A cookbook (sometimes cookery book in Commonwealth English) is a kitchen reference publication that typically contains a collection of recipes. Modern versions may also include colorful illustrations and advice on purchasing quality ingredients or making substitutions. Cookbooks can also cover a wide variety topics, including cooking techniques for the home, recipes and commentary from famous chefs, institutional kitchen manuals, and cultural commentary.
The earliest cookbooks on record seem to be mainly lists of recipes for what would now be called haute cuisine, and were often written primarily to either provide a record of the author's favorite dishes or to train professional cooks for banquets and upper-class, private homes. Many of these cookbooks, therefore, provide only limited sociological or culinary value, as they leave out significant sections of ancient cuisine such as peasant food, breads, and preparations such as vegetable dishes too simple to warrant a recipe.
The earliest collection of recipes that has survived in Europe is De re coquinaria, written in Latin. An early version was first compiled sometime in the 1st century and has often been attributed to the Roman gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, though this has been cast in doubt by modern research. An Apicius came to designate a book of recipes. The current text appears to have been compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century; the first print edition is from 1483. It records a mix of ancient Greek and Roman cuisine, but with few details on preparation and cooking.
An abbreviated epitome entitled Apici Excerpta a Vinidario, a "pocket Apicius" by Vinidarius, "an illustrious man", was made in the Carolingian era. In spite of its late date it represents the last manifestation of the cuisine of Antiquity.
Chinese recipe books are known from the Tang Dynasty, but most were lost. One of the earliest surviving Chinese-language cookbooks is Hu Sihui's "Yinshan Zhengyao" (Important Principles of Food and Drink), believed to be from 1330. Hu Sihui, Buyantu Khan's dietitian and therapist, recorded a Chinese-inflected Central Asian cuisine as eaten by the Yuan court; his recipes were adapted from foods eaten all over the Mongol Empire.
After a long interval, the first recipe books to be compiled in Europe since Late Antiquity started to appear in the late thirteenth century. About a hundred are known to have survived, some fragmentary, from the age before printing. The earliest genuinely medieval recipes have been found in a Danish manuscript dating from around 1300, which in turn are copies of older texts that date back to the early 13th century or perhaps earlier.
Low and High German manuscripts are among the most numerous. Among them is Daz buch von guter spise ("The Book of Good Food") written c. 1350 in Würzberg and Kuchenmeysterey ("Kitchen Mastery"), the first printed German cook book from 1485. Two French collections are probably the most famous: Le Viandier ("The Provisioner") was compiled in the late 14th century by Guillaume Tirel, master chef for two French kings; and Le Menagier de Paris ("The Householder of Paris"), a household book written by an anonymous middle class Parisian in the 1390s.
From Southern Europe there is the 14th century Valencian manuscript Llibre de Sent Soví(1324), the Catalan Llibre de totes maneres de potatges de menjar ("The book of all recipes of dishes) and several Italian collections, notably the Venetian mid-14th century Libro per Cuoco, with its 135 recipes alphabetically arranged. The printed De honesta voluptate ("On honourable pleasure"), first published in 1475, is one of the first cookbooks based on Renaissance ideals, and, though it is as much a series of moral essays as a cookbook, has been described as "the anthology that closed the book on medieval Italian cooking".
With the advent of the printing press in the 16th and 17th centuries, numerous books were written on how to manage households and prepare food. In Holland and England competition grew between the noble families as to who could prepare the most lavish banquet. By the 1660s, cookery had progressed to an art form and good cooks were in demand. Many of them published their own books detailing their recipes in competition with their rivals. Many of these books have now been translated and are available online.
By the 19th century, the Victorian preoccupation for domestic respectability brought about the emergence of cookery writing in its modern form. Although eclipsed in fame and regard by Isabella Beeton, the first modern cookery writer and compiler of recipes for the home was Eliza Acton. Her pioneering cookbook, Modern Cookery for Private Families published in 1845, was aimed at the domestic reader rather than the professional cook or chef. This was an immensely influential book, and it established the format for modern writing about cookery.
The publication introduced the now-universal practice of listing the ingredients and suggested cooking times with each recipe. It included the first recipe for Brussels sprouts. Contemporary chef Delia Smith is quoted as having called Acton "the best writer of recipes in the English language." Modern Cookery long survived her, remaining in print until 1914 and available more recently in facsimile reprint.
Of the 1,112 pages, over 900 contained recipes, such that another popular name for the volume is Mrs Beeton's Cookbook. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings, and it was the first book to show recipes in a format that is still used today. It is said that many of the recipes were actually plagiarised from earlier writers (including Eliza Acton), but the Beetons never claimed that the book's contents were original.
It was intended as a guide of reliable information for the aspirant middle classes. Mrs Beeton is perhaps described better as its compiler and editor than as its author, many of the passages clearly being not her own words.
