The British Library holds many manuscripts that offer insights into the practice of cookery and culinary tastes during the 17th century.
About the collection
The British Library holds many manuscripts that offer insights into the practice of cookery and culinary tastes during the 17th century. The printed cookery books of the period have recorded some of the era’s culinary traditions, but unpublished manuscripts collected from the same time offer insights into the personal recipes, tastes and habits of specific families and households. These manuscripts were most often produced informally, for domestic use, and so are often unattributed and written in multiple hands.
The Sloane manuscript collections hold thousands of recipes that Sir Hans Sloane collected as a physician. The relationship between diet, health, food and medicine was very close in the 17th century and many medicinal and cookery recipes (or receipts as they were known before the 18th century) have been preserved side-by-side in the manuscripts. In amongst these manuscripts are the recipes of Margaret Crux, John Hobart, Elizabeth Beere, Hugo Vaugen, Anthony Lewes, Samuel Bellingham, and many more by unnamed authors.
Many culinary manuscripts have been preserved through the papers of royal and aristocratic households. Household accounts often include kitchen expenditure, offering insights into the cost of ingredients, the quantities bought and culinary fashions that were followed by prominent families. An example of this can be seen in food expenses and bills of fare belonging to Lady Jane Townshend. Some manuscript recipe books have also been preserved within these family collections, for example those of Anne Glydd and Elizabeth Brockman in the Brockman Papers; and multiple family recipe books within the Evelyn Papers.
Other stand-alone manuscript recipe books are found outside of collected family papers. Manuscript recipe books were often kept by prominent women within the household who would have had oversight of the kitchens. Examples include the recipe books of Mary Glover, Dorothy Washbourne, Mary Birkhead, Mary Doggett, Mary Dacres and Lady Harley.
- An account of food served to Queen Elizabeth I (dated 16th - 17th century)
- Queen Anne of Denmark's household food accounts
- Bills of fare of the Royal Household of James I
- Richard Bower's recipe for making coffee and chocolate
- Recipe to preserve beef at sea, in the hand of Sir Walter Raleigh
- Early 17th century recipe book with directions for serving dinners
- Mary Evelyn's instructions on keeping a house, and her bills of fare
- Diaries and recipes of Elizabeth Freke, in the Freke Papers.
What is available online?
The Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue contains catalogue entries for 17th century culinary manuscripts.
Some 17th century recipes and household accounts are available online with Adam Matthew's Perdita Project, which holds digitised manuscripts of early modern women. This is available to access for free in the British Library reading rooms.
Information on food in the 17th century is available via the BL learning website’s pages on Books for Cooks.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
17th century culinary manuscripts can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Use our online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts, to find and request this material. Recipes can be located by using the advanced search, entering a preferred start and end date, and then searching with terms like, ‘cookery receipt’, ‘culinary receipt’ or ‘recipe book’ in the search bar.
Please contact the Manuscripts Reference Team for information about accessing restricted items.
What is available in other organisations?
- The Wellcome Collection holds a collection of domestic medicinal and culinary recipe manuscripts dating from the 16th - 19th centuries. Many of these are available to view online
- Leeds University Library holds many cookery manuscripts in its expansive Cookery Collection
- The National Library of Scotland holds manuscript recipe books from the 17th century and many of them are available online
- The Folger Shakespeare Library holds many early modern English manuscript recipe books. The Folder Library also hosts the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC)
Preserving on Paper: Seventeenth Century English Women’s Receipt Books by Kristine Kowalchuk (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017)