Los Recetarios (Cookbooks) initiative

Discover a touring and collaborative digital initiative bringing together handwritten and typed recipe books.

A woman in the kitchen (1937)Original Source: Fortepan

"Los Recetarios" is a digital initiative opening a window into home and community kitchens to reveal the living history behind every recipe. A cookbook's story is the story of its author, their family, and their community. It is unique and cannot be replicated. To preserve and revisit these books is to discover life stories through the people who wrote or inherited them, bringing us closer to where we have come from as people and as a society. They contain clues that offer a better understanding of the past, and of how to build a more inclusive and diverse future for gastronomy.

Teresa Toscano's recipe book (1977) by Teresa ToscanoOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Some culinary records are maintained in archives, libraries, museums, and private collections. However, it is impossible to determine the number of notebooks and pages that have disappeared over time, with nobody to read, interpret, and—most importantly—value them. How many recipe books that are today lying on shelves, or hidden in drawers and boxes, will survive?

Ana Vega and Guillermo Elejabeitia at the Mama Gastronomic Festival (Mama Festival Gastronómico) in Ezcaray (2019)Original Source: Los Recetarios

In 2019, four gastronomes, Ana Vega, Carmen Alcaraz del Blanco, Helena Vaello, and Gabriela Lendo, set themselves a challenge: to explore the Spanish countryside in search of family cookbooks they could digitize and document. Whether these were handwritten or typed, in notebooks or on loose sheets of paper, they hoped to garner culinary wisdom from community and household kitchens. And so, the Los Recetarios (Cookbooks) initiative was born.

Women in the kitchen (1930)Original Source: Fortepan

Los Recetarios is a digital repository giving recognition and a voice to those who—without realizing it—helped to build and impart their country's gastronomical culture from the intimacy of their kitchen table. It is freely accessible to all.

Gastronomes (2018) by Carmen Alcaraz del BlancoOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Is a household recipe more than just a set of cooking instructions? Absolutely.

Within a recipe's written formula lies a record of day-to-day work; shared knowledge and family memories; a specific set of living and societal circumstances; inherited and acquired tastes; community belonging; the dexterity of those working for others; and, of course, the love that goes into it all.

Dolores Martín de Rolo's recipe book (1912) by Dolores Martín de Rolo and three further generations of womenOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

An old recipe book can be read through the lens of gastronomy, history, anthropology, economics, or linguistics. But, above all, it should be read with feeling and gratitude. To preserve a recipe is to uphold the legacy of someone who believed that cooking was not only about nourishment, but also enjoyment. Cooking was a basic, daily necessity, but it was also a pleasure, refined through repeated trial and error in people's homes.

Women in the kitchen and a page from the 1899 Venezuelan Book of Cooking (Libro de Cocina, 1899) (1921)Original Source: Fortepan / Morvay Kinga

Praise and spotlight have generally been reserved for haute cuisine chefs, but it is housewives who have shouldered the burden of everyday nourishment, along with other cooks at home and in the community. One of the aims of the Los Recetarios project is to showcase and celebrate the contributions made by these primarily female cooks, silently cooking away, unheard by the rest of society. It is important to acknowledge that there is no more creative task than staving off hunger, and this is where previous generations were—and still are—the experts.

Catalina Ubis' recipe book (19th - 20th century) by Catalina Ubis and four further generations of womenOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

A lack of education, and the prejudices against women participating in culture, were barriers to their personal and social development. Many housewives, servants, and cooks were self-taught, writing things down as they worked in the kitchen. These records were the only written trace of so many women throughout history. Any spelling mistakes are, in actual fact, evidence of their efforts. Every one of these recipe books is an astonishing triumph. They are full of idioms, localisms, and colloquial expressions; a reflection of oral tradition.

Catalina Ubis' recipe book (19th - 20th century) by Catalina Ubis and four further generations of womenOriginal Source: James Sturcke x MAMA Festival

Every recipe book is written as a guide, designed to survive the passing of time. Sometimes the notebooks are handed down through generation after generation of the same family. They become reference documents for an entire bloodline. This is the case with Catalina Ubis' recipe book, compiled by five generations of women from the same family. It was passed on to Los Recetarios by the youngest member, María, the original author's great-great-granddaughter.

Dolores Martín de Rolo's recipe book (1912) by Dolores Martín de Rolo and three further generations of womenOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Dolores (Lola) Martín de Rolo started her recipe book just one day before giving birth to her first and only daughter, Olympia, who went on to continue her mother's mission as an adult. Later, Lola's granddaughter inherited her grandmother's profession as a teacher, as well as her love of cooking and her handwriting.

The recipes from these three women reflect the diversity of Garachico, a port town on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It is a place influenced by the many nationalities that have landed there, including Italians from Florence and Genoa; Spaniards from the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Cádiz; and even some English settlers. Four years ago, the chef Omar Páez discovered the recipe book that his great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother created, which is now over a hundred years old. From that point on, the notebook became the focus of his own culinary revolution.

