From the mid-seventeenth century onwards, elite women in Irish county estates began to compile and maintain collections of recipes. Their collections contain culinary and medicinal recipes altogether with household and craft tips, gardening advice and occasional instructions for the management of small farm animals and domestic fowl. Culinary and medicinal recipes are to the fore in the corpus of Irish manuscript receipt/recipe books. In form and content, the Irish collections show considerable similarities and overlap with those found across Britain. In addition, the Irish culinary material was strongly influenced by British styles of cookery and it borrowed heavily from printed cookery books by British authors.
Until recently, manuscript recipe books were overlooked by historians with the collections often viewed as mere ephemera. This presentation will demonstrate how the collections are an important and useful source in documenting the role of women in both the domestic economy and within their local networks of influence and power. Furthermore, the collections also reveal how women engaged with wider social and economic change and how they incorporated consumer trends and food fashions into their kitchens and dining rooms.
This presentation will argue that recipe collections are powerful and meaning-rich cultural artefacts that convey the determination of wealthy women to control and direct domestic food culture. It will concentrate on the recipe collections from the Townley Hall papers (county Louth), as these estate papers are rich in documentation relating to the food and culinary activities of the Townley-Balfours, a relatively minor gentry family, in the period spanning the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.