Tag Archives: authorship

Collaboration in the Production of Recipe Books

By Simone Zweifel

Printed recipe books in the sixteenth and seventeenth century were often compilations of recipes copied out of already existing books or manuscripts. I use “recipe book” as an umbrella term to bring together Books of Secrets, cookery books, and other recipe books. Johann Jacob Wecker (1528-1586/88), city physician of Colmar in the late sixteenth century, was an important translator and editor of recipe books in the German speaking area. He published, amongst other books, so-called Antidotaria, and translations and editions of Books of Secrets. While the first publications of Books of Secrets were translations into Latin and German of the Secreti del reverendo donno Alessio piemontese, the later ones were augmented versions, compiled from different books.[1] These later versions were issued several times over a long period of time, and some were even translated into French and English.[2] The many editions and translations of the texts indicate their popularity.

Universitätsbibliothek Basel, Lo VI 50: De secretis libri XVII. Image Credit: University Library Basel. © University Library Basel.
An example of a Book of Secrets: Universitätsbibliothek Basel, Lo VI 50: De secretis libri XVII. Image Credit: University Library Basel. © University Library Basel.

The publications of Johann Jacob Wecker, I argue, were not a product of one person alone, but a collaboration of several actors.[3] This can be observed on the basis of the correspondence between him, Theodor Zwinger (1533-1588), Pietro Perna (1519/20-1582) and Samuel Grynaeus (1529-1599). Zwinger was a professor of ethics at the University of Basel and presumably corrector at Perna’s printing shop, while Perna issued most of Wecker’s publications in Basel. Grynaeus seems to have provided Wecker and Zwinger with books containing recipes. These men collaborated to produce and print recipe books in Wecker’s name. Their correspondence is part of the Zwinger Correspondence, which today is held at the Basel University Library. While the correspondence contains around 2350 letters, I looked at a selection of fifty-six letters, of which Wecker wrote fifty-one.[4]

Wecker, of course, needed books to copy from in order to produce the compilations. To obtain such exemplars, he wrote to Samuel Grynaeus:

I am still lacking several secreta theologica for my librum de secretis. I would like to collect several [secreta, SZ] from them, and would like to do it soon. I would send them back to you shortly after [using them, SZ] or pay them.[5]

Universitätsbibliothek Basel, Frey-Gryn Mscr II 4: Nr.326: Brief an Theodor Zwinger. Image Credit: University Library Basel. © University Library Basel.
An example of a letter of Johann Jacob Wecker: Universitätsbibliothek Basel, Frey-Gryn Mscr II 4: Nr.326: Brief an Theodor Zwinger. Image Credit: University Library Basel. © University Library Basel.

Wecker thus asked Grynaeus for “recipes” which he could use. It seems that making a “voluminous opus” was important to him. He wrote to Zwinger: “I made the [Book of Secret, SZ] as voluminous as possible. Had I had or known more authors, I would have made it even bigger.”[6] The letters also suggest that Zwinger supported Wecker by correcting and improving his texts: “I owe you special thanks for the very fine and best improvement of my tables”.[7] In addition, it is possible that Zwinger wrote some of the prefaces for Wecker.[8]

Even though only Wecker’s name appears on most title pages of the recipe books I’ve examined, those books were the fruits of a collaboration between Wecker, Perna, Zwinger, and Grynaeus. We do not know if there were even more people involved in the production of Wecker’s texts! What we do know, thanks to the letters that they sent each other, is that the collaboration of several people was the basis for the production of the books in the end published in the name of Johann Jacob Wecker. It is important to keep this in mind when thinking about the “authorship” of early modern recipe books.

[1] A possible “original” edition could have been: Piemontese, Alessio. Secreti del reverendo donno Alessio piemontese [pseud.? i. e. Girolamo Ruscelli?]. Nuovamente posti in luce. Opera utile, et necessaria universalmente à ciascuno […], Venetia: Sigismondo Bordogna, 1555.

[2] Amongst others: Wecker, Johann Jacob. Les secrets et merveilles de nature. Recueilis de divers autheurs & divisez en 17, livres. Lyon: B. Honorati, 1586; Wecker, Johann Jacob; Read R. Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art & Nature Being the Summe and Substance of Naturall Philosophy, Methodically Digested, London: Robert Stockwell, 1660.

[3] See Zweifel, Simone. Communitas epistolaria am Oberrhein, das Ärzte-Ehepaar Anna (gest. 1596/97) und Johann Jacob Wecker (1528-1586/88) und ihr Umfeld, Masterarbeit Universität Basel, Basel 2012.

