Sun. Nov 28th, 2021


Take half a dozen tomatoes that are ripe, and put them to roast in the coals, and when scorched, diligently remove the skin and grind it with a knife. Add onions, finely chopped, at will; hot chillies, also finely chopped; and thyme, in a small quantity. Once everything is mixed together, adjust it with a little salt, oil and vinegar. “First published in Die Scalco Alla Moderna in Naples in 1692, it is not only the earliest recorded recipe for a tomato sauce, but also the first suggestion that tomatoes be used in Italian cuisine. This is a great example of the cultural value that a rare cookbook can hold – and the prices they can charge: a third edition sold for £ 10,000 in Sotheby’s 2010 sales Books For Cooks.

The Joy of Cooking by Irma S Rombauer (1931, limited edition first edition), $ 12,000, by Rabelais

The Joy of Cooking by Irma S Rombauer (1931, limited edition first edition), $ 12,000, by Rabelais

Classic titles are the bread and butter of the genre. A very well-drawn first edition of Julia Child’s Master the art of French cuisine will cost about $ 7,500, estimates Don Lindgren, who runs Rabelais, Maine’s antique bookstore that specializes in cookbooks. A good first edition of Elizabeth David’s A book of Mediterranean food can sell for $ 1,500 to $ 2,000. Irma Rombauer The joy of cooking, self-published in 1931 and one of the first books to cater to the American middle-class courier, is “one of the most iconic in American history,” he adds. “When the New York Public Library released a list of 100 amazing books for its 100th anniversary, it was the only cookbook.”

A First Edition of A Book of Mediterranean Food, by Elizabeth David, $ 1,500- $ 2,000 at Rabelais

A First Edition of A Book of Mediterranean Food, by Elizabeth David, $ 1,500- $ 2,000 at Rabelais

But Emma Walshe, of London’s rare bookseller Peter Harrington, also emphasizes a rich seam that celebrates the strange and wonderful. “The culinary arts can lend themselves to innovative ideas and eccentric personalities,” she says. A first edition of Abraham Edlin’s 1805 A dissertation on the art of making bread (£ 1,000) finds the author describes the practice of making bread as “a beautiful and interesting branch of experimental philosophy”. She also highlights Alchemist’s cookbook by Ahmed Yacoubi (£ 475 for a signed first edition), a Moroccan artist and storyteller who became a protégé of Francis Bacon. It offers 125 recipes, including a “soup to cure jealousy”.

Alchemist's Cookbook by Ahmed Yacoubi (1972, signed first edition), £ 475

Alchemist’s Cookbook by Ahmed Yacoubi (1972, signed first edition), £ 475

The Dessert Book by A Boston Lady (1872), £ 400

The Dessert Book by A Boston Lady (1872), £ 400

What is also rewarding, Lindgren adds, is when current food trends, new perspectives or political shifts help to re-emerge titles that are overlooked. He enjoyed reading the 19th century title Why not eat insects? ($ 1,000) and currently has an almost fine late 19th century title, One hundred new and original receipts by Aunt Priscilla of New Bedford ($ 500), the earliest American book on the subject of seaweed as an ingredient. Distillation manuals – such as a mid-19th-century manuscript recipe book for fermented and distilled beverages ($ 750) – seem to be popular among the burgeoning group of craft brewers.

Le Patissier Royal Parisien by Marie-Antoine Careme (1815, first edition), by Peter Harrington

Le Patissier Royal Parisien by Marie-Antoine Careme (1815, first edition), by Peter Harrington

Where to buy

Peter Harrington 100 Fulham Rd, London SW3; peterharrington.co.uk

Rabelais 2 Main St Suite 18-214, Biddeford, Maine 04005; rabelaisbooks.com

Sotheby’s sothebys.com

Where to see

Deichman Bjørvika (Oslo Public Library) Anne-Cath, Vestlys plass 1, 0150 Oslo, Norway

Welcome Collection 183 Euston Rd, London NW1

What to read

Cooking through the ages by JR Ainsworth-Davis (JM Dent)

Old cookbooks: an illustrated history by Eric Quayle (Studio Vista)

“As the wider world awakens to the African-American role in American culture and history, there is also more and more interest in acquiring these titles that were previously under-recognized or under-represented,” Lindgren adds. But they are hard to come by, with only four well-known 19th-century cookbooks in the category, including Robert Roberts’s The Maid’s Guide (1827), currently listed at Abebooks for £ 5,956.

For many collectors, the magic is in looking at an unusual illustration or learning about a rare technique rather than embarking on an evening spent making “bear-on-the-leg” (‘ a recipe from one of the oldest printed cookbooks), says Sotheby’s head of books and manuscripts, David Goldthorpe. Many of his clients are chefs “who gather for pleasure and for inspiration”.

“I never use them,” says author and curator Fanny Singer of her collection. “The recipes are generally too outdated or complex or just unattractive, but the writing and illustrations are often so wonderful. I use them to get into a headspace of writing about food in general, rather than cooking it. ” She obtains her books from Omnivore Books in San Francisco and Bart’s Books in Ojai, California, and stores them “next to all my beloved art and poetry books. I consider them genetically related. “

“I’m looking for books that teach me something, whether it’s about origin, history, terroir or technique,” says Skye Gyngell of London’s Spring restaurant. “I find that books are not written much now, and therefore I refer back to books that were written many years ago – such as e.g. The Food Of France by Waverley Root – which is fascinating and detailed. ”

And while pristine spending pulls the highest bid, the weird shot of gravy can add charm. “I think it’s nice when you come across a book that we sometimes describe as a ‘kitchen copy’,” says Walshe. Lindgren agrees: “Did the owner pass it on from hand to hand? Did they make marks, corrections, remarks? The books become living repositories of other kitchen information. ”



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