Skip to main content

GSW 259 Food Matters: Gender, Religion, Ethnicity, and Consumerism (Bakhmetyeva & Layton)

Cookbooks as Primary Sources

Hadley, Etha. 1873. Improvement in Egg-beaters. US Patent US138647A, filed February 8, 1873, and issued May 6, 1873. https://www.google.com/patents/US138647Primary sources are documents or physical objects created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Examples include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them.  Examples include: Textbooks, journal articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, and encyclopedias.


Cookbooks as primary sources

  • The oldest cookbooks are usually meant for elite readers, since literacy was rare.
  • The age of the recipe can greatly differ from the age of the publication
  • Cookbooks are prescriptive literature, reflecting the author's culinary aspirations - could vary greatly from actual culinary practice of the time.  
  • Time & place matter for meaning (e.g. sugar as an ingredient in the 14th century vs the 19th century)
  • Versions or transcriptions may be significantly different (and telling!)
  • Notes and marginalia can provide information about audience 
  • Cookbooks can tell us about changing food preferences and dietary patterns, when and how meals were served, table arrangement, manners, daily routines and the like. From those, we can draw conclusions about gender roles, culture, race, ethnicity, class, politics, religion and world view.

Object Analysis

Interrogating a Primary Source:

Who created the item and what is their historical significance? Was it a professional chef or a home cook? What can be gleaned about their social status?
Who was the intended audience and what inferences can be drawn about them?
Where was it created and when?
Where does the source fit into the chronology of the period being studied?
What key names, dates and events can be gleaned from the item? 
What attitude towards the subject matter/event does the creator of the item seem to impart? (e.g. What tone is set? Are there interesting word choices and what might the author's choice in their use mean? Why was it created and what purpose did it originally serve? What biases may inherently or intentionally exist in it?).

Object Sets: Making Connections

Directions: Consult with the team whose cookbook pairs with yours to answer the following guiding questions.

Pairing 1: Pairing 2:
  • Thug kitchen: eat like you give a f*ck. 2015. London: Sphere. 
  • Ray, Susan Hernandez. 2013. Southern living best-loved Christmas classics: Favorite Holiday Recipes and Easy Decorating Ideas. New York: Time Home Entertainment. 
Pairing 3:
  • Parkinson, Eleanor. 1864. The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott.
  • Staib, Walter, and Beth D'Addono. 1999. City Tavern Cookbook: 200 Years of Classic Recipes from America's First Gourmet Restaurant. Philadelphia: Running Press.
Pairing 4:
  • Keller, Thomas. 2009. Ad Hoc at Home. New York: Artisan.
  • Lazy days and beach blankets: simple alfresco dining with family and friends. 2009. London: Ryland Peters & Small.
Pairing 5:
  • Fallon, Sally, Mary G. Enig, Kim Murray, and Marion Dearth. 2001. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Washington: New Trends Publishing.
  • Kellogg, E. E. 1892. Science in the Kitchen. Battle Creek, MI: Health Pub. Co.
Pairing 6:
Pairing 7:

Pairing 8:

Pairing 9: Pairing 10:
Pairing 11:
Owens, Sarah. 2015. Sourdough Baking: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories, and More. Boston: Roost Books.
America's Test Kitchen. 2005. Cook's Illustrated 2005. Brookline, MA: America's Test Kitchen.
Pairing 12:
  • Moskowitz, Isa Chandra. 2006. Vegan with a Vengeance: 125 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-free, Logo-free Recipes that Rock. New York: Marlowe. 
  • Long, Linda. 2012. Virgin Vegan: The Meatless Guide to Pleasing Your Palate. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith.

Guiding Questions:

  • What questions do I have from examining these materials as a set?  What are the similarities? How do they differ? What greater inferences can be drawn about the about historical context from the set?
  • What questions or further research might you have? (e.g. Are there thoughts or ideas that could be defined or explained? Is there specialized language or jargon? Are there references to places, events, or people, culture, etc?).
  • What other primary sources might I look for to help round out the story behind the sources you currently have?
  • What ideological theories or philosophies can be applied to the item?
  • How might I compare these sources to other readings and assignments in this course?