Teaching Recipes: A September Series

Classrooms in 1897 at the Francis M. Drexel School.

Classrooms in 1897 at the Francis M. Drexel School. Courtesy of Wikipedia Images.

Amanda E. Herbert

In January of 2014, I wrote a post called “Chocolate in the Classroom,” which described a special lesson that I’d designed for my undergraduate Tudor and Stuart Britain course: to learn about the aesthetic and cultural changes accompanying the “Consumer Revolution” of the seventeenth century, students taste-tested chocolate that had been made according to an early modern recipe.  Most of the students really disliked the flavor of the chocolate – which featured spices such as chili, cinnamon, and nutmeg – but the response to my post on The Recipes Project was enthusiastic, with teachers from around the world writing in to talk about the ways that they used recipes in their own classes, seminars, and tutorials.

Recipes are wonderful pedagogical tools.  Deceptively simple, they encourage students to dig beneath and around a seemingly straightforward list of ingredients and directions, provoking conversations about historic foodways, linguistics, conceptions of race, socioeconomics, praxis, and religious and cultural prohibitions.  They require students to become close readers and sensitive, careful thinkers.  And they enliven discussion, as students and teachers alike imagine how a food or medicine might smell, look, taste, or feel.

During the month of September, The Recipes Project will feature a special series of posts on teaching recipes.  Our contributors will demonstrate the many excellent ways that recipes can be used in a variety of classrooms – from university lectures to elementary school classrooms – and in a range of disciplines, including classical studies, composition, history, literature, and the histories of medicine and science.  A particular strength of the series will be the use of recipes in the digital humanities, as several of our contributors are teaching students about web-based transcription via manuscript recipe collections and household account books.  Look for posts by Rebecca Laroche, Jennifer Munroe, Amy Tigner, and Hillary Nunn on the many exciting ways that students are digitizing and analyzing recipes for the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC).  But the series will also feature the work of those who have taken a more “practical” approach to teaching recipes, as Amanda Moniz, Valerie Korinek, Laurence Totelin, and Tovah Bender talk about their efforts to recreate and remake historic foods, medicines, and supplies, and how modern students experience the sensory worlds of the past.

We hope that our readers will be both impressed by the work of this group of scholar-teachers, and inspired to incorporate recipes into their own syllabi and lesson plans.  Please let us know how you’re using recipes in the classroom!  To contribute to the discussion, just hit the “comments” button below.  We look forward to hearing from you.

First Monday Library Chat: Wangensteen Library

Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat. Today we’ll be learning more about the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine  at the University of Minnesota. Dedicated initially to the history of medicine and surgery, the collection has grown considerably over the past fifty years to cover all academic health center disciplines, including nursing, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, and the history of biology. The collection has 80,000 rare books, manuscripts and serials ranging from 1480-1930. Today I’m talking with Lois Hendrickson, curator, and Emily Hagens, PhD Candidate in the History of Medicine.

Can you give us an overview of some of the rare and unique items in your collection?

Having just finished installing our most recent exhibit celebrating the 500th anniversary of Vesalius’s birth, we’ve re-examined many books from our deep and rich anatomical atlas collection. We have an especially complete collection on Vesalius and the history of early modern anatomy, including a rare German edition of Vesalius’s Epitome (1543). I’m especially taken with items that resonate with other materials in the collection. A recent manuscript acquisition, an inventory of an unnamed apothecary shop in mid-17th century Toulouse, has the potential to shed light on our growing collection of medicinal recipe books and our pharmaceutical materials.  Divided into sections, it lists merchandise, equipment, and client accounts, all offering a rare picture of the activities and contents of a pharmacy.

Manuscript describing a 17th-Century apothecary shop in Toulouse

Inventory of an apothecary’s shop in Toulouse, 1645. Courtesy of Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine.

The history of biology (natural history) materials are also compelling. Many rare books from our conchology, bird and insect collections have been borrowed and featured in recent  exhibits on Audubon, shells, butterflies. A particular favorite is Danish physician Ole Worm’s Museum Wormianum (1665). The frontispiece of his catalog depicts a cabinet of curiosities ranging from native artifacts to fossils, and inspires many conversations with students about collecting and classification.

