If one lives in a large metropolitan area, replete with fabulous libraries, historical recipes might not be so hard to find. A quick search of the New York Public Library, for example, turned up several sources like the Whitney Cookery Collection, spanning the years 1400 - 1895.
Most of us, however, would find it difficult to physically locate ourselves in those libraries, patiently locating, retrieving, and digitizing recipes to share as we march through the survey.
There are several online sources, if you are so inclined!
The Library of Congress is a great place to start. There are larger PDF files like:
- The 1632 "Delights for Ladies to Adorn their persons, tables, closets, and distillatories, with beauties, banquets, perfumes, and waters."
- The 1782 "The Farmer's Wife," with extensive attention to cookery, housekeeping, chicken keeping, and more.
Some schools, like Duke and the University of Michigan, have digitized parts of their rare book collection. These libraries include gems like:
- Mrs. Winslow's Domestic Receipt Book from 1878
- The 1881 Horsford Almanac and Cook Book
- A.S. Wright's 1869 "Book of 3000 practical receipts, or complete book of reference", which thankfully contains a recipe for an opium ointment
- Catharine Beecher's extensive book for an 1873 "housekeeper and healthkeeper: containing five hundred recipes for economical and healthful cooking"
Or, there are American oddities like the recipe for the U.S. Senate's Navy Bean Soup. Trust me, it's really delicious.
As with most obsessive internet searches, I've learned I'm not too unique in this endeavor. Several internet collections exist ("Not By Bread Alone"), television shows (PBS' "A Taste of History"), and too-many-to-count blogs that focus on regional delicacies (like UL's Robert Carriker and his famed boudin site).
The wealth of resources, however, means that one still could spend hours finding a good recipe to represent a certain time/event - but that's always half of the fun!