Women’s Receipt Books

In today’s entry from The Great Plains Diaries of Harriet E. Whitcher, Hattie mentions working on her receipt-books:

1934, January 26, Friday

Partly cloudy but warm, 58 above in p.m. Ben Clausen came to his traps this a.m. but not here to-day, was here yesterday but no stay. I just worked at receipt-books, for Will got a composition book in town yesterday and I am putting Meat Curing and all about meats in this book but paper is poor so not much good…

Jan. 26, 1934, Harriet E. Whitcher
Jan. 26, 1934, Harriet E. Whitcher

The origin of the term “receipt book” to mean a collection of recipes is interesting. First, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word “recipe” was used since the 16th century to refer to “A formula for the composition or use of a medicine, a prescription; a medicine prepared according to such a formula,” and “receipt” referred to “a statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making a dish or an item of food or drink.” Thus, receipts were recipes, and recipes were for medicines as well as food.

In addition, in ” A Collection of Choise Receipts: Networks of Recipe Sharing in Early Modern England,” Erin Allaire-Graham explains that the etymology of “recipe” is one of exchange. Women’s receipt books were more than personal cookbooks; they were also records of the recipes—receipts—they exchanged with other women and thus a source of cultural as well as culinary history. See Allaire-Graham’s Prezi presentation below for images from a 17th century household receipt book.

4 thoughts on “Women’s Receipt Books

  1. What a treasure you have in your Aunt Hattie’s diary. Wonderful to have history in your hands to peruse, learn and share! Have fun with this. I will enjoy reading about it.

    • Thanks so much for such a supportive reply! Yes, I am very lucky. I’ve actually just decided to change my career a bit to allow more time to work on these diaries while Hattie’s nieces and nephews, including my father, can still read and enjoy them.

  2. I think it is incredible that you have taken to sharing her diary. I love reading what she wrote, and it makes me think that I should continue writing my own… Who knows who will want it someday!

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