European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

17 May 2024

Continental cookbooks

From 17 May to 3 June 2024, the British Library celebrates its sixth Food Season, with a range of events that highlight the stories, the politics, and the people behind how and why we eat. While practical in their intent, cookbooks offer fascinating insights into the time and place of their production. The British Library’s rich collection of cookbooks provides an engaging way to trace evolving attitudes and tastes that have shaped cuisines and cultures. To mark this year's food season, today’s blog features a selection of some of our favorite cookbooks within the European Collections at the British Library. Bon appetit!


Kuharske Bukve

The first cookbook in Slovene was printed in 1799 as “the beginning of the Slovene cuisine”. It was compiled and edited by Valentin Vodnik, a Slovene poet and journalist. He translated recipes mainly from a variety of German cookery writers and titled his book Kuharske Βukve (Cook Books).

The title page of Kuharske bukve with an illustration of a nude figure stirring a pot.

Facsimile reprint of Valentin Vodnik’s 1799 work, Kuharske Βukve (Lublin, 1999) YF.2012.a.5. The original can be seen in the Slovene Digital Library.

The book comprises Vodnik’s introduction on healthy food and translations of 300 recipes arranged in 22 sections: soups; vegetable, meat and poultry dishes; sauces; egg and dairy dishes, fish and seafood dishes; cakes, drinks, etc. Each recipe has a title in Slovene culinary terminology.

This cookbook was printed at a time of important activities to further advance the Slovene language and was also significant for Slovene culinary practice. In his introduction Vodnik posed the questions: “Why would we steal words? Isn't the Slovenian language quite capable?” He stated the basic rules of healthy eating and asserted that “everything from which dishes are cooked must be healthy, and the cooking method must also be healthy”.

Frontispiece showing an image of a two cooks in a kitchen

Frontispiece of Vodnik’s cookbook with the inscription “Good food for hungry people”

Selected by Milan Grba, Lead Curator of South-East European Collections

__________________________________________________

History on Our Plate: Recipes from America’s Dutch Past for Today’s Cooks

In History on Our Plate, Peter G. Rose describes how some of today’s favourite American staples, such as coleslaw and cookies were introduced by Dutch settlers.

Image showing the cover of 'History on Our Plate'. Cover design features Etende Vrouw (1647), an oil painting by Hendrick Martenszoon Sough that depicts a woman tasting something from a jug with a spoon

Cover of Peter G. Rose, History on Our Plate: Recipes from America’s Dutch Past for Today’s Cooks (Syracuse, 2019). YK.2021.a.586.

Rose takes inspiration from the earliest (anonymously) published cooking book in the Dutch language: De Verstandige Kock (‘The Sensible Cook’), which also includes De Hollandtse slacht-tydt (‘The Dutch Butchering time’) as well as De verstandige confituurmaker, (‘The Sensible Confectioner’). This highly rated book was often sent to Dutch settlers by their relatives back in the Netherlands.

Title page of De Verstandige Kock showing image of a two cooks working in a period kitchen

The title page of De Verstandige Kock (Amsterdam: Marcus Doornick, 1669) 441.b.21.(7.)

Other sources he uses are manuscript (so unpublished) cooking books, written by American / Dutch women. Around 2011 a database was set up to digitise some of these handwritten recipe books, the ‘Manuscript Cookbooks Survey’. Now we can all try out centuries old Dutch /American recipes!

Selected by Marja Kingma, Curator of Dutch Language Collections

_______________________________________________________

Hodēgos mageirikēs kai zacharoplastikēs, aka Tselementes

Authored by chef Nikolaos Tselementes, the 1926 Hodēgos mageirikēs kai zacharoplastikēs was Greece’s first complete cookery book that triggered the modernisation of Greek cuisine with the introduction of European components such as béchamel sauce. The book was so influential that the surname Tselementes is used as a synonym for a cookbook to the present day.

