Touchstones of Authenticity

Handwritten cookery books are unparalleled documents of real use that describe how ingredients and techniques change over time. For Chef Fritz, these manuscripts and older printed books often provide a foundation for building modern recipes. His rendition of an 18th-century recipe for seed cake strewn with caraway seeds is based on a number of sources, some of which use candied seeds known as comfits.

A copy of one of England’s best historical pastry books, The Complete Confectioner, is one of a dozen titles in Blank’s library that once belonged to American cookbook author and teacher James Beard.

"Some recipes are plain awful”
F. C. Blank

Interpreting older recipes requires a keen understanding of ingredients. Many dishes cannot be recreated exactly in modern kitchens; once common ingredients may be unavailable or are now known to be toxic. Sometimes, taste preferences have changed, leaving modern eaters to balk at presentations such as highly sweetened meats or cock’s blood in ale.

At other times, the names and nature of ingredients have changed. A cake recipe calling for multiple ground nutmegs, for instance, might seem excessive unless modern cooks understand that in the past nutmegs could be years old by the time they reached market. When so much of a spice’s aromatic compounds were dissipated, cooks sometimes compensated by increasing its bulk in recipes.


Older books’ detailed descriptions and illustrations for once widely available foodstuffs are important resources for translating recipes into modern kitchens. The Grocers’ Hand-Book gives additional glimpses into Philadelphia’s 19th century sugar refining heyday, including discussions of occupational hazards such as skin-burrowing sugar mites.


Lo scalo’s litany of dishes unveils an ecclesiastical gourmandism rarely seen today. As chief steward to the Aldobrandini, a family of Roman politicians and prelates, Lancellotti oversaw immense banquets that Ippolito Aldobrandino (later Pope Clement VIII) and his nephew Pietro hosted for visiting dignitaries.


Though their forms have changed since the 18th century, handwritten recipes and household books remain mines of information about how women cooked and where they may have learned recipes. The boiled coffee notes are from the lectures of Sarah Tyson Rorer (1849-1937), a Philadelphia cookbook author and principal of the Philadelphia Cooking School.

A Collection of Recipes.
England: c. 1730.

Glasse, Hannah.
The Complete Confectioner; or, the Whole Art of Confectionery Made Plain and Easy.
London: Printed for J. Cooke, c. 1747.

Beeton, Isabella.
Beeton’s Every-day Cookery.
London: Ward, Lock, 1909.

Gill, J. Thompson.
The Complete Practical Confectioner.

Part I. Iced Confections

Chicago, IL: Confectioner and Baker Publishing Co., 1882.
(right, excerpted from) Anonymous.
A Collection of Recipes.
England: c. 1730

Schreibler, Sophie Wilhelmine.
Allgemeines deutsches Kochbuch für alle Stände.

Leipzig: Amelang, 1877.

Ward, Artemis.
The Encyclopedia of Food.
New York: Artemis Ward, 1923.

Lancellotti, Vittorio.
Lo scalco prattico.

Rome: Appreosso Francesco Corbelletti, ca. 1627

Ward, Artemis.
The Grocers’ Hand-Book and Directory for 1886.

Philadelphia, PA: The Philadelphia Grocer Pub. Co., 1886.

“Receipt Book.”
Holograph. Philadelphia, 1901.

“Howie’s Cream Cheese Cookies.”
Holograph recipe in metal card file.

Recipe Book.
Holograph. American, 1950s.

Home | Exhibit Introduction | A Chef and His Library | Someone's in the Kitchen with Fritz | Standing in the Stockpots of Giants

Great Composers | Victus Populi | A Fine Mess | My Dear Heinrich | Cattail City | May I Take Your Menu? | Guten Appetit

Acknowledgements | Fritz Blank Biography

© 2002 University of Pennyslvanian Library Trustees