How a 1661 ‘Ladies Directory’ Blazed the Trail for Contemporary Cookbooks

Anne Willan is the award-winning culinary historian, cookbook writer, and founder of La Varenne Cooking School in Paris. In her latest book, Women in the Kitchen, released last month, she introduces us to 12 cookbook writers “who defined the way we eat…

Anne Willan is the award-winning culinary historian, cookbook writer, and founder of La Varenne Cooking School in Paris. In her latest book, Women in the Kitchen, released last month, she introduces us to 12 cookbook writers "who defined the way we eat"—stretching from 1661 to modern day. Below, in an excerpt from the book, we'll start at the beginning: Get to know trailblazer Hannah Woolley.


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The first handbook written in English by a woman for women was published in 1661, almost two hundred years after the first cookbook was printed (in Latin). In The Ladies Directory, Hannah Woolley began to reveal not just her own life but a whole new world for her readers, that of the expanding English middle class of prosperous tradesmen, physicians, and the like, all of them profiting from the newly restored monarchy of King Charles II. In a group of later books Woolley elaborated on the skills called for in the domestic kitchen, a very different world from the grand establishments of the professional male cooks who had hitherto dominated the cookbook scene.

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