Category Archives: Students

Keeping up Appearances: Economy vs. Extravagance in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery

By Sophie Hill, with Rachel Rich

In their final year of study undergraduate at British universities produce a 10,000-word piece of original, primary source research, called the dissertation. It has been a great pleasure for me this year to supervise Sophie Hill’s dissertation. Sophie spent her year trawling through old recipes, and–I confess–reading them in more depth and detail then I often do. In the post below, Sophie focusses on how the content of recipe books aimed at middle-class housewives can be a perfect place to look for the tensions and contradictions involved in carving out an identity in a fast-changing world where reputations were often forged around the family dinner table. In choosing Mrs Acton’s book as her case study, Sophie helps to show that Mrs Beeton was not alone in creating this new genre of culinary writing which provided a script for respectable domesticity to the aspiring housewife.

Rachel


L0034889 Modern Cookery, Eliza Acton Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Spine details from Eliza Acton's 'Modern cookery.....' 1845 Modern cookery, in all its branches: reduced to a system of easy practice. For the use of private families / By Eliza Acton. Illustrated with numerous woodcuts Eliza Acton Published: 1845 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
The spine of Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery, 1845.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the culinary best-sellers of the past such as Hannah Glasses’ Art of Cookery (1747) had become increasingly outdated as a new market–with new needs–emerged for cookery books: the rising middle classes. Recipe books were increasingly aimed directly at this audience, such as Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery (1845).

Acton was aware of the audience she was addressing, stating in the introduction:

it is of the utmost consequence that the food which is served at the more simply supplied tables of the middle classes should all be well and skillfully prepared, particularly as it is from these classes that the men principally emanate to whose indefatigable industry, high intelligence, and active genius, we are mainly indebted for our advancement in science in art, in literature, and in general civilization (p. viii).

Recipe books intended for the middle classes provided the focus for my dissertation, which examined three well-known Victorian cookbooks and how they each reflected their target audience.[1] I did this through a close reading of the recipes, the ingredients they required, and the assumption each author made about what sort of equipment women had in their kitchens. Doing this highlighted the expectations placed on the middle-class housewife to practice good household economy, while simultaneously demonstrating the wealth and status of her family.

This idea was particularly well-illustrated in Modern Cookery which contains copious recipes for cheap, economical family-dishes like ‘Irish Stew’ and ‘Potato Soup’ whilst at the same time providing instructions for numerous extravagant, dinner-party recipes such as ‘Salmon à la Genevese’ and the aptly named ‘Fancy Jellies’.

Wood-engraving of one of Acton’s “fancier” recipes – Orange Jellies in Modern Cookery, 1845. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Wood-engraving of one of Acton’s “fancier” recipes – Orange Jellies in Modern Cookery, 1845. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The tension between economy and extravagance made visible by the different types of recipes that Acton includes in Modern Cookery was further highlighted by the ingredients used in each case. The idea of ‘household economy’ had was a mainstream concept by the time that Acton’s book was published–and the use of leftovers in meals played a key part in this. Acton’s recipes frequently demand the middle-class housewife religiously reuse whatever was left from previous dishes. Her ever-so-frugal recipe for ‘Economical Turkey Soup’ is an excellent example of this, as she directs the reader to use the ‘remains of a roast turkey, even after they have supplied the usual mince and broil.’[2]

However, because the Victorian housewife was charged with displaying middle-class status within the home and since food could ‘communicate many things about those who offered it; from financial wealth to the possession of cultural capital’[3], it was only fitting that Acton’s “extravagant” recipes emphasize the use of the finest and freshest ingredients. After all, these were dishes designed to impress. This is particularly well demonstrated in recipes such as ‘Lobster Cutlets (A Superior Entree)’, which Acton notes is an ‘excellent and elegant dish’ and includes in its ingredients

a couple of fine fresh lobsters’, ‘good béchamel sauce’ and ‘three or four ounces of the freshest shrimps.[4]

As I concluded in my dissertation, the presence of both economical and extravagant recipes, as well as the ingredients used in these recipes, is reflective of a wider tension. On the one hand, there was  the need for the middle-class housewife to display the signs of her family’s wealth and social status, thus distinguishing them from the working classes. This was done by providing luxurious dinner-party spreads. But on the other hand, the middle-class housewife needed to maintain the household’s economy.