Types of cookbooks
Cookbooks that serve as basic kitchen references (sometimes known as "kitchen bibles") began to appear in the early modern period. They provided not just recipes but overall instruction for both kitchen technique and household management. Such books were written primarily for housewives and occasionally domestic servants as opposed to professional cooks, and at times books such as The Joy of Cooking (USA), La bonne cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange (France), The Art of Cookery (UK, USA), Il cucchiaio d'argento (Italy), and A Gift to Young Housewives (Russia) have served as references of record for national cuisines. Related to this class are instructional cookbooks, which combine recipes with in-depth, step-by-step recipes to teach beginning cooks basic concepts and techniques. In vernacular literature, people may collect traditional recipes in family cookbooks.
International and ethnic cookbooks fall into two categories: the kitchen references of other cultures, translated into other languages; and books translating the recipes of another culture into the languages, techniques, and ingredients of a new audience. The latter style often doubles as a sort of culinary travelogue, giving background and context to a recipe that the first type of book would assume its audience is already familiar with.
Professional cookbooks are designed for the use of working chefs and culinary students and sometimes double as textbooks for culinary schools. Such books deal not only in recipes and techniques, but often service and kitchen workflow matters. Many such books deal in substantially larger quantities than home cookbooks, such as making sauces by the liter or preparing dishes for large numbers of people in a catering setting. While the most famous of such books today are books like Le guide culinaire by Escoffier or The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America, such books go at least back to medieval times, represented then by works such as Taillevent's Viandier and Chiquart d'Amiço's Du fait de cuisine.
Single-subject books, usually dealing with a specific ingredient, technique, or class of dishes, are quite common as well; indeed, some imprints such as Chronicle Books have specialized in this sort of book, with books on dishes like curries, pizza, and simplified ethnic food. Popular subjects for narrow-subject books on technique include grilling/barbecue, baking, outdoor cooking, and even recipe cloning.
Community cookbooks (also known as compiled, regional, charitable, and fund-raising cookbooks) are a unique genre of culinary literature. Community cookbooks focus on home cooking, often documenting regional, ethnic, family, and societal traditions, as well as local history. Gooseberry Patch has been publishing community-style cookbooks since 1992 and built their brand on this community.
Cookbooks can also document the food of a specific chef (particularly in conjunction with a cooking show) or restaurant. Many of these books, particularly those written by or for a well-established cook with a long-running TV show or popular restaurant, become part of extended series of books that can be released over the course of many years. Popular chef-authors throughout history include people such as Julia Child, James Beard, Nigella Lawson, Edouard de Pomiane, Jeff Smith, Emeril Lagasse, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Katsuyo Kobayashi, and possibly even Apicius, the semi-pseudonymous author of the Roman cookbook De re coquinaria, who shared a name with at least one other famous food figure of the ancient world.
While western cookbooks usually group recipes for main courses by the main ingredient of the dishes, Japanese cookbooks usually group them by cooking techniques (e.g., fried foods, steamed foods, and grilled foods). Both styles of cookbook have additional recipe groupings such as soups or sweets.
Famous cookbooks from the past, in chronological order, include:
- De re coquinaria (The Art of Cooking) (late 4th / early 5th century) by Apicius
- Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes) (10th century) by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq
- Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes) (1226) by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi
- Liber de Coquina (The Book of Cookery) (late 13th / early 14th century) by two unknown authors from France and Italy
- Forme of Cury (14th century) by the Master Cooks of King Richard II of England
- Viandier (14th century) by Guillaume Tirel alias Taillevent
- De honesta voluptate et valetudine (1475) by Bartolomeo Platina - the first cookbook printed in a native language (Italian) in 1487
- Arte de Cocina, Pastelaria, Vizcocheria e Conservaria by Francisco Martinez Montiño - palace cook of King Philip II of Spain (1680).
- The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Knight Opened by Kenelm Digby (1669)
- Arte de Cozinha by Domingos Rodrigues - the first cookbook printed in Portuguese (1680)
- The Compleat Housewife (first American edition 1742) by Eliza Smith
- The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747) by Hannah Glasse
- Hjelpreda I Hushållningen För Unga Fruentimber (1755) by Cajsa Warg
- Le Cuisinier Royal (1817) by Alexandre Viard
- Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) by Eliza Acton
- El Cocinero Puerto - Riqueño 1859 (author unknown)
- Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861) by Mrs Beeton
- Подарок молодым хозяйкам, A Gift to Young Housewives (first Russian edition 1861) by Elena Molokhovets
- La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene (1891) by Pellegrino Artusi
- The Epicurean (1894) by Charles Ranhofer
- The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896) by Fannie Merritt Farmer
- The Settlement Cook Book (1901) and 34 subsequent editions by Lizzie Black Kander
- The Cook's Decameron: A Study In Taste, Containing Over Two Hundred Recipes For Italian Dishes (1901) by Mrs. W.G. Waters
- Various cookbooks (between 1903 and 1934) by Auguste Escoffier
- The Joy of Cooking (1931) by Irma Rombauer
- Larousse Gastronomique (1938)
- Книга о вкусной и здоровой пище, The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food (first Soviet edition 1939) by the Institute of Nutrition, USSR; English translation by Boris Ushumirskiy, SkyPeak Publishing, 2012
- The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954) by Alice B. Toklas
- Cooking with the Chinese Flavor (1956) and subsequent books by Lin Tsuifeng ("Mrs. Lin Yutang")
- Mrs Balbir Singh's Indian Cookery (1961) by Mrs Balbir Singh
- Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) by Julia Child
- Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook (1969) by Helen Gurley Brown
- The Fanny and Johnnie Cradock Cookery Programme (1970) by Fanny and Johnnie Cradock
- Diet for a Small Planet (1971) by Frances Moore Lappé
- The Complete International Jewish Cookbook (1976) by Evelyn Rose
- Moosewood Cookbook (1978) by Mollie Katzen
Several libraries have extensive collections of cookbooks.
