We all need to eat, and of course, there have been amateur and professional cooks since the dawn of time. Hence, all of them created some recipes and wrote them down at some point. That's why we'll share top ten the most famous saved cookbooks from prehistory, through the Medieval period until modern times.
10. The Paleo Diet
The paleo diet recipes are the oldest ones, so they should be mentioned first. You might have heard about it, as this was a way of eating for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. However, the problem is that people didn't know how to write during the paleolithic period! But no worries, as there's a whole range of modern cookbooks with paleo recipes if you wish to try out this new (or very old) way of eating.
According to research, people would not have eaten much meat during the period, and it wasn't even close to seasoned or cooked as we know it today. Instead, their meals mainly consisted of fruit or other things they could find in the wild.
9. Apicius Cookbook
This cookbook is a collection of several recipes from the ancient Roman Empire. Interestingly, the famous Roman historian, Pliny, mentions the cookbook in his work "Natural History." Yet, no one is sure who is the author of it precisely.
The mysterious writer described recipes for grand occasions, which ancient Romans organized so often. The text is arranged like modern cookbooks and separates recipes by food into ten groups. One of our favorites is a simple lamb stew, which needs a few ingredients, a good piece of meat, and some time to cook it.
8. Cookbook from Biblical Times
Another cookbook covering recipes from the Roman Empire is all about Biblical-period recipes. Although, these ones are not for grand occasions like the royals in their villas. And yet, it is always interesting to see what kind of food, or better to say fuel, Jesus, for example, had before he would go for a walk.
For many years, writers theorized about the culinary topic and viewed what those dishes might have looked like. Let's not forget that the climate has changed over time, so many plants and animals aren't the same as 2000 years ago. Nevertheless, these cookbooks are a great way to try new dishes!
7. Le Viandier
Was the French cuisine as good as it is today? For anyone wishing to see for themselves, this cookbook is perfect. Guillaume Tirel, who served for King Charles V, is allegedly the book's author, even though some experts question that. However, we know that it was written around 1300 AD. Therefore, it's among the first describing high-class cuisine.
The big question is, where's the original!? The oldest one known to us is Switzerland, and it's from the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century. Also, we have other old copies of the same cookbook saved in some libraries in Paris and the Vatican. Anyway, this is a cookbook for those wishing to try exquisite dishes from medieval Western Europe!
6. Liber de Coquina (The Book of Cooking)
Our number seven is, again, one of the oldest saved medieval cookbooks! It consists of two parts, including "Tractatus" and "Liber de Coquina." Experts say the manuscript of this cookbook is from the 13th-14th century and is kept safe in a library in Paris.
"Tractatus" is all about wine compositions, poultry, meat, fish, dishes with rich legumes, eggs, leeks, and gravy. On the other hand, "Liber de Coquina" focuses on vegetables, poultry, pastry, fish, and compositions of many ingredients. Luckily for us, even digital editions of this cookbook are available for free.
5. The Forme of Cury (The Method of Cooking)
Next in line is another fabulous collection of recipes in French but from the late 14th century. The original manuscript is lost, but you can find the text in nine other scrolls around Europe. Scholars believe it dates back to the reign of King Richard II, who ruled from 1377 until 1399. So, what secrets does a cookbook like this keep?
Luckily, some people have tried it, and it turned out fabulously! Moreover, here we have the first mention of some spices considered exotic in England of that time, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, or cardamom. The cookbook has around 190 recipes and gives a true insight into what life in the kitchen of a medieval English court must have looked like!
4. Letters of Katerina Lemmel from the 16th Century
Number four on our list is not exactly a cookbook but is a modern experiment to make 16th-century dishes out of ingredients mentioned in some letters. Letters belong to Katerina Lemmel, a nun in the German monastery Maria Mai. Letters are currently under the watchful eye of curators in Nuremberg.
One of the recipes that experts succeeded in replicating is Nuremberg donuts. Those are not like the American variant we know today, but more fried pastries in the shape of fingers with a crispy taste, optionally covered in sugar. On the other hand, Tudor England has some exciting dishes recreated in the popular TV series "Tudor Monastery Farm."
3. "England's Newest Way," a Book by Henry Howard
We have now come to the 18th century, and woohoo, how many recipes we still have from back then! Luckily for us, massive printing saved many period books from disappearing. While it's not easy choosing one particular cookbook, not at all, one that caught our attention is "England's Newest Way" (1709).
This is an excellent material for anyone interested in exploring English cuisine's evolution. The book has all the main things one cookbook needs, such as main dishes, vegetables, desserts, wine, etc. The book's author is Henry Howard, an English aristocrat and the poetic figure of his time.
2. Jennie June's American Cookery Book (1866)
It's time for some 19th-century cookbooks, and we bet, if you're lucky, you still might have some old great-grandmas recipes in the attic from that period! The 1800s were the time of the extensive industrialization of the world, and many people started shifting to cities. With the movement of the people, the food and the way we eat changed.
Our choice of the 19th-century cookbook is the one by Jane Cunningham Croly, who wrote recipes and instructions on how to work in a kitchen. Yet, it's a bit weird for her to write that woman's place is in the household since she was fighting for a better social position of her sex. However, we have this cookbook, and a lot of other works, as a testimony of one particular period in time and society.
1. "Legendary Dinners," a Book by Anne Petersen
Our last choice is a genuinely legendary cookbook! This book consists of dishes served at some of the most important events during modern history. Who wouldn't like to know what some Hollywood stars or some American presidents and monarchs were eating at grand ceremonies!? It comes with some beautiful photos of those influential people, all written in a simple language everybody can understand.
Some of the recipes put there are, for example, Soufflé Glacé Grand Marnier or Saumon de Norvège en Bellevue (Norwegian Salmon Bellevue). Just by reading those titles, water comes to our mouth, but let's not forget that only professional and very experienced chefs can prepare those meals. Yet, never mind that, as reading this book will take your imagination and senses on a journey of your lifetime!
What a time-traveling this is… and now we're hungry! These top ten cookbooks are a true legacy of the period and everyday life. Preparing some of them requires skill, and even the ingredients may not be the same as they used to be. But no worries, we are sure you will find a way to reconstruct some of them if you roll up your sleeves and put that apron on!
Do you enjoy trying out new dishes? Do you like to cook and search for different recipes? If so, please share your experience with us in the comment section!
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