The National Library of Scotland’s collections include a wealth of material for the history of food and drink, a selection of which is featured on this website.
Our manuscript recipe books date from the 17th century to the 1940s. Most are from personal papers and the archives of landowning families. Our collections also include household accounts and inventories, tradesmen's bills, menus and visitors' journals, as well as published recipe books.
Manuscript recipe books
Manuscript recipe books are personal documents.
The earliest known manuscript recipe books kept by Scots date from the mid-17th century.
Most recipe books were written by wealthy women as memory aids to record new dishes and cooking methods. Household and medical recipes often appear alongside culinary recipes. They tend not to be organised or comprehensive.
Recipe books were often compiled over several years and passed down through the generations from mother to daughter. Although many give the sources of their recipes, the compilers often fail to give their own name or the date of writing.
Wealthy women needed to be knowledgeable about cookery to run their households. They usually had servants to prepare everyday dishes for the table. However, many did involve themselves in preserving surplus fruit and vegetables from the orchard and garden.
Format for recipes
Today, recipes follow a familiar format with ingredients and quantities listed first, usually in a table, and then the method.
Until the mid-19th century, recipes tended to be written a continuous text and quantities are rarely stated.
Published recipe books
Mrs McLintock's 'Receipts for cookery and pastry-work', published in Glasgow in 1736, is considered the first Scottish published recipe book.
It gives recipes for the entire range of dishes served in a wealthy household.
'Recipes from Scotland' is organised like the chapters of a modern day cookery book. There are sections on:
- Soups and broths
- Oatmeal and bread
- Fish and shellfish
- Meat, game and poultry
- Desserts and baking
- Jams and preserves