The technical recipe: a formal analysis of nineteenth-century food writing

Middleton, Lindsay (2023) The technical recipe: a formal analysis of nineteenth-century food writing. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2023MiddletonPhD.pdf] PDF
Download (2MB)


In my thesis, I apply a literary analysis to nineteenth-century recipes and cookbooks to interrogate the period’s overarching discourses of historicity and innovation. I argue that food writing was a literary genre in which authors constructed, enacted, and questioned their relationship to the past, present, and future. I analyse the literary techniques that nineteenth-century authors utilised within recipes and cookbooks, arguing that they were inherently literary texts that communicated more than practical instructions. I demonstrate that recipes and cookbooks formed a vital part of the nineteenth-century literary marketplace, becoming sites where important debates concerning globalisation, class, and gender played out.

Central to my analysis are the links between food writing and material technologies. I posit that recipes and cookbooks were literary technologies, written to help readers make sense of material implements and cooking processes. Authors wove narratives of tradition and innovation around material implements in their culinary writing, and I unravel those narratives to illuminate how technological discussions percolated through domestic texts.

To investigate the preoccupation with historicity and innovation in food writing fully, my thesis contains a two-fold methodology and structure. Chapters One and Two are based on the structural breakdown of a data set of recipes which refer to specific material technologies. Chapter One investigates representations of the gridiron: an implement with a longstanding history of tradition and cultural symbolism. In Chapter Two I turn to tinned foods: an innovation that was new within my chosen period. This delineation of a data set of recipes allows me to analyse how technologies were interpreted by multiple authors and to argue that recipes are worthy of sustained analysis as individual literary forms. In Chapters Three and Four, I turn to entire cookbooks to investigate how authors utilised literary techniques across whole texts. In Chapter Three I study the cookbooks of Alexis Soyer, a chef with a marked interest in technological innovations and history. Chapter Four considers the works of Agnes Marshall and Georgiana Hill, two successful cookbook authors who employed very different kinds of rhetorical innovation to depart from traditions. I use this whole-text analysis to question how authors engaged with the wider literary culture of the nineteenth century, subverting the expectations that governed the cookbook genre to engage with discourses of historicity and innovation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies
Funder's Name: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Porter, Dr. Dahlia and Marsden, Dr. Ben
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83771
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 21 Aug 2023 14:08
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2023 12:27
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83771

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year