Photo by Joanna Lopez

Cookbooks in history have had strong influences on today’s cuisines, but how did a cookbook originate, and who made the first cookbook?

Generations of Good Food,”a cookbook by Eleanor Gaccetta, is a collection of recipes and Italian life stories from six generations. Eleanor compiles 200 recipes for main courses, pastries, and candy.

Different families have their own version of a recipe. Some compile a number of special recipes in a book, which could be passed down to the next generations. Thinking about passing down a family cookbook of unique and traditional recipes, who do you think made the first cookbook ever?

Here are different cookbooks in history that might have influenced today’s culinary:

Oldest Documented Recipes

A recipe for flatbreads was uncovered on the walls of a 19th-century Egyptian tomb of Senet. It was taught to be one of the oldest documented recipes.

Discovered on clay tablets from Ancient Mesopotamia (14th century BC), a recipe for “liquid beer” or Sumerian beer was dedicated to the goddess of beer and brewing, Ninkasi (Kurunnītu).

First Recorded Cookbook

A cookbook is a compilation of recipes that documents a family tradition and guides a cook in creating a dish to the liking of the original creator. Moreover, the first document cookbook was written by Apicius called De Re Coquinaria, also known as Of Culinary Matters.

De Re Coquinaria is a cookbook, written in Latin, that contains over 500 recipes geared toward the wealthy and features a lot of Indian spices.

Nobody truly knows the identity of the real Apicius as the book is associated with different people named Apicius:

  • Marcus Gavius Apicius – The book is most closely associated with him as he has been documented in history. He was believed to be a gourmet and a luxury lover. After squandering his wealth to the last sesterce, he poisoned himself because he didn’t want to die from poverty.
  • Caelius Apicius (API CAE) – a name invented only to denote the header “API CAE” in the book. Some recipes are attributed to this name:
    • Patinam Apicianam sic facies (IV, 14)
    • Ofellas Apicianas (VII, 2)

Sailing Cookbook Instructions

Cookbook instructions and guides started to sail from one continent to another. This motion of instruction could be rooted in the exploration of spices around the world, which included the voyages of Columbus, Vasco de Gama, Magellan, and other adventurers.

These culinary instructions were documented in different published books from Rome and Egypt to the Middle East and Asia. Here are some cookbooks in history with similar documented instructions:

  • Kitab Al-Tablikh (The Book of Dishes) by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq (10th Century)
  • Kitab Al-Tablikh by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi (1226 AD)
  • Yinshan Zhengyao (Important Principles of Food and Drink) by Hu Sihui (13th or 14th century)
  • Manasollasa by King Someshvara III (Kalyani Chalukya dynasty)
  • Bhojana Kutuhala (16th Century) – a book on dietetics written on palm leaves discovered in the Grantha and Devanagari scripts.

The Boom of Cookbooks

Starting from the 12th century, the continent of Europe experienced an increase in cookbooks about nutrition, medicine, dietary advice, beverages, table etiquette, table setting, home management, agriculture, food preservation, and baking.

A 14th-century book, The Forme of Cury, is the oldest known English cookbook. This book is a compilation of 196 recipes by King Richard II’s cooks. Its instructions include cooking herons and whales with spices, such as pepper, nutmeg, mace, and clover.

First Female Cookbook Author

Cookbooks and their recipes were only made for the wealthy as most of them were created by royal cooks. Before, only the elites could try and afford to explore different cuisines and culinary methods because they could afford the ingredients.

Women were uneducated in the past. So, writing and reading the cookbooks were done by men. However, the first cookbook authored by a woman was published in 1653. Countess of Kent, Elizabeth Gray, became popular after her compilation of recipes was published two years after her death.

Her book was called A Choice Manuall, or Rare and Select Secrets in Physick and Chyrurgery: Collected, and Practised by the Right Honourable, the Countesse of Kent, Late Deceased.

This book, again, is a compilation of recipes collected by an editor named William Jarvis. The first part of the book talks about medicinal practices and recipes, while the second part called “A True Gentlewoman’s Delight” is about creating luxurious food.

Contrary to the “compilation” of Elizabeth Gray’s recipes by William Jarvis, a woman named Hannah Wooley published her cookbook, The Queen-like Closet; or Rich Cabinet in 1670.

Speaking of women in the world of culinary, Eleanor Gaccetta’s Generations of Good Food is a perfect cookbook for home cooking, professional gourmet, and beginner’s practice. You can visit to learn more about the author and her books.