Behold the Cookbook


Upon deep consideration of the matter, sooner of later you will have to agree that the concept of cookbook came into existence the very second cavemen struck two rocks together to produce fire. What to do with the fire? Aha! Cook that wild boar sitting around over there? But how many rocks do I need and for how long? Do I turn the boar over to get crisp on both sides? Do I hang it from a sharp stick from that tree or do I put the meat directly on the hot rocks? Hmm...There must be something else to eat with the broiled boar. Yes! How about a nice salad of mixed weeds and flowers, sprinkled with a handful of crunchy beetles? Maybe tomorrow we can spear a big fish for everyone to share. Watch out for the bones, boys! We’ll save the long, sharp bones to sew up our winter skins.

And so, as they say, cookbook history was born.

Cookbooks were used in every literate society, in one extent to another, from time immemorial. One of the most-well-known of these ancient treatise on food and drink preparation is that written by Athenaesus in the 2nd century. Apicius, another famous gourmet from these earliest times of written history, could also be considered a gourmand as his extravagant banquets eventually drove him to bankruptcy and suicide. Talk about partying to show up the Joneses!

Moving along our culinary timeline, Medieval Europe published a fair number of cookbooks. In 1394 came Le Ménagier de Paris, one of the first French cookbooks, with recipes for frogs and snails.

Cookbooks took off with the proliferation of the printing press. The rising middle class wanted books to tell them how to cook. Over 100,000 copies of the French cookbook Shilling Cookery for the People by Alexis Soyer (1809 - 58) made their way into households all over Europe and England.

When recalling the history of the cookbook, the name of Fannie Merritt Farmer rises to the top of first-class chefs and writers. Farmer was the name to be remembered first for her 1896 editorship of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Fannie Farmer was responsible for the standardization of cookbook measurements. Thanks to her, we no longer have to worry if our roasted meat is going to taste like a salt-lick!

NEXT INSTALLMENT: Fannie Merritt Farmer and others of the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

©2007 Terry Kaufman, for Niftykitchen.com
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