Henriette Davidis and Her Cookbooks in the German Americana Collection

Cover of Henriette Davidis' Pratkisches KochbuchFood always provides a familiar comfort for people.  As anyone who has attempted to get baking supplies over the last few weeks may know, people have been turning to cooking for some solace and perhaps just something to do in these unusual times.  If you are looking for any historic recipes or information on a historic cookbook author or just something to read, this blog post is for you!

Several years ago, I discovered a cookbook by the author Henriette Davidis in the German Americana collection at the Archives and Rare Books Library.  Initially I was just looking for a sample cookbook and Davidis’ cookbook had a nice cover which would work well visually for showing a class.  As I began researching the author, though, I found that this cookbook and its author had an interesting story.

Henriette Davidis was the most famous German cookbook author of her day, she provided recipes and tips that helped middle-class women in Germany establish their households.  She was kind of like the Martha Stewart of her time and provided women with the tools they needed to cook, run a home, and entertain.  Henriette Davidis was born in 1801 in Wengern, Germany.  Her father was a German Lutheran pastor and her mother, who was Dutch, was a skilled housekeeper and cook.  Henriette was their thirteenth child.  She was homeschooled until the age of 15 when she was sent to a girl’s school and then a training school for teachers.

Drawing of Henriette Davidis, no dateDavidis’ first job was as a tutor to the four children of one of her sisters, but in 1828, she returned home to care for her mother after her father’s death.  While caring for her mother, Davidis became known locally for her cooking skills and she also began working on her first cookbook.  After her mother died, Davidis took a position as a headmistress at a school where girls were taught the domestic skills they would need to run their own households.

Davidis continued to cook and collect recipes from around Germany and she both tested them and improved them.  Her first cookbook was published in 1845 under the title Zuverlässige und selbstgeprüfte Recepte der gewöhnlichen und feineren Küche or Reliable and Author-Tested Recipes for Everyday and Fine Cooking.  It was not until the 3rd edition in 1847 that the title became what it is popularly known as Praktisches Kochbuch für die gewöhnliche und feinere Küche or the Practical Cookbook for Everyday and Fine Cooking.  It was also after the publication of the third edition that Davidis was able to resign her position as headmistress and devote herself to writing full-time.

Davidis continued to publish cookbooks and guides for young women.  She wrote guides for hostesses of “higher” and then “lower” stations, instructions for the care of a vegetable garden, a cookbook for girls, and a guide to life for young women in which she recognized possible professions for women including nursing, teaching, and secretarial work.   Davidis died of a stroke in April of 1876.  At the time, the 21st edition of her Praktisches Kochbuch was already in print and had been translated into Dutch, French, English and Danish.

Praktisches Kochbuch title pageThe first American edition of Davidis’ cookbook was not published after her death.  The publisher, George Brumder, was a bookshop owner in Milwaukee who offered many books imported from Germany and knew that his customers would like an American edition of the Praktisches Kochbuch.  He collaborated with his wife (also named Henriette) who was an accomplished cook herself, although she is not credited anywhere in the book.  They did not publish a straight reprint of Davidis’ 22nd European edition.  Instead the Brumders attempted to create a bi-cultural cookbook by introducing American ingredients and American recipes from their own kitchen, unnamed German American housewives, and the chef at Milwaukee’s Newhall House Hotel.  The American recipes included cornbread, catfish, marble cake, apple pie, and squash (pumpkin) pie.  The Brumder’s other changes included a chapter on special diets for illnesses and converting measurements to American equivalents.

Brumder first published Davidis’ work as the Handbuch for der Hausfrau [The Housewife’s Handbook], but in the same year, he republished the work as the Praktisches Kochbuch fue die Deutschen in Amerika [Practical Cookbook for the German’s in America].  The work went through multiple printings and may have sold as many as 12,000 copies.

The Archives and Rare Books Library holds more than one copy of the American edition of the Praktisches Kochbuch.  Someday in the future, when the library reopens to the public, you can come and take a look yourself.  In the meantime, you can try the recipe below from one of the American editions of Davidis’ book.


Sufficient for 2-3 Cakes

1 qt. of milk
6 cents yeast
12-15 cups of flour
1 lb of sugar
1 lb of butter
6 eggs
¼ lb of blanched ground almonds
1/8  lb of bitter blanched ground almonds
¼ cup of brandy

Preparation:  Warm the milk and stir into a smooth batter with 4 ½ cups of flour, add the yeast dissolved in ½ cup of milk and set the sponge to rise.  Stir in the melted butter, eggs, raisins, citron, sweet and bitter almonds, brandy and the rest of the flour to make a pretty stiff dough.  Knead it until it will not adhere to the hands.  Cut the dough into 2 or 3 parts, as many “stollen” as you with to have, and shape them nice and round, then set to rise in a warm place.  Butter a pan for each cake, double up the dough, place it into the pan and set to rise again.  Bake in a medium oven.  If the cakes are large, bake them 2 hours, if small, 1 ½ hours.  As soon as you take them out of the oven, brush them with butter and strew them with sugar.  These cakes must be prepared in a warm place.

Davidis Stollen Recipe from the American edition


Arndt, Alice, ed. Culinary biographies: a dictionary of the world’s great historic chefs, cookbook authors and collectors, farmers, gourmets, home economists, nutritionists, restaurateurs, philosophers, physicians, scientists, writers, and others who influenced the way we eat today, YES Press, 2006.

Davidis, Henriette. Praktisches Kochbuch Für Die Deutschen In Amerika: Zuverlässige Und Selbstgeprüfte Anweisungen Zur Bereitung Der Verschiedenartigsten Speisen Und Getränke, Zum Backen, Einmachen U. S. W. Milwaukee: Brumder’s Verlag, 1879. Available on Haithi Trust: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t19k50n7h and in the Archives and Rare Books Library:  TX721 .D25 1879

Davidis, Henriette. German National Cookery for American Kitchens: A Practical Book of the Art of Cooking As Performed In Germany. Milwaukee, Wis.: C.N. Caspar co. book emporium, 1904. Available on Hathi Trust: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112076887808 and in the Archives and Rare Books Library: ARB Fick  TX721 .D2713 1904

Davidis, Henriette and Hedwig Voss. Praktisches Kochbuch Fu R Die Deutschen In Amerika: Zuverla Ssige Und Selbstgepru Fte Anweisungen Zur Bereitung Der Verschiedenartigsten Speisen Und Getra Nke, Zum Backen, Einmachen, Etc. Milwaukee, Wis.: Geo. Brumder’s Verlag, 1899. Available on Hathi Trust: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112073541432 and in the Archives and Rare Books Library: ARB Fick  TX721 .D255 1899

Pitschmann,Louis A. “Introduction:  The History of Henriette Davidis’ Practical Cookbook in America, 1879-1913” in Pickled Herring and Pumpkin Pie: A Nineteenth-Century Cookbook for German immigrants to America by Henriette Davidis. Madison, Wisconsin: Max Kade Institute, 2002. Available at http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/German.MaxKadeTexts2002