Richard High, our Collections Engagement Librarian, writes about planning for our current Cookery Exhibition.

The beginning of September saw the opening of the fourth changing exhibition in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery – Cooks and Their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds. The new exhibition is based on books and manuscripts dating from the late 15th century to the present day from our Cookery Collection.

We worked with two co-curators on this exhibition, the food historians Peter Brears and Eileen White. Together they have huge experience of writing and talking about recipes, cooks and food preparation both generally and in a Leeds setting.

Beginning around a year ago, we had a series of enjoyable meetings where we mulled over the main themes of the exhibition.  We considered whether to take a simple chronological approach to the books from our Cookery Collection or maybe to follow particular recipes through time. We decided to explore collecting, that is cooks collecting recipes; individuals and their collections of cookery books; the Library’s collections.

As an introduction to the exhibition we decided to show books connected to some of the individuals behind our collections such as Blanche Legat Leigh, John Hodgkin, Alfred Chaston Chapman, and our former library colleague Anne Wilson.

We also realised that the extent of our collections allowed us to explore the broad development of cookery books. We were able to display early printed editions of classical texts; some examples from our many editions of Mrs Beeton and Hannah Glasse; and a copy of the first English cookery book published outside London.

To the delight of our co-curators, Peter and Eileen, we had three copies of the works of the 16th century Papal chef Bartolomeo Scappi to choose from.  Scappi was the private chef of Pope Pius V.  His ‘Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi‘ originally published in 1570 was the first cookbook to include extensive explanatory images.  Judging by the image below servants in the kitchen needed strength in addition to culinary skills.

Cooks
Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Planning for the exhibition was an enjoyable experience which has given us the chance to widen access to our collections.  Cooks and Their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds is a wonderful opportunity for visitors to explore the broad range of recipes, social history, illustrations and individuals in our extensive Cookery Collection.

The exhibition is open until 31 January 2018. You can find out about events linked to it at the Treasures of the Brotherton webpage.