Crucially, however, the extent to which Acton’s middle-class housewife could throw such parties was arguably hampered by the reality of budget constraints. After all, the number of cheap, economical recipes in Modern Cookery emphasises that the housewife had to be cautious with the food budget during the week–especially if she had any hope of maintaining the facade of extravagance displayed through dinner parties!

[1] These include: Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery (1845), Alexis Soyer’s The Modern Housewife (1849) and Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861).

[2]  E. Acton, Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845: 1855). Re-printed with an introduction by Jill Norman (ed) London: Quadrille Publishing Limited, 2011, p. 33.

[3] R. Rich, Bourgeois Consumption. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011, p. 101.

[4] Acton, Modern Cookery (re-printed 2011),  p. 91.

Blood, Controversy, and Puddings in the Early English Atlantic

By Carla Cevasco

How to follow the Word of the Bible and still tuck into a nice blood pudding? This question inspired the Massachusetts Puritan minister Increase Mather to publish a brief pamphlet in 1697 entitled “A Case of Conscience Concerning Eating of Blood, Considered and Answered.” The conundrum, Mather wrote, lay in the injunction from Leviticus 11:14: “Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof.”

Portrait of Increase Mather. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Portrait of Increase Mather.
Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Massachusetts Puritans had left the Old World in order to found a separatist religious colony in the New. Like many believers, the Puritans worked to interpret their sacred texts into best practices for everyday life. This task meant reckoning with blood-eating, because on both sides of the Atlantic, the early modern English kitchen dripped with blood. A search for “blood” in this site’s archives turns up over seventeen pages of results, including a recipe for pigeon’s blood eye wash!

Blood began with animal flesh. The English prided themselves on meat consumption that visitors found excessive.[1] The wealthy ate numerous kinds and large quantities of meat, and recipes often assumed that cooks would begin with freshly slaughtered but not butchered animals. As Hannah Woolley instructed in a recipe “To Stew Chickens” in The Cook’s Guide in 1664, cooks had to “pull” (defeather) and “quarter” their chickens before washing them clean of blood (57). All this meat-eating meant a lot of blood, and in the kitchen, waste not, want not, which meant that blood played a starring role in some dishes.

English breakfast with black pudding. Photo credit: Ewan Munro, via Wikimedia Commons.
Full English breakfast with black pudding. Image Credit: Ewan Munro, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mather’s pamphlet did not mention any specific foods containing blood, but many English cookbooks of the era contained one or more recipes for “black” or blood puddings—a dish that today is much more popular in the UK than the US. Gervase Markham’s version, first published in 1615, called for the cook to soak oat groats in “the blood of an Hogge whilest it is warme,” then after three days, “with your hands take the Groats out of the bloud” and drain them.[2] These gory steps completed, the cook mixed the groats with cream and chopped suet, seasoned with herbs and spices, stuffed the mixture into intestines, and boiled it until solid. (Modern black pudding recipes remain much the same.) While Markham and many others recommended hog’s blood for this purpose, Robert May’s 1660 The Accomplish’t Cook (which reprinted Markham’s recipe) noted that one could adapt it to “sheeps blood, calves, lambs, or fawns blood” as well.

Even foods that did not contain actual blood still made reference to blood. One popular red wine based beverage in eighteenth-century America originated in Spanish colonization of the Caribbean. The combination of wine, spirits, sugar, and fruit resembled many other punches of the era. The English called it Sangaree, a corruption of the Spanish word for “bloody,” sangria.[3]

Sangria. Image credit: Flickr user ilker ender, via Wikimedia Commons.
Sangria. Image Credit: Flickr user ilker ender, via Wikimedia Commons.

Despite (or because of) its popularity, cooking with or eating blood became the site of debate among some American colonists. It is unclear exactly what controversy inspired Mather to write his pamphlet, but somehow the everyday consumption of blood had come under scrutiny.

Deeply invested in following the Word of the Bible, Massachusetts Puritans struggled to reconcile their culinary tastes for blood with biblical law.  To defend culinary blood consumption, Mather noted that other English food preparation methods did not follow biblical prescriptions to the letter. “If it be Lawful to Eat things Strangled,” he reasoned, naming the way that kitchen workers often dispatched fowl, explicitly banned in Acts 15:20, “then it is Lawful to Eat Blood” (4).

But most importantly, Mather took the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as evidence for his case. Mather claimed that the consumption of blood outside of communion did not have ritual significance, precisely because Christ’s blood held such power: “since Christ has shed his Blood, there is no Sacredness in any other Blood,” he concluded (5). The metaphorical consumption of Christ’s blood in the Lord’s Supper rendered acceptable the actual consumption of more mundane blood at dinnertime.

