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3.2 The Dynamics of Recipes and Language - Past and Present

For any analysis of the language of cooking instructions it has to be understood that recipes have not always entailed the same concepts and registers as nowadays. This can be easily detected by brief sighting of historic documents. The oldest collection of recipes that is known of has been written around 1500 BC in what is nowadays India. The Vasavarajeyam written in Sanskrit was according to Johannes G. Wechsler’s Adipositas: Ursachen und Therapie even the first purely vegetarian cookbook (2002: 12). The oldest preserved European cookbook is written in Latin and called De re coquinaria. Apicius wrote it around 400 AD. The following sample is taken from the first book of De re coquinaria and is a recipe for a sauce of grapes for truffles.

Example 1:


Accipies uvas de vite inlaesas, et aquam pluvialem ad tertias decoques, et mittis in vas in quo et uvas mittis, vas picari et gypsari facies, et in locum frigidum, ubi sol accessum non habet, reponi facies, et, quando volueris, uvas virides invenies. et ipsam aquam pro hydromelli aegris dabis. et si in hordeo obruas, inlaesas invenies.

(Apicius 400)

The example shows the lack of a list of ingredients as well as of indications of quantity even within the text describing the procedure. A similar format has been adopted in the oldest preserved cookbooks of central Europe and England. One of the first English cookbooks was Fourme of Cury from 1390. It is written in Middle English. The names of the authors remain unknown but the book is said to having been “[c]ompiled […] by the Master-Cooks of King Richard II [and] presented afterwards to Queen Elizabeth, by Edward Lord Stafford” (Pegge). The recipes were very short, even compared to Apicius’ work, as the example of a recipe, transcribed by Daniel Meyers, on how to make ground beans shows.

Example 2:

For to make groun

den benes.

Take benes & drye hem

in an ovene & hulle hem

wl and wyndowe out the

hulles & waysche hem clene

& do hem to seeth in god broth

& ete hem with bacoun.

(Meyers, 2009)

The oldest preserved Czech cookbook is known under the name Kuchařstwij: o Rozličných krmijch, kterak se užitečnie s chutij strogiti magij, Jakožto Zwěřina, Ptácy, Ryby A giné mnohé krmě, wsselikému Kuchaři aneb Hospodáři, Knijžka tato potřebná y užitečná : a ocet gak se dělá, také zadu naydess. Kateřina Rivolová’s work gives a detailed overview of old Czech cookbooks. We learn that due to the bad condition of the only preserved original text by book printer Severin the Younger and the missing hardcover the name of its second edition published by Pavel Severin de Monte Cuculi has been used ever since, even in the latest edition by Czech cultural historian, ethnographer and folklorist Čeněk Zíbrt from 1891. (Rivolová 2007)

The compactness of recipes in Fourme of Cury is comparable to the Czech cookbook of Alžběta Lidmila from Lisov, written in 1661 and also published by Zíbrt. Rivolová’s work comes with an example.

Example 3:

Jak se manzelbabka strojí. Vzíti bílý maso, od vařený slepice, drobně ho stlouci, a růžovou vodou zalíti. Potom to maso a mandly dáti na pánev.

(Rivolová 2007)

The recipes shown have little to no similarity to what has been described in the previous subchapter. It seems that recipes have developed distinct features throughout the course of time. Examples 4 and 5 are representative of recipes in modern Czech and English cookbooks. They illustrate the great contrast to early works containing written cooking instructions.

Example 4:


Jeden z evergreenů Café Imperiál a české kuchyně vůbec. Pošírované vejce dodá této polévce nový rozměr.

(4) porce


100 g sušených hub namočených ve vodě

1 l hovězího vývaru

50 g másla

100 g hladké mouky 150 g brambor 4 vejce 50 g kopru

2 lžíce octa

300 ml mléka 100 ml smetany

sůl, pepř


V kastrolu rozehřejeme máslo, na které nasypeme mouku, a uděláme světlou jíšku. Zalijeme vývarem, osolíme, opepříme a přivedeme do varu. Přidáme houby a necháme zvolna vařit asi 40 minut. Přidáme mléko, smetanu a dochutíme. Uvaříme si 4 ztracená vejce, která zalijeme dochucenou polévkou, do níž jsme v poslední chvíli přidali kopr. Ihned podáváme.

Ztracená vejce:

V kastrůlku dáme vařit vodu. Vejce vyklepneme do naběračky s octem a poté pomalu vlijeme do vroucí vody. Vodu opatrně zamícháme, aby se bílek stačil rovnoměrně obalit kolem žloutku. Vejce takto vaříme maximálně 2-3 minuty. Stáhneme z ohně a necháme dojít. Žloutek musí zůstat tekutý.

(Pohlreich 2010: 58)

Example 5:

Sicilian caponata

5tbsp olive oil

1 aubergine, trimmed and cut into chunks

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

sea salt and black pepper

5 large tomatoes

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 -1 ½ tbsp red wine or balsamic vinegar

100g green olives, pitted and sliced

50g capers, rinsed and drained

handful of basil leaves, torn

50g toasted pine nuts

Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy - based pan and sauté the aubergine, onion, celery and red pepper with some seasoning over a high heat for about 5 minutes. Drop the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for a minute, refresh under cold water and peel. Halve, deseed and cut into chunks. Add to the pan with the garlic, sugar, vinegar, olives and capers. Cook over a high heat for 5 - 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the aubergine is tender. Check the seasoning and leave to cool slightly (or to room temperature). Scatter the torn basil and toasted pine nuts over the caponata and serve with toasted country bread.

(Klenová 2010: 77)

The examples show that both the layout and the structure of past and present recipes differ as much as Middle English differs from Modern English. These huge differences and the changing languages, in this case to be understood as national languages, make it practically impossible to perform a meaningful linguistic analysis by contrasting works from different periods in history. Therefore further analysis will focus on the language of cooking instructions in contemporary works only.

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