The cover of Nikolaos Tselemetes' cookbook, bearing only his surname and an illustration of the head of a chef in blue on a black background

The cover of the 1976 edition Nikolaos Tselementes, Hodēgos mageirikēs kai zacharoplastikēs (Athens, 1976) X.622/2509.

Despite its revolutionising elements, the book reflected the reality of what was still a male-dominated Greek society. In its first few pages, it featured the ‘Decalogue to the Ladies’, an outdated and anti-feminist text written by Carmen Sylva (real name Elisabeth of Wied, first Queen of Romania), which urges the woman - housewife to serve only as queen in the kitchen, act as servant to her husband, and be obliged always to agree with, obey, flatter him and, above all, respect his mother whom he had loved first!

A page with instructions to women from the 'Decalogue to the Ladies' in Greek. On the left there is an illustration of an attractive woman in a red strapless dress standing behind a man sat on a chair with her arms on his shoulders

The ‘Decalogue to the Ladies’ at the start of Tselementes’s cookbook from the 1976 edition.

Selected by Lydia Georgiadou, Curator of Modern Greek Collections

_________________________________________________________

La cucina futurista

Here is a cookbook you can’t live without. Marinetti’s 1932 Futurist Cookbook challenges the perception of Italian cuisine: everything is subverted, from the order of the courses to the scandalous rejection of pasta. The recipes suggested were actually prepared during ‘futurist’ banquets, gatherings resembling performance art where everything, from the crockery to the sound, was created on purpose. Despite being a satirical work, the application of modern science and technology to gastronomy suggested in the book (ozone generators, UV lamps, nutrient-dense powders) is an innovative element that anticipates today’s molecular cuisine. What never changes is the pleasure of hosting and sitting at the table, sharing a meal and enjoying conviviality.

Tan cover of La cucina futurista with red print for the author, title and publishing info.

The cover of F.T. Marinetti and Fillìa, La cucina futurista (Italy, 1932) Cup.408.ww.45.

Selected by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

_______________________________________________________

Forbidden cuisine: a book about delicious prison food

Lapitsiĭ is a pen name of Andrey Sannikov, a Belarusian oppositionist and a champion of human rights, who stepped into the arena of the 2010 presidential elections, challenging the entrenched power of Alexander Lukashenko. The aftermath of that fateful election was nothing short of a whirlwind: Sannikov found himself imprisoned, a captive of his convictions, after taking part in a demonstration organised by the opposition. The walls closed in, and for 16 months, his voice was silenced, but his spirit remained unbroken.

Cover of 'Zapreshchennaia kukhnia' with a photograph of a bowl of food and the view through a prison cell door

Cover of Zapreshchennaia kukhnia: Kniga o vkusnoĭ tiuremnoĭ pishche (Warsaw, 2023) YF.2023.a.24545

In the depths of captivity, Sannikov grappled with the stark reality of losing more than just his physical freedom. The very act of choosing what to eat — a simple, everyday privilege — was dictated by others. Hunger became a harsh reminder of his constrained existence, a tool used to bend the will of the incarcerated. Food, often bland and scarce, became a canvas for creativity. In the face of deprivation, inmates concocted imaginative variations of borscht, herring beneath a fur coat salad, and layered birthday cakes. For them, ‘cooking is a territory of freedom,’ a small triumph of choice and creativity amid confinement.

Photograph of a a prison cell with a table set for a meal

A prison cell with a table set for a meal, illustration from Zapreshchennaia kukhnia

And so emerged Zapreshchennaia kukhnia: Kniga o vkusnoĭ tiuremnoĭ pishche (‘Forbidden cuisine: a book about delicious prison food’) —a symbol of resilience and defiance. Beyond a mere meal, food became an act of rebellion, an assertion of their humanity. In these culinary creations, born out of necessity and ingenuity, lay the embodiment of the most imaginative and delicious declaration of independence.

Photograph of potatoes and potato soup with a recipe

Potato soup from Zapreshchennaia kukhnia.

