Cooking with/in French and German

Back in 2012, I wrote a post about some German cocktail manuals. In 2014, I shared Die Österreichisches Hausfrau: Ein Handbuch für Frauen und Mädchen aller Stände; Praktische Anleitung fur Führung der Hauswirtschaft,  a German-language household guide. And in 2015, I covered Les Gourmandises de Charlotte, a French-language children’s book where food has some strange consequences for one little girl. Although the focus of our culinary materials is content in the English language, it isn’t exclusively what we do–clearly! There are more books on our shelves (and at least one manuscript cookbook) that challenge us to think (or at least READ) internationally. This week, we’re looking at three such books from pre-1900.

One of the items has already been digitized and is available on our website (http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/HFDBooks/TX707.M46_1786), so I won’t post too much of it here. (In fact, many, many copies of it have been digitized and are online.)

La cuisiniere bourgeoise, suivie de l’office : à l’usage de tous ceux qui se mêlent de dépenses de maisons (1786)

This is the oldest foreign language culinary history publication in the collection. La cuisiniere bourgeoise, suivie de l’office: à l’usage de tous ceux qui se mêlent de dépenses de maisons was published in 1786. It was actually first published in the 1740s and went through many editions. Like many cookbooks/culinary manuals of the time, it is text heavy and not very illustrated. In this particular case, it’s not illustrated at all. It includes paragraph-style recipes, as well as multi-course meal plans. As we might expect with American-published books, there isn’t a table of contents in this volume–at least not at the front. Instead, it’s at the back, in place of an index. I won’t embarrass myself by attempting to translate from French, but it is important to note this covers a lot of the core techniques and ingredients we associate with French cooking.

A little further on in French culinary history, we have Manuel complet d’économie domestique: contenant toutes les recettes les plus simples et les plus efficaces sur l’économie rurale et domestique, à l’usage de la ville et de la campagne, published in 1829 (we have a second edition). Written by Elisabeth Celnart, this is less a cookbook and more a home economics manual.

There are chapters on home and work and on diversions and entertainments (I like the section on training pigeons to sent messages, whereas the previous book had a lot of recipes on how to cook pigeons!). There are  also sections on food, cooking, and preservation, as well as on drinks and, as one the pages below shows, a paragraph about adulteration of beer. Stuck at the back of the volume is a fold-out of illustrations on proper construction of a chimney, too!

Because both the Manuel complet d’économie domestique and our last item are particularly fragile, I was only able to safely scan a few pages, but hopefully they give you a sense of the books. Neues und bewährtes illustriertes Kochbuch für alle Stände: zuverlässige Anleitung zur Bereitung der verschiedenartigsten Speisen, Backwerke, Getränke etc. was written by Henriette Davidis and dates to the late 1890s. The paper is fairly acidic, which is why it has taken on a darker color and tears easily. Both the front and back covers came free long ago, too, as I discovered–but it does have an interesting picture on the front.


This is strictly a cookbook and, in typical style of the era and origin, is written in a lovely Fraktur font.

Fraktur does seem daunting, but it was used for a lot of German language publishing from the 16th to the mid-20th centuries. Learning to read it is kind of like learning to read 18th or 19th century handwriting–it takes a bit of practice, but you can start to decipher it. Of course,  you still need to be able to understand German, too. The first page above has some pages from the chapter on sauces, including the classic Hollandaise and a remoulade, as well as a lemon butter and a sardine sauce. The second page, if can’t guess from the illustrations, is from the chapter on fish. The third page includes the introduction to the section on baking (tortes, cakes, yeast breads, lard-based treats, and the like).

Non-English language culinary publications can present a different set of challenges for researchers who don’t speak the language, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore them. Culinary traditions can travel across boundaries, oceans, and languages, so we need to embrace those challenges, leverage resources that can help make them accessible, and see what we kind find, hidden away in their pages. You just might find the best recipe for an Apfeltorte where you least (or most) expect it!


On a culinary-related note, I’ve been in clean-up mode lately. As a result, I have moved some culinary history ephemera that was previously digitized to a public home on Special Collections’ digital site: VT Special Collections Online. The main page will show you recent additions, many of which include these items. You can also check out some individual manuscript collections here (some of which were previously added and some of which are new additions) and our digitized books and publications here. I’m hoping to add more materials in the future, too!

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