Guadalupe Rozas' recipe book (Late 19th century) by Guadalupe RozasOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Guadalupe Rozas wrote her recipe book in the late 19th century, in Aranda de Duero (Burgos province). She came from a well-to-do family in Valles Pasiegos, and this recipe book is one of the few memories her descendants have of her. She died in 1903 aged just 28, leaving behind a young daughter. It is a beautiful recipe book, written in impeccable handwriting and containing 173 recipes, some her own and others taken from elsewhere. It was preserved and shared by her great-grandson, Ignacio Medina, a transatlantic food journalist living in Peru.

Detail from Guadalupe Rozas' recipe book (Late 19th century) by Guadalupe RozasOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

At a time when book distribution was complicated and there was no such thing as a photocopier, Guadalupe transcribed recipes that she liked—just like we would today—from The New Art of Cooking: The Most Complete Collection Ever Published (Nuevo Arte de Cocina: El Más Completo que Ha Visto la Luz Pública) (Barcelona, 1864). That is why her collection includes Catalan sausages (butifarra), but not blood sausage (morcilla) from Burgos. It also immortalizes her own recipes, including: migas de leche (breadcrumbs in milk); sopa de hierbas (herb soup); artichokes in ajillo pastoril (garlic sauce); bizcochada de almendra (almond sponge cake); tocino del cielo (an egg-yolk flan); mantecados (shortbread cookies); sequillos (cookies drizzled in meringue); mostachones (macaroons); roscos de vino (ring-shaped cookies made with wine); bollos de yema (sweet buns); and Santa Ysabel cake.

Guillerma Vicuña's recipe book (1886) by Guillerma VicuñaOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Guillerma García de Vicuña was from Gipuzkoa, in the Basque Country, but lived in Bilbao. Her notebook dates from 1886, when she entrusted the transcription of her recipes to Constantino Martínez, one of her husband's employees.

Detail from Guillerma Vicuña's recipe book (1886) by Guillerma VicuñaOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Most of the recipes are adapted from the first cookbook published by a woman in Spain, The Spanish Table: The Art of Cooking Within Reach of the Average Fortune (La Mesa Española: Arte de Cocina al Alcance de una Fortuna Media) by Dolores Vedia de Uhagón (Bilbao, 1873). Many of these were not copied word for word, but rewritten in her own way, added to, and even improved.

Guillerma Vicuña's recipe book (1886) by Guillerma VicuñaOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

At the end of the book are several notes from 1934, added by Guillerma's daughter-in-law, María Faustina Altube Viain, who was born in Argentina in 1882. The flavors of her native country were reflected in some of her specialties, like alfajores (sandwich cookies, often filled with dulce de leche). María Faustina is the paternal grandmother of Ignacio Altube Garay, who is the recipe book's current owner.

Recipes for Cooking, for Convenience, and Others as Useful as They Are Curious (1935) by María Josefa HernándezOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Grandma Pepa (Josefa Hernández) gave this notebook to her daughter Mary Luz in 1935, when the family still lived in Barcelona. It was entitled Recipes for Cooking, for Convenience, and Others as Useful as They Are Curious (Recetas de Cocina, de Tocador y Otras Tan Útiles Como Curiosas). The family traveled to Paris, exiled as a result of the Spanish Civil War. They later moved to Colombia, with its humid jungles, and Pepa's accomplished recipe book went with them in her daughter's luggage.

Recipes for Cooking, for Convenience, and Others as Useful as They Are Curious (1935) by María Josefa HernándezOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Both European flavors and new ingredients found in the Americas were captured in the pages of this book, which would return across the Atlantic decades later, headed to Spain. Interestingly, it also includes some Valencian recipes collected from the painter Joaquín Sorolla, who was Mary Luz's great uncle.

Recipes for Cooking, for Convenience, and Others as Useful as They Are Curious (1935) by María Josefa HernándezOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

The tradition continued in the 1970s, thanks to Mercedes Alomar García (Pepa's granddaughter), who wrote her own recipe book. Both documents have been preserved to this day, as a result of the love and care of Joaquín Alomar.

Cooks in Sierra de Cebollera (1953) by Werner Lüdi.Original Source: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich

Recipes are not only passed on within families, but also between friends, neighbors, and even coworkers and customers. This is the case with María Jesús Arbizu's notebook from 1932. From Santesteban in Navarra, she started working in a hair salon in San Sebastián at the age of 17. As she beautified summer vacationers, she would compile the recipes they shared in conversation with her.