Selected by Olga Topol, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections

14 May 2024

European prose in transformation (Part 2) The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library

30 established and emerging authors from across Europe gather under one roof to delve into the theme of ‘Transformation’ at the second European Writers’ Festival taking place over the weekend of 18-19 May 2024 at the British Library. Two days of performances and panels will discuss how storytelling, its creators, its original language as well as its translation, are changing as the continent itself is transforming. While writing about personal experience embedded in history remains central to European literature, the Festival’s guests attempt to break literary traditions and established boundaries, setting off for transformative new journeys – and carrying us with them. This is the second of two blog posts examining some of the themes of the Festival. (You can read the first here.)

Cover of 'The Postcard' with a photograph of Noémie Rabinovitch, and author photograph of Anne Berest

Cover of The Postcard with a photograph of Noémie Rabinovitch, a budding writer who was murdered before she could fulfil her potential as her great-niece Anne (pictured right) has been able to do

Anne Berest, The Postcard - Sunday 19 May, Panel 1, ‘Transforming Historical Narratives’

Anne Berest is a French novelist and scriptwriter born in 1979. With her sister Claire, she is the author of Gabriële (Paris, 2017; YF. 2018.a.8864), a critically acclaimed biography of her great-grandmother, Gabriële Buffet-Picabia, wife of the painter Francis Picabia, highlighting her contribution to the French avant-garde. Gabriële and her daughter Jeanine, who both joined the French Resistance, feature in La carte postale (Paris, 2020; YF. 2022.a.8192) and Samuel Beckett makes an appearance too! Translated into English by Tina Kover as The Postcard, the book opens on a snowy morning in 2003 when Anne’s mother Lélia, receives an anonymous postcard inscribed with the names Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie and Jacques. The names are those of Anne’s great-grandparents and her great-aunt and uncle, the Rabinovitch family, all of whom died in Auschwitz. Anne’s grandmother, Myriam, escaped deportation and was her family’s sole survivor, but she never talked about the past. The book’s novelistic techniques (invented dialogue, omniscient narration) may initially seem questionable, but the book is based on Lélia’s meticulous research and Anne’s own investigations. Viewing the dreadful fate of European Jews deported from Vichy France under German occupation through the prism of named individuals that we get to know and care about makes for a compelling take on history and on what it is to be a Jew in France today as a third-generation survivor. And who wrote and sent that postcard? All is revealed on the last page.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator, Romance Collections

Cover of 'Niki' with a photograph of a woman in profile with four blue bars superimposed, and photograph of Christos Chomenidis leaning on a car

Cover of Niki and photograph of Christos Chomenidis (photograph by Kokkalias Nikos from the Other Press website)


Christos Chomenidis, Niki - Sunday 19 May, Panel 1, ‘Transforming Historical Narratives’

Through his 2014 novel Niki, author Christos Chomenidis narrates his real family adventures against the dramatic historical backdrop of 20th century Greece through the eyes of his mother, Niki. Daughter of the deputy secretary general of the Greek Communist Party Vassilis Nefeloudis (Antonis Armaos in the book), infant Niki will be swept up in turmoil when her parents are arrested: just 70 days old, she will join her mother in exile in the Cyclades; growing up, she will experience the Italian and German invasion, the Nazi occupation, and the civil war that came after, and will often be caught between her socialist values and those of the right-wing establishment, to which half her relatives belong; as a young woman, she will fall madly in love, giving the already divided family yet another reason to clash. “Niki’s life is the life of all children who come into the world with a heavy burden on their shoulders; they do not renounce it, but neither do they let it to bend them” says Chomenidis and continues: “The people of Niki are the History of 20th century Greece”.

Following his mother’s death in 2008, the author became the last of his line who knew all the protagonists’ stories and so, he decided to record them, initially in a letter for his own daughter (who was named Niki after her grandmother) and gradually into a novel, tackling complex events in a way that is simple and understandable even to readers who are not familiar with these aspects of Greek history.

Niki was awarded the Greek State Literature Prize in 2015 and the European Book Prize for Fiction in 2021. Its English translation by Patricia Felisa Barbeito is the featured book from Greece at the European Writers’ Festival 2.

