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Food Historian Wants to Collect Every Recipe Ever Published

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Food Historian Wants to Collect Every Recipe Ever Published
Photo British Library

An 85-year-old Harvard food historian has spent over half her life collecting recipes in an attempt to catologue every cookbook ever published in Europe and the US.

Barbara Ketcham-Wheaton has been collecting recipes since the 1960s and as of a year ago has collected some 130,000, which she enters into computer software. She calls her database 'The Sifter.' Currently, the recipes date back as far as the Middle Ages, such as from the 14th century English tome 'The Forme of Cury' (pictured). Eventually she wants to include recipes from all over the world.

She does it not in an attempt to resurrect long lost dishes, but to try and understand the evolution of food and patterns linked to migration and changing tastes.

"I'm fascinated by the patterns that emerge," she told the BBC, "It's easy to see six things and one is peculiar, but when you look at 60, you see patterns you hadn't seen. Every time you add a zero it gets more interesting."

One of her favourite recipes is that for a roasted peacock served with skin and plummage on, a dish she once served to horrified Harvard undergraduates at a recreation of a 15th century Burgundian banquet.

Though it's a project that's unlikely ever to be completed, as it stands it offers a fascinating glimpse into how humans have defined themselves through food over the centuries – read more about the project here

More: a fun pictorial guide to food history

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