The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
Celebrate the holidays exploring the Victorian era of Charles Dickens. Discuss literature, paintings, and decorative arts of the era before preparing a contemporary meal adapted from period cookbooks from the Huntington’s collection. ($85 members; $100 non-members)
image: Portrait of Charles Dickens, 1859, by photographer Herbert Watkins. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
Cookbooks Capture the Eccentricities of Former Eras
My fascination with historic cookbooks knows no bounds. It jumps from country to country and century to century. Most recently I’ve been intrigued by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British cookbooks, partly because I’ve spent quite a bit of time in England this year and partly because these books are about much more than just cooking. They are part of a genre of books on household management that give us an insight into the daily lives of the middle class and those striving to climb the social ladder.
Beginning in the fifteenth century, household management books—historically written by men—were popular all over Europe. By the seventeenth century, England had a higher literary rate than elsewhere in Europe and a new market emerged—books written by women for women. Femininity suddenly acquired a feminine voice. Household management books became as big business among women as lifestyle books and blogs are today (and in theory, not entirely different). READ MORE »
My fascination with cookbooks began when my mom gave me a copy of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Cookbook: Favorite Recipes from Mickey and His Friends when I was six years old. Through food, I would get closer to my favorite characters. Tinker Bell’s Spaghetti Sauce? I loved spaghetti too! Cinderella’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Yes, please! Bambi’s Garden Salad, Pluto’s Hot Dogs, and Mickey’s Sugar Cookies were a few of my other favorites. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, Peter Pan’s Pasta and Caterpillar’s Corn on the Cob are quite possibly where I learned my love of alliteration.)
Although I graduated from Mickey long ago, it was at that young age when my voracious appetite for cookbooks—and for reading in general—began. But it wasn’t until many years later that I started to make the connection between food and history. Most recently, I’ve spent countless hours perusing the Huntington Library’s collection of rare cookbooks to gain a deeper understanding of history. Through the language of food, cookbooks give us insight into a culture and a time period that bring us way beyond a recipe, ingredient or trend; they add personal insight—“personal” because we each have our own relationship with food.
One such cookbook, and the subject of my most recent obsession, is Mexico’s first, El Cocinero Mexicano (The Mexican Cook), published in 1831. Yes, the first Mexican cookbook doesn’t appear until the nineteenth century. Crazy to think, given the fact that the roots of Mexican food go back way beyond modernity. The reason for this involves colonialism, politics and identity.