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About the Cookbook

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is a manuscript recipe book in the collections of Westminster City Archives. The recipes, recorded in several different hands, span 150 years of British cookery, providing a fascinating insight into culinary craft of the Georgian and Regency periods.

We know little about the provenance of the Cookbook, and its passage from the eighteenth-century kitchen to our library shelves is shrouded in mystery.

It was originally thought that the book was written by a group of ladies about the year 1761, the date deriving from a rough note on the original binding. However, there are later recipes interspersed among those from the Eighteenth Century. Many are drawn from William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, which was first published in 1817 and appeared in many editions.

Other recipes appear to have been compiled far earlier than 1761. Our analysis of handwriting and spelling in the cookbook suggests that some of its entries were written at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, and in a few cases may even pre-date 1700.

As for the identity of the Cookbook‘s authors, there are a number of clues. Some of our writers give named sources for their recipes (e.g. ‘Mr Walsh his potted beef’). There are regional recipes, a pub name, and specified family members (‘Aunt Preston’). But, even with these leads, the ‘Unknown Ladies’ of our cookbook have yet to be identified.

We’ll be exploring some of these clues as we share recipes from the Cookbook on this blog over the coming year. We’d love to hear from you if you have any information about where our book may have come from – email us at archives@westminster.gov.uk or leave us a message on the blog!

Judith, Local Studies Librarian at Westminster City Archives

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11 thoughts on “About the Cookbook

  1. I love this blog! I do a lot of research in history for my novels, and I love cooking – so anything that combines the two is a great find! Thank you for stopping by The Writer’s Stuff; I’ll be posting more in future of the Art of Cookery, so stay tuned. You might also like another blog of mine, Cuppanatter – modern recipes, but some also translated from German as I am in Switzerland.

  2. This is a fascinating blog. I write articles on herbal lore and came across this blog while searching for recipes using tansy. Thank you for sharing this cookbook and its history.

  3. Hello, I am the author of a cultural and historic book of date recipes from across time and place – some ancient, others modern. I have scoured Elisabethan cookbooks looking for recipes that include dates, in pies etc. I am unfortunately away on Sept 30 so cannot make your talk but would be very pleased to hear from you by email should you have any info for me. Many thanks, Sarah

  4. I really love this blog – history and food (and archives), my favorite things. I’ve recently given you the Sunshine Blog Award. It is given to those who positively inspire others in the “blogoshphere”. I’ve mentioned you in my recent post, Sunshine & Stars. There is no need to follow the “rules” unless you want to carry on the “chain” and make nominations yourself. So, congratulations!

    • Hi there. Thank you so much for the nomination… We’re really thrilled you’re enjoying the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies! We’ll be posting something very shortly to share some of the inspiring sites we’ve come across while writing this blog.

      We’ll be sharing some festive Georgian recipes in the run up to Christmas, I hope you’ll enjoy them!

      • I really do love the blog – great writing and lots of things of interest. I have worked as an archivist and have made use of archives for some of my professional articles and know what treasures lie on shelves in forgotten corners of libraries. It’s often the seemingly mundane things that have the greatest interest when presented in the right way as you have done with this blog. I wish I could have known some of your “unknown ladies”. Congratulations and well deserved!

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