Lydia Georgiadou, Curator, Modern Greek Collections

Cover of 'Journey to the South' with a picture of a lone figure silhouetted against a colourful abstract landscape of blocks, and photogtaph of Michal Ajvaz

Cover of Journey to the South and photograph of Michal Ajvaz (photograph by Rafał Komorowski from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Michal Ajvaz, Journey to the South – Sunday 19 May 2020, Panel 2, ‘Breaking Boundaries’

Michal Ajvaz, who studied Czech and Aesthetics at the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University, worked during the normalisation period as a janitor, nightwatchman, and petrol pump attendant among other jobs. Ajvaz debuted in 1989 with the poetry collection Vražda v hotelu Intercontinental, (‘Murder at the Hotel Intercontinental’, Brno, 2012; YF.2013.a.7148) and has since authored over 20 works blending imaginative prose with philosophical essays.

Ajvaz’s literary influences trace back to his early readings of Edgar Allan Poe and E.T.A. Hoffmann. His exploration of magical realism began with Druhé město (Prague, 1993; YA.1995.a.26185. English translation by Gerald Turner: The Other City, Champaign, Dallas, 2009; YK.2010.a.31674), which stirred discussions on its role within Czech literature. Ajvaz’s works are filled with mirrored landscapes and parallel worlds, adventures and quests that span the world.

The Magnesia Litera award-winning novel Lucemburská zahrada (Brno 2011; YF.2012.a.2551), delves into linguistics with a newly invented language and takes the reader on a journey through Paris, Nice, Nantes, in the state of New York, Moscow, Santa Lucia, Sicilian Taormina and the invented city of Lara. The writer-philosopher's love of linguistics reached its peak in this work, resulting in an appendix offering a key to deciphering some of the novel's content.

The magic permeating Ajvaz’s literary worlds stems from his philosophy and writing process. This is how he describes it in an interview published on the literární.cz website

Usually, it's just a feeling, often associated with a specific place... These feelings remind me of a white fog in which dozens of indistinct figures with their own stories flicker, and these characters and stories beckon me to free them from the fog, to give them some form. It's true that some ideas eventually make their way into my fiction books, but that's because from the initial feeling a certain world gradually unfolds with everything that belongs to it—and to the world belong not only characters, spaces, and plots but also ideas. However, ideas should not dominate the novel; they must not be privileged over the other inhabitants of the novel. 

Now the British public has an opportunity to become immersed in Ajvaz’s world and walk alongside the characters of Journey to the South, translated to English last year by Andrew Oakland (Dallas, 2023). Pack your imagination and join the fellow travellers!

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Curator

 

Cover of 'Home' with a photograph of a barn in a field of yellow flowers, and photograph of Andrea Tompa

Cover of Home and photograph of Andrea Tompa (Photograph by Petőfi Literary Fund via Hungarian Literature Online)

Andrea Tompa, Home – Sunday 19 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Europe on the Move’

Thirty years after relocating from Cluj-Napoca to Budapest in 1990, Hungarian writer and theatre critic Andrea Tompa felt the time was finally ripe to share what leave-taking and homecoming truly mean for her. With her latest novel now translated into English by Jozefina Komporaly under the title Home (London, 2024), Andrea is bringing her contemplations to this year’s European Writers’ Festival.

Many of us left our homeland behind, prompted by circumstances, driven by various forces. Although the book narrates a journey back to an unnamed home country for a school reunion, with several classmates also returning after long absences, its essence is not so much a story of a trip. The focus is on different kinds of travel: past journeys, journeys into the past - and into ourselves.

A reunion inevitably induces reflection, it can serve as a reality check relative to our own youth and also to our peers while we reacquaint as adults. How much do we leavers share as to the nature of our connections to the place we came from? Some decide to cut all ties, others will always be longing after the homeland. But the homeland has transformed since we left and we ourselves changed in many ways, so all points of reference have shifted.
Identity, personal relationships, culture, patriotism, belonging – just a few of the complex emotional questions to delve into, with language as a vital theme in its own right, weaving through the book.