I’m fascinated by the Pamard archives, which represent the work of seven generations of a French family of opthalmological surgeons founded in Avignon in the late 17th century. Are there any recipes in here? Are there related letters and diaries that might help us contextualize these recipes?

Among the  extensive personal and professional papers, students’ notes, correspondence, hospital records, public health notices, statistics, and poetry, there are remedies, recipes, and diaries. In particular, the papers of Nicolas Dominique Pamard (c. 1702-1783) contain numbered remedies, lists of items related to them, and dosing advice. Another of his undated bound books is labeled as a “Collection of Secrets and Remedies of Experienced Knowledge.”  His grandson, Jean Baptiste Antoine Bénézet Pamard (1763-1827) used local interactions and experiences to study the health needs of the general public. He published a medical topography of Avignon including observations on climate, water supply, and the nature of the local people.  His personal notebook, which he referred to as his ”journal of observations on myself‟ is a mix of medical etiology and family observations.  It was a place of self-reflection, and shaped the way he viewed himself.  It may be interesting to see if there are parallels in medicinal recipe manuscripts; how did the authors view themselves, and did they have similar experiences to physicians when distinguishing between symptoms (a patient’s report) and signs (markers of disease). These records have been the basis for the masters thesis Constructing Identity in the Romantic Age: The Medical Writings of Jean-Baptiste Antoine Bénézet Pamard (1763-1827), but much more could be gleaned from this rich collection.

I understand that you have a growing collection of manuscript recipe books. Can you tell us more about the scope of your collection? Why do you consider this genre to be of importance?

We collect manuscript recipe books with a medical focus.  They range in date from 1552 to 1890, and while many are in English, we also have some in French, German and Chinese. The Wangensteen Library’s primary identity is as a teaching library. On a very basic level, manuscript recipe books are powerful resources that resonate with students because they contain tangible evidence of actual historical people. The evidence of practice helps students connect with early modern history, and leads them think about how individuals formed relationships with particular kinds of knowledge, as well as knowledge producers around them, and how they applied this to everyday problems. Students come to the Wangensteen Library with a background in a variety of disciplines, including the expected (History of Medicine and Science) and the unexpected (English as a Second Language, Art, and Rhetoric). Because of this, we’re always trying to think of new ways to make the collection relevant to a broader group of disciplines. Knowing that recipe books cover so many topics, we have planned an interdisciplinary workshop on recipe books for spring 2015. Funded by a small grant, we expect graduate students and faculty from the departments of Spanish & Portuguese, History, the History of Medicine, as well as special collections staff to participate and see what we can uncover together within the same sources.

Can you highlight one or two of your favorite items?

It is hard to pick just a few books to highlight! Emily’s favorite book is a 1542 De Historia Stirpium by Leonhart Fuchs that is completely colored. The way readers have adjusted the images and heavily annotated the text helps students understand the fluidity of, what they view as, obvious botanical knowledge in another time period. Lois likes our collection of patent medicine almanacs which  promoted and sold compounds as medical cures.  The intersection of medicinal recipe manuscripts, pharmacopeia, herbals, botanicals and self-help manuals juxtaposed against the variety of patent medicine almanac’s promotional styles – color comic books, song books, and calendars helps students understand the continuum of ‘cures’ and the nuances of scientific inquiry coupled with the influences of social sciences and humanities.

Fuchs, 16gh-century herbal, hand colored

Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, 1542. Courtesy of the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine.

Will any digitized versions of these manuscripts be available online?

Yes! The Wangensteen recently won a grant that will allow us to digitize a subset of the recipe books. They will hopefully become available online in the next year.

That’s great news! And have you found pedagogical value in these recipe books? Do any U of M undergraduate or graduate students use these manuscripts in their coursework?

We frequently use the Mary Pewe’s recipe book in history of science and medicine courses that visit the library. It is convenient to teach with because it is in English, but more importantly, the handwriting is easy to read and students can recognize a lot of what they see in it. We always try to have it open to the page that lists a recipe from Queen Elizabeth, a name that always gets some ooh’s and aah’s. We also have an 18th-century recipe book from the southern United States that is useful in class visits. The combination of medical and culinary recipes in it forces students to reevaluate their own ideas about the intellectual space that both practices occupied.

