The early modern household was a bustling site for a range of medical activities from self-diagnosis and medication to nursing and caring for the sick to drug production. To further their knowledge about medicine and the body, householders accessed a wide variety of sources. Many turned to their family and friends for health-related advice, consulted medical practitioners of various sorts, and avidly read the abundance of printed medical books offered by contemporary book producers. By the mid-seventeenth century, the bookshops near St. Paul’s in London were stocking an astonishing array of English medical books. Readers could pick and choose from an assortment of herbals, pharmacopoeias, general medical guides, surgical handbooks, midwifery manuals, regimens, medical recipe books, and more. These texts were eagerly consulted by householders, who utilized the knowledge contained therein not only for their home-based medical activities but also as a way to inform their decisions as actors in medical encounters with practitioners of all sorts.
The Bible is the world’s bestselling book of all time. In Germany, it was followed by a recipe book: Dr. Oetker’s Backen macht Freude (Baking is Fun). Exact numbers are not available for either book, yet it seems to be certain that at least from the 1950s to the 1980s, no other publication was as widely distributed in the country as these two. First published in 1930, Dr. Oetker’s book had managed to sell 20 million copies by the early 1960s, and more than 27 million by the 1980s. Other cookbooks from the German food giant were less successful but still sold by the millions. It is not unjustified, from that perspective, that the company calls one of its books “the bible of cooking” on its homepage.