The Hungarian original Haza (Budapest, 2020; YF.2022.a.16166) is already in our collection, hopefully the translation will arrive soon as well.

Andrea is a guest on the ‘Europe on the Move’ panel at 3 pm on 19 May. She also offers some insight into her journeys in an English-language interview by Hungarian Literature Online .

Ildi Wollner, Curator, East and SE European Collections

Cover of 'The moon in foil' with a photograph of a woman seen from behind looking over a river, and photograph of Zuska Kepplova standing in fromt of bookshelves

Cover of The Moon in Foil  and photograph of Zuska Kepplova (photogtaph by Juraj Starovecký from Slovak Literature in English Translation website)

Zuska Kepplova, The Moon in Foil – Sunday 19 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Europe on the Move’

In an interview for the Chicago Review of Books Zuska Kepplova – a writer, editor and political commentator – makes a statement that resonates with many Eastern European world nomads, as those ‘who were born in late socialist societies and grew up after the revolutions, [this label] is a novelty. They were not used to thinking about themselves as “Eastern Europeans” and dealing with prejudices, their own or of others. Entering the free world thus also means entering a hierarchy or a web of relations of power.’

Kepplova’s book Buchty švabachom (Bratislava 2017; YF.2019.a.10137), recently translated into English by Magdalena Mullek as The Moon in Foil (Chicago, 2023), traces people’s relationships with each other and their place of migration. The short story form is a perfect fit for Kepplova’s storytelling. The deliberately scattered narrative is thoughtful, gives glimpses into the chaotic lives of young Slovaks tempted by newly opened world enticing them with a vision of success, but leading to a life of mundanity and struggle for social advancement, often devoid of self-fulfilment. Many a reader will relate to the characters' commonplace existence and reflect on their own longing for buchty  or pierogi left behind at home far away. Those who want to see what happens when the migratory birds return should read Kepplova’s Reflux. Niekto cudzí je v dome (‘Reflux. There is a stranger in the house’; Levice, 2015; YF.2017.a.24619).  

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and EE Curator

10 May 2024

European prose in transformation (Part 1). The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library

30 established and emerging authors from across Europe gather under one roof to delve into the theme of ‘Transformation’ at the second European Writers’ Festival taking place over the weekend of 18-19 May 2024 at the British Library. Two days of performances and panels will discuss how storytelling, its creators, its original language as well as its translation, are changing as the continent itself is transforming. While writing about personal experience embedded in history remains central to European literature, the Festival’s guests attempt to break literary traditions and established boundaries, setting off for transformative new journeys – and carrying us with them. In this and a second blog post, our curators and one guest contributor highlight some of the themes of the festival.

Photograph of Laurent de Sutter and the cover of his book 'After Law' with the book title in a red stop sign design

Laurent de Sutter and the cover of his book After Law (Cambridge, 2020) (Author photograph from the website of the Law Art Politics podcast)

Laurent de Sutter, After Law – Saturday 18 May, Panel 2, ‘Changing Gears’

On Saturday 19 May 2024, Belgian philosopher Laurent de Sutter will take part in the panel ‘Changing Gears’, alongside other authors who switch jobs and genres.

A real 21st century polymath, Laurent de Sutter wrote his law thesis on the politics of representation while working as a freelance writer for pop-rock magazine Rif-Raf. He then wrote about pornography and porn-stars, pop-culture, aesthetics, drugs and capitalism, and cinema, while becoming an editor directing a collection for the Presses Universitaires de France.

Laurent de Sutter is today Professor of Legal Theory at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the author of more than 20 works translated into a dozen languages, and an essential thinker on the concept of law and of the ways we categorise and describe reality. Unexpectedly, his recent philosophical essay on modernity and anti-modernity, Superfaible! Penser au XXIe siècle (Paris, 2023) was also the recipient of the Grand prix de Poésie de l’Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique, 2023. Maybe this is not that surprising for a provocative and limitless writer who is also a self-confessed ‘pop-philosopher’ (a term invented by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in the 1970s, for a genre that explores the intersections between philosophy and pop culture).

