Milestones of Cookbooks 


  • THE BOKE OF COKERY (printed by Richard Pynson)
    According to Quayle (1978, pp. 24-25) the first known English cook book is from the time around 1500. It is the only existing copy that is left. All others got lost over the time. This remaining exemplar. “The Boke of Cokery” is held at Longleat House in Warminster, Wiltshire.
  • A DIETARY OF HELTH (Andrew Boorde)
    Already in 1542 “A Dyetary of Helth” by Andrew Boorde suggest healthy nutrition to the reader (1978 p. 29). Below you can see the cover of the book.

    Fig. 4


  • THE ART OF COOKERY (Hannah Glasse)
    In the late years of 1800, cookbooks became a certainly solid element of the book market. Amongst, other genres, cookbooks certainly could be found on every best-sellers list (1978, pp. 87-88).

    Fig. 5: Hannah Glasse, best-seller author
    Shortly befor 1860 Isabella Beeton‘s book of household management was published. The young author filled it with recipes, but also neat illustrations and further householding suggestions.
    According to Quayer (1978, p. 246) she died before her 30th birthday and was not part of the remarkable success that followed. In the late 18th centrury more than 500.000 copies were sold and the popularity of the book became more and more. After some time it was seen as a standard marriage and anniversary gift.
    Up to now, it is still seen as on of the best cook books ever written with a success beyond compare. (1978, pp. 244-247)

    Fig. 6: 28-year old Isabella Beeton
    Fig. 7: Extremely rarely to find are the original first edition books in cloth-binding (Quayle, 1978)

    Fig. 8: print-ad for “Beeton’s Book of Household Management” (around 1860)

The Origins and Establishment of Cookbooks


Several factors, like society status, politics and shifts in culture have shaped and influenced the evolution of cooking, and eating behavior as well as traditional aspects. UK’s food culture is (contrarily to e.g. Spain) not characterized by former populations. It is more of a collection and ensemble of international cuisines.
In former times, UK’s cuisine was counted amongst the most excellent ones worldwide. This status blurred over the time. However, there is an upwards trend going on since some popular chefs are now gathering good reputation again (Black Dog Publishing, 2009).

Medieval Times:
In the Middle Ages, there was a massive gap in society which resulted in a poor worker’s class and a luxurious upper class. Those noble and rich groups enjoyed masses of meat throughout the year. Opulent and lush dining feasts were popular then were they served “fancy” foods like swans, peacocks and whale meat as well as colored puddings. Extravaganza was key. Decorations with massive sugary sculptures were common then.
The dining behavior was different then: everything was served at once to underline and point out the abundance rather than serving course-wise.
Up to now, more than fifty recipe books survived from this time. The Forme of Cury includes lots of recipes by King Richard’s II main chef. It is one of the first known English cookbooks. Everyday and exclusive meals, such as the ingredients and preparation methods are collected in this book (Black Dog Publishing, 2009, pp. 83-84).


Tudor Times (1485-1603):
The English inhabitants number boomed from 2 mio. to 4 mio. 90% of all people lived on the countryside. Only 5% was living in Central London then.
The poorer farmers spent around 80% of their income on food (bread, cheese, sometimes meat and fish). For many others it was even less: The church gave out half of a loaf of bread to each person.
Still, the luxurious upper class kept on with enjoying their dining feasts. In this time, even exhibition like dining arts were popular. At the beginning of the 16th Century, Buckingham’s Duke invited almost 500 people to a dining feast where “swans, herons, peacocks, twelve pigs, ten sheep, 400 eggs and 260 flagons of ale” were consumed (Black Dog Publishing, 2009, p.86). Heston Blumenthal recreated this feast by following the exact historical recipes.
Fruits, Vegetables and Sugar:
UK’s superstitions from this time included anxiousness of fresh fruits and vegetables as they believed they would evoke diseases. Therefore, all fruits and vegetables were cooked before eaten. In this time, Indian and Maroccan sugar arrived and immediately was highly popular to preserve fruits and vegetables. Then, only the rich could afford it – rotten teeth were a status symbol. Rumors tell, that Queen Elizabeth teeth were dark brown – almost black.
In this time, turkey, tomatoes, potatoes and kidney beans were introduced to UK after being important from Middle America.
Another feature from this time is that dirty water circumstances resulted in people drinking ale all the time.

