Do you love cookbooks? What about ones that were written over 200 years ago? If classic French cuisine or Medieval feasts with venison or traditional English fare appeals, then I have just the cookbook(s) for you! The following are the biggies from the Georgian Era and before. In each instance, the books are in the public domain and have been reprinted numerous times in the modern period. I’ve included the link to Amazon if purchasing is desirable, as well as the free-read option on Google Books. I’ve also added the link to the cookbook’s Wikipedia article if there is one.
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy
by Hannah Glasse (1708–1770)
First published in 1747, this cookbook dominated the English-speaking market and made Glasse one of the most famous cookbook authors of her time. The Art of Cookery was the prime reference for home cooks in much of the English-speaking world in the second half of the 18th through to the early 19th century, and it is still used as a reference for food research and historical reconstruction.
Revised and republished at least forty times since its 1747 debut, this cookbook was a bestseller in England and the United States for more than 100 years. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned copies, and Benjamin Franklin translated some of the recipes into French in hopes of attaining a taste of home while abroad.
Author Hannah Glasse dismissed French cookery, the leading cuisine of her day, as inefficient for servants and middle- to lower-class cooks, citing its fussiness, expense, and waste. Instead, Mrs. Glasse focused on standard Anglo-American fare. From soups and gravies to cakes and jellies, all recipes are simple dishes prepared in a straightforward manner. In addition to practical advice on meat selection, carving, and basic cooking skills, this historically fascinating document offers tips on preparing food for the ill, cooking and food storage on ships, and making soaps and scents for the home.
A New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded Upon Principles of Economy,
and Adapted to the Use of Private Families
by Maria Eliza Rundell (1745–1828)
First published in 1806, this was the most popular English cookbook of the first half of the nineteenth century, so much so that it is often referred to simply as “Mrs. Rundell.” The first edition of 1806 was a short collection of Mrs. Rundell’s recipes published by John Murray. It went through dozens of editions, both legitimate and pirated, in both Britain and the United States. The frontispiece typically credited the authorship to “A Lady.” Later editions continued for some forty years after Mrs. Rundell’s death. The author Emma Roberts (c. 1794–1840) edited the 64th edition and added some recipes of her own, with the final book 644 pages long.
In contrast to the relative disorder of English 18th century cookery books, Mrs. Rundell’s text is strictly ordered and neatly subdivided. Where other cookbooks consisted almost wholly of recipes, she begins by explaining techniques of economy: “A minute account of the annual income and the times of payment should be kept in writing.” This is followed by instructions on how to carve, how to stew, how to season, how to choose and use steam-kettles and the bain-marie, the meanings of foreign terms like pot-au-feu, all the joints of meat, and the “basis of all well-made soups.” Not until page 65 do the actual recipes begin.
The Experienced English Housekeeper
by Elizabeth Raffald (1733–1781)
First published in 1769, this cookbook contains some 900 recipes, including the first known recipe for a wedding cake covered in marzipan and royal icing. Noted for its practicality, Raffald’s recipes consist of direct instructions to the cook based on her personal experiences and do not contain lists of ingredients. The wide range of recipes span from meats to desserts, preserves and distilled essences, wines, table decorations, and even an early use of barbeque. It was illustrated with three fold-out copperplate engravings, and still remains a reference for modern cookery writers.
Between 1748 and 1763, Elizabeth Raffald was employed as a housekeeper by several families. At Arley Hall in Cheshire, she met her husband, John Rafford, the head gardener. In 1763 the couple moved to Manchester, where Elizabeth opened a confectionery shop and John sold flowers and seeds at a market stall. In addition to her cookery book, Raffald wrote a book on midwifery.
A 2005 article in Gastronomica described Raffald as, “the most celebrated English cookery writer of the eighteenth century after Hannah Glasse.”
The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary, or the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion
by John Nott
John Nott had been the chief cook for a string of aristocrats, including the Dukes of Somerset, Ormond, and Bolton, and Lords Lansdown and Ashburnham. His cookery book, first published in London in 1723, was laid out as a dictionary from “Al to Zest.” Other portions of the book are Bills of Fare, Terms of Art for Carving, Instructions for Carving, The Manner of Setting out a Desert of Fruits and Sweet-meats, and the Alphabetical Index. The main text is an alphabetical list and the recipes stand alone without instructions on kitchen equipment or general comments on types of dish.
Nott’s French-inspired recipes show that imported vegetables such as carrots, asparagus, and spinach, were becoming more plentiful on tables. He frequently mentions marmalades, blancmanges, creams, biscuits, and sweet cakes, the extravagant use of sugar (which was quite expensive) indicative of the wealthy clientele the cookbook was intended for. The cookbook includes two peacock recipes and a collection of thirteen red currant recipes.
The Accomplisht Cook, Or the Art and Mystery of Cooking
by Robert May (1588-1684)
An English cookbook published in 1660 by Restoration era professional cook Robert May. It was the first to group recipes logically into sections and to make early use of two ingredients brought to Europe from the Americas: the potato and the turkey.
Robert May was born in Buckinghamshire, England, in 1588. His father worked at Ascott Park as the chief cook to the Dormer family, a benefit for young May because at age ten, Lady Dormer sent him to Paris for training as a chef. After five years, he returned to London for his apprenticeship. In the course of his career, May served as chef to thirteen households of minor English nobility.
May wrote and published The Accomplisht Cook following the English Civil War. May’s recipes included customs from the Middle Ages, as well as food trends from Europe, such as French bisque and Italian brodo (broth). It is considered one of the most extensive English treatments of potages, broths, and soups with twenty percent of the volume devoted to those recipes. In addition to the recipes is a memoir of the author.
Interestingly, The Accomplisht Cook only underwent five revisions during the author’s lifetime, the final in 1685 containing about 300 pages, and then went out of print. It is estimated that no more than 400 copies were ever printed.