Treasure your old cookbooks

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on May 11, 2011 - 05:04 PM

Photo: Hand-written recipes in ledger books and notebooks, on scrap pieces of paper or whatever was handy are treasured records of this country’s culinary traditions.

Hand-written recipes in ledger books and notebooks, on scrap pieces of paper or whatever was handy are treasured records of this country’s culinary traditions.

Photo:
Just about every home of today has at least one cookbook and the majority has many more, some numbering into the hundreds. Collecting cookbooks is a hobby with many who consider reading a cookbook better than reading a novel. From new cookbooks we learn what culinary trends are in vogue. From the old cookbooks we learn about kitchens of the past and how dishes were prepared without electricity, freezers, microwaves, and all the cooking equipment available on the modern market that perhaps helps make cooking easier but maybe not as inventive.

The definition of cookbook reads: "a collection of recipes, instructions and information about the preparation and serving of food." At its best, a cookbook is also a chronicle and treasury of the fine art of cooking, an art whose masterpieces, created to be consumed, would otherwise be lost. But let us not forget the collection of recipes, hand-written, clipped or copied, the ones you find stuffed in boxes or pasted in binders. They are books within themselves, books with many authors and are real treasures. These recipe collections are usually those that have been passed from generation to generation; reading them brings many moments of nostalgia.

A clay tablet from Babylon, dating to c. 1500 B.C., contains recipes for some elegant meals. An apietus came to designate a book of recipes. The current text appears to have been compiled in the 4th century. The first printed edition is from 1483. Over the years, other countries have records of books of recipes but few contain details on preparation and cooking. In the 15th century, the printing press revolutionized the culinary arts by making cookbooks widely available.