Cookbook Analysis Guide


Illustrate and explain how have cookbooks represented cultural values and how have they been used to construct particular identities. BE SURE to use examples from early cookbooks!


Pick TWO books from this collection, and make sure they are BEFORE 1880. After that, there tends to be more variety than we are prepared to deal with. Spending a few minutes finding books that you actually find interesting (and have something to say about) makes the assignment MUCH easier and more effective as a learning exercise. Click the “Full View” link to actually see the cookbook; if it doesn’t work for some reason, just choose another one.

Your job is to compare the cookbooks in terms of what they discuss, what they don’t, tone, style, ingredients, recipes, overall content (many of these books are about way more than cooking).

DO NOT SUMMARIZE EACH BOOK! The point of the exercise here is to find and explain similarities and differences between the books.


  • ~700 words. But quality is more important than quantity.
  • At the top of your essay, put a functional hyperlink to the cookbooks you are discussing.
  • Apply the readings to your analysis of a historic cookbook based on the questions below. We’ve talked a lot of about attitudes toward ingredients and dishes, as well as how food is used to signal social status and nationality. How does (or not) your cookbook illustrate the issues we’ve been discussing?
  • It is probably easiest to organize your essay by theme/topic rather than writing about one book and then the other. Organizing your essay by topic makes it way easier to compare/contrast the books.
  • Be sure to spend time with prefaces, introductions, tables of contents, and similar sections where the author might be directly answering some of the below questions.
  • But remember you need to read BETWEEN the lines.
  • Enjoy looking through primary sources for food history! This is meant to be more of a fun way of engaging with historical sources and getting a feel for a very common source of food history.

Themes to consider

The fun part is READING BETWEEN THE LINES to learn about American culture and cuisine from the cookbooks. For each book consider:

  • Why is the author writing this book?
  • Who is the intended audience? What do they know? How do they reflect social or cultural asprirations of the author?
  • What kind of assumptions does the author(s) make about cooking/cuisine/food?
  • What kinds of ingredients are used? Or not mentioned?
  • How precise are the recipes?
  • What kind of larger themes do the cookbooks appeal to (exotic, health, comfort, frugality, regional or national food, etc)?
  • What are the various “national” or “ethnic” influences of the recipes or instructions?

  • How much does tradition or originality matter to the author?
  • How does it help construct an American identity or a sense of “American food”?
  • What struck you as most interesting or unexpected about the cookbooks?

As with reading reflection prompts, you might find it more interesting/useful to spend more time on some questions over others depending on the kind of cookbooks you have. So don’t feel like you need to address each one explicitly, but you should try to address them as a set of questions as best you can.

References and Citations

Any time you refer to a specific quote or idea from a specific should a have parenthetical page reference so that a reader can look it up to better understand the context. These also show the reader (and graders, in our case) HOW you are using the book in your analysis. For example: The author claims that all meat should be cooked until well done (13).


Writing is hard enough, and virtually impossible when you’re not sure what you’re trying to do. Please get in touch with questions!