You can find his books, in French, on the life and death of superheroes (Vies et morts des super-héros; Paris, 2016; YF.2020.a.6105) or his history of law through the architecture of one contemporary building (Post-tribunal: Renzo Piano Building Workshop et l'île de la Cité judiciaire; Paris, 2018; YF.2018.a.15252) in our collections. Recent titles in English include Narcocapitalism: Life in the Age of Anaesthesia (Cambridge, 2018; YC.2018.a.13255) and After Law. The latter won the French Voices Award and the Leopold Rosy Prize of the Belgian Royal Academy and is the featured book at this year’s European Writers’ Festival.

Sophie Defrance, Curator, Romance Collections

Photograph of Ioana Pârvulescu reading a book, and the cover of 'Jonah and his Daughter' with an illustration of Jonah and the whale

Cover of Jonah and his Daughter and photograph of Ioana Pârvulescu (pictures from the Romanian Cultural Institute)

Ioana Pârvulescu, Jonah and his Daughter – Saturday 18 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Transformation through Translation’

While I was preparing Ioana Pârvulescu’s rather mystical new novel for print, I made a trip to Rome, and more specifically to the ancient Christian burial grounds of that city, known to us as the catacombs. To my surprise, I came upon an array of depictions of the prophet Jonah – being thrown overboard on this sea journey undertaken in an attempt to outrun the will of God; languishing inside the whale or being regurgitated from the sea monster. My guide explained that the early Christians saw Jonah as a precursor to Jesus, with his internment in the belly of the great fish for three days pre-echoing those three days in the tomb before resurrection; his rebirth thereafter being the new life in faith.

Roman wall-paintings showing the prophet Jonah being thrown from a ship and being vomited out by a dragon-like whale

Paintings of the biblical story of Jonah from the Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter in Rome

While Pârvulescu’s novel is far more subtle and complicated than a mythologised story of prophecy from the Old Testament, her writing is never finer than when describing that extraordinary scene of ingestion and eventual discharge :

...Jonah grew very dizzy and felt he was falling back-ward into emptiness, looking through eyes in which there was no wide-eyed seeing. And all of a sudden, the seeing returned to his eyes and his sight filled with stars, some so close that you could catch them in your hand, stars that were in motion, others so high above that they were but specks of silver dust...

Yet this is not a novel of obscure stories and characters far removed from us in time and mentality: Jonah is a living, breathing man with a speech impediment and a prodigious sexual appetite, who befriends waifs and strays with characters that steal our hearts and make us want to sit down with these people, around a campfire perhaps, and learn their ways. Just as in her previous novel, Life Begins on Friday, the author draws us into historical periods through the quirks of her characters, their insecurities and their passions, and the empathy she evokes for them through her expert storytelling. As in all the best dramatisations of the past – be it in films, theatre plays or novels – historical figures are given height and depth because we have sat with them for a while and heard their voices.

We learn in the introduction to the book that Ioana felt compelled to write it because the vagaries of spellcheck often rendered her name to that of the ‘minor prophet’ in Romanian and that from this whimsical coincidence she was led to re-evaluate and become enamoured of a narrative different from the one she expected:

The reason his story is so beautiful and so human is because it is about deadly monsters that play a double part and which in the end are life savers, about the need for darkness, about fear and running away, about passion, about getting involved or standing aloof, about being human or separate from humanity...

Jonah’s daughter learns the story of her father, and passes it on her to her daughter, and so on down through the ages. In this way our author becomes a daughter of Jonah too, bringing the story of the recalcitrant prophet up to date with our times. In the end all the very best stories reveal aspects of our human - and mystical - experience in this realm, and I for one have been greatly enriched by this one.

Susan Curtis, Editor, Istros Books