HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Very old cookbooks and cookbooks of very old recipes.

I want to make some recipes from time past and am soliciting advice on each of the following:

American Colonial -- pre revolution
Italy prior to the introduction of tomatoes
Pre-Renaissance England and continental Europe
fermented anything (beer, wine, meads, exotic fermentations, etc.) prior to 1850 anywhere in the world.

Do you have recommendations for period cookbooks or for more current cookbooks or websites that have authentic recipes from the relevant places and times?

My contribution for the curious: The gentleman who runs Indiacurry.com (http://www.indiacurry.com/historicalr...) has translated some Indian recipes from the mid to late 1500's as found in an emperor's house papers. He has also interpreted some of them.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. FoodTimeLine is a good starting place.

    Recipewise is a good source on British recipes going back to Medieval days. They used to be 'Historical Foods', but now most of their recipes are behind a paywall.

    1. Lorna Sass (better known for her pressure-cooker cookbooks) has written a couple of books updating British recipes from the medieval and Elizabethan periods:

      1. "To the King's Taste": http://www.amazon.com/To-Kings-Taste-...

      2. "To the Queen's Taste": http://www.amazon.com/Queens-Elizabet...

      Both are out of print but can be found used through Amazon, Alibris, etc.

      There's also this website, with recipes from England, France, Germany, and Italy: http://medievalcookery.com/recipes/

      1. Apicius seems to fit. There's a (brief) recipe on the wikipedia page with links to primary and secondary sources.

        You also ought to check http://culinaryhistory.org/

        1 Reply
        1. re: pinehurst

          I've looked through Apicus in the library and it is amazing how similar some techniques are between 2000 years ago and today.

          @castorpman on Twitter

        2. Try Project Gutenberg and Google Books -- both sources are free and have really interesting titles. I'm pretty sure I've seen books pre-1850 on both sites.

          1 Reply
          1. re: TerriL

            You can get "The Forme of Cury", a 14th century British cookbook on free book sites. I've cooked some recipes from it, but it did require some interpretation, and an on-line dictionary of medieval cooking terms. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious some of the dishes turned out.

          2. Wow, thanks! Just the five of you are going to keep me busy for a good long time.

            1. I'll suggest "The Original White House Cookbook" (1983 Devin Adair) from 1887, the recipes don't have earlier dates given however.

              @castorpman on Twitter

              1. I have a cookbook titled "Fabulous Feasts - Medieval Cookery and Ceremony" by Madeleine Pelner Cosman. There are a number of recipes, but she doesn't always list the original source. Below are a few interesting recipes mention in the book for which I was able to find similar links on the web......

                This site for Medieval recipes kept coming up during my searches. You may find it interesting...

                Ypocras (a spiced red wine

                Floteres (salmon dumplings

                Mawmenye (Lentils and Lamb

                Puddyng of purpaysse (Oat-stuffed Pike

                Stumbled across this site while searching for another recipe. Cool stuff....

                1. Another source: Supersizers Go ...

                  Cooking Channel showed those episodes recently, and I believe longer versions are available on Youtube. They are not a primary source, but still it's an entertaining way of getting an overview of British eating from Roman days on.

                  1. You may enjoy the work of food historian Karen Hess. The one book of hers I have is "Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats", which is a collection of hundreds of recipes used by Martha Washington, though most are even older than that. They are reprinted verbatim, with inconsistent spellings and everything, and then annotated by Karen Hess, explaining things for the modern reader. I very much appreciate that. One of the things that drives me crazy about books that present vintage dishes is when they are redone for modern tastes and kitchens, because that kind of defeats the point of seeking out vintage recipes in the first place. I've never cooked anything from this book, but I have found it fascinating and education to read.

                    Also, Applewood Books is a publisher that, among other things, produces reprints of antique cookbooks.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: weem

                      "One of the things that drives me crazy about books that present vintage dishes is when they are redone for modern tastes and kitchens, because that kind of defeats the point of seeking out vintage recipes in the first place."

