September 23, 2010

Hare with a pudding in its belly, and the future of cookbooks

I blogged recently about food historian Sandra Sherman's fascinating book, Invention of the Modern Cookbook, in which she explains how many cook and cookbook attributes that we think of as particularly modern (the incessant hype and marketing, the cult of the celebrity chef, the cunning methods of creating a market, etc.) were actually invented in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Last night I attended a lecture Sherman gave at the 58th Street public library on her book and was especially delighted with this example she gave of a 17th-century recipe:

Hare With a Pudding in its Belly

Gallon of flour, one-half ounce of nutmeg, one-half ounce pepper, salt, capers, raisins, pears in quarters, prunes with grapes, lemon, or gooseberries, and for the liquor, a pound of sugar, pint of claret or verjuyce, and some large mace.

Quantities peter out, and there is no mention of  cooking methods, times or the order of adding ingredients. I would be hard pressed to make the pudding, let alone figure out how to cook it in the hare's belly. Sherman's point was that it took a while for early cookbook authors to figure out how to write a recipe down. At least some things about cookbooks have progressed quite a bit since those early days.

Questioned on whether cookbooks will survive the abundance of free cooking advice, recipes, videos and other information on the internet, Sherman replied with the confidence of someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about them, "I'm sure that cookbooks will be the last books standing."