Cookbook Analysis Guide

Pick a book from this collection, and make sure it’s BEFORE 1890. After that, there tends to be more variety than we are prepared to deal with. It is well worth your time to find a book that piques your interest. Spending 5 minutes finding a book 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, it’s probably best to just choose another one.


  • ~800–900 words. But quality is more important than quantity.
  • Posted on the Discussion Board like reading reflections.
  • At the top of your essay, put a functional hyperlink to the cookbook you are discussing.
  • Give a brief summary of the author’s tone/style, organization, topics covered, and other main features of the book.
  • Apply the readings (esp from this week) 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?
  • Enjoy looking through a primary source 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.

Questions to write about

I’ve asked you to write a brief description of the book on the whole (see “basic goals, above”), but that’s the boring part. The fun part is READING BETWEEN THE LINES to learn about the author and American culture and cuisine from the cookbook.

  • Why is the author writing this book?
  • Who is the intended audience? What do they know?
  • What kind of assumptions does the author(s) make about cooking/cuisine/food?
  • 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 cookbook?

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 cookbook 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. BE SURE YOU ARE DISCUSSING THE TOPICS FROM THE READINGS THIS WEEK IN YOUR ANALYSIS!

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!