We Are Chefs

Cookbooks Through The Ages

The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

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
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.