Recipe books and family papers provide valuable insights into the eating habits and lives of the wealthy.
At the National Library of Scotland, the manuscript and archive collections include many important sources for food history, dating from the 17th century to the present day.
Changing tastes and ingredients
Our collections allow you to explore social history through the medium of food and drink, revealing changing fashions, tastes and the introduction of new ingredients and cooking methods over time.
Among the collections are:
- Personal recipe books
- Household accounts
- Tradesmen's bills.
Landowning families and notable Scots
Many of these manuscripts are from the family and estate archives of major Scottish landowning families and the papers of notable Scots.
Some of our manuscript recipe books were compiled by Scots living abroad.
Well-to-do women would record their favourite recipes or new dishes in manuscript recipe books.
Often passed down through generations of a family, many contain household and medical preparations as well as culinary recipes.
Few housewives took the trouble to write down recipes for everyday dishes, and their personal recipe books are generally more limited in scope than published works.
You will find a wide assortment of culinary recipe books in the collections, including:
- One from a countess in the 1680s
- A specialist pastry book from 1734
- Family recipe books covering generations and decades
- A baker's recipe book from the 1830s.
Household accounts provide lots of information on daily life in the homes of the wealthy.
Items such as account books and tradesmen's bills were usually kept by senior servants such as the steward or housekeeper. They may record purchases and gifts of foodstuffs, produce received from tenants as payment of rents, and meals served.
Daily purchases of baked goods, fresh meat and vegetables are listed alongside costly imported spices and fruits.
Although they have their limitations, household accounts do not only show expenditure on food and drink, they also:
- Indicate the social status of the household
- Demonstrate trends
- Some record actual meals served to families and their servants.