'Well-Tested, Written with Greatest Effort and Care': The Various Functions of Austrian Manuscript Recipe Books

Helga Mullneritsch (University of Liverpool)
29 June 2017

In my paper, I explore the form and function of the Austrian manuscript recipe book in the long eighteenth century. German scholars tend to focus on the linguistic peculiarities of the recipes, and Anglo-American scholars on female life-writing and life-stories, while food historians are primarily interested in the history of the recipes. The function of the artefacts, based on their material peculiarities, has so far not been researched systematically. Due to the peculiar form of the manuscripts, there are ‘types of use’ rather than ‘types of manuscripts’. Four such ‘types of usage’ can be established: the manuscript cookery/recipe book as (1) book in its own right, (2) prestige object, (3) memory aid, and (4) manual of practical instruction. I will draw on case-studies which show the role of the manuscript recipe book in the private sphere, i.e., the household, and in the public. It served, for example, as a tool for professional cooks and chefs, enabling them to carry out their work in upper-class and noble kitchens; allowed women to earn money, by working as female scribes and making manuscripts for a fee; was used to strengthen friendships and kinship boundaries, and acted as a sign of love, and status. In the history of reading and writing, the manuscript recipe/cookery book is still marginalised, although it played an important part in the education of women and men in the early modern household, in terms of literacy, numerical literacy, and science.

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