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Manuscript Cookbook Collection

Manuscript Cookbook Collection

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Title:Manuscript Cookbook Collection
Quantity:1 Linear foot (2 boxes)
Abstract:The Manuscript Cookbook Collection is an artificial collection containing manuscript cookbooks and recipes collected by the Phillips Library, dated from 1809 to 1918, with the bulk of materials from the nineteenth century.
Collection Number:MSS 483

Series List

Scope and Content Note

The Manuscript Cookbook Collection is an artificial collection containing manuscript cookbooks and recipes collected by the Phillips Library, dated from 1809 to 1918, with the bulk of materials from the nineteenth century. It comprises volumes into which women wrote culinary, medicinal, and household recipes, which range from cleaning solutions to cures for ailments as serious as consumption. In addition to recipes of many kinds, some of the books include accounts, knitting directions, dinner party menus with comments, and pages with the alphabet written by children practicing their handwriting. Others have historical stories and poems written between pages of recipes, giving hints to the writers' relationships and interests. Many of the books also include newspaper clippings, either pasted in or simply stuck between the pages. Often, these are pasted in on top of other writings, suggesting the scarcity of paper. These clippings are often the sources of dates and locations for the manuscripts themselves, but are also suggestive of their nature as family heirlooms, with expansive date ranges.

Some of these are bound with a cover; others are bound with thread or folded together. Still more recipes can be found on loose sheets of paper of all sizes. Some of the books and sheets are inscribed with names and dates, but many are anonymous and undated. Even those that include names are sometimes challenging to identify due to the popularity of certain names and the format of using only a title and surname. There are also at times several names on each sheet, referring to the owner of the sheet and the friends or family members from whom the recipes came. Those that could not be identified with certainty are filed with the undated materials.

Yet, the dates of creation for the anonymous and undated items in this collections can be limited to some degree by several factors, including the use of cursive script and certain styles of lettering, the simplicity of the directions included in the recipes, and the similarity of the dishes, such as particular types of cakes, puddings, jellies, and pickles. These details suggest that all the included recipes date from approximately the same period in American history, from its very beginnings up until the twentieth century.

The Manuscript Cookbook Collection has been organized chronologically, using the dates mentioned within the manuscripts, recipe sheets, and newspaper clippings. Manuscript books, with and without inscriptions, are filed first, followed by undated manuscript materials and loose sheets. Within the undated loose materials, the culinary recipes are placed together in several folders, while other folders contain histories and poems. The individual recipes for cleaning agents and medicinal cures, sewing and knitting directions, and pickled items are together within a single folder.

Historical Sketch

Up until the early twentieth century, it was quite common for American women to keep a hand-written personal cookbook. Sometimes they were given as wedding gifts, and typically the books were passed down through a family. Often anonymous and without dates, the recipe books are not merely directive for cooking, but instead make up a collection relating to the varied tasks of a woman caring for her family during the seventeenth to nineteenth century. They contain more than just culinary recipes; in an era and place where medical doctors were a rarity and household products scarce, many of the recipes are cures for ailments ranging from insect bites to cholera, deafness, and consumption. Recipes also were intended for cleaning and other household tasks, such as solutions for the removal of tar and pitch, methods for hardening soap, and the creation of a shellac varnish or a shampooing mixture.

The culinary recipes tend to focus on the more complicated preserved items and sweets—there are multitudinous recipes for cakes, puddings, and pies, as well as pickles and both sweet and savory jellies, but very few everyday recipes for vegetables. The included recipes for meat dishes tend to reflect what was most readily available in New England at the time, such as venison, pigeon, duck, lobster, rabbit, and beef. Interestingly, in early American recipe books, the dishes described are often of British or European origins, yet are created with ingredients that are local to regions of North America. In the recipes included in this collection, those are items local to New England, like Indian meal, cranberries, and pumpkin, as well as specifically American leavening agents like pearl ash, an early form of baking powder. The women writing these recipe books were not always educated, and the terms are often spelled phonetically. Moreover, the recipes typically do not include directions, but instead simply list the ingredients, often missing critical elements that would have simply been commonplace and understood, such as flour within a cake recipe.

Some of these clippings, as well as some copied recipes, specifically mention Miss Maria Parloa (1843-1909), the food editor of Good Housekeeping in the late nineteenth century who is touted as the first American celebrity chef. She operated cooking schools in Boston and New York City from 1877 to 1887, and published several popular cookbooks, including Miss Parloa's New Cook Book: A Guide to Marketing and Cooking in 1880, to which there are direct references in the collection. Her cookbooks usually featured blank leaves at the end for cooks to add their own handwritten recipes.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Story, Julian Russell, 1857-1919
Delmonico's Restaurant (New York, N.Y.)
Canning and preserving
Charlotte russe
Cooking, American
Cooking, American--History
Cooking, American--New England
Formulas, recipes, etc.
Home economics
Traditional medicine


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Manuscript Cookbook Collection, MSS 483, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


William C. Waters, Jr., donated Elizabeth Humber's recipe book on February 7, 1917. Florence Frost donated two anonymous manuscript cookbooks on October 1, 1925, and a single unnamed recipe book was the gift of Nathan P. Cutler on October 24, 1931. On May 7, 1935, Clarissa Bingham donated a single, leather-bound anonymous cookbook. A set of attached recipe sheets, which make up the Nichols Family cookbook, was a gift of the estate of Charlotte Nichols in December 1938. The recipe books of Nelly Hassam and a loose set of papers were donated by Eleanor Hassam on December 16, 1940. On January 22, 1945, Mrs. Henry Buxton made a gift of Hulda Buxton's small recipe book. Loose recipe sheets were donated by Jesse H. Buffin on March 29, 1952. In that same year, Sally Todd donated Mary Winkley's cookbook. A small anonymous cookbook was a gift of the estate of A.D. Goodell on July 26, 1957. Two of the volumes were purchased. One was an anonymous manuscript which was received April 7, 1938; the other purchased cookbook was that of Agnes Dalrymple Bishop, on January 30, 1939. The recipe book of Julian Russell Story was a gift of Mrs. Edward H. Eldridge on April 25, 1945. The provenance of the rest of the material is unknown.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Elizabeth Coup, November 2014.

Related Material

Bartlett, Virginia K. "Cookbooks: Manuscript Cookbooks." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. 2nd ed. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Hess, Karen. Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

Parloa, Marie. Miss Parloa's New Cook Book: A Guide to Marketing and Cooking. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880.

Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life. Troy: Wright, Goodenow, & Stockwell, 1808.

Theopano, Janet. Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

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