The first cookbook in English and written by a woman was published in 1670, nearly 200 years after the first printed cookbook appeared in Latin. Since then, it has become impossible to imagine the world of cookbooks without women authors.
Here, Anne Willan, founder of the LaVarenne cooking school, James Beard Award winner, and author of more than thirty books herself, profiles 12 women who helped shaped American cookbooks and thus cooking. As with most subjects that involve writing in the English language, the story begins in England. By the early 19th century it settles in the United States. (It would be intriguing to see similar volumes for other English-speaking countries.)
Willan’s profiles, while relatively brief, are as vivid as she can make them given that some of her figures left very little trace behind other than their books. But as a collector of thousands of significant cookbooks herself, Willan is skilled at spotting salient details in text, as well as providing historical and cultural context that help us understand why a particular author or work captured or help shape the cooking of an era. These were often women of many interests and skills: one a novelist who published a daring tale of mixed-race love in 1824, at least two others made livings for a time as skilled dressmakers.
Willan’s more recent subjects will be familiar enough that only first names are needed: Fannie, Irma, Julia, Edna, Marcella, Alice. But anyone who wonders about the history of cookbooks will want to spend time with the earlier authors: Hannah Wooley (she was the first), Hannah Glasse, Amelia SImmons, Maria Rundell, Lydia Child, and Sarah Rutledge. In each profile Willan includes a few signature recipes and, where necessary, renders them in modern style as well for ease of preparation.
Hardcover. Black and white illustrations throughout.