The First Female Cookbook Authors
Celebrate Women’s History Month with some Secret-Pye
We are all familiar with the most influential female cookbook authors of our own era – Julia Child immediately comes to mind. But Julia stood on the shoulders of many titans who preceded her, stretching back four and half centuries. Back then there were many professional female cooks, but literacy and access to publishers was a rarity. The very first female cookbook writer is believed to be Sabina Welserin of Augsburg, Germany. Her Kochbuch of 1553, however remained in manuscript form until modern times.
Anna Weckerin’s Ein Köstlich new Kochbuch (A Delicious New Cookbook) of 1598 is the first cookbook published by a woman. It went through many editions up through the 17th century. She was the wife of a prominent professor of medicine, Johann Jacob Wecker, and not surprisingly, was health conscious. Her recipes include a roast salmon with a sour sauce, an eel pie, as well as more familiar German dishes like Bratwurst and Lebkuchen.
In the late 17th and 18th century a number of English cookbooks written by women appeared, all of which flagrantly borrowed from each other. One of the most delightful and least known of these is Rare and Excellent Receipts by Mary Tillinghast published in 1690. This is one of her best recipes, for a sweet potato pie baked with lots of butter and candied citron and fruit preserves. It was probably called “Secret” because the main ingredient, sweet potatoes, were considered an aphrodisiac back then.
How to make a Potato or Secret-Pye
First boyl your Roots, and take the skin from them; then season them with Cinnamon, Nutmegs, Sugar, and a litle Salt, not two sweet, because the Roots are sweet; then butter the bottom of your Pie; then lay on the Potato’s or Secrets; then lay on some Preserves of Cherries, Gooseberries, Grapes, Barberies, White Bullice, Corrants; all these must be preserv’d, some candid citron cut in thin slices, and lay all over the other Preserves; the Marrow of 2 large Bones, is enough for three pound of any of these Roots, then lay a pound of good sweet Butter over all, and close the pie: an hour and a half will bake it.
And in the United States, we must remember that not only was the first cookbook printed on these shores written by a woman (Hannah Glasse) but the first truly American cookbook that uses native ingredients and techniques was by a woman too: Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery of 1796.
Ken Albala is the author of nine food books including Beans: A History, winner of the 2008 IACP Jane Grigson Award.