Henry Notaker. Printed Cookbooks in Europe, 1470-1700: A Bibliography of Early Modern Culinary Literature

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Henry Notaker. Printed Cookbooks in Europe, 1470-1700: A Bibliography of Early Modern Culinary Literature. Houten, the Netherlands: HES & de Graaf; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2010. 416 pp.; US $125.00 ISBN 9781584562535

It was with trepidation that I agreed to review (sight unseen) this bibliography, which covers the first 230 years of printed cookbooks in Europe, in 14 languages. Although I have compiled two cookbook bibliographies, my expertise is in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British and Canadian cookbooks, and language barriers have limited my primary research to culinary texts in English and French. How would I be able to evaluate entries for cookbooks written in other languages, ranging from Catalan, Czech, Danish, and Dutch to German, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish? There was no need to worry. Indeed, Henry Notaker has produced a bibliography that is accessible and illuminating for scholars of bibliography and newcomers to food history alike.

In the preface, Notaker expresses the hope that the bibliography "with its overview and commentaries will be a useful help for students of culinary literature as a source for the development of cuisine and food culture," and that it will also be of interest to "book and literary historians ... turning their attention to different forms of non-fiction that have not been properly studied until now," and to collectors interested in rare items. He has accomplished much more by demonstrating how the practice of bibliography can bring order and understanding to a subject area, as the bibliographer decides what books to include, how to organize the material, the degree of physical description, and the depth and scope of commentary. Notaker's subject is challenging--early modern culinary literature, comprising over 100 titles in at least 650 editions, in multiple languages, and printed within shifting political boundaries--yet he makes the material approachable, even for non-specialists.

Notaker organizes the entries by language, rather than by place of publication, since national borders changed over time and sometimes also the language of cities (e.g., Strasbourg). Within each language group, the entries are arranged chronologically. A fundamental question of culinary history is the transmission and evolution of recipes. Cookbooks are important vehicles for sharing recipes and culinary practice more generally, and the translation of a text into another language may be a significant point of change in a recipe and signals the dissemination of the recipe collection to a new population. Choosing language as the organizing principle for the entries emphasizes the dynamics of recipe exchange, and Notaker's comments lead one easily from the original edition to later editions in other languages. In fact, the act of navigating from one language chapter to another reinforces the sense of recipes "travelling" to, or from, another culture. The Secrets by Alessio Piemontese (London, 1558; No. 503), for example, is identified as a translation by William Warde from the French edition, Les secrets (Antwerp, 1557; No. 609), itself a translation of the original Italian edition, Secreti (Venice, 1555; No. 907), from which the reader is directed to editions in all languages, including German, Latin, Dutch, and Spanish. The organization by language also emphasizes the strength of cookbook publishing in English (78 titles) in contrast to German (56), French (36), halian (20), or Portuguese (1).

Notaker's entries contain all the information necessary to distinguish editions (and to correct mistakes in previous documents): full title, imprint, colophon, description (formar, size, pagination, signatures, number of lines per page, typeface, running-title, illustrations), references, locations, and commentary. In judging the level of detail of the material description, he has kept his focus "on the overview, the long lines, the completeness of titles and editions, and on the literary and culinary background," and this is the strength of the bibliography for the food historian. …