Speaker: Sarah Peters Kernan (Independent Culinary Historian)
In this seminar, I propose a new model in which to consider the development of cookbooks in medieval and early modern England. I propose a framework shaped not only by the food and structure of recipes, but also the networks of readers who copied, purchased, and used these texts. I will particularly focus on the shift from manuscript to print in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Reader networks ranged from professionals like medical practitioners, elite households, and middling class women. These groups and the overlaps between them reveal much about the changes in cookbooks throughout this period, such as the types of recipes contained within and the presentation of the recipes on the page. My conclusions were formed by an examination of over one hundred manuscript and printed cookeries in libraries across the United States and Europe and tens of digitized books and manuscripts. In carefully documenting diverse textual, codicological, and bibliographical features including dedications, ingredients, mise en page, marginalia, watermarks, and stains, I was able to identify several distinct groups of readers. Unraveling the web of cookbook readers in conjunction with concurrent changes in food trends and book production is important in demonstrating the growth of the cookery genre and the rapid expansion of readership in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This expansion of readership furthermore supports a broader claim in my research that a widespread audience existed for manuscript cookeries prior to the introduction of print and subsequent explosion in cookbook production. These early reader networks shaped the prodigious circulation of recipes among families and individuals in seventeenth and eighteenth-century recipe books and the parallel circulation and readership of cookbooks as printed texts.
IHR Seminar Series: Food History