Exploring Britain’s passion for cookbooks

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How many cookbooks are too many? We stumbled across a Reddit conversation where people claimed to have three, egg-stained cooking bibles, (because why would you need more?) to literally hundreds (because you can never have too many). This got us thinking about our love affair with cookbooks as a nation and where this came from. It also prompted the question; with a Google’verse full of recipes, is there still a place for well-thumbed, dust-gathering cookbooks in our homes?  

A brief history of cookbooks

The earliest recorded recipes date back to ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) and Egypt (circa 1700 BCE). Three clay tablets hold the first inscriptions dedicated to preparing dishes using grains, vegetables and meats.

In fourth century AD Rome, ‘Of Culinary Matters’ was written by Apicius and features culinary advice alongside more than 500 recipes. Still in print today, the book paved the way for future culinary texts that would be used in the halls of nobility and the well-to-do. 

The 19th century marked a significant shift in cookery books making them more accessible to home chefs. Titles like ‘The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book’ by Fannie Farmer (1896) standardised measurements and techniques and Mrs Beeton’s ‘Book of Household Management’ (1861) gave proud homeowners the practical and culinary know-how on how to run a flourishing Victorian household. Over two million copies were sold of Mrs Beeton’s  first book and recipes like a toast sandwich (literally two pieces of bread with a toast filling) took the world by storm. 

Cookery books today

Today, a well-used cookery book elicits memories and are often precious keepsakes. When selecting one, we may be drawn in by the view of a curry-laden table in front of a glorious lake surrounded by palm trees. 

We are seduced too by what we see on TV. Celebrity chefs have long since ruled the best sellers list with Jamie Oliver only the second British author – after J.K. Rowling – to sell more than £150 million worth of books. 

Celebrity chefs have brought us the art of vacuum packing as well as tiny plates of beautifully presented food. But are these the recipes and techniques that best serve us after a long day in the office? Are we craving something that is perhaps a little more accessible?


In an article in the Radio Times, restaurateur, television presenter/broadcaster, cookery writer and novelist Prue Leith says today’s cookbooks are merely a collection of pretty pictures and we don’t read them for recipes because “if we cook, we google it”. 

It’s a statement that rings true and shows the accessibility we crave according to research undertaken by Samsung KX. They found that 71% of people have “gone digital” in the kitchen, with 23% looking for ideas on Facebook, 21% using Instagram for foodspiration, and one in 10 using TikTok to plan their meals. 

The digital age has ushered in a new wave of cooking influencers. Influencers such as Jenny Hurley, with her book ‘Effortlessly Elevated Eats: Unique, Flavourful Recipes for Everyday Cooking’, and Sam of ‘Sam’s Eats: Let’s Do Some Cooking’, have devoted followings for their innovative yet accessible approach to cooking. Their recipes not only inspire but also empower a new generation of home cooks, confident in the kitchen as they are taught to cook the food that they love by the people that have captured their imagination.

Food accessibility

However we consume our cookery inspiration, the fact that 91% (YouGov) of us re-found a love of cookery following the pandemic, is a positive thing. The more we share food from our past, future aspirations and travel exploits, the more we learn. 

But, accessibility doesn’t always help us with time. Being ‘time poor’ is particularly persistent among parents. Those living with children under the age of 15 have up to 14 hours per week less free time than those living alone, according to official UK statistics. So, the long evenings of scrolling through social media to find the perfectly inspired meal or leafing through our favourite cookbook aren’t always the best solution for hungry tums. 

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