Not sure what to make for dinner tonight? Aspiring chefs or weary home cooks can find inspiration in recipes of the American past. Over 10,000 historic cookbooks are now available in the Cookbooks and Home Economics collection of the Internet Archive. From early European recipe collections which walk the line of food and medicine to 20th-century promotional recipes by Gelatin brands, these historic cookbooks have a recipe for any time, place, or occasion.
Chefs and historians can learn a lot about the tastes and expectations of past consumers through recipe collections. Gender and family roles throughout history become particularly clear while perusing historic cookbooks. In a cookbook dedicated to bachelors, one can find a recipe for Queen Victoria's Toasted Cheese. While easy to prepare, it is not an ordinary grilled cheese. The jokingly toned instructions advise mixing grated cheese with ale and champagne for a hot dip that a bachelor in 1906 could prepare. Another yummy dish—Maple Custard—can be found in a cookbook devoted to new brides. This book contains ample advertisements for products such as condensed milk and sodas. New brides were clearly expected to do the shopping and cooking in the World War I era, when the book was published.
Mostly American in origin, the cookbook collection nonetheless presents a picture of a national cuisine which has been directly impacted by immigration. For example, the first American cookbook—American Cookery, published in 1796—contained many English recipes familiar to colonists who had recently separated from the British Empire. However, readily available American ingredients such as cornmeal and a simpler style of preparation appear in some distinctly “American” entries. Throughout the cookbook collection, influences of diverse global cultures can be seen in recipes. So, too, can prejudice and racism. These historic cookbooks are important documents for tracing the inclusion and exclusion of marginalized peoples from “American” identities.
If you would like to explore the Cookbooks and Home Economics collection, check out the Internet Archive.
Over 10,000 scans of historic cookbooks are available for free on the Internet Archive.
From early colonial recipes to 20th century brand promotion, you can explore the history of gender, consumption, and class through this extensive collection of historic cookbooks.
Among the strange recipes, you may discover some gems, such as Queen Victoria's Toasted Cheese or Maple Custard.
Whether you are looking for your next challenging dish to attempt or you want to learn about the history of American cuisine, these cookbooks have a recipe for everyone.
h/t: [Open Culture]