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Milestones in the History of Cookbooks, Take Two!

A few weeks ago we explored seven milestones in culinary history, and many of our friends on Twitter were gracious enough to propose additions to our original list. Thus, today we’ll explore more important figures and works in the evolution of cookbooks. Have a suggestion for a third installment? Leave it in the comments below!

An English Cookbook Fit for a King

Richard-PynsonRichard Pynson was born in France, but he became one of the first printers of English books. He published approximately 500 titles, establishing himself as a leader in both the technical and typographical elements of printing. Pynson was an influential figure in the standardization of the English language. Among his works was This is the boke of Cokery, published “without” the Temple Bar in 1500. It is the earliest known cookbook printed in English. Only one copy of the book is known to survive, in the library of the Marquesse of Bath. The volume includes a variety of recipes, along with detailed summaries of numerous royal feasts.

As was common at the time, the recipes in This is the boke of Cokery are incredibly imprecise, completely lacking both cooking times and ingredient quantities. They obviously weren’t intended to be instructive, but rather to remind more experienced cooks about the ingredients required in different dishes. There were, however, useful tips for readers, such as tips on adjusting meals for Lent and altering techniques for old and new meat. The incorporation of exotic, royal meals brought additional prestige to the book’s owners, who were likely cooks and servants in upscale households.

Committing Cooking Techniques to Print

Bartolomeo Scappi (c1500-c1570) cooked for six popes, and he was employed at the Vatican kitchen at the same time that Michaelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel. His role meant that he was responsible not only for cooking for the pope and other high dignitaries of the Catholic Church, but the he also had to protect these men from assassination attempts via Bartolomeo-Scappipoisoning, a process that he carefully documented. Scappi was cooking during a period of transition in European cookery; new foods were arriving from the Americas, and the classic techniques of the Renaissance had not yet given way to the new style of French cooking that would soon become the norm.

Therefore Scappi’s 1570 Opera de Bartolomeo Scappi, mastro dell-arte del cucinare, divisa en sei libri captures Renaissance cooking at its pinnacle. It was also perhaps the first cookbook that actually described cooking techniques. Scappi explained how to use a weight to keep foods underwater while they were simmering, for example, and reminded cooks to use wooden spoons for preparing gelatin because metal spoons could impart a bitter flavor. Scappi’s masterful work included over 1,000 recipes and food preparation methods, in addition to 28 illustrations. Scappi’s book proved quite popular. The first edition was published in Venice by Michele Tramezzino, who also republished it in 1581. Subsequent editions in 1596, 1598, 1605, 1610, and 1622 were published by Alessandro Vecchi. Combi published editions in 1643 and 1646. A plagiarized Dutch edition even appeared in 1612.

The Founding Father of French Cuisine

François Pierre La Varenne (1615-1678) published what’s now known as the founding text of French cuisine, Le Cuisinier François, in 1651. The leading member of a group of prominent French chefs, La Varenne led the charge in breaking with Italian cooking tradition and redefining French cookery. He and his colleagues eschewed the use of expensive, exotic spices, replacing them with local herbs and spices. They emphasized preserving the flavor of meats and favored fresh, local ingredients. While previous traditions successfully masked the true taste of foods, La Varenne and his contemporaries sought to respect the flavors and appearance of foods. These chefs also introduced a strict separation of salty and sweet foods, along with the practice of serving sweet foods after salty.

La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier François was the first to outline all these innovations in writing–and it introduced a new codification of food preparation. La Varenne included the first recipes for both bisque and béchamel sauce and the first printed recipe for mille-feuille. He also introduced now-common vocabulary such as “bouquet gami” and “fonds de cuisine” (stocks). Le Cuisinier François wasn’t La Varenne’s first book; it was preceded by a book on confiture (jams, jellies, and preserves), which also contains recipes for dishes as diverse as compotes and salads. His third book, Le Pâtissier françois (1653) is generally regarded as the first comprehensive French work on pastry making. All three works weren’t printed as one volume until 1662. Le Cuisinier François went through 30 editions in 75 years. It’s incredibly uncommon to find an early edition because the books were commonly used to the point of falling apart. In 1653, the book was translated into English as The French Cook. It was most probably the first French cookbook translated into English and introduced terms like “à la mode” and “au naturel,” culinary terms that are still used to this day.

