Leeds University Library
Our website is changing

The Library website is changing. Our new website will go live at the start of semester 2.

The Cookery Collection

Published 02 December 2011

"Plate 2 - Supper Table Decorated and Completely Laid For 16 Persons" from The Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton published 1899

What a feast for the eyes! Continuing last month’s edible theme, December features one of our most popular and important collections, and a staff Christmas party with a difference.

The Cookery Collection is one of Leeds University Library's Designated collections.

It is an amalgamation of two collections, the first of which was a gift from Blanche Leigh, Lady Mayoress of Leeds from 1935-1936, who presented her collection of around 1,500 cookery books to us in 1939. It contains books on French, German, Italian and Chinese cookery, and also rare and valuable Greek and Latin culinary texts, the oldest being Platina's De honesta voluptate, published in Venice in 1487. The second collection came to us in the 1960s from John F Preston, a private collector who donated around 600 cookery books dating from the 16th to the 19th century.

Separately, we also house the Camden Cookery Collection, which we acquired in the 1980s from Camden public library. It consists of mainly 20th-century publications, starting from the late Victorian era, with an extensive section on English cookery from 1949-1975.

Today, Special Collections has over 3,000 volumes and 60 manuscripts covering not only recipes but also food production, brewing, household management, gardening and medicine, comprehensively representing the last 500 years of culinary and social history. 

For a long time we have been eager to do something to celebrate the Cookery Collection. Ordinarily we only encounter it through answering researchers' enquiries or retrieving the items for our readers. We decided that an ideal way to really engage with the collection would be to each choose a recipe from the collection to make at home and bring along for the staff Christmas party. It could be food or drink, sweet or savoury, from any book in any century.

Recipes so far have been taken from "The Queen's Closet Opened", of which the Library holds several editions from the 17th and 18th century; Elizabeth David's "A Book of Mediterranean Food" 1950, which revolutionised post-war cookery; a pamphlet published by the Rotherham Food Advisory Bureau in 1941, and the BBC Good Food magazine 2004.

Season's greetings from everyone at Special Collections!