Invention of the Modern Cookbook

Invention of the Modern Cookbook

Invention of the Modern Cookbook

Invention of the Modern Cookbook

Synopsis

Move over Julia Child. Far from being a modern phenomenon, the cult of the celebrity chef actually emerged in the 18th century. The period featured its own celebrity chef feuds, as well as blockbuster cooking texts-offering opinions on everything from slavery to the drawbacks of hiring a foreign chef-that even went through multiple editions.

Excerpt

Like most books that emerge from someone else’s suggestion, this was almost a different book. When Greenwood approached me to write a history of American cooking, I almost agreed. But as I thought about the project and my interest in British cookery, I wondered whether the fit was right. After some back and forth, however, I realized that the pre-history of American cookbooks is totally British and that to understand how the American cookbook developed we must think of it as initially Anglo-American. Once I came to that realization, Invention of the Modern Cookbook became a perfect fit. This book explains what makes a cookbook a cookbook—something that may not always be clear—and traces those qualities back to their British originals.

I have been interested in old cookbooks for more than ten years, ever since I began researching a book about eighteenth-century poverty. That book, Imagining Poverty: Quantification and the Decline of Paternalism (2001), demonstrated that the crisis of the poor in late eighteenth-century Britain was largely a food crisis. When I read cookbooks for the poor, I was sometimes aghast. When I read cookbooks for the rich, I knew that I had to study the whole genre. I spent a year at Cambridge University reading hundreds of texts, an astonishing trove that barely had been touched. I discovered women’s domestic manuscripts—the culinary memory of country houses—and their connection to print just blew me away. I have been writing about cookbooks ever since.

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