Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Reminder About Primary Sources

One of the things we do a bit differently over here at the Historical Food Fortnightly is that we all use primary sources for recipes. In case you're new, I'd like to call your attention to this blog post from last year, just before we started the first round of challenges: Primary Sources and Why They Matter.

You may have noticed I'm not a huge fan of rules. I think rules (while important) tend to get in the way of creativity, so we only have a few rules that we think are Really Very Necessary. One of those rules is that participants use primary sources. It's just way more fun and more cool that way!

But Betsy, I can hear you saying, where do I find primary sources?

You're in luck. It's easier these days to find primary sources than it ever was, thanks to the beauty of the Internet. There are databases and collections at your fingertips, ripe for the searching! We've listed a few of them in the FAQs page.

HFFers*: Anyone care to share some of your primary source goldmines?

*In my mind, this is pronounced "heifers". No offense intended.


  1. is my go-to stop for everything medieval. They have links to several online cookbooks - some are in English, some are not...some are in middle English. The owner of the site has quite a few recipes already redacted. It's pretty easy to use.

    I also use good old fashioned books. :-) One of my favorites is called the Opera - it's a 16th Century Italian cookbook that has been translated into modern English.

    1. Do redacted recipes still count as primary sources? My experience from reading different translations of the Tale of Genji that the translation can be significantly altered from the original. Based on that, I'd assumed that we'd need to do our own redacting for the HFF. If this is not the case, I am delighted because redacting was the roadblock for my participation this year!

    2. It depends. I know with the middle eastern cookbooks it can get crazy. I can read enough of the Italian and French to figure out if what the person who is translating and redacting it is making any sense. I can read the middle English pretty well on my own so it hasn't been an issue.

      Given that most medieval/renaissance recipes don't have measurements and it's a big guessing game, I'd post both the original and the one you are using.

  2. You can find some, eg The Form Of Cury, on Gutenberg.

  3. There are many cookbooks on Google Books and the Internet Archive. There's a list at The Old Foodie and at

    I also love the Feeding America project from the University of Michigan
    and The Food Timeline

    The newspaper is a good source of recipes. Anyone interested in food during WWI and WWII should check out my exhibit at . The bibliography should help you find primary sources in addition to the newspaper recipes I used. has many handwritten vintage recipes. If you want to go way back and eat like the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony check out Plimoth Plantation's official food blog Pilgrim Seasonings

    I troll used bookstores and antique and vintage shops for old cookbooks. A popular brand of baking powder used to be made in my hometown and they produced many editions of a cookbook and pamphlets.

  4. I second the antique store call. I collect antique and vintage cookbooks, and I get many of them through a casual perusal of a bookshelf. Sometimes, there are reprints of older books too! I recently found a 1960s reprint of an 1880s book on Virginian cooking for $5 and it was in great shape.

    You can also check Etsy -- often times booksellers list them under "ephemera", which is a darling word. You can easily find early editions of Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cook Book (it was published something like 30 times under that title), or my favorite authoress, Marion Harland published many books as well.

    There's also several online editions of Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management, this being one:

    These are all Victorian/Edwardian resources.

  5. The gode cookery is good for medieval stuff. I second project gutenberg as an excellent source. I've also found a bunch of small cookbooks (generally compilations of original recipes) at a historic village near me, so maybe that would work.