A Taste for the Rare and the Well-Done: Recipe Texts and the Book Trade

By Anke Timmermann

Part I: If music be the love of food

My most enjoyable and extensive experience with recipe literature as a book dealer to date was handling the conductor Christopher Hogwood’s collection of books on food and drink in 2016. At the time, many who saw the catalogue expressed surprise that a man best known as a specialist in Neo-Baroque and Neo-Classical music would collect recipe books including a seventeenth-century manuscript explaining the preparation of pickled pigeons, hogs’ feet, early modern macarons, and ‘new College Pudding’; an eighteenth-century manuscript recipe collection that had once been part of the libraries of both the eccentric doctor-turned-food writer William Kitchiner (1778-1827) and, two centuries later, the food historian and bibliophile Eric Quayle; Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery, which appeared in a rapid succession of editions; a rare edition of John Davies’ Innkeeper’s and Butler’s Guide on the making and flavouring of British wines; and books and an autograph manuscript by Édouard de Pomiane, the 20th-century French physician, scientist, and writer and broadcaster on gastronomy, who was greatly admired by Elizabeth David. Hogwood’s library also included sets of Aga ‘Menus’ (periodical private press-styled leaflets with recipes and news for owners of Aga cookers) and orchestra cook books, i.e. recipes collected from and published by musicians to raise funds.

But it was not only the detailed information on food preparation, the international trade in food stuffs, national dishes and foreign influences, on social structures and etiquette, nor the detailed depiction of work in historical kitchens in word and image, nor even the classic design of modern cook books that would have given Christopher Hogwood the impulse to add culinary works to the historical objects that surrounded him in his Cambridge home. Rather, the parallels he drew between food and music also marked his books on food and drink as working material for experiencing history through the senses. In an interview for the New York Times on 12 December 1990, Hogwood explained:

There’s a lot of mystique about the original scores sort of thing, … even a certain amount of rubbish about playing music with authentic instruments. And I found that if you translate the business into a question of recipes and ingredients, people feel a bit more entitled to make comments. … Talking about music in terms of recipes gives rise to more speculation … people begin to talk about what it was then, what it is now, and what the reasons are for changing. And they start to see how, if you change one ingredient, it really affects the final shape. The dish will come out different: it may be perfectly edible, but it won’t be the dish that was described originally. And the same applies to music: substitute an instrument and a wrong sonority or style will result.

Image 1: Sale catalogue for André Simon’s collection, Sotheby’s, 18 May 1981.

Hogwood (1941-2014) was one in a long line of collectors of works on food and drink (and related recipes – household, medical, veterinary – as well as other ‘how-to’ books on bee keeping, fishing or gardening) whose growing interest in the subject has not merely preserved, but rather recovered and broadened knowledge of recipe history. Many of the standard bibliographies on food and drink are, in fact, catalogues of private book collections, and therefore not intended to be complete, but rather to provide detailed descriptions of the exemplars in hand. They range from Katherine Golden Bitting’s early American Gastronomic Bibliography (1939; her collection is now in the Library of Congress), Eric Quayle’s entertaining Old Cook Books: An Illustrated History (1978; books from Quayle’s collection appeared at auction at Sotheby’s in 1997, and his collection was sold in two dedicated sales at Bonham’s in 2006) and the gastronomic polymath André L. Simon’s seminal Bibliotheca Gastronomica (1953), and Bibliotheca Vinaria (1913; selections from Simon’s extensive library were sold at Sotheby’s in 1972 and 1981), to William R. Cagle’s A Matter of Taste (1999), this last based on the institutional collection of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, which was a pioneer in its recognition of recipe literature as an important genre . Interestingly, in recent years, other libraries have caught up with private collectors, and developed their recipe collections significantly; however, this development was generally preceded and driven by the bibliophile tastes of private collectors.

The evolution of cook book collections has significantly influenced the way in which rare book dealers have been able to identify valuable items (both printed and manuscript), to rescue them from potential obscurity or destruction, and to find new homes for them. And the consequent development of the book market has made it possible for anyone with an interest in recipes and books to become a collector. How so? Read more in tomorrow’s second part of this blog.

Dr Anke Timmermann FLS is a historian of science-turned-antiquarian bookseller, and the author of Verse and Transmutation: A Corpus of Middle English Alchemical Poetry (Brill, 2013). Anke joined Bernard Quaritch Ltd, one of the oldest antiquarian booksellers in London, after finishing her Munby Fellowship in Bibliography at Cambridge University Library in 2014. She recently set up as an independent bookseller (A T Scriptorium, ), and specialises, among other things, in the history of science, and recipe books including culinary, medical and alchemical recipes. She tweets as @ElixirLibri.


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