17th century manuscript recipe mentioning Queen Elizabeth I

Mary Pewe. Medical Receipts. 1637? Courtesy of the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine.

Emily frequently uses the recipe book collection. When she became interested in them as a genre, it was great to have access to several items from different time periods to work with for course papers. The scope of the Wangensteen Library in general has provided her with access to many supporting materials as well, such as printed recipe books, herbals, and medical manuals that early moderns probably used when compiling their manuscript recipe books. Other graduate students have used the Pewe to investigate sugar, moving beyond global trade, to thinking about its’ use and availability to the general populace as evidenced in recipe books. Still others have used it to brush up on their paleography skills of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts.

Thanks, Lois and Emily, for chatting with me! The Wangensteen Historical Library is available to students, alumni, and the general public. Please contact the Wangensteen for more information.

The (lack of) power of gemstones

The idea of gemstones having curative powers has existed from ancient times until the present day. As I am interested in the use of chemical and mineral substances in eighteenth-century Dutch and particularly Boerhavian medicine, I am currently analysing medical and apothecary handbooks from this period and area to gain an idea of what eighteenth-century Dutch physicians and apothecaries thought of the alleged curative powers of gemstones. Unlike neighbouring countries, the Netherlands has no strong tradition of early modern lapidaries, so I was somewhat surprised to find regular mentions of gemstones in these sources anyway.

Front page of the 1741 Leiden edition of the Medicina Pharmaceutica

Front page of the 1741 Leiden edition of the Medicina Pharmaceutica

A number of examples can be found in a 1741 Dutch apothecary handbook about which I have written before here. It was re-edited by an apothecary,  Schróder, and initiated by Boerhaave’s direct successor as professor of chemistry at Leiden University, Jerome Gaub: Medicina pharmaceutica, of Groote algemeene schatkamer der drôgbereidende geneeskonst, originally published by the Flemish apothecary and physician Robertus de Favarques. The new edition of this 1681 work appeared with the Leiden printer Severinus, and was received positively in the press. In De Favarques’/Schróder’s list of simples, an entire section is devoted to metals, minerals, and stones. Not only were the materials listed, but also an overview was given of where they were found and how they could be used in the apothecary shop. From these descriptions, it becomes clear that the powers of some metals and gemstones were still commonly accepted, whereas those of others seem to have fallen into disrepute.

Natural ultramarine pigment, made of powdered lapis lazily. Works a treat if you're feeling blue...

Natural ultramarine pigment, made of powdered lapis lazuli. Works a treat if you’re feeling blue…

Pulverised rock crystal for example is mentioned as a cure for diarrhoea, powdered lapis lazuli is prescribed to strengthen the heart and to alleviate melancholy. However, the authors are more sceptical about the uses of some other stones, especially when worn on the body. The eagle stone – not a true gemstone but some sort of hollow clay stone, is commonly believed to prevent miscarriage when worn around the neck, to ease labour when tied around the calf, and recommended by some in plasters to treat convulsions. However, the handbook warns, they are only good to stop bleeding and diarrhoea when taken in powdered form. Garnet and ruby, although commonly attributed with cordial powers, as well as with the power to ward off melancholy and venom, in this book too serve only in powdered form to curb sharpness in the body, to temper the flow of blood and faeces, and to dry. Similarly, it is said of sapphires that many powers are ascribed to them, which they do not possess, such as cordial, blood cleansing, and other powers. Basically, apart from lapis lazuli, all stones and gemstones in the list only qualify in powdered form as absorbents to stop bleeding and diarrhoea; no other applications are mentioned.

This focus on (gem)stones as only useful in medicine in powdered form to stop all kinds of bodily fluids from flowing freely suggests a strong humoural understanding of the medicinal powers of stones, the dry earthiness of which could temper the wetness of blood and phlegm. Moreover, the list shows a rejection of early modern understandings of (gem)stones as having curative powers from which one could benefit by wearing the stone on the body. Exactly why he seems to have thought lapis lazuli -the only source of expensive ultramarine pigment until the early nineteenth century- was an exception remains a mystery for now, but maybe I will be able to inform you about that in the near future…