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Collecting cooking, food & wine

by Marion Richmond

A collection of cookery books in the 21st century is far different from a comparable collection at the beginning of the 20th century. The art of cooking reflects the changes in social history and now the great expansion of travel around the world.

The cooking of many lands is influenced by the discovery of spices by 14th-century Europeans and by 17th-century North Americans. No doubt in due time modern archeologists can write books on the foods of the Incas and the spices the Spanish conquistadors brought to Mexico.

There appear to be great differences currently in establishing either a North American or European collection of cookery books even when they are all published in English.

The great late British food and wine writer Andre L. Simon compiled and annotated a standard work, the Bibliotheca Gastanomica, a catalogue of books and documents on gastronomy, in 1953. The original was published by the Wine and Food Society, of which Mr Simon was president. The catalogue covers items published from the 15th to the 19th centuries and although not readily available, should be regarded as the primary source for a collector of that period of European cookery books. He donated the collection to the Wine and Food Society library.

Forming a collection can reflect either the interests of a more specialized collector, such as a top chef gathering the work of culinary experts from his or her own or other countries that can be tried and adapted in their restaurants.

Chefs currently or formerly in London with their own restaurants who have written collectable books are Pierre Boulestin [French], Antomio Carlucci [Italian], Prue Leith [British], Kenneth Lo [Chinese], Anton Mosimann [Swiss], Gary Rhodes [British], the Roux Brothers [French] and Anthony Worral Thompson [British].

Classic cookbooks of the 19th century which are prized by antiquarian collectors are fairly scarce and do not adapt easily to today's lifestyles. The books were usually written by the housekeepers to great houses who had access to large staffs for the preparation and growing of food for the household. The kitchen garden to supply fruit and vegetables even up to the end of World War I would have three people working all year, as well as a gamekeeper to supply salmon and trout from the river, wild birds, and rabbits. These books show a meal as consisting of up to 10 or more courses with wines and set at an elaborate table. The book that is continuously being revised and could be collected in all its editions is Mrs Beeton's Book of Cookery and Household Management, published first in 1861 and now by Ward Lock.

American culinary experts of former times whose books are not found in the United Kingdom are Lydia Maria Francis, Eliza Leslie, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Marla Parloa, who wrote at a similar time to Mrs. Beeton.

One of the most popular series of cookbooks published by Penguin in paperback was those of Elizabeth David, who, for a generation introduced women to Mediterranean food, Italian food, French provincial cooking, French country cooking, and her summer cooking, which contains over 1000 recipes from around the world.

The lengthy pattern of emigration from all parts of Europe and now Asia to North America is also reflected in the American cookbooks that can be collected. An interesting collection can be formed by comparing the cuisine of the home country and its adaptations to differing produce available in the United States as, for example, Dutch cookery and Pennsylvania Dutch cookery or Minnesota Scandinavian and Swedish or Norwegian cookery. Asian cooking is adapted in both the United States and Britain to be more in tune with the native palate.

Food manufacturers such as General Mills have over many years produced cookbooks to promote the use of their products. These are actively collected in the United States and my information about them comes from an American cookbook bookseller and collector, Col. Bob Allen, who has written an excellent illustrated reference work entitled A Guide to Collecting Cookbooks, published by Collector Books. It does, however, only cover American books.

Cookbooks can also tie in with other themes of collecting. We also specialize in mysteries and on our shelves you can find a copy of the Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout and the editors of the Viking Press. Stout brought his books to life with his twin passions of fine cuisine and growing orchids. Thriller writer Len Deighton is also a writer of cookery books and his ABC of French Food is easy to follow, illustrated, and instructive.

Ming Books is situated in Dumfries and Galloway in southwest Scotland. The area is renowned for its fine cattle, the local beef cow the Belted Galloway, Aberdeen Angus graze in green fields all year, the area is rainy and there is no need for artificial food supplements. Deer in the hills provide fresh venison and salmon and trout in the rivers as well as shellfish from the coast form the base of a good tradition of cookery. The area is also rich in smokehouses that produce smoked fish, cheeses and duck. Collectible authors from this region are Elizabeth Craig, whose Scottish Cookery Book was published by Andre Deutsch in 1956. More modern titles are Theodora and her Traditional Scottish Cookery, a softcover published by Lomond Books and Catherine Brown's Scottish Cookery is an illustrated working cookbook with advice on seasonal dishes.

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