The Austrian Manuscript Cookery Book in the Long Eighteenth Century

Studies of Form and Function

by Helga Müllneritsch (Author)
©2022 Thesis 276 Pages


The question of what a manuscript cookery book is or can be is still far from settled. Based on detailed archival research, this book establishes a basic typology of manuscript cookery books, with a focus on the function they served in the life of their owners: memory aid, manual of practical instruction, book in its own right, and showpiece. The author also investigates the work situation of women through an analysis of the educational role of the manuscript cookery book and its function as a tool for the professional cook. It represents a substantial contribution towards closing gaps in knowledge and material relating to reading and writing in eighteenth-century Austria.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Notes on the Structure of the Book
  • Recent Approaches to Manuscript Cookery Book Research
  • Terminology
  • Methodological Approach
  • Manuscript Types
  • Female Scribes and Education
  • Historical Change as Reflected in Manuscript Cookery Books
  • Notes on the Texts
  • 1. The Manuscript Cookery Book as Memory Aid
  • Life Writing
  • Starter Collection and Household Tool
  • Networking through Recipe Exchange
  • Manuscripts as Aids for Professional Life
  • Conclusions
  • 2. The Manuscript Recipe Book as Manual of Practical Instruction
  • Hausbuch, Buch von Mensch und Tier, Haus und Garten, and Book of Secrets
  • Manuscripts Containing Medical Recipes
  • Manuscripts Including Mathematics and Science
  • Conclusions
  • 3. The Manuscript Cookery Book as Literary Medium in Its Own Right
  • The ‘Manuscript-Print’ as Medium of Communication
  • Manuscript Cookery Books as Publications
  • Copies
  • Personalised Copies
  • Conclusions
  • 4. The Manuscript Cookery Book as Prestige Object
  • Books, Consumerism and Luxury in Eighteenth Century Europe
  • Prestige Objects
  • Prestige Objects and Change of Usage
  • Conclusions
  • 5. Female Education, Female Employment and the Manuscript Cookery Book
  • Female Education in Eighteenth-Century Austria
  • Manuscript Cookery Books as Sites of Education
  • Female Labour in the Eighteenth Century
  • Female Scribes and Copyists
  • Scribal Skills
  • Conclusions
  • 6. Men as Owners, Makers and Users of Manuscript Cookery Books
  • Men as Authors and Scribes of Manuscript Cookery Books
  • Men as Contributors to and Users of Manuscript Cookery Books
  • Conclusions
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts in the Corpus (including Digital Facsimile)
  • Manuscript Sources (including Digital and Published Facsimile Editions)
  • Printed Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • List of Figures
  • Appendix
  • Series index

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What is a manuscript cookery book? What functions did it fulfil for its writer(s) and user(s)? What was its place in society? These questions form the core of this work. Despite the interest over the past three decades in the culinary, medical and household recipes these books contain and the linguistic particularities within them, the forms and functions of these artefacts in and outside of the household have not yet been systematically approached. In this study, I aim to provide an original contribution to our understanding of the place of the manuscript cookery book in the history of manuscript culture, the circumstances and purposes for which these volumes were produced, and the features of the genre itself. Questions about the educational and working lives of women are central for this endeavour, and a close examination of the artefacts gives us new insights into women’s lives. It also opens dimensions of the genre which have been largely ignored in previous scholarship. The involvement of men in the making and use of these artefacts will be made visible, complementing the findings of several recent studies dealing with medical recipes.1

Based on archival research, I argue that the manuscript cookery book fulfilled several functions in the household. For this purpose, I have developed a classification system that divides a representative corpus of 37 eighteenth-century manuscripts into four broad categories of usage: memory aid, manual of practical instruction, literary medium in its own right, and prestige object. Instead of classifying the books solely based on their physical characteristics and content,2 I see it as more useful to differentiate between types of usage, as proposed by Thomas Gloning.3 This approach helps to account for changes occurring in ←11 | 12→the use of manuscripts, such as when a user begins to treat a prestige object as a memory aid, and can highlight important features, such as an artefact serving as gift book or aid for professional life. The extensive descriptions of the manuscripts contained in the corpus and the observations therein are necessary to obtain a basis for all further considerations about the nature of the artefacts. In disclosing the particularities of the arrangement of the texts and the structure of the manuscripts, details like the inclusion of empty pages, the bundling of two or more manuscripts into one, the combination of different knowledge fields and the additions made by scribes (or the lack thereof) are important to understand the purpose of the artefacts and the role they played in work, education, knowledge distribution and social recognition.

