Today is (probably) her 310th birthday.
For most of the history of humanity, the kitchen has been the domestic realm of women. Their role has been to cook for their families—and the families of others—usually behind the scenes, in the home. Even though they haven’t enjoyed the same spotlight as many celebrity chefs (with some exceptions, and that trend is certainly changing), there is no shortage of women cooks who have inspired and innovated in the kitchen—often without getting the credit they deserve. Google is helping change that, by spotlighting cookbook author Hannah Glasse in today’s Google Doodle.
Before Nigella Lawson and Martha Stewart, the world took their cooking advice from Hannah Glasse, the author of the first widely distributed cookbook. Glasse was born in 1708, in London. She had probably ten (possibly eleven) children, which likely means she spent hours upon hours in the kitchen preparing meals for her family, all from scratch. In 1747, she anonymously published the 400-page compendium Art of Cooking Made Plain and Simple, which included recipes for crawfish soup, squab pie, and lemon tarts. The book also features one of the first recorded recipes for curry (in England at least), which calls for just coriander and black pepper as seasoning.
Many of the dishes aren't her original creations; she often lifted entire recipes from her contemporaries. What made the Art of Cooking Made Plain and Simple so special (and so popular) is Glasse's easy-to-follow instructions and that it was one of the first books to collect, in one place, so many common recipes of the day.
At that time, cookbooks did exist (examples exist as far back as Ancient Greece), but they were always intended for professional chefs—who were all men. Glasse’s was the first intended to be used by housewives and servants—the precursor to the cookbooks that all chefs, amateur and professional alike, have stacked up in their homes today.
The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Simple was printed with no author named—it was only credited to “A Lady.” As often happens, rumors began to sprout up that a man— in this case, named John Hill—was actually responsible for her work. It would take until 1938 for a historian named Madeline Hope Dodds to confirm that Glasse was the book’s true author.
These days, Glasse’s work is praised for its focus on “simplicity,” and the fact that she “took into account the limitations of the average middle-class kitchen,” as well as her “clean, crisp instructions,” which made cooking an accessible, unintimidating endeavor that anyone could master. The spotlight she’s now enjoying is well deserved, giving that her legacy is making cooking an enjoyable past time for all—regardless of gender, class, or experience level.