- Harvard's Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America has a collection of 20,000 cookbooks and other books on food, including the earliest American cookbook, and the personal collections and papers of Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, and the authors of The Joy of Cooking.
- New York University's Fales Library includes a Food and Cookery Collection of over 15,000 books, including the personal libraries of James Beard, Cecily Brownstone, and Dalia Carmel.
Usage outside the world of food
The term cookbook is sometimes used metaphorically to refer to any book containing a straightforward set of already tried and tested "recipes" or instructions for a specific field or activity, presented in detail so that the users who are not necessarily expert in the field can produce workable results. Examples include a set of circuit designs in electronics, a book of magic spells, or The Anarchist Cookbook, a set of instructions on destruction and living outside the law. O'Reilly Media publishes a series of books about computer programming named the Cookbook series, and each of these books contain hundreds of ready to use, cut and paste examples to solve a specific problem in a single programming language.
- Melitta Weiss Adamson, "The Greco-Roman World" in Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe, p. 6–7; Simon Varey, "Medieval and Renaissance Italy, A. The Peninsula" in Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe, pp. 85–86.
- About Vinidarius himself nothing is known; he may have been a Goth, in which case his Gothic name may have been Vinithaharjis.
- Christopher Grocock and Sally Grainger, Apicius. A critical edition with an introduction and an English translation (Prospect Books) 2006 ISBN 1-903018-13-7, pp. 309-325
- Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. cookbook full text
- Hu Sihui, Paul D. Buell, Eugene N. Anderson, tr., A Soup for the Qan: Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era as Seen in Hu Szu-Hui's Yin-Shan Cheng-Yao: Introduction, Translation, Commentary and Chinese Text (London; New York: Kegan Paul International, 2000. ISBN 0710305834), p. 1-8.
- John Dickie, Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food 2008, pp50f.
- Constance B. Hieatt, "Sorting Through the Titles of Medieval Dishes: What Is, or Is Not, a 'Blanc Manger'" in Food in the Middle Ages, pp. 32–33.
- Melitta Weiss Adamson, "The Greco-Roman World" in Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe, p. 161, 182–83
- Adamson (2004), pp. 103, 107.
- Text printed in E. Faccioli, ed. Arte della cucina dal XIV al XIX secolo (Milan, 1966) vol. I, pp.61-105, analysed by John Dickie 2008, pp 50ff.
- Simon Varey, "Medieval and Renaissance Italy, A. The Peninsula" in Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe, p. 92.
- Constance B. Hieatt, "Medieval Britain" in Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe, p. 25.
- Sieben, Ria Jansen (1588). Een notable boecxtken van cokeryen.
- anon (1588). The good Huswifes handmaid for Cookerie.
- May, Robert (1685). The accomplifht Cook.
- Judy Gerjuoy. "Medieval Cookbooks". Retrieved 2007-06-15.
- Pearce, Food For Thought: Extraordinary Little Chronicles of the World, (2004) pg 144
- "Acton, Eliza (1799–1859)". Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Gale Research Inc. Retrieved 8 January 2013.(subscription required)
- General Observations on the Common Hog
- Food in season in April 1861
- Cunningham, Marion (1979). The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (revised). Bantam Books, New York. ISBN 0-553-56881-7.
- Bowers, Anne (1997). Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-1-55849-089-5.
- Heather Atwood, "Harvard's Cookbooks Speak of Our History", Gloucester Times, August 8, 2012 full text
- "Fales Library Food and Cookery Collection Development Policy" 
- Adamson, Melitta Weiss Food in Medieval Times. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 2004. ISBN 0-313-32147-7
- Food in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays. Melitta Weiss Adamson (editor). Garland, New York. 1995. ISBN 0-8153-1345-4
- Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe: A Book of Essays. edited by Melitta Weiss Adamson (editor). Routledge, New York. 2002. ISBN 0-415-92994-6
- What’s the Recipe? - Our hunger for cookbooks., Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 2009.
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- Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive
- Healthy Recipes by Chef Sarah Knecht's Cookbook
- The Food and Cookery Collection of the Fales Library at NYU
- Books for Cooks - a learning resource on the history of cookery books from the British Library
- Feeding America at Michigan State University Digital Library—a collection of influential early American cookbooks, including a large number of books specializing in immigrant cuisine
- Home Economics (including cookbooks) at Project Gutenberg
- Menus and Cookbooks at The New York Public Library