Books for Cooks


This unique collection of cookery books will transport you back in time. It will take you to medieval banqueting tables laden with peacocks and pastry ships; to the medicine cabinets of noblewomen; and to royal picnics in the jungle. It will show you how the poor were encouraged to re-use coffee grounds in Victorian London, and how a rationed population attempted to stay healthy during World War 2. You will find recipes for puddings and roasts, for beauty treatments and bed bug repellents, for pies made with live birds and frogs, and for dishes spiced with ingredients as valuable as jewels.


Use the navigation on the right to find digitised pages from the original cookery books, as well as background information on English food through the centuries.


The project includes extracts from 17 texts, beginning with The Forme of Cury, written by Richard II's master-cook (one of the oldest known English cookery manuscripts), and ending in 1940 with some down-to-earth advice and instruction for wartime cooking from the Association of Teachers of Domestic Subjects.

By exploring these pages you will get a taste of the traditional link between medicine and cookery; discover how coffins came in handy in the kitchen; learn that 'celebrity chefs' appeared long before television; and see what an artistic diner in the 1920s made of working class teas. You will also see how for centuries, English cuisine has been influenced by 'foreign' flavours - and how the English have reacted to this with a mixture of greedy pleasure and xenophobia.


Questions to ask

The books provoke all sorts of questions. Who wrote these books? Who were they writing for? Who bought the books? Who actually read and used them? Did they really have toasties at the court of Richard II? Were they making tortellini in England in 1660? The books should give a sense of the way food has for so long been used to define class - much of this food would only ever have been tasted by the wealthy few. The books also illustrate vividly how social, economic, technological and cultural factors fuel language use and development. And they suggest how tastes, fashions, and ideas of social status were shaped, developed and maintained.