A cookbook is a book containing recipes and information about cooking. Books about food have existed since ancient times, but the earliest ones were written either to provide a record of the author's favorite dishes or to train professional cooks to prepare dishes for upper-class homes.
About the time of the Industrial Revolution, the focus of cookbooks shifted, to becoming general reference works not just for cooking but also with advice on other aspects of running a household, such as The Compleat Houswife by Eliza Smith, published in 1727 which contained not only recipes, but tips on painting rooms, removing mildew and treating common household illnesses like smallpox.
In more modern times, the focus has shifted again towards a systematic approach to cooking. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer, published in 1896, attempted to standardize cooking measurements to create a common vocabulary of cooking.
In the United States, The Joy of Cooking has become a standard reference found in many kitchens. Originally published in 1931 by Irma Rombauer, it has gone through several editions.
Very often, small organizations such as local church groups or fire departments will publish cookbooks compiling their members' favorite recipes as a fund-raiser.
The term "cookbook" is also sometimes used to refer to any book providing detailed instructions on how to do something, such as the Anarchist's Cookbook.
Game and Story Use
- Your characters have been invited to a banquet at the King's palace. Or they're dining out at the Cobalt Club. Or they're just grabbing a bite to eat from a food vendor in a Middle Eastern bazaar. So, what's on the menu? A good cookbook can give you ideas for dishes that might make good… (heh heh) … flavor for your setting.
- A plot might involve an NPC who is a notable chef. You will want to have names of some of the chef's specialties on hand.
- A PC might also be a cook and will want some favorite dishes in his repertoire.
- An NPC might be a noted gourmand and feeding him well might have significant reaction benefits.
- A PCs patron might send them after the hand-written notes of some famous cook so that his own chef can recreate a legendary menu for some social masterpiece.
- Or if all this background fluff seems too boring, you can have an ancient cookbook which has secret information hidden in code. The PC's must acquire the cookbook and translate it before the Nazis do!
- How about a "low powered" magical artifact - a cookbook written one of the greatest chefs of history (perhaps somone of equal or greater stature to Apicius) that gives bonuses to cooking skill? It may not be much 'use' if your campaign is solely about killing things and looting their remains, but in more sophisticated campaigns it would probably be genre-appropriate.
- A book which can magically advise the best possible way to prepare the ingredients to hand might be of great benefit to survival skills as it allows foragers to find nutrition in suprising places, avoid or neutralise poisons and, just as importantly, make the whole lot palatable (or at least edible).
- For those milleux in which food = medicine (or is an important part of medical practice) such a cookbook might have significant further benefits.
- For Nigella fans, it might even have aphrodisiac effects…
- Or a higher-powered magical cookbook that can produce food without raw materials?
- An ancient cookbook might be valuable to a historian or historical reenactors.
- A cookbook might have alchemical recipes in it as well as the more mundane kind, or the mundane ones might be a code.