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Reading Historic Cookbooks

Gibson House Museum, Boston: kitchen equipmentIn the beginning of June I had the great opportunity to participate in a seminar on historical cookbooks at the Schlesinger library at Harvard. The seminar, ‘Reading Historic Cookbooks: a Structured Approach’, was taught by 85-year old Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, food scholar and honorary curator of the library’s culinary collection.

Wheaton has dedicated her life to the analysis of thousands of cookbooks, and over the decades she put all the content found inside their recipes in her massive database called ‘the Cook’s Oracle’, which hopefully – after more conversion work and further programming – will become available online this summer or later this year.

We now are immersed in them, but cookbooks used to be much more rare. Increasingly available in digital collections to read, it is not easy to extract their meaning from them right away. One has to really dig into them to learn about the past. (more…)