Navigating Antique Cookbooks 101

From Mrs. Beeton.

Open up any pre-1900 cookbook and you’re in for a treat! Depending on the particular tome’s scope, you’ll find the Contents, Appendix, and Analytical Index.

I found Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management at the local library’s monthly book sale last week, and wow! What a treasure! The first edition came out in 1861 and comes in at over 2000 pages, which makes the indices as critical for the cook as seasoning salt.

The edition I picked up was printed in 1880 and includes everything from Accidents, injuries, etc. to Sulphuric acid, Yorkshire pudding, and Zwetschen sauce (??).

Mrs. Beeton’s has it all!

Get started with the General Contents, which is organized under general categories in numerical order by page number:


This is followed by a more in-depth list in the Appendix, where the topics are also listed in order by page number:


Finally, the book has an Analytical Index, which is by arranged alphabetically by recipe. Here it’s a little different from your contemporary index, because you find the recipe using the paragraph number. Each recipe in the book, of which there are thousands, begins with a number before the entry title. Finding a specific recipe requires that paragraph number.


There’s actually no Appendix at the end of the book, just a series of wonderful advertisements selling things like meat grinders, steel pens, books on amateur carpentry, child rearing, and more!

Other interesting discoveries from my son include:

Seven (7!!) pages of pigeon recipes and breed descriptions, the principal varieties of cheese used in England (in painfully descriptive detail), interesting cake moulds, the diseases wheat is liable to carry, and Chapter XXXVIII (that’s a lot of chapters) on General Observations on Beverages.

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management was one of the most popular cookbooks of the day, making it a relatively common find. Highly recommend a desk copy if you find one in your neck of the woods! Delightful!

More Fun Discoveries from Antique Cookbooks


26 thoughts on “Navigating Antique Cookbooks 101

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    1. It is so much fun to look through! We did an internet search to see if you could hunt and eat the common city pigeon, evidently it’s protected under the migratory bird act, or some such thing. Not that we would do this, mind you, but the son thought it worth researching… Thanks for stopping by!


      1. Don’t bother 😎 it’s something from my neighborhood – zwetsche/zwetschge is a varietie of a plum, a bit smaller, with firmer plup, slightly different colour and rather sour taste, in my home area oft germany (hess) it’s pronunced: quetsche (the “quetschekuche” is a legendary cake and in bavaria it’s pronunced “zwetschgendatschi”) so in short it’s some sort of plum sauce 😉


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