[4] On the Zwinger Correspondence, see: Wilhelm Kühlmann and Joachim Telle (eds.). Der Frühparacelsismus (Teil II, Berlin, Boston 2004), 772.

[5] “Es manglen mir noch etliche secreta theologica in mein librum de secretis. Wolte gern darauß ettliche colligieren soll baldt geschechen, vnd euch auffs kürtzest widerumb zugeschickt werden, oder bezalt werden.” Universitätsbibliothek Basel. G2 I 30 fol. 187. Wecker, Johann Jacob. Brief an Samuel Grynaus.

[6] “Daß [Book of Secret, SZ] hab ich so groß gemacht, als mir müglich gwesen, het ich mher athores gehapt oder gewüst, welte ichs auch vil groser gemacht haben.” Universitätsbibliothek Basel. Fr. Gr. Ms. II, 4, N° 326. Wecker, Johann Jacob. Brief an Theodor Zwinger.

[7] “Pro tabularum mearum emendatio re pulcherrima atque optima, summas tibi gratias ago.” Universitätsbibliothek Basel. Fr. Gr. Ms. II, 4, N° 316. Wecker, Johann Jacob. Brief an Theodor Zwinger.

[8] Kühlmann/Telle, Der Frühparacelsismus, 746.

Different ways to cook a rabbit: Georgiana Hill and Mrs Beeton

By Rachel Rich

Georgiana Hill's cookbooks are serious books for serious foodies.
The sober title page matches Georgiana Hill’s serious approach to cookery. Credit: The Internet Archive



Georgiana Hill was a prolific cookery writer around the time when Mrs Beeton published her Book of Household Management (1861). Each woman wrote from an educated perspective, drawing on history and mythology to contextualise the ingredients they wrote about. Isabella Beeton was a young, successful journalist, who probably spent very little time in the kitchen. Much less is known of Hill’s life, but the introductions to her many publications, as well as the recipes themselves, suggest certain possibilities.

Unlike Beeton, whose Book includes recipes for every food imaginable, and advice about every aspect of domesticity, Hill keeps her focus solely on the food. In the introduction to The Gourmet’s Guide to Rabbit Cooking, In One Hundred and Twenty-Four Dishes (1859), Hill discussed her childhood fascination with rabbits, before moving on to their culinary purpose–a flight of fancy one can only imagine Mrs Beeton would have found pointless if not downright distasteful. Whereas Beeton depicted herself as the solidly English, economical and practical mistress of a well-run home, Hill consciously allied herself with the French ‘who possess an aptitude for delicacy of expression of which an English cook is totally deficient.’ Hill went on to write that ‘the charm of rabbits consists in their being so easily and agreeably accommodated (mark the word), and in their capability of producing a variety of compositions, which, if proceeding from the hands of an able artiste, may, for elegance, be ranked among the most recherché dishes that can dignify the table of refined and enlightened amphitryons.’

General advice for every eventuality, including the cooking of rabbits.
Mrs Beeton’s more ornate title page illustrates the contrast of her more domestic  femininity with Hill’s gender neural approach. Source: British Library/wikipedia

Hill’s recipes also differed from Beeton’s. Beeton started every recipe with a list of ingredients, then methodically went through the instructions, and finished with information about time, cost, number fed, and seasonability. Hill did not take up such modern practices, keeping rather to the traditional, discursive from. Thus, recipe 56 ‘To Curry Cold Rabbit’ reads:

Cut up two good-sized onions, one cucumber, two apples, and a slice or more of ham and cut into dice. Put these things into a stewpan, with a quarter of a pound of butter, and stir them well until they are done; then add your pieces of rabbit, and the juice of a lemon strained from the pips; shake it for a few minutes, pour in a pint of good stock, and let it simmer for twenty minutes, skimming frequently. When done, you can either dish it as it is, or arrange the rabbit in your dish, and strain the sauce through a sieve over it. Serve boiled rice apart.

The difference between Hill and Beeton is that Hill was writing as a cook and food enthusiast who assumed that her writers shared her passion. Beeton was writing for women for whom she imagined the running of the home to be a serious business: ‘As with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house.’ Clearly each book found an audience and a market, but where Beeton wrote condescendingly to (imagined) morally and intellectually weak housewives, Hill chose a more neutral approach, calling herself ‘An Old Epicure,’ and eschewing domestic advice in favour of a specialist’s approach to food preparation.