Regina Sexton – Elite Women and Their Recipe Books.


From the mid-seventeenth century onwards, elite women in Irish county estates began to compile and maintain collections of recipes. Their collections contain culinary and medicinal recipes altogether with household and craft tips, gardening advice and occasional instructions for feeding and fattening small farm animals and domestic fowl. Culinary and medicinal recipes are to the fore in the corpus of Irish manuscript receipt/recipe books. In form and content, the Irish collections show considerable similarities and overlap with those found across Britain. In addition, the Irish culinary material was strongly influenced by British styles of cookery and it borrowed heavily from printed cookery books by British authors.

Until recently, manuscript recipe books were overlooked by historians with the collections often viewed as mere ephemera. This presentation will demonstrate how the collections are an important and useful source in documenting the role of women in both the domestic economy and within their local networks of influence and power. Furthermore, the collections also reveal how women engaged with wider social and economic change and how they incorporated consumer trends and food fashions into their kitchens and dining rooms.

The National Library of Ireland is home to the county’s largest collection of manuscript receipt books and this presentation will draw heavily from this valuable resource.



Regina Sexton is a food and culinary historian, food writer, broadcaster and cook. She has been researching and publishing in the area of Irish food and culinary history since 1993. Her research interests include food and identity, food and tradition and food and the Irish country house. She has published widely at academic and popular levels. Her publications include A Little History of Irish Food (Gill & Macmillan, 1998) and Ireland’s Traditional Foods (Teagasc, 1997). Regina holds a post-graduate degree from the Department of History, University College, Cork and a Certificate in Food and Wine from the Ballymaloe Cookery School (2002).

In 1999, she won the Jeremy Round Award, for the most promising first time author for A Little History of Irish Food, presented by the British Guild of Food Writers. Following the success of this publication, Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) commissioned Regina to research, write and present an eight-part television documentary, also called A Little History of Irish Food. Most recently, Regina has contributed to the Royal Irish Academy’s 2015 publication Food and Drink in Ireland and to the award winning Atlas of the Great Irish Famine published by Cork University Press in 2012. Regina has worked as historical food stylist for a number of television productions including ‘The Big House’, a Big Mountain Production Limited production for TV 3, 2013 and ‘Lords and Ladles’, a Mind the Gap Films production for RTÉ 1, 2015.

She teaches at University College Cork, in the area of food history with the School of History, the Food Industry Training Unit and Adult Continuing Education.




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