The first recorded one was chiseled into clay tablets dating back to 1750 BC in Ancient Mesopotamia. The first one printed and bound came along in 1471 just two decades after the Gutenberg Bible and was written by Bartolomeo Platina called “On Right Pleasure and Good Health”. And the oldest recorded copy still in print today? Versions of what is now known as “Apicius” written by Marcus Gavius Apicius in 1st century Rome. Amazing! And chances are you have one or more of these items, probably many more, in your very own kitchen. Cookbooks, or cookery books, are staples in my life and have been for quite some time, and with good reason.
Not only have they walked me through creating a dish or meal, they are, and have given me, so much more. First and foremost, they are books. Like a novel, a book of poetry, or non-fiction tome, I have been known to sit down in a cozy corner with a cup of tea and simply read one. The photos, themes, combination of ingredients, and varying techniques totally liven my senses and to me, they make for great reading!
Cookbooks have taught me what life was like in different places and times. They have let me peek into a region’s history, culture, society, religion, and even weather. I learned that the cuneiform tablets that are believed to be the oldest cookbooks, included recipes that combined lamb, fowl, vegetables, and barley all cooked in water. The earliest stews, perhaps. I find it fascinating to learn what people have had available at any time in history, and in any place, and what they created with those ingredients. So resourceful! After learning about government rationing here in the 1930s and 40s, I wondered what could people possibly make with so little meat, eggs, fats, sugar, butter, or cheese? “Wartime Recipes” by Ivor Claydon answered that for me.
Cookbooks are my mementoes, usually the only souvenir I ever buy. Whenever we travel, whether it be regional, cross country or international, I love bringing home a little piece of where we visited, as food is always a part of the experiences we share when we’re away.
From my journal, July 3, 2009 in Warsaw, Poland
“Bought a few copies of “Polish Cooking” at the Royal Castle in Warsaw today for me, mom, Donna and Aunt Louise…want to try the borscht, golabki, and pierogie recipes!”
Cookbooks have also guided me through my various lifestyles over the years. “Home Cooking” by Linda McCartney and Mollie Katzen’s “Moosewood Cookbook” are still in my collection. I have loved and used them as references for the 21 years I was a vegetarian. My current go-to books are the “Nom Nom Paleo” series by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong and the “Whole 30” cookbooks by Melissa Hartwig, as I now enjoy a paleo diet.
Cookbooks given to me as gifts, still connect me to the people who gave them to me. My first and only copy of “The Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, gifted by my mom, was packed into my college suitcase in 1979 and is still with me today. Duct taped together it sits on my kitchen shelf with a few others I cook from daily. When my late mother-in-law, Ella gave me a copy of “Bubbe’s Cooking” a year after we met, I was thrilled. To me, it meant I was now a part of the family, and she was encouraging me to add Jewish cooking to my repertoire. And my very first cook…what a great memory! My Aunt Bev surprised me with it when I was about nine years old. Up until then, I could only watch and assist her as she created yummy baked goods with recipes from her cookbooks. But when I received my very own – wow! – I could do the cooking! Called “Fun to Cook Book” by Mary Blake, it was sponsored by Carnation and written especially for kids. The illustrations are cartoonish and the recipes simple, but I adored it. Under my aunt’s guidance, the first recipe I ever made from it was “Supper Cocoa”. Ha! Just four ingredients: cocoa powder, sugar, water, and Carnation Evaporated Milk combined in a saucepan, heated on the stove. Hot cocoa never tasted so good!
My affection for cookbooks goes way back and goes way beyond what lies between their covers. They teach, inform, and entertain me. They connect me with different times, places, and people. In short, they help me feed my body, my mind, and my soul. They keep me, well fed.