Fire up the 'Internet Archive': Cauldron of history simmering with thousands of vintage recipes that are a click away
The ongoing collection is a careful selection of some of the best meals from 10,000 cookbooks and is free to view and download
There is something deeply satisfying about rummaging through old, chipped-from-the-corners, hardly legible cookbooks with recipes from days of yore. And they’re now more accessible than ever with the ‘Internet Archive’ putting together vintage recipes from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. The ongoing collection is a careful selection of some of the best meals from 10,000 cookbooks and is free to view and download.
The Internet Archive is a digital library that started recording recipes, in addition to books and texts, audio files, videos, images, software programmes and web pages of general importance, in 1996. It makes its distinct content available to researchers, collectors and scholars. Chefs, amateur cooks and food enthusiasts have a lot to gain from this archival gem.
The culinary temptation extends from Indian to international cuisine. When talking of the former, a true treasure is a 2007 book titled, Where Flavor was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route by Andreas Viestad. It’s an enthralling read about the culinary extraordinariness of the spice route from Zanzibar to India and Bali, detailing the origins of several important spices along with more than 100 recipes.
In a similar vein is Cooking the West Indian Way by Dalton Babb from 1986, which offers some of the best West Indian classics. Another jewel from the Indian culinary crown is An Invitation to Indian Cooking by the iconic chef, Madhur Jaffrey, published in 1987. It’s a classical guide to simple Indian cooking.
Food often blurs borders. For a homogeneous dining experience, you may want to sift through books like Making Spirits Bright: Holiday Recipes & Family Fun, published in 1995. It’s got everything you’d need to lay out a Christmas special table. Another one is the 1987 Cooper’s Book of Glaze Recipes, which is not about food, but beautiful, hand-crafted glazed vessels to serve food in. Its author, Emmanuel Cooper, writes about everything you’d want to know about the material.
Feeling a bit bold this New Year? A riveting read is in order. Titled Arctic Recipes from Alma Houston, the book documents recipes such as fricassee (a stew) made of arctic hare, polar bear steaks, arctic mixed grill, saddle of caribou or reindeer, seal casserole, seal liver, muktuk, and arctic salad. You won’t be able to cook these meals in their original form, but by replacing the choice of meat, you can easily get a taste of the Arctic.
From leisure eating to therapeutic cooking, there’s a book from 2016 titled Eating Well Through Cancer: Easy Recipes & Recommendations During & After Treatment by Gerald Miletello and Holly Berkowitz Clegg. It lays out recipes for cancer patients that help ease side effects such as sore mouth, neutropenia and weight loss.
The vintage repository also throws up books with practical modern-day use such as the Vegetarian Cook Book, which enumerates the many benefits of vegetarian cooking. Another resourceful book is The Cook Book of Left-Overs: A Collection of Recipes for the Practical Housekeeper, from 1911. Considering the average, middle-class family back then lived with limited resources, being judicious was a given. But for modern readers, this digital archive is a call to go all out.