes and Hard-won Wisdom From My Life in The Kitchen (2015) by Emeril Lagasse and The Professional Chef (2011) by The Culinary Institute of America.

Also, for an interesting read on the history of cookbooks, check out the A History of Cookbooks blog post published on We Love This Book by author and journalist William Sitwell, who wrote A History of Food in 100 Recipes.

17 thoughts

  1. Biurdain, Les Halles Cookbook
    Keller, The French Laundry Cookbook
    For me these two cookbooks represent the epidemy of classic and contemporary cuisine. One Is deep rooted in classic French country dishes and the other is passionate about using classic French techniques to create innovative contempory dishes. I love them both equally!


  2. Beard on Food by James Beard
    and La Technique by Jacques Pepin

    Are classics that still to this day I look to for guidance


  3. My go cookbook is Cooks Illustrated baking book!! I can’t really say I have a favorite out of this book. I really love them all. I also love how they explain the recipe and why they tried it this way versus the other way!! It’s a great baking book🙂


    1. Hi Michelle, your name was picked at random for the cookbook giveaway! Please let us know if you own any of the titles featured in the slideshow above and send us your shipping address to jward(at)


  4. Cook’s Illustrated Cook Book; I like the kitchen tested recipes in this book and the mulitude of sciency-explainations found that resulted in the “perfect” recipe.


  5. On cooking- through the years I have tried to get the updated versions and use them as teaching tools.. I cook for a living but I don’t use recipe books very often, but these books are great for ideas and technique.


  6. When I first started out as a caterer my go to book was The Silver Palette Cook book, it resonated with me and my Midwest clientele. Since then I have cherry picked recipes from the likes of Jacques Pepin, Michael Chiarello, Jamie Oliver, Zingerman’s, etc.. to create my own scrap book of favorite recipes.


    1. Hi Chef Merucci, your name was picked at random for the cookbook giveaway! Let us know if you own any of the titles in the slideshow above and send your shipping address to jward(at)


  7. Betty Crockers cookbook
    I have a copy of the 18th printing of the 5 ring binder, I used my moms when I was a kid and now I have purchased several for my closest friends – we use it like our bible!


  8. I have a fairly extensive collection of cookbooks of many genres, nationalities, and cuisines but my favorite is A Treasury of Great Recipes written by Mary and Vincent Price. Yes – that’s Vincent Price the actor known for his roles in such horror adaptations as Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. This book is an anthology of recipes and menus from many of the fine restaurants where he and his wife dined from around the world.


  9. I collect cookbooks not only as a hobby but as a tool to guide me in my quest to be an accomplished cook. The very first cookbook I received was the red Betty Crocker Cookbook. It helped me to learn basic techniques and recipes. Now that I am 57 and my children are grown, I recently enrolled in a Culinary Arts program at my local Community College. Just go to show, it’s never to late to learn.


  10. I like Escoffier’s, even though I never saw inside of one. I hear about his stories at my Culinary school from my instructors on how he started the modern day kitchen brigade and Culinary cooking. I would be very thankful to have this book.


  11. On cookbooks I have to admit they are a guilty indulgence of mine. collected a few for reference over the years and they have given me some incite on ideas I normally would not have thought about. Though I would say that my two favorite would have to be
    The cooks color treasury edited by Norma Macmillan and the silver spoon ( II cucchiaio d’argento). They are just great to play around with. I remember when I was a kid at my grand parents house looking at them mainly at the pictures in the first and then at the silver spoon because I couldn’t read it. My grandfather is Italian and he had a copy( in Italian) that his mother gave him when he came back from Korea. I never learned the language and always wanted to try out the recipes in it. A couple of years ago just before I started culinary school I found a copy in English and have been playing around with these classical recipes since, I am at the end of antipasti and working toward first courses. Though the highlight of my year thus far has been that my Grandmother gave me her copy of the cook’s treasury that I loved looking through as a kid. I am looking forward to working my way through it and seeing what changes I can make to update the dishes a bit. But I think that cookbooks are a good resource for any cook or chef, you can see how someone was thinking in the dishes they present and the ingredients that were used and it might give you an idea that lasts longer than you do.


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