17-18th Century:
Due to the expiration of monarchy, many royal chefs were job-less and began to write cookbooks instead (Fig. 11). Robert May was an influential and popular cook in this period after studying food and cooking in Italy and France. The book “The accomplisht Cook” includes high class such as middle class recipes.
UK’s food culture gained French foods like “anchovies, capers and wine” (Black Dog Publishing, 2009, p.92).

Fig. 11: Robert May – author of “The accomplisht Cook” (1660)

Tea: 1658 was an important date for the shape of the English cuisine: Drinking tea became a trend as King Charles II’s wife from Portugal introduced her favorite drink. Then, it was a ultimate luxurious good as it costed 4£ per pound (yearly income of a servant).

With the beginning of the 18th Century pubs became common, so did the number of alcoholics. A more consuming era established where meat was available throughout the year (new feeding systems for the animals in winter) which resulted in roast beef becoming a traditional family dish which resulted in and iron was used to produce kitchen devices, which allowed to cook elaborated recipes at home. Those new features caused new health problems: diabetes, heart and liver diseases.
Also this was the first time that food contained the first form of artificials which are now commonly hidden in what we eat: pepper was extended with “floor sweepings” (Black Dog Publishing, 2009, p.95) to make more money when being sold and new pots and pans out of copper reacted to toxic materials when getting in touch with acid containing ingredients.

Cookbooks for a broad audience
For the first time, cookbooks became kind of commercial and enjoyed great popularity. Hannah Glasse, who is mentioned above was one of the most successful authors in this era. Her “The Art of Cookery” became a well-known best seller.


Industrial Revolution (from 19th Century):
The growing population needed new features of technological revolution for:
• producing foods
• preserving foods
• transporting food

Working Class:
Even if it was necessary to feed the population, those listed new technologies were also profit-oriented. Therefore, additives and preservatives were added to foods.
The increasing working class needed to be fed cheaply. Fish and Chips, the ideal food for this needs became a solid component of the British cuisine from around 1860. The recently posted article of George Herbert which can be found on this blog “Shifts in Eating – George Herbert” gives a detailed insight in “A love of Fish” (British Library, 2016).
The first well-liked take-away meals only available in the city included “pie and jellied eels” (Black Dog Publishing, 2009, p.100).

Upper Class:
However, the luxurious first class would have afternoon tea with “scones, jam and clotted cream” (Black Dog Publishing, 2009, p.100) at noble places like the Ritz. In addition, exclusive dining get-togethers established where ice cream was consumed and seen as a new sensational sweet-dish.

Later, the generalization of society caused similar food and diets for broad masses of people. Recipe books and cook books became a solid element in each household. Isabella Beeton’s “Book of Household Management” was the most important and most popular of all and could be found in nearly each kitchen. A few million copies were sold within a few years written by the young author. It included serving and dining instructions, house keeping and nursing skills as well as almost 1000 pages of recipes. The texts were accompanied by fine illustrations.
She was also the first to revolutionize the structure of those books by first listing ingredients followed by the method of cooking. Her cookbook became a common marriage and wedding anniversary gift and mother’s bought it for their daughters.

Asian influence:
Indian and Asian recipes and traditional cuisine features arrived in UK and restaurants like the Veeraswamy in London was one of the first to combine fine dining with those Indian tastes which caused increasing popularity of multicultural flavors and take aways.

The ongoing History including the time of the Second World War and modern eating behaviour and food changes can be found detailed in my postings: “Shifts in Eating by time witnesses Norman Robson, John Lowery, Colin Lighten and George Herbert“.




Quayle, E. (1978) Old Cook Books. An Illustrated History. London: Cassell Ltd.

Black Dog Publishing (2009) A Visual History of Cookery. London: Black Dog Publishing Limited.

British Library (2016) British Food. Available at: (Accessed: 20 April 2016).


Visual References:

Fig. 1-8: Quayle, E. (1978) Old Cook Books. An Illustrated History. London: Cassell Ltd.

Fig. 9-10: Black Dog Publishing (2009) A Visual History of Cookery. London: Black Dog Publishing Limited.