With this work, I intend to contribute to recent work in manuscript studies and book history which aims to avoid analysing the objects from a modern (and accordingly anachronistic) point of view. A full typology of manuscript recipe books, however, is still a distant goal because it constantly has to be revised as more material is found. This initial, broad classification is nonetheless important because it allows us to look at the artefacts from a new perspective, one that does not uncritically connect them with the domestic space, the kitchen, food, and women’s life-writing. These usages indeed exist, as I will show in the first two chapters. The third and the fourth chapters, however, present and discuss beautiful manuscripts bearing no traces of personal inscription, which were probably commissioned from a professional scribe with the intention of displaying personal wealth without appearing vain. They also cover manuscripts that acted as gift books, made to be presented as a token of affection or with the intention to display the skill and value of the giver to a potential patron. I argue that these two types of usage link the manuscript cookery book to recent scholarship on the manuscript as a book in its own right and a tool to obtain patronage. Furthermore, the exchange of recipes bears strong resemblance to the circulation of poetry and other literary texts, as used to maintain friendship in the eighteenth century.4

Alongside the analysis of the functions of manuscripts, I aim to help close gaps in knowledge and material relating to reading and writing in eighteenth-century ←12 | 13→Austria. Standard works on the topic agree in lamenting the lack of material available on the acquisition of reading and writing skills, especially among lower-class women.5 In the second chapter, I will analyse manuscripts that contain arithmetic and scientific material that were likely to have been used to teach members of the household a basic level of numeracy. This, together with writing exercises discussed in the first chapter, points towards the use of the manuscript cookery book as a site of education outside of established places such as schools.

Studies of manuscript cookery books tend to focus on volumes that provide the names of their makers or owners, and often specifically on those with names that can be traced back to a known family and location. This selection is understandable because it helps to contextualise the artefacts and their intended usage. As a result of this approach, however, many volumes are overlooked and ignored.6 But the anonymity of an artefact is itself interesting if we think of what it excludes: objects explicitly tagged as possessions. My findings demonstrate that manuscript cookery books could be possessions that were as personal as a chair or piece of clothing, and as expressive of the owner’s individuality, but like furniture and clothing, did not always need to be personalised with a signature or the owner’s name on the title page.

Analysis of the manuscripts in my corpus reveals that several carefully created and remarkably well-preserved artefacts do not bear any signs of interaction with users, such as comments next to the recipes or usage marks. Some contain entries by later owners and users, usually on empty pages, but there are also volumes free from any entries or notes outside of the composed text. This occurrence has so far hardly ever been touched upon in scholarly discourse, and I intend to address and explain this gap.

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Notes on the Structure of the Book

This book is organised into six chapters, with the first four dedicated to discussion of each type of usage, and the final two drawing together the volumes’ implications for female education and work, and for male involvement in manuscript cookery books. The relevant research literature will be discussed at the beginning of each chapter instead of being given separately in the beginning of the book, to provide a specific philological contribution to each of the four types and to the role women and men played in connection with the manuscript cookery book. A full description of the artefacts is provided in the appendix.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (March)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 276 pp., 31 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Helga Müllneritsch (Author)

Helga Müllneritsch is a postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala University with a research interest in female agency, manuscript cookery books, and book history in the long eighteenth century. She holds a PhD from the University of Liverpool (UK), an MA and a BA from the University of Graz (Austria), and taught at several universities in the UK and China.


Title: The Austrian Manuscript Cookery Book in the Long Eighteenth Century
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278 pages