Colonial Cookbooks


In her phenomenal essay “Domesticating Imperialism: Curry and Cookbooks in Victorian England” (1996), Zlotnick seeks to address, specifically in relation to colonialism, “The ideological work of gender; but it does so through the unusual medium of Victorian domestic cookbooks and the curries they contain” (52). By charting the naturalisation of ‘authentic’ Indian curry recipes into English cookbooks, Zlotnick notes the “self-conscious” (53) nature of these texts. Due to this self-conscious and direct authorial voice, many colonial cookbooks contain interjections from, or full essays by, the author alongside the inclusion of recipes. These essays often contain advice for the reader on straightforward practical matters such as the conversion of weights and measures, but they also often offer more general advice on keeping and running a household. While the ‘household guide’ was a popular sub-set of cookery books (or, perhaps, a tangential genre in its own right, although it often also contained recipes), even the most focused cookery books contain introductions, prefaces or prologues. These sections often, like the rest of the cookbook, take the form of direct addresses from the author to the reader, and as such can prove extremely interesting ground to explore in exploring the intentions and politics of the author.
Most centrally, Zlotnick suggests that;
Nineteenth-century domestic cookery books are self-conscious cultural documents in which we can locate a metaphor for nineteenth-century British imperialism, in which the Other presents itself not as a source of threat and contamination but of nourishment. By virtue of their own domesticity, Victorian women could neutralize the Other by naturalizing the products of foreign lands (53).
This is an astute formulation which she richly explores, but in compiling the introductions to several colonial cookbooks, this project seeks to explore a dual ideological force occurring in Anglo-Indian cookbooks that seems to mirror Zlotnick’s thesis. While Zlotnick focuses on how recipes in England demonstrated the other “not as a source of threat or contamination” (53), I will demonstrate that through their reflections on Indian household servants and the cookery process, introductions to Anglo-Indian cookbooks re-produce the imperial narratives of the ‘natives’ as dirty, dishonest and unruly. In Victorian Britain, “national identity struggled with imperial ambition, contained a dialectical tension always in play between eating and being eaten” (56), and to reassure the British and justify the colonial project that often hinged on a civilising narrative, the foreign threat had to be neutralised and naturalised at home. Yet, in the colonies, for the colonial project to function a strong self/Other binary must be maintained between the British and the Indian in order to justify their oppression/forced ‘civilisation’. For such imperial ideologies of racial dominance to flourish, a distinct distance must be maintained between the British self and the Other even among those British subjects abroad who are not involved in the outward, political sphere of imperialist projects. Anglo-Indian cookbooks become a site for this project, the mirror-image of what Zlotnick suggests was occurring in England.
Aimed at the memsahib who ran a household of Indian servants and spent their life in close proximity to them, Anglo-Indian cookbooks have noted by critics as serving multiple purposes. For Sengupta, “It is obvious that these cookbooks were part of a larger discourse that sought to limit women’s roles to those of wife, mother and homemaker” (2012: 80). Similarly, in their recipes, rather than naturalising foreign cuisine, “they defined Bengali/Indian cuisine in contradistinction to European cuisine, and, in doing so, took positions on the distinction of Western and European cultures as a whole” (80). While I choose to focus my brief exploration of this project’s materials in terms of the continued Othering of India, it is clear that cookbooks are key in exploring many domestic and imperial discourses. It is my hope, then, that the resources collected in this project can provide a useful selection of cookery-book and household manual introductions and conclusions that could be useful as a basis for numerous different projects.
To this end, I have aimed to select texts which provide an overview of cookery book authorship, across both time and space. This project is therefore structured in geographically-based three strands, each arranged in chronological order. To begin, I present a collection of introductory chapters to Anglo-Indian texts aimed at the memsahib. These works, among other things, demonstrate the pervasive nature and differing formulations of the intense racial othering of the Indian domestic servant. In a second tread, I present introductory remarks from Western cookbooks. These extracts are intended as a contrast to the Anglo-Indian texts and have been chosen particularly because they discuss the construction of the English home and English servants. I have also included one American text, to allow an extra avenue of national comparison should it be useful. Interesting conclusions about both class and race differentiation can be drawn from considering these two kinds of cookbooks alongside one another. Finally, I include a brief final pathway of two texts which specifically bridge the geographical gap between England and India. The first is specifically aimed at the returned exile memsahib who seeks to re-create Indian dishes in England, but importantly of course with English servants. The second is an Anglo-Indian cookbook which discusses cooking in India, but which also contains a closing chapter about the re-adjustment to life in England.
Where possible, I have uploaded only the relevant extracts from these texts to avoid needless searching for the recommended passages. In a few cases, however, this was not possible due to file size and the entire document had to be imported from an outside website. In these cases, please see the details below the PDF viewer for recommended pages.

Works Cited
Sengupta, Jayanta. 2012. Curried Cultures: Globalization, Good, and South Asia. Eds. Krishnendu Ray, Tulasi Srinivas. California: University of California Press.
Zlotnick, Susan. 1996. “Domesticating Imperialism: Curry and Cookbooks in Victorian England”. In Frontiers: A Journal and Women Studies, 16.2/3. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. 

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