Under Mather’s interpretation, blood puddings and other blood-based dishes would have been allowed at the Massachusetts Puritan table. This food historian wonders when black pudding died out in New England, while it remained so popular across the Atlantic.

 

[1] Harriet Ritvo, The Platypus and the Mermaid and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 194-197.

[2] Gervase Markham, The English House-Wife, 5th ed. (London: Anne Griffin, 1637), 77.

[3] Andrew F. Smith, “Sangria,” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America 3, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 197-98.

Thinking and trying the experiment in the study of Roman pharmacy

By Ianto Jocks

In continuing my investigation of Scribonius Largus, the first century CE author of a recipe book I have previously written about, I am frequently puzzled by some of the practical aspects of his recipes. This is in part because I am approaching a practical manual written for contemporaries who had personal familiarity with Roman medicine – as both doctors and patients – from a theoretical and unfamiliar perspective. Drawing inspiration from more hands-on approaches to historical recipes, such as the Making and Knowing Project or the recreation of one of Scribonius’ toothpastes by A. E. and M. Singer [1],  I decided to acquire some first-hand experience with Roman medicine myself.

One of the puzzling recipes is the very first remedy in Scribonius’ work, opening the section on headache cures. It reads:

For headache, even when <the patient is> feverish, a quarter pound (ca. 82 g) of wild thyme and a quarter pound of dried rose work well in the first days. These are boiled with two sextarii (ca. 1094 mL) of vinegar, until it has been reduced to half <its volume>. From this a cyathus (ca. 46 g or mL) is taken and mixed in two <cyathi> (ca. 92 g or mL) of rose [or rose oil] and from this the head is often healed: for when what has been spread on has grown warm, it harms, unless something fresh should be added there.

While the instructions for doctor and patient are reasonably clear, questions remain about the practicalities. What consistency does the vinegar reduction have – is it still reasonably liquid, or do the quantities of herbs make it more of a herb paste? What about the second occurrence of ‘rose’? In the ancient world, rosa can refer to both the parts of the flower and the oil produced by steeping rose petals in olive (or another) oil. Usually, terms such as arida – dry – are used to qualify and clarify the material required. However, this addition, which would be highly useful for me, is frequently not considered important by Scribonius. In accordance with the advice of 18th century surgeon and scientist John Hunter – “Why think, why not try the experiment?” [2] – I proceeded to resolve the issues of consistency and rose vs. rose oil, which I had been unable to do by thinking alone, from a practical perspective.

Rose, thyme, and vinegar (here represented by water) quantities required by Scribonius' recipe
Rose, thyme, and vinegar (here represented by water) in the quantities required by Scribonius’ recipe

In comparison to other Scribonian recipes, this headache remedy is a good candidate for experimentation. It uses four locally available ingredients in relatively conservative quantities – by contrast, other remedies in Scribonius’ work include up to 41 ingredients, many of them imported, expensive, and required in large quantities. Conveniently, my ingredients came from a pharmacy, ready-dried and quality-controlled, so I did not need to consult Scribonius’ near-contemporary Dioscorides for information on how to harvest and dry plants and how to spot adulteration. As the quantities of thyme and rose on my kitchen table were still quite large, however, I opted for only using a quarter of the original recipe.

1/4 of Scribonius' measures, used for the experiment
1/4 of Scribonius’ measures, used for the experiment

I made similar concessions to modern practicalities when selecting ingredients and preparation methods. My vinegar came from the supermarket rather than being the product of domestic wine consumption, and both my scales and my source of heat were electric rather than mechanical or requiring open fire. But by making my modern version of a first century remedy, I nevertheless learned a lot about the practical side of Scribonius’ work. Furthermore, I got a much better idea of the preparation process, consistency, and smell of a first century headache cure than I had previously gained from studying the text alone.

In the end, even in my well-ventilated modern kitchen the remedy produced rather than cured a mild headache due to the strong smell of boiling vinegar. Scribonius was evidently more concerned with the comfort of the patient than than that of anyone else involved in preparing remedies.