                      What is the point seeking vintage recipes? Just entertaining reading, or reproducing the recipes in your kitchen? I agree that adaptations can go too far, but from what I've seen of many vintage recipes they do need some sort interpretation by someone with more knowledge that I. For one thing quantities (especially volume measures) are often missing. Or the measures are unfamiliar. They can also call for ingredients that aren't available now. The best sources give both the original and an adaptation.

                      I like this presentation of Frumenty
                      with a recipe using modern measures, along with old sources, some easier to understand than others.
                      "Source [Le Viandier de Taillevent, J. Prescott (trans.)]: Frumenty. Take wheat, prepare it, wash it very well, and cook it in water. When it is cooked, drain it. Take cow's milk boiled for an instant, add the wheat, and boil it for an instant. Move it to the back of the fire, stir often, and thread in plenty of egg yolks. Some add spices, saffron and venison stock. It should be yellowish and well thickened."

                      1. re: paulj

                        Paulj, good question. Sorry, I should have been clearer.

                        While I sometimes try to recreate vintage dishes in the kitchen, I primarily read vintage cookbooks for the same reasons I read history books. I love to learn how other people lived their lives, and I believe that reading about the how/what/why of what they ate is a good window into that knowledge. (I feel the same is true when learning about modern but foreign cultures.) A vintage cookbook will as likely be found in my bedside reading pile as in my kitchen.

                        I completely agree with you that the best sources give both the original and an adaptation (or sufficient annotations, as in the Karen Hess book I mentioned). If a vintage recipe says to "prepare in the usual way", or to add "some spices", or to "cook until done", I will likely be at a loss. I'm not a good enough cook to be able to figure such things out. So I love it when annotations or adaptations explain things like measurements or techniques or unusual ingredients that aren't specified in the original, so that I can put it in the context of our modern cuisines, and can even try it if I want to. But what I don't like is when the adaptation is presented instead of the original. I like to know what the cooks of old were up against, and how they got their food on the table. I especially hate it when adaptations are written "to reflect how we eat today", when I look for old recipes to see how they ate then. (If you are adapting a vintage recipe for me, please don't assume that I want it to be "lighter" or "healthier", that I won't be able to source essential ingredients, that I'm automatically going to be repulsed by things like aspics, etc.)

                        Frumenty sounds like some hearty comfort food for a winter's day. :-)

                      1. Here are some Colonial recipes from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, published in 1747.

                        Ham and Egg Pudding (A Spring Dish)
                        Take some slices of boiled ham (both fat and lean) and sprinkle with pepper, lay them across a deep dish that has been buttered. Make a pudding batter of six eggs beaten very light, a light pint of flour, a pint of milk, a small piece of butter, and salt and pepper to the taste. Pour this pudding batter over the ham and bake quickly. (By quickly they mean a 375 to 400 degree oven.) Cook until it’s risen high and brown.

                        To make a pretty dish of a Breast of Venison (We really liked this one!)
                        Take half a pound of butter, flour your venison, and fry it of a fine brown on both sides; then take it up, and keep it hot covered in the dish: take some flour and stir it in to the butter till it is quite thick and brown (but take great care it don’t burn). Stir in half a pound of lump sugar beat fine, and pour in as much red wine as will make it of the thickness of a ragoo; squeeze in the juice of a lemon, give it a boil up, and pour it over the venison. Don’t garnish your dish, but send it to table.
                        (The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy, 1983)

                        Stewed Pease and Lettice
                        Substitute the stock of your choice for the gravy. We had to add more than what the recipe called for in order for the dried peas to soften. For the sweet herbs or bouquet garni, we at the farm use; rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram and savory.

                        Take a quart of green pease, two nice lettices clean, washed, and picked, cut them small across, put all into a saucepan, with a quarter pound butter, pepper and salt to your palate, cover them close and let them stew softly, shaking the pan often. Let them stew 10 minutes, then shake in a little flour, toss them around, pour in half a pint of good gravy; put in a little bundle of sweet herbs, and an onion, with three cloves and a blade of mace stuck in it. Cover it close and let them stew a quarter of an hour; then take out the sweet herbs and onion and turn it all into a dish. If you find the sauce not thick enough, shake in a little more flour and let it simmer, then take it up.

