Michigan State University

Davidis, Henriette, 1801-1876

Henriette Davidis was born in 1801 in Wengern, Germany, in the Ruhr Valley. Her mother was Dutch, and her father was German, a Lutheran minister. The tenth of thirteen children, she was home-schooled until age fifteen, when she attended a girls' school, and then trained to become a teacher. She worked eight years as a governess for her sisters' family and for a wealthy family in Bremen. When her father died in 1828, Davidis returned home to care for her mother; twice she was engaged to be married, but sadly both fiancées died. With the loss of her mother around 1838, Davidis moved to Switzerland and supported herself by serving as a companion for a woman with mental illness.

In 1841, Davidis accepted the post as headmistress of a household management school. She began writing a series of concise yet detailed domestic guidebooks to help the students learn household skills. The first book featured cookery; drawing on her friends' and her mother's recipes, and those learned from her travels, Davidis succeeded in producing a helpful manual of cookery. In 1844, her book was published under the title Zuverlässige und selfstgeprüfte Recepte der gewöhnlichen und feineren Küche [Reliable and Author-Tested Recipes for Everyday and Fine Cooking]. A second edition was published in 1846, and in 1847 the third edition appeared with the new title Praktisches Kochbluch für die gewöhnliche und feinere Küche [Practical Cookbook for Everyday and Fine Cooking.] The book sold so well, Davidis was able to resign her position as headmistress and devote herself to writing. She published a cookbook for children, a kitchen gardening book, a career guide for young women, a book on household management, a small collection of recipes for horsemeat, and a book of poetry. All but the last two books went through multiple editions, though her Praktishes Kochbuch outsold all the rest; popular throughout German-speaking areas of Europe, it was also translated into Dutch, French, English, and Danish, and earned her "Fannie Farmer" status in Germany. As Louis Pitschmann writes: "Her name became synonymous with reliable recipes for housewives and hostesses, and references to her and her cookbook occur repeatedly throughout German literature from the nineteenth to the late twentieth century as a literary allusion and as a source of indisputable culinary authority." At the time of Davidis' death in 1876, her cookbook was in its twenty-first edition. Three years later the first American edition was published under the title Handbuch der Hausfrau [The Housewife's Handbook], and was republished the same year with the revised title, Praktisches Kochbuch für die Deutschen in Amerika [Practical Cookbook for the Germans in America.] The first American English translation, entitled Henriette Davidis' Practical Cook Book, was published in 1897 by C.N. Caspar and H.H. Zahn, and is represented in this collection.

Sources

  • Davidis, Henriette, Henriette Davidis' Practical Cook Book. Compiled for the United States from the 35th German Edition. Milwaukee, WI: C.N. Caspar Book Emporium/H.H. Zahn & Co., 1897.

     

  • ----------Pickled Herring and Pumpkin Pie, or, a Nineteenth-Century Cookbook for German Immigrants to America. With an Introduction by Louis A. Pitschmann. Madison, WI: Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies, 2002.

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