maandag 9 december 2013

Charting the geographical and numerical spread of ingredients from 29 historic cookbooks

From various places (Gutenberg, Archive, Bit-Torrent) I have collected the full text of 29 cookbooks published between 1390 and 2010.

I will not bother you here with the full list, but the earliest is the Forme of Cury (1390) and the latest is the Paleo Diet cookbook (2010). In between there are classics like The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Beeton (1859), A guide to modern cookery by Auguste Escoffier (1907) and the Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver (1999). I have tried to find books evenly spaced through the years and have cleared them as best as I could from non-intentional ingredients. Book by book I fed all of them into Map you Recipe and collected the raw numbers that are used to make the graph above.

It maps the number of ingredients (vertical axis) for 29 books identified by year of publication (horizontal axis). The green top line tracks total number of ingredients recognized, two lines track how many of those are from the old or the new world and one line indicated from how many of the 15 food categories Map your Recipe uses ingredients are drawn from. 

Here are some observations that I think are fascinating. 

- Over time cookbooks have an increasing list of potential ingredients.  

- The big change comes about 1600 when the number of ingredients sharply rises. 

- It takes to about 1650 when produce from the Americas start to be seriously introduced to the larder.
- The food stuffs from the Americas on there own or not enough to explain the sudden increase in 17th century.

- From 1700 onwards the total use of ingredients goes up (130 max) and down (61 min) but it never goes down enough to come near the level of 1658 (41 ingredients) which at that time is the record.  

- The first cookbook with more than a hundred ingredients dates from 1851, but this remains an exceptional number for a long time.

- The Paleo-diet cookbook has the highest total number of ingredients. It is ironic that a so-called 'caveman diet' seems intent on using as much agricultural crops at it can.

- Nigella Lawson in 2007 uses 29 more ingredients than J. Oliver in 1999.
There are a few caveats. In an earlier post I did the same for 15 books searching only for those fruits and vegs that Vavilov was able to trace to a specific food hearth. In the mean time I have also added many other food stuffs that are known to originate from the old or the new world but without the specificness of the Vavilov list. The problem with the additional list is that it is in potential infinite. This is even true when you exclude meat and fish as Map you Recipe does. So you don't know what is missing even though I expect it to pick up 99% of the most common ingredients. 

This graph is not intended to be the final word nor does it make claims for extreme precision. It is meant as an illustration for general trends in food over time and I think it is very revealing. 

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