Breaking Seventeenth-Century Gender Barriers

Hannah Wooley (sometimes spelled Wolley) (1622-c1675) grew up with a mother and older sisters who were all gifted in “Physick and Chirurgery.” She would learn much from them before taking work as a servant in 1639, probably in the household of Anne, Lady Maynard, where she would learn even more about medicinal recipes and cookery. When she married schoolmaster Jerome Wooley in 1646, she left Lady Maynard’s home and went with him to run a free grammar school in Newport. Here Wooley also put her experience in “physick” into practice. The couple later opened a school in Hackney, London. But in 1661, Wooley found herself a widow and needed a Hannah-Wooleymeans to support herself and her children. So she decided to put her skills to use, publishing books about household management. Wooley’s works covered a wide array of topics, from medicinal advice and culinary recipes, to the etiquette of letter writing and perfume making. Wooley published her first book, The Ladies Directory in 1661 at her own expense. It was reprinted in 1664, the same year that her second book, The Cook’s Guide was published. Both of these were printed at her publisher’s expense, as were her subsequent works, The Queen-Like Closet (1670); The Ladies Delight (1672); and A Supplement to the “Queen-Like Closet,” or, A Little of Everything (1674).

Wooley ingeniously used her books to advertise her expertise and even included advertisements inviting readers to seek her medical counsel in person. In her last book, Wooley also advertises in-home instruction in the domestic arts for four shillings per day. Thanks to the popularity of her books, Wooley managed to establish herself as a successful medical practitioner–even though she had no formal training and the cultural climate wasn’t particularly hospitable for female practitioners. But Wooley’s success also points to an important trend in the world of cookery and cookbooks. According to food historian Sara Pennell, “earlier cookery writers had been gentry or aristocratic experimenters, or members of manuscript coteries with specific intentions, or encyclopaedic hack writers.” Wooley, on the other hand, represented a new breed of “commercial teacher-cooks” who provided face-to-face instruction as a supplement to their printed works.

A Truly Massive Work from the Original Celebrity Chef

Before Julia Child and Emeril, Marie-Antoine Carême (1783-1833) was the original celebrity chef! Often called the father of modern French cuisine, Carême established himself as one of the most prolific food writers of the nineteenth century. Yet his rise to fame as a chef to royalty was hardly a likely one; Carême’s own father kicked him out of the house when he was only ten or eleven years old. In 1972, France was in the middle of the Terror, so it’s quite miraculous that Carême found work at all. He ended up in a kitchen, and five years later he found an apprenticeship at a pâtisserie. At the time, the tradition was to feature elaborate centerpieces, known as pièces montées, during feasts. Carême made quite a name for himself constructing incredibly intricate pièces montées, and soon he was able to open his own shop. He prominently displayed his wares in the window, and they were so impressive that travel guides included his shop on their

An illustration by Careme

tours. Eventually Carême found himself making a wedding cake for Napoleon and his wife Marie Louise. He was a chef for Tallyrand, Czar Alexander I, George IV, and Baron Rothschild.

To expand his skills, Carême studied under chefs of the Old Regime, which gave him the knowledge he needed to orchestrate royal feasts from start to finish. In September 1815, Carême published Le Patissier royal parisien. The book was comprised of two 400-page volumes. In addition to recipes, Carême incorporated stories from his adventures cooking for royalty. He also included something novel: intricate drawings of the dishes, centerpieces, and buffets he created. Carême even went so far as to study under neoclassical architect Charles Percier, to improve his illustration techniques. The recipes and drawings he included weren’t very useful for recreating his masterpieces, but they did enhance his reputation as a famous chef. Carême followed up with an even more ambitious work: L’Art de la Cuisine Français au Dix-Neuvième Siècle (1833-34) was an encyclopedic work of five volumes that gave French chefs a common basic vocabulary for talking about cooking and codified the four main French sauces. Unfortunately Carême would not live to see the book’s completion; after his death, his friend and colleague Armand Plumery finished and published it. 

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