By Lisa Smith
Elaine Leong and I are delighted to welcome a new co-editor to The Recipes Project: Amanda Herbert! Many of you will already be familiar with her work, either through her blog posts here at The Recipes Project or from her wonderful new book Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain. I recently had the opportunity to ask Amanda a bit about her wide-ranging teaching and research interests in recipes. Without further ado, let me introduce you to Amanda–in her own words!
1. What interests you most about recipes?
This is a very literal answer, but: the ingredients. (See, for example, “Early Modern Comfort Foods“.) They tell us an enormous amount about the material lives of the people who wrote, read, and used recipes. How much money did they have? What was their educational, spiritual, and cultural background? What sort of ecological or environmental landscape surrounded them? And which trade routes and markets allowed them access to goods from abroad? Recipe ingredients provide a wealth of usually inaccessible information about the lives and experiences of people in the past.
2. You recently had a book, Female Alliances, come out and have blogged a bit about women’s use of recipes and domestic production to foster those alliances. (See Amanda’s post on “Never Too Many Cooks”, Part 1 and Part 2.) What was your biggest surprise in your research on this topic?
While conducting research for the book, I was surprised (and delighted) to see how many times early modern British recipes referenced urban space and geography. When women inscribed recipes into their manuscript collections, they often included information about which shopkeepers to trust, where to purchase rare or unusual ingredients, and how to travel the streets and alleys of early modern cities. This allowed women to help one another in navigating the often male-dominated medical and culinary worlds of early modern Europe. I think that there is much promising work to be done on the relationship between recipes and urban space.
3. As a researcher, what has been your favourite recipe book to use–and why?
It’s hard to choose, but I think that one of the most interesting, and also the most poignant, recipe books with which I’ve worked is the one that I blogged about in my very first post for the Recipes Project: the Charles Brigham Account book, held by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. The book (c. 1650-1730) was initially created in London, and then was carried across the Atlantic Ocean by its owners when they emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to become settlers in the “new world” of British North America. The book shows how the owners attempted to incorporate American plants and animals into their diets and medicines, and how they worked to maintain aspects of their old culture and life in their new home. It’s an amazing resource.
4. You recently had a student write a post for Recipes Project on food in the American Civil War. How do you use recipes/food in your teaching? And why do you think this is important?
I love bringing historical recipes into the classroom. Students in my classes have tasted eighteenth-century-style chocolate, they’ve done independent study projects on Civil War soldiers’ diets, and they’ve learned about (and used) early modern ink–a topic on which I’ll be writing in a future Recipes Project post! Historically, recipes were critical to the way that people lived, worked, and survived in the past, and so I think that study of any historical period should include references to the foods, medicines, and crafts that were made and used by the historical actors under examination. And pedagogically, recipes provide an excellent way for students to learn about close reading and analysis. Recipes are deceptively simple: students can read a recipe in five minutes, but the much slower process of unpacking and analyzing the methods, ingredients, attributions, and geospatial references teaches students about the richness and complexity of historical sources.
5. Now that your book is out, what’s your current research project?
Spa: Faith, Public Health, and Politics in Early Modern Britain examines the complex medical marketplaces of the seventeenth-century British Atlantic world. (Ed. note: See Amanda’s post on “Drinking Stinking Spa Waters” for a little taste.) Spa cities lay at the intersection of many important early modern cultural and intellectual phenomena: they organized community-run systems of social security; they offered medical aid to war veterans; they provided women with opportunities to create independent businesses; they fostered unusual, and sometimes unorthodox, religious and political debate; and they offered venues for the poor and ‘masterless’ to make their voices heard through public processions, protests, and works of art. But most studies of hot spring cities have focused on the eighteenth-century alone, and on the practices of sociability and marriage-making which structured the elite, aristocratic culture of the spa at that time. My book aims to recover the seventeenth-century world of the spa, and to reclaim the early modern urban spa as an important site for the study of the history of popular culture and public health. I’m also working on a digital history project which is related to the book: “Mapping the Medical Marketplace in the Early Modern World.” I’m very excited about both new projects!
And we’re excited to have Amanda joining The Recipes Project!