All posts by Lisa Smith

A historian of gender and medicine in eighteenth-century France and England, Lisa Smith (Lecturer in Digital History, University of Essex) has published widely on leaky bodies, pain, fertility, and the household. She is finishing a book on “Domestic Medicine: Gender, Health and the Household in Eighteenth Century England and France”. In addition to developing an online database of the Sir Hans Sloane Correspondence, she is a co-investigator on a crowd-sourcing recipes transcription project. She blogs at The Sloane Letters Blog and Wonders & Marvels and tweets as @historybeagle.

Boundaries: Reflections on Day 5

By Lisa Smith, with Rosie Redstone

I found myself thinking of the importance of limts and boundaries throughout the day:

  • What is the importance of place and time for a recipe?
  • How does the way in which we record a recipe shape our experience of it?
  • What is the significance of constraint, either in terms of ingredients or method?

The theme of place came up in several presentations. Dorothy Cashman discussed the specific Irish and familial context for Mrs. Baker’s book; it served as a family memorial in her widowhood and served as a microcosm of early nineteenth-century Dublin society. In an interview for the Endless Knot podcast, Laura Carlson (of The Feast podcast) considered the meaning of specific foods (and chickens) along the Camino de Santiago and the ways in which medieval recipes reflected Mediterranean trade. Over at H-Nutrition, several of the posts in their recipe series this week have looked at ethnicity: the Americanization of pasta in a 1920s cookbook, the ideal Central European meal, and a recipe that revealed the privations of the poor in Soviet Ukraine.

Recipes were, of course, on the move — between people and between regions. But sometimes a recipe’s significance remains fixed in its original place. Mrs. Baker’s book can be read alongside the family’s archives, and emphasises just how connected the collection was to time and city, even if we encounter similar recipes elsewhere. But a recipe occasionally becomes something ‘other’, as Anastasia Lakhtikova found.  She realised how privileged her family was when she discovered another family’s treasured, and quite horrible, recipe for ‘Wonder Sand’. This recipe cannot be detached from the context of Soviet privation.

The way in which recipes are recorded can also shape our experience of them: are they in print, manuscript or digital? are they on recipe cards or scraps, or in a book? In an article in The Observer last weekend, Bee Wilson looked at the rise of digital recipes and whether more recipes mean better cooking. (Spoiler: no! But you should read the whole thing.) Digital recipes, she suggests, lack life and context, even if they are convenient. Although there are some super recipes in circulation, there is also far more dross than ever before. This is all very true, though perhaps it’s not all bad — I’ve often been struck by the sense of community in the comment sections, where users assess the recipe, discuss any adaptations they made, and even connect it to their own family’s life.

The physical object is often important to us, as well. The messier side of manuscript recipes is appealing, drawing us into a sense of intimacy, as with the crossings-out in a recipe that Sietske Fransen shared (above). The importance of presentation is something that came out in Wilson’s article, too. Her son, she noted, trusted the shiny recipe cards of Hello Fresh as being authoritative, even though recipe cards and their exchange has fallen out of use in the past decade.

For their exhibition on food history, the Provincial Archives of Alberta is displaying old recipes in recipe card format. Recipe cards are pleasingly organised; no wonder they might be seen as authoritative.

As in the case of Wonder Sand, recipes sometimes reveal constraints. Ingredients are frequently substituted, whether because of seasonality, regionality, or cost. But are there other ways in which constraint might shape recipes? Format is one way. For example, recipe cards limit the writer to two small sides and enforcing brevity, while digital readers are notoriously fickle and tending to skim-read, which forces short statements and clearly marked ingredient amounts.

This month, the Cooking with Anger Project is available at The Recipes Project. It’s an intriguing story-telling game in which you’re given a list of ‘ingredients’ that must be mentioned in a (very) short story. I found the strictness difficult, and flicked through several baskets over several days before settling on one to try. (My attempt is in the comments, along with several much better ones.) But as good poetry shows, working within a tight framework can encourage creativity to flourish.

Siobhan Carlson’s potato experiment continues. When I started writing this post, I was prepared to suggest that the boundary  between experiments and recipes might not be very permeable; after all, the purpose of a modern experiment is replicability–and she has been very careful with her timing and measurements this week. But perhaps even here, there is some scope for creativity, as she found last week when confronted with the problem of unclear instructions with regards to the size of potato cuttings.

An interesting day all around. You can check out the full day in Rosie Redstone’s Storify of Day 5. It’s worth it for the summer drinks and crocodile alone, even before getting to our interesting presentations!

 

More Links for What is a Recipe?

In case you missed them, check out the following posts…

Katie Birkwood at the Royal College of Physicians London looks at early modern pharmacopoeia and wonders how important provenance is in establishing what is or isn’t a recipe.

Hannah Salisbury at the Essex Records Office delves into their collections for ‘A Taste of the Past’.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta has another recipe-card installment, this time for summer recipes… from freckle removal to matrimonial cake!

Regular contributors who have been tweeting treats from their collections include: Cardiff Library and Special Collections, Thomas Fisher Library, and the Wangensteen Bio-Medical Library.

Day 4: What is a Recipe?

Page from Lady Ann Fanshawe’s recipe book. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

On Tuesday, we had a lively discussion about favourite ingredients, interpreting changes in recipes, the role of expertise and tools, growing saffron, growing potatoes, the best cows for milk, and making bread, Folger Library highlights… (See here for Tallulah Maait Pepperell’s Storify account of Day 3!) We also had medieval friars practicing alchemy and time-travelling cookery here at The Recipes Project. If you missed our Twitter chat, you can catch up with the day in Tallulah Maait Pepperell’s Storify here.

Yesterday, we also launched a new storytelling event for the Virtual Conversation (on all month!): Cooking with Anger. Take out your list of ingredients and cook away in the form of a very short story in our comment section! The Wangensteen Library was also tweeting about chocolate (@umnbiomedlib), which inspires emotions of another sort…

Today, we are entering a world of sound and vision, as well as text:

  • Véronique Ginouvès (@Bagolina) discusses what is a recipe when it comes to the sound archives at the MMSH.
  • Marguerite Johnson (@MMJ722) has a podcast here on two cosmetic recipes in the poetry of Ovid, and discusses others over here on Storify.
  • Simon Walker, in a YouTube video,  prepares and reflects on a recipe for hard tack lemon pudding from the trenches of the First World War. He will also be chatting about recipes from this period on Twitter between 1 and 4 p.m. BST (@Dark_Nocterna)!
  • Louis Cilliers joins us here for a discussion of remedies to treat breast engorgement in Antiquity.
  • Siobhan Clark is back with her eighteenth-century potato growing experiment on Twitter @Spuddenly_Farm and Instagram @SpuddenlyFarming.
  • Lisa Smith will be discussing her class on The Digital Recipe Book Project and her students’ work on a seventeenth-century recipe book on Twitter (@historybeagle) throughout the day.

We hope to hear from you — in the comments, on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter…