Early European cookbooks were generally written for professional chefs, who were mostly men. So essentially these books were written for an elite audience.
A very new type of cookbook came into print during the 19th century. These cookbooks were generally written by women, for women and responded to a demand for professional instruction. This was only possible because literacy rates among women was on the rise. Industrialisation, migration and social mobility also required greater self-sufficiency.
The “modern” family was smaller and without the traditional support of an extended family. The less experienced housewife not only required a range of standard recipes, but also advice on practical housekeeping and how to manage seasonal variations in food supply.
The new readers of cookbooks were different from their predecessors in that they were literate middle class women with a disposable income that allowed them to experiment with different dishes and vary their family meals.
The mass production of cast-iron stoves in the late 19th century also represented a significant technological advance.
Ordinary housewives were now able to multi-task and move away from the “one pot” meal. Cooking was physically a more comfortable activity, the stoves made more efficient use of fuel, and with more control over the temperature generated, housekeepers found it much easier to experiment with new styles of cooking and baking.
As a result, these early recipe books contained a disproportionate number of recipes for baking breads, cakes, puddings and biscuits.
Mrs Beeton’s Every Day Cookery and Housekeeping Book is possibly one of the most famous cookbooks of this era. It was written by Isabella Beeton (1836-1865) and first printed in 1859.
Her book, an impressive tome by any standard, addressed a wide range of subjects that ranged from staff management, servants’ duty rosters, laundry work, marketing, table decorations, meals and menus and more than 3 000 recipes.
Mrs Dijkman’s recipe book is a much slimmer volume of recipes, many gleaned from similar Dutch cookbooks. What makes her cookbook interesting is that it is written in a quaint early version of Afrikaans. Later editions also included a number of boere rate.