One dose (1 cyathus of the remedy mixed with 2 cyathi of rose oil) of Scribonius' headache cure
One dose (1 cyathus of the remedy mixed with 2 cyathi of rose oil) of Scribonius’ treatment for headaches

The remedy itself turned out to be a not necessarily unpleasant-smelling mixture of predominantly thyme and vinegar, somewhat overpowered by the smell of the olive oil I used to make my version of rose oil. The practical experimentation confirmed my suspicion that the second rosa has to be the oil rather than the petals, otherwise the two components couldn’t be mixed, let alone applied. I was nevertheless left with further questions – was the initial mixture to have that high a herbs-to-vinegar ratio? Is the final mixture supposed to be that runny, or are my measurements incorrect? Are there tips and tricks which Scribonius assumed the reader knew and leaves unmentioned which other historical writers do include in their work? Here theoretical exploration and experimental practice can be used together to gain further insights into the practical aspects of first century Roman pharmacy – or, to adapt Hunter’s words, to think AND try the experiment.

[1] Singer, A. E. and M. Singer, M. “An Ancient Dentifrice,” The Classical Weekly 43 (1950): 217–18.
[2] Letter to Edward Jenner, August 2, 1775

A Recipe for Learning Atlantic World History: Student Contributions

By Zara Anishanslin

Student Jose Hernandez summed up initial reaction to finding a “recipe assignment” on an Atlantic World History course syllabus: “when you first assigned the Columbian Exchange assignment, I honestly assumed that you were giving us busy work.” Once students dove into the assignment, reactions changed. As Hernandez went on to say, “once I started researching, I realized that this was a legit assignment.”

Legit indeed. The project enhanced student understanding of the Columbian Exchange as a truly transformative global phenomenon. It also provided them with new—and at times surprising— knowledge about their favorite foods.

Cow
Stefano della Bella, Cow, Diversi animali, plate 7 (Published by Pierre Mariette, ca. 1641), Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1917 (17.50.17-256), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After Europeans introduced them to the Americas, the meat of pigs and cows became staple features of creolized cuisine. Students worked on a number of such recipes. Bryan Howell researched the empanadilla, or little empanada, a pork-based dish created by culinary exchanges among Portuguese, Spanish, Native American, and Caribbean creoles. As he put it, the empanadilla “had to make a lot of trips back and forth across the Atlantic to be what it is. And what it is is freaking delicious.”

Student Cynthia Vera researched another meat-based recipe, one that she termed “a Latin spin on a European croquette.”

Recipe for Rellenos de Papa

2 pounds russet potatoes (Vera prefers the more traditionally used white potato to the sweet potatoes in the linked recipe)

½ cup cooked corn meal, with extra for dusting

1 pound of lean ground beef

¼ cup of sofrito (sauce base)

1 packet of sazon con achote

Canola oil for frying

½ teaspoon of sale

Directions:

Cook ground meat and drain. Add sofrito mixture and packet of sazon con achote. Stir well over low heat to blend flavors and set aside.

Peel and boil potatoes until tender. Mash potatoes with salt and cornmeal, mix well. Place potato mixture in refrigerator to cool.

Once cool, scoop into balls, make pocket in middle of ball with your finger to place meat. Carefully press mixture back into a ball, thoroughly covering meat mixture. Dust in cornmeal, fry.

While the beef was the result of European colonization, corn and potatoes both were essential to American indigenous peoples’ diets. As Vera aptly put it, both were “ingredients of abundance” for Native Americans. And yet, Vera had never thought of the indigenous roots of what was to her a very familiar dish. As she reflected, “Growing up Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian I did not get the sense that my culture was heavily influenced by anything but other Hispanic cultures.” Researching her chosen dish, she found otherwise, and that recipes like rellenos de papa “speak volumes to the original cultures that did not allow themselves to be swallowed up, but instead were reborn into something else that has become a signature for today’s people.”

Students Jose Hernandez and Madeline Mercado also described their recipes—different variations of rice and beans —as edible reminders of how people retained culinary practices in the face of change. West Africans ate rice and beans, enslaved people of African descent were the laborers who tended rice in places like South Carolina, and West African cultivation practices and knowledge were likely integral to the crop’s success in the Americas.

PanDulce
Pan dulce, on display at a Staten Island bakery, Pan con Cafe. Pictured is a type of pan dulce called la concha: “El Borracho,” on the top left and “El Gusano,” top right. Photo by Sonia Martinez, 2015.

