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What’s the Difference Between a Recipe and a Receipt?

Today, the words “recipe” and “receipt” have clear, separate meanings: the former refers to a list of ingredients and directions for preparing a specific dish, while the latter is a paper record of a transaction. But the words haven’t always had those meanings. If you collect rare and antiquarian cookbooks, you’ve undoubtedly encountered both “receipt” and “recipe” in different contexts.

Shared Etymology

The Latin word “recipere,” from which both words are derived, means “to receive” or “to take.” Each is simply a different form of the word. Both forms were first used in the fourteenth century. Chaucer was the first to use “receipt” in Canterbury Tales around 1386. “Recipe” first appeared in Lanfranc’s Cirurg, published circa 1400 (“cirurg” is a variant of “surgery,” so this was a medical book).

In both instances, the words refer not to food, but to medicine. Indeed, the first receipts were prescriptions for medicinal preparations. They would list ingredients, quantities, and the proper way to mix the ingredients. Most receipts started with “recipe,” which is the imperative form of “recipere,” as in “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” It was often abbreviated to an “R” with a bar drawn through the leg, which gives us the Rx symbol still often found on modern prescriptions.

Overlap of Medicine and Cookery

Medicine and cookery have long intersected; after all,remedies and meals were made with the same ingredients. Thus the transition from receipts for medicine to receipts for cooking was a logical one. Nevertheless, they weren’t used in the context of cookery until the eighteenth century. The first citation for “receipt” in relation to cooking was in 1716, and recipe followed soon after.

Initially, “receipt” was the preferred term, but it’s now considered defunct in terms of its original meaning. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, it was still used in the US into the 1960’s, and in Words, Wit, and Wisdom (1970), authors William and Mary Morris note that “receipt” was still used in some parts of the Northeastern US a decade later. Now the word is most commonly used deliberately, to evoke bygone days. For instance, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Patterson used “receipt” on their British cooking show “Two Fat Ladies” in the late 1990’s. 

A Selection of “Receipt Books”

The English Art of Cookery According to the Preset Practice

Briggs_English_Art_CookeryOne of the foremost cookbooks of the Regency era, The English Art of Cookery According to the Preset Practice was written by Richard Briggs. He was a cook at the Globe and White Hart Taverns. Briggs claims to offer “Directions and Receipts more intelligible than in most Books of the Kind.”

The book includes twelve engraved plates: a bill of fare for each month of the year. It’s also incredibly comprehensive, with chapters on everything from Marketing, Trussing, and Candying, to Drying, Salting, and Sousing. There are also “Directions to Seafaring Men.” This is the second edition. Details>>

English Housewifery

Moxon_English_CookeryElizabeth Moxon’s English Housewifery includes about 450 recipes for a wide variety of dishes. It also presents a bill of fare for each month of the year. Moxon calls the volume “A Book necessary for Mistresses of Families, higher and lower Women Servants and confined to Things Useful, Substantial and Splendid, and calculated for the Preservation of Health, and upon the Measures of Frugality, being the Result of Thirty Years Practice and Experience.” This copy of the twelfth edition, published in 1795, has been expertly rebound in banded, brown three quarter calf. Details>>

Five Thousand Receipts in All the Useful and Domestic Arts

Mackenzie_Five_Thousand_ReceiptsIf you’ve ever contemplated living off the grid, Colin Mackenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts in All the Useful and Domestic Arts is the guide for you. From brewing and distilling to making any kind of paint, this book has chapters on virtually any domestic task. It also includes ample directions for cookery, medicine, and even husbandry. This volume is in its original brown leather with red leather title. Details>>

When Mother Lets Us Cook

Johnson_When_Mother_Lets_Us_CookConstance Johnson’s When Mother Lets Us Cook (1910) is “A book of simple receipts for little folk with important cooking rules in rhyme together with handy lists of the materials and utensils needed for the preparation of each dish.” It’s profusely illustrated, as one would hope from a children’s book. This copy bears the original owner’s inscription and handwritten recipes in the rear, with some annotations on the interior. Details>>

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One comment on “What’s the Difference Between a Recipe and a Receipt?

  1. Pingback: What is a recipe, anyway? + A Giveaway! | Blossom to Stem

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2014 by in Collecting Cookbooks, Holidays and tagged , , , .
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