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 firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a message on the blog!
Judith, Local Studies Librarian at Westminster City Archives