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Cooking by the Book

A selection of cookbooks from the highly modern to the high mediaeval.

Posted 03.16.15 by John Dornberger

Old cookbooks connect you to your past and explain the history of the world. -Jose Andres Puerta 

A cookbook is a promise of comfort, a window into the mind and mores of another time or place, and the promise of assistance from learned, beneficent, and patient teachers. More than just a collection of recipes, cookbooks educate and entertain their nascent chef-reader. They impart the alchemical techniques to disassemble ingredients and distil them as dinner. They provide the power of alteration and improvisation, inviting the reader to follow their recipe, or maybe add a bit more garlic.

Cookbooks descend from Apicii, annotated collections of favorite dishes and ingredients named after the Roman author and aristocratic foodie Marcus Gavius Apicius. Most of the European cookbooks before the 19th century are similarly aristocratic, promising to teach an estate's chef to prepare the finest banquets with the most entertaining presentations, like roast chickens sewn together in imitation of dragons, or vegetable jellies disguised as tiered cakes. Modern cookbooks begin in the 19th century when these vaunted chefs to the wealthy began recording and widely distributing their recipes and habits to common cooks.

While 19th century cookbooks are monumental reference manuals with recipes described in free-flowing prose and miniscule illustrations, 20th century cookbooks are detailed, structured teachers. Ingredient lists and chronological instructions are ubiquitous improvements, and most include a few sentences from the author to describe the history and variations on the dish. Photography and illustration provide insight into the process and promise the beauty of the finished meal. Thematic arrangements provide everything a hungry college student needs to know in one book and instructions for a color-coded banquet in another.

More than just food, cookbooks provide the means to experience a meal. Perhaps it comes in the style of another culture, or another time, or from the mind of a celebrity chef, or perhaps it comes with instructions to teach the fundamental skill of cooking. In every volume a homemade feast awaits.

March 16 - April 6
Curated by John Dornberger

Circulation Policy for Books on Exhibit

Circulating books on display in the museum cases are available for check out at any time. Please see a staff member at the circulation desk to request a book from the cases. Titles, when available, may be checked out at any time from the MRC. For books on display from the Special Collections (Cage), please see a reference librarian.

Image Information

Thumbnail: The Photography of Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold (TR 656.7 .M94 2013 Folio)
This Page: La cuisine classique : études pratiques, raisonnées et démonstratives de l'école française by Urbain Dubois (X TX 719 .D81 1898 v.1 Cage)

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from 49 states and 52 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs. With art and design programs ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research, and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and other established artists.