Aug 20, 2022

There’s a Database of 1000s of Historical Cookbooks and You Can Add to It

Barbara Ketcham Wheaton is the honorary curator of Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library Culinary Collection and the 91-year-old has been passionate about the history of cookbooks for many decades now.

In the early 1960s, Wheaton’s neighbor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was none other than Julia Child and the famous cooking icon used to allow Wheaton to look through her collection of historical cookbooks.

Screen Shot 2022 08 20 at 10.41.57 PM There’s a Database of 1000s of Historical Cookbooks and You Can Add to It

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Wheaton already had an art history background and she decided to put her research skills to use by studying not only Child’s cookbooks but also the collection at the Schlesinger Library Culinary Collection at Harvard.

And now all of us can enjoy the fruits of Wheaton’s decades of hard work on The Sifter, a website she helped create with scholars and two of her children. The website contains thousands of historical cookbooks that incredibly date back to the De Re Culinaria, published in 800.

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Photo Credit: Public Domain

The Sifter is a treasure trove of culinary history and is full of amazing information for those who enjoy cooking or learning about food in general.

Joe Wheaton, one of her children who helped put the database together, says, “Food history has been a bit of an embarrassment to a lot of academics, because it involves women in the kitchen.”

This attitude started to change in the 1980s and Wheaton published the book Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789 in 1983.

One great thing about The Sifter is that you can participate in the site if you’d like to. You can register for an account on the website HERE and you can get involved by either translating books or by inputting cookbook information from books you might have that are from 1940 and earlier or books from an internet archive HERE.

Check out The Sifter and get involved if you’d like to! It sounds like a lot of fun!

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