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On May 23, 2013, NYAM welcomed cookbook author and food historian Stephen Schmidt to deliver the 2013 Friends of the Rare Book Room Lecture on “The Best Cake in the World: What Manuscript Cookbooks Tell Us that Printed Cookbooks Don't.”
From roughly 1600 to 1900, Mr. Schmidt explained, many women (and a few men) in the English-speaking world compiled personal recipe collections in bound notebooks. These manuscript cookbooks contain a wealth of information absent from most printed cookbooks: where and from whom the recipes were collected; nonstandard but possibly common ways of substituting expensive or rare ingredients or circumventing tricky or time-consuming techniques; the type of cooking vessel or the size, shape, and number of baking pans used in the preparation of recipes; the management of the fire or oven; the contexts in which dishes were served and the ways in which they were presented at table. Mr. Schmidt explained that sometimes manuscript cookbooks can also tell us which dishes were truly popular and regularly eaten in a period, although in the past, as today, many more recipes were collected than were actually ever made.
Mr. Schmidt’s lecture addressed the pleasure and profit to be gained from studying manuscript cookbooks and also touched on the complicated relationship between these documents and printed cookbooks. Examples of manuscript recipe books and related printed cookbooks from NYAM's rare book collection were on display for attendees to see.
Stephen Schmidt is the principal researcher and writer for The Manuscript Cookbooks Survey, an online survey of pre-1865 English-language manuscript cookbooks held in U.S. libraries and other institutions, and is also a personal chef and cooking teacher in New York City, where he lives. He is the author of Master Recipes, a 940-page general-purpose cookbook, was an editor of and a principal contributor to the 1997 and 2006 editions of Joy of Cooking, has contributed to The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink and Dictionnaire Universel du Pain, and has written for Cook's Illustrated magazine and many other publications. He is currently working on Lemon Pudding, Watermelon Cake, and Miracle Pie, a history of American home dessert with recipes.
The Friends of the Rare Book Room is a special group of contributors who for 60 years have supported public programs in the history of medicine, the acquisition and cataloging of historical scholarly material, and activities that make the Drs. Bobbi and Barry Coller Rare Book Reading Room a center for scholarship in the history of medicine and public health and for the study of books and printing.
To become a Friend of the Rare Book Room, please click here.
Posted on May 28, 2013
Abigail J. Franklin
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The New York Academy of Medicine
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