Culinary Her-story History

I love finding unique, yet traditional recipes from old cookbooks.  It’s a wonderful hobby that I enjoy and wanted to share some of the things I have stumbled upon in my travels.

“Some women leave diaries, my Mother left recipes.”

Linda Murray Berzok

I have always loved to read cookbooks. As a matter of fact, other than a copy of the Good Earth, the Bible, and one shelf of dog books, I don’t own a wide variety of books. But when it comes to cookbooks…I probably have about 500. Yes, 500! It may actually be more by now. I lost count a few years ago.

And when it comes to cookbooks…the older, the better. Oh…and an added plus when searching for old cookbooks is two-fold…discovering great traditionally prepared food recipes and stumbling upon a homemaking book that covers all facets of household management..from how to instruct the servants ;-) to how to educate ones children. They are absolute treasures! Little peaks into women’s history. One such gem is A Treatise on Domestic Economy written by Catherine Beecher. A treatise, no less. What a treat!

Catherine Beecher’s Famous Sister

Speaking of Catherine Beecher…she was a most interesting woman. You may recognize her last name. She was the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame.

These two Beecher sisters, along with Amelia Simmons, Hannah Glasse, Lydia Maria Child, Fannie Farmer, Charlotte Mason, Edith Stein, Beatrix Potter, and more…hold such fascination for me.

What must it have been like for these women? And what can we learn about their day and age from what they share with us through the pages of their written word? It takes a careful eye to unearth the riches contained in their words. But to the attentive reader these writer’s reveal much about the times in which they lived. We see the world through their eyes…from the care taken in doing the wash, to the joys in preparing nourishing food for their families, to the serious and significant matters of their day – relocating to unsettled lands, native Americans, slavery, women’s suffrage, child labor reform, and more.

These were women who lived in very different times than today. Times of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. But they were women who would not let themselves be constrained or confined by the mores of their days. They were woman who had a desire to not only improve their own lives but to reach out to other woman, children, and the oppressed. They were women for whom a fire burned inside to express their thoughts through the written word in a very much otherwise male dominated field in a male dominated world.

Charlotte Mason and the “Living Book”

Charlotte Mason had the best term for describing the type of books these women wrote. She called them “Living Books”.

They have been described like this:

Living books are usually written by one person who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or narrative style. The books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and facts. Living books make the subject “come alive.”

Simply Charlotte Mason

Picture of Charlotte Mason, circa 1860’s

And it’s exactly those types of cookbooks and homemaking books – Living Books – that I like. Ones that pull me in and involve my emotions. Older cookbooks are rich in this sort of thing. Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife, and Sarah Hale’s The Good Housekeeper to name a few.

New Cookbooks that capture the charm of old cookbooks

Sadly, so many of the modern cookbooks have lost this charm. They print recipes with lovely pictures but there is no story. It’s the stories that I miss. It’s the stories that I crave. But every once in awhile you come across a modern cookbook that is rich in information that goes far deeper than just a simple recipe. Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, is one of these. Others include cookbooks written by Madeline Kamman, Patricia Wells, and Susan Herrmann Loomis. All of which, I will discuss in future posts.

These modern day cookbooks give you a look into the authors’ lives and an understanding of why they wrote their books. When this type of information is contained within the pages of a cookbook it becomes so much more than just a bunch of recipes. It becomes a story. A story about the author. A story about that for which she has a passion.


The term her-story is bantered around a lot these days to describe the history surrounding women. It’s a cute play on words and one that I like. Don’t get me wrong. I love his-tory. I am a huge fan of the Founding Fathers…but I can’t help but be fascinated by the Founding Mothers…as well as all the pioneering woman who came before and after them.

In future posts, I look forward to sharing the titles of some of my favorite living cookbooks and homemaking books. But most of all, I am excited about sharing all the little tidbits of women’s wisdom and history that I have gleamed from their pages over the years.

Yes, these women left recipes. Diaries full of recipes. And sometimes recipes tell the best story…her-story. :-)

See you soon.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s