María Jesús Arbizu's recipe book (ca.1960) by María Jesús ArbizuOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Besides the tortilla de pijadillas (an omelet), her book also includes the consomé de niños bién, or good children's broth, painting a social portrait of San Sebastián in the 1970s. She passed on her passion for cooking to her daughter, Marta Miranda, who is a professional recipe book author.

Conce's notebook (20th century) by Concesa Barrios HidalgoOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Recipe books reflect the course of time, and every regular celebration—whether a religious, community, or family one—is associated with one or several dishes. One example is the collection of recipes for Carnival, which combines both Christian and Pagan traditions. The Church would turn a blind eye to carnal excesses, and the recipe books don't lie. There are products made from meat, as well as all kinds of confectionery, including orejas (pieces of fried pastry); coca de llardons (a flat pastry cake); buñuelos de viento (fritters); leche frita (fried, bite-size pieces of milk pudding); and floretas (flower-shaped pastries) made with or without aniseed, such as those in the notebook written by Concesa Barrios Hidalgo (1924–2013), from Guijuelo in Salamanca province.

Recipe by Mari Carmen Villar Díaz (20th century) by Mari Carmen Villar DíazOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Recipe books illustrated with drawings, photographs, cuttings, and stickers are testament to their author's tastes, and sometimes even their sense of humor. The notebook has broken through the barriers of its instructional function to become a unique, personal, and emotive book.

Argentina Martínez's recipe book (20th century) by Argentina MartínezOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

(Translated from Galician) “These were everyday recipes in the 1950s, made in well-to-do country houses, where they would slaughter a young pig to have something to make Galician soup with throughout the year.” Sometimes, the author herself would shed light on the origin of the recipe, as is the case with this introductory note by Argentina Martínez (Arcade, Pontevedra, 1933), who was a teacher in the town. Lara Sanmartín, a recently graduated chef, contributed the recipe.

Recipe for petronilos (1920) by Josefa y Maruja del Río CarreróOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Petronilos was a recipe named after the authors' mother, Petronila. Josefa and Maruja Del Río Carreró created it between roughly 1910 and 1920, in A Pobra do Caramiñal, a town on the banks of the Ría de Arousa estuary in A Coruña, Galicia. The collection includes Catalan dishes from their family, alongside dishes from their new homeland, Galicia. Today, the notebook is studied and preserved by the journalist and critic Jorge Guitián, Petronila's great-great-grandson and Josefa's great-grandson.

Recipes handwritten by Marisa Sánchez (20th century) by Marisa SánchezOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Restaurant and diner kitchens also treasure their recipe books. They have become real oracles for the staff and secret, private journals for those in charge. They are made up of works in progress, as well as definitive recipes. These recipes by the famous Marisa Sánchez, matriarch of Hotel Echaurren, were provided by her family. They reveal her handwriting to be as delicate as her cooking. Also preserved in Los Recetarios are some notes she dictated to one of her trusted cooks and a distinguished student, Araceli Rodríguez.

Juan Antón Cebreiro's recipe book (ca. 1930) by Juan ZeberioOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

Professional pastry chef Juan Antón Zeberio's recipe book was started in the 1930s. It is a personal notebook of professional dessert recipes, handwritten and covered in stains, with notes in the margin.

Professor Ricardo Fernández Guerra and three of his students (2020)Original Source: Los Recetarios

The Carlos Oroza Integrated Professional Training Center (CIFP Carlos Oroza) in Pontevedra was Spain's first hospitality school to incorporate the concept of Los Recetarios into its curriculum, promoting the pedagogical value of finding and understanding old recipes to kitchen management students.

Catalina Ubis' recipe book (19th - 20th century) by Catalina Ubis and four further generations of womenOriginal Source: Los Recetarios

These notebooks and loose pages—scrawled with all kinds of writing, the occasional stain, and filled with ingredients, instructions, and notes—represent the gastronomic tradition of each family, community, and country. Recipe books are historical imprints and evidence that domestic kitchens have brought together science, technique, creativity, culture, and love. They are a legacy that must not be lost.

Bernardina Pineda Peralta's recipe book (2019)Original Source: Los Recetarios

The Los Recetarios project would like to hear from anyone who has inherited notebooks written by their ancestors, or who has a cherished handwritten or typed book of household or community recipes. They are invited to send in a digital copy of the document to become part of this collective project, designed to open a window onto something hidden away for so many centuries.

Credits: Story

Carmen Alcaraz del Blanco
Gabriela Lendo
Helena Vaello
Ana Vega


In memory of María García, our Marulia, who knew the recipe for an eternal smile.

This exhibition is part of the Spanish gastronomy project, España: Cocina Abierta (Spain: Open Kitchen), coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and Spain's Royal Academy of Gastronomy (Real Academia de la Gastronomía). The section on culinary legacy was coordinated by María Llamas, director of the Alambique cookery store and school.


Lourdes Plana Bellido, president of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy and Carmen Simón, academic of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy.


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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