First Monday Library Chat: Winterthur Library

Welcome to our new monthly series! On the first Monday of every month, Michelle DiMeo will be interviewing a library or archive about the recipe books in their collections.

Today I’m chatting with Librarian Jeanne Solensky about the Winterthur Library: a  treasure trove of materials covering the history of everyday life in America. Set among a stunning landscape of 1,000 acres of rolling meadows and woodlands, the Winterthur Library shares a home with the Winterthur Museum and Garden in Winterthur, Delaware (about 6 miles from Wilmington, 30 miles from Philadelphia, and 75 miles from Baltimore.)

I’ve seen a few scholarly publications make reference to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century manuscript recipe books in your Joseph Downs collection. Can you tell us more about the scope of this collection?

It’s difficult to give an exact number of manuscript recipe books in the collection. Individual volumes number around 80, with additional ones and loose recipes housed within larger collections of family papers, and recipes that were written or pasted into account books and scrapbooks. The Shaker manuscript collection includes several recipe books, including two by Nurse Prudence Morrell of the New Lebanon, New York community who compiled medicinal recipes with botanical ingredients, one volume specifically for “female diseases.” Overall, the recipes cover not only cookery, medicine, and personal hygiene but also household hints, laundry, animal care, dyes, pottery glazes, paints and varnishes, and more. The books range in date from 1669 to the early 1900s; however, the majority is from the nineteenth century.

Apart from the Joseph Downs collection, do you have other recipe-related items, either ephemera or printed books, that might interest our readers? Is the strength of your recipe book collection American-authored texts?

The Printed Book Collection contains more recipe books, including The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion, the first cookbook printed in America in 1742 by William Parks of Williamsburg, VA, which was a revised edition of Eliza Smith’s 1727 one published in London. Books by famous 19th century English and American authors like Mrs. Beeton, Catharine Beecher, Lydia Maria Child, Sarah Josepha Hale, Eliza Leslie, and Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell are also here. In addition, that collection has numerous printed trade catalogs for foods and beverages; many are available through the Internet Archive.

Most manuscript recipe books are American, primarily from New England and Mid-Atlantic states, with several from England. Related material for food and beverages is found in several ephemera collections of advertisements, trade cards, and bills.

Do you have a favorite item or two in your library that you can highlight for us?

Choosing favorites is always problematic, but two are standouts for different reasons. For pure aesthetics, the first is the collection’s earliest recipe book from England dating around 1669. Its gorgeous red morocco leather binding features the owner’s initials, A.F. for Lady Anne Frescheville, on the front cover under a coronet stamped in gold. Inside an index to cakes, sweetmeats, waters, perfumes and “phisicall” receipts is neatly presented with the recipes following in beautiful, consistent penmanship throughout, most likely the work of a scribe.

Lady Frescheville Manuscript
Winterthur Library, Fol. 164. Lady Frescheville’s Receipt Book

Written in many hands of the Fiske family during the 1800s, the second recipe book cannot visually compare to Lady Frescheville’s. However, its cracked binding and numerous stains are evidence of the volume being used and consulted over a long period of time. Recipes for foods, cures, and cleaning household items are arranged into categories, and newspaper clippings of recipes and verses are glued to the inside front and back boards. Most interesting are the pages with rules on setting tea and dinner tables with accompanying diagrams offering us a glimpse into 19th century food presentation and etiquette.

Fiske Family Cookbook.
Winterthur Library, Doc. 723. Fiske Family Cookbook.

We are an international collective with a broad international readership. Can we access any of your items online?

People can search for recipe books in WinterCat, our online catalog using such keywords as “cookbook,” “recipe book,” and “receipt book.”  However, none have been digitized although I hope to do so in the future.

Besides trade catalogs accessible through the Internet Archive, certain manuscript and ephemera material is available online in our Digital Collections.  Several thousand loose trade cards are in the Advertising Ephemera Collection and over 100 bills in the Manuscript Invoices Collection.  Keep checking back as I continue to add items.

If anyone is searching a particular recipe, please contact me at jsolensky@winterthur.org for I have an in-house database of manuscript recipes.  I look forward to hearing from your readers and thank you for this opportunity to promote the Winterthur Library’s resources.

Now that you’ve piqued the interest of our blog readers, I’m assuming some may want to visit your collections. Could you tell us a bit about the available research fellowships?

Winterthur does offer short and long-term residential fellowships for topics of social and cultural history, art and architectural history, decorative arts and design, and the history of everyday life using both museum and library collections. Very timely question, as the deadline for application is January 15.

The Winterthur Library is open Monday-Friday 8:30-4:30pm. For more information, visit their website or email them at Reference@winterthur.org.

If you would like to nominate a library to be featured in the First Monday Library Chat, please contact Michelle DiMeo.


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