                        An Onion Soup (She isn’t kidding at the end–it was delicious!)
                        Take half a pound of butter, put it into a stew-pan on the fire, let it all melt, and boil till it has done making any noise; then have ready ten or a dozen middling onions peeled, and cut small, throw them into the butter, and let them fry a quarter of an hour; then shake in a little flour, and sift them round; shake your pan, and let them do a few minutes longer, then pour in a quart or three pints of boiling water, stir them round, take a good piece of upper-crust, the stalest bread you have, about as big as the top of a penny-loaf cut small, and throw it in; season with salt to your palate; let it boil ten minutes, stirring it often; then take it off the fire, and have ready the yolks of two eggs beat fine, with half a spoonful of vinegar; mix some of the soup with them, then stir it into your soup, and mix well, and pour it into your dish. This is a delicious dish.
                        (The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy, 1983)

                        Baked Indian Meal Pudding
                        Boil one quart of milk, mix it in two gills and a half of corn meal very smoothly, seven eggs well beaten, a gill of molasses, and a good piece of butter; bake it two hours.
                        (Colonial Virginia Cookery, 1985)

                        One quart = 4 cups
                        Two gills and a half = one and a quarter cup
                        One gill = one half cup

                        Some modern adaptations say 2 hours in a 250 degree oven. Some say 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Both worked fine.

                        Asparagus Forced in French Roll
                        Take three French rolls, take out all the crumb, by first cutting a piece of the top-crust off; but be careful that the crust fits again the same place. Fry the rolls brown with fresh butter, then take a pint of cream, the yolk of six eggs beat fine, a little salt and nutmeg, stir them well together over a slow fire, till it begins to thick. Have ready a hundred of small grass boiled, then save tops before you fry the rolls, make holes thick in the top-crust to stick the grass in; then lay on the piece of crust, and stick the grass in, that it may look as if it was growing. It makes a pretty side dish at a second course.
                        (The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy. 1983)

                        To Butter Crabs (The BEST!!)
                        Take two crabs, or lobsters, being boiled, and cold, take all the meat out of the shells and bodies, mince it small, and put it all together into a sauce pan; add to it a glass of white wine, two spoonfuls of vinegar, a nutmeg grated, then let it boil up till it is thorough hot; then have ready half a pound of fresh butter, melted with an anchovy, and the yolks of two eggs beat up and mixed with the butter; then mix crab and butter all together, shaking the sauce pan constantly round till it is quite hot; then have ready the great shell, either of the crab or lobster, lay it in the middle of your dish, pour some into the shell, and the rest in little saucers round the shell, sticking three corner toasts between the saucers, and round the shell. This is a fine side dish at a second course.
                        (The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy, 1983)

                        To Make Collups of Oysters:
                        Put your oysters in to scallop shells for that purpose, set them on your gridiron over a good, clear fire, let them stew till you think your oysters are enough, then have ready some crumbs of bread rubbed in a clean napkin, fill your shells, and set them before a good fire, and baste them well with butter. Let them be affine brown, keep them turning, to be brown all over alike; but a tin oven does them best before the fire. They eat much the best done this way, though most people stew the oysters first in a sauce pan, with a blade of mace, thickened in a piece of butter, and fill the shell, and cover them with crumbs, and brown them with a hot iron —-But the bread has not the fine taste of the former.

                        Oyster Stew
                        2 tbs butter
                        2 tbs finely chopped celery
                        1 tbs finely chopped onion
                        1 quart freshly shucked oysters
                        1 quart milk, heated
                        1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
                        1 teaspoon salt
                        1/8 teaspoon cayenne

                        Melt butter, add celery and onion and cook until tender. Drain oysters, add to mixture and cook slowly until edges curl slightly. Add milk and Worcestershire and heat until oysters are fully curled, being careful to not over cook. Add salt and cayenne and serve at once, placing a small lump of butter in each bowl. Garnish with paprika.