Our fascination with cookbooks has virtually no limit. Celebrity chefs make millions on their beautifully illustrated cookbooks, many of which are never really used other than for fantasy. And basic classics like Better Homes & Gardens, Betty Crocker or Pillsbury will always sell. But before the nineteenth century, if a young woman or servant wasn’t taught culinary skills growing up, she was in for a rough trial-and-error period as she found herself pressed into service with a new husband and growing family. If she was able to read, she might find a few well-worn stained pages to consult but that was the extent of it.
Early cookbooks were for the wealthy only (especially royalty) and most of the castle kitchen staff couldn’t read. Of course very early cookbooks proved to be a bit daunting for the average farmer’s wife, like Forme of Cury (14th century) by the Master Cooks of King Richard II of England. Seems the portions were a tad overwhelming and one meal might require spending an entire year’s food budget for the average peasant. In Germany and England many of the books were written by women, who saw what was needed in households with fewer or no servants, and understood what made it possible to simplify the dishes with less expensive ingredients.
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