Other students found that European traditions were behind what they thought were indigenous recipes. Sonia Martinez researched pan dulce or “Mexican sweet bread,” a treat “sold everywhere, from street food stands to elaborate bakeries in the capital.” Pan dulce is an important part of Mexican holidays like the Day of the Dead, when it is eaten in the form of pan de muerto (pan dulce in the shape of crosses, skulls, angels, or tomb effigies).

Martinez was surprised to find that pan dulce “wasn’t made from native ingredients passed down from generation to generation.” Instead, it relies on wheat, a plant Spanish missionaries insisted on importing to make communion wafers.

Nicolás Enríquez (Mexican, 1704–1790) The Virgin of Guadalupe with the Four Apparitions, 1773 Mexican,  Oil on copper; 22 1/4 × 16 1/2 in. (56.5 × 41.9 cm) Framed: 25 1/4 × 19 7/8 × 1 3/8 in. (64.1 × 50.5 × 3.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, 2014 (2014.173) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/635401
Nicolás Enríquez (Mexican, 1704–1790)
The Virgin of Guadalupe with the Four Apparitions (1773), Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and several members of The Chairman’s Council Gifts, 2014 (2014.173), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg),The Witch, ca. 1500, Engraving, Fletcher Fund, 1919, 19.73.75, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg),The Witch, ca. 1500, Engraving, Fletcher Fund (1919, 19.73.75), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Another group of students focused on recipes that used ingredients that traveled east, from the Americas to Europe and, eventually, India and Asia. Some had legends attached to them. Student Ashley Olivetti delved into her grandmother’s Italian tomato sauce recipe. She found that Europeans at first feared tomatoes in part because they are part of the family Solanaceae, which includes “deadly nightshades” like belladonna, a poisonous plant that, according to Germanic folklore, witches used to summon werewolves.

Student Thomas Finn looked at vichyssoise, or French potato and leek soup, and was surprised to find that the ordinary potato has legends attached to it. When Incas from Cuzco fled before Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1476-1541), they lightened their load to travel faster under threat of puma attacks, throwing supplies into Lake Pumacocha to prevent the Spanish from using them. Among these supplies was the Incan staple ch’unu, a freeze-dried, dehydrated potato easy to carry over the long distances of the far-flung Incan empire. The Inca were allegedly on their way to the legendary city of Paititi, a never found place rumored to contain hordes of gold and silver.

Utagawa (Gountei) Sadahide, Foreigners in the Drawing Room of Foreign Merchant's House in Yokohama (9th month, 1861),  Triptych of polychrome woodblock prints Bequest of William S. Lieberman, 2005 (2007.49.131a–c), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Utagawa (Gountei) Sadahide, Foreigners in the Drawing Room of Foreign Merchant’s House in Yokohama (9th month, 1861), Triptych of polychrome woodblock prints Bequest of William S. Lieberman, 2005 (2007.49.131a–c), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Other students looked at recipes that arose due to another farflung empire: that of the British. Student Remy Rodney researched his grandmother’s “Jamaican soup,” a dish that reflects the global reach of the British in its chicken, pumpkins, yams, and Korean dumplings. Student Harmon Chan looked at Japanese rice and potato curry. First found in Japanese cookbooks in 1872, this now popular standby in Japan had its beginnings not long before, after American Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 visit began a new era of Japanese trade with western nations including Britain.  Among the things the British introduced to Japan were curry from India and potatoes from America.

As one student put it, “food is one way people define their culture.” As students learned by researching recipes of the Columbian Exchange, food is one way people maintain old cultures and create new ones, too.

Contributors’ Bios

Harmon Chan is a History major interested in exploring the history of the United States.

Thomas Finn is a senior History major who is interested in colonial American history. His family has lived in America a long time, and in the same house on Staten Island since 1820.

Jose Hernandez is a senior History major, who is minoring in African American Studies. His interests include the Atlantic World and its importance in world history.

Sonia Martinez, born to immigrant parents, is a first generation Mexican American student. She is a senior majoring in English writing and linguistics, and minors in Spanish.

Madeline Mercado majors in Social Work and minors in Spanish. Her family background is Puerto Rican, and she is interested in the history of rice in the Atlantic World.

Ashley Olivetti is a senior American Studies major. Her family is originally from Italy and now resides in Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. Her interests include researching and writing about history.

Remiah Rodney is a sophomore of Jamaican heritage. Born in London, England, he plays soccer for the College of Staten Island.

Cynthia Vera is a Latin American senior, majoring in Latin American Studies and Psychology.