Joseph Favre’s culinary dictionary


In the marvelous and gourmand world of gastronomic dictionaries, there’s one which delights me more than all the others, The Universal Dictionary of Practical Cooking, an illustrated encyclopedia of alimentary hygiene by Joseph Favre.

A Swiss, he organized exhibitions and culinary conferences, the first of which was held in Frankfurt am Main in 1878. In the next year, he founded the International Union for the Progress of Culinary Art. This union had 80 sections all over the world. In 1877 he began to publish a review, Culinary Science, in which appeared the first items of his extraordinary dictionary.

In order to achieve to the encyclopedic ideal that he wanted to give to his dictionary, he audited classes at the University of Geneva. He wanted his dictionary to be for all different readers :authors, journalists, churchmen, encyclopedia writers, cooks, mothers, doctors and he wanted not only to write about cooking, but also about etymology and synonymia of words, about the history of food and its chemical composition. His macrostructure shows that he thought about many things, not only about cooking, but also about morality, the well-being of cooks, hygiene, health, and other ways of cooking : vegan, foreign…. 

Orphaned when he was a little boy, one of is uncles took him in and put him in a professional school to became a cook. But Favre wanted to know everything, so he cooked during the day and studied during the night.

In 1883 his dictionary was published as a monthly sixteen-page book, at a cost of 0,50 F, and then, in 1895, a four volume set was published. It was published again in 1905, due to the efforts of his widow, Joseph Favre having died.


I invite you to read this exciting and great dictionary. On each page, each line, you can feel the enthusiasm and the exactitude of its author. A dictionary isn’t just a book where you find the meaning of a word you don’t know. It is above all a good way to study a language, a speciality, a culture, in a given moment, because a dictionary is exactly like a mirror. So, I propose to you, as a rendez-vous with its author and its time, read some words and definitions. Some of them might surprise you because you didn’t imagine reading such definitions in a culinary dictionary.

- « To rest on one’s elbows (…) To rest on one’s elbows on the table is an inconvenience by the guest and a lack of good manners.

- To air (…) Airing the kitchens. – If the want of air leads frequently to food corruption and putridity, it’s also bad individual hygiene for the cook himself. In fact, this confined and impureathmosphere will bring him health problems : asthma, rheumatism and sometimes, a real and very quick asphyxia….

Appartment (…) To have one’s own home, full of childhood memories, to remember the happy days feeling carefree, under sweet mothering protection, hoping to die amidst an enjoyable family, of course, there are some natural dreams of happiness which must be possible for everybody, but our social organization gives opposition to them, at least, for some people. (…)

Ball (hygiene of the ball) – Religious people, doctors and some philosophers spoke harshly against balls, each of them finding something bad to say. But, if you really study what they say, each of them being the enemy of the other, although they agreed about balls, you can quickly see a special point. They can be angry and sarcastic, but the ball is as old as the world and is a part the education of young ladies; it’s also a very good exercise for a child, which from its infancy, jumps and dances without any teacher. In a very charming way, F. Coppé explains it in his poetry :
Children, roundels I will make.
Innocence lasts so short a time
Blond curls of its head will shake
And dancing it will sing in rhyme.

- (…) Food at balls– The meal, without contradicting the points above, will determine whether the outcome of the ball is happy or not.

Girls (Culinary instruction for) – Until today, we didn’t think seriously that culinary instruction had to be the indispensable basis of a complete education for a young lady, later destined to become a mother.
We give a lot of encouragement to music, painting and even science. Of course, I think it’s good, but after painting and singing, why not think about what we are going to eat ? Why not teach our girls how to cook a tasty soup, how to prepare an appetizing 10 cents’ worth of fresh herring
, a rusk porridge for the baby. I think it could be very practical too ! And do you think that the young girl would be less charming, or less likely to find a husband good enough for her ? (…)

- Gastronomic geography We find, in this book, each town’s gastronomic specialties in alphabetical order.
About this point, it’s interesting to repeat a very simple and effective way to teach geography to children. This idea was given by a comedy whose title is : The Gourmand’s School. A famous gourmet teaches geography to his nephew by gourmandise. He asks him some questions : In which town is the best appe jelly
made and where do we find the best baby duck ? He answersRouen. Which towns send us the most delicious dragees, the most exquisite jams and the most delectable partridge terrine ? Hearing these names, his nostrils tremble and his tongue, touching his palate, makes a satisfied sound and he quickly says Verdun, Bar-le- Duc and Nérac. When we ask him where does the best olive oil come from, he immediately feels transported to the places where the olive trees grow, and Aix, Marseilles and Nice, just saying the main cities, comes very easily to his lips. (…) If we would like to teach universal geography on this way, we just have to do the same but include foreign towns, because in almost all the towns we can find some famous gastronomic products. (….)

But you can also find: age, apprentice, guests, old age and many other listings, between 6 000 recipes and 2 000 drawings. Have an enjoyable read !