Category Archives: Travel

Water to Drink: Fit Only for Invalids and Chickens?

By David Gentilcore 

Jean-Baptiste Labat, Voyages du P. Labat de l’ordre des FF. Precheurs, en Espagne et en Italie (Paris: Jean-Baptiste Delespine, 1730) © Bibliothèque nationale de France

When the French Dominican Jean-Baptiste Labat was captured by the Spanish in the 1690s, and offered water to drink aboard ship, he informed the chaplain that ‘only invalids and chickens drink water in my country’ (Labat 1722). Perhaps this comes as no surprise. If people in past times drank plenty of wine and beer, historians generally assume, this was because the water was risky and potentially unhealthy, perhaps even fatal. But that is to project our own modern conception of water – for example, as a disease-carrying agent – into the pre-modern past. Labat’s aversion to water as a beverage, as expressed in this anecdote (and as the teller of the stories he always gets the best lines!), was due not so much to concerns about its poor quality as to biases inherited from classical culture. As a drink of the lower classes (and animals), water was often described in unflattering terms, especially when compared to what was considered the beverage par excellence – wine (Squatriti 1998). And indeed, in his account, wine is exactly what Labat goes on to request.

However, if we look at actual practices, water returns to the fore. Not only does Labat then proceed, very laboriously, to temper his wine with water, as was the usual way of drinking wine in much of pre-modern Europe; his very successful published mixtures of travelogue, memoir and natural history positively abound with references to water. Every place he visits, Labat describes the nature of the fresh-water supply, and the varied techniques used to harvest, store and access it. In Labat’s eyes a town without its own reliable supply, like Cadiz, is one that would not be able to survive a siege. He is impressed by the technology of water, in particular aqueducts, but even more by water as display. This is evident in his detailed and enthusiastic descriptions of the ornamental fountains present in many Italian towns and cities. And he gets so carried away by his instructions on how to construct a rainwater cistern, the fruit of his own experience overseeing the establishment of a Dominican monastery in the French Antilles, that he repeats them in at least two separate works (Labat 1728; Labat 1730).

 

The Tivoli waterfall, as Père Labat might have seen it (not to be confused with Niagara Falls).

Even limiting ourselves to his account of Spain and Italy (Labat 1730: in eight four-hundred-page volumes!), Labat’s knowledge and curiosity regarding water and its uses is amply evident. How the clean, clear and pure water of Tivoli’s waterfall, which he compares to Niagara Falls no less, becomes full of silt and mud when it rains, making it unhealthy, or how the bouillantes (boiling) waters of a spring on the outskirts of Viterbo remind him of the spring of that name in Guadeloupe (French Antilles). Siena’s ‘magnificent’ fountain in the main square (the Fonte Gaia) provides a ‘prodigious quantity of very good water’, whilst the numerous fountains of Rome are both delightful and necessary, since the water from the River Tiber ‘is good for nothing’. He notes the high number of itinerant water-sellers in Naples, despite the public fountains on every street, and how in Spain they are registered and taxed, like all other shopkeepers and pedlars. He praises the ‘light’ waters of Bologna and the ‘admirable’ waters of Naples, in tune with the eighteenth-century Hippocratic revival of the importance of ‘airs, waters and places’ in the pursuit of health. He describes various healing springs and the different diseases they are good for, whilst noting that local doctors were rarely much in favour, since ‘nothing disconcerts doctors more than natural remedies’. He remarks on the priest so afraid of water that he wouldn’t even wash his hands, or the doctor who quickly realised that the best remedy for disease was fresh water to drink, rest, a change of air and, most of all, plenty of patience.

We know from a wide range of other sources that communities went to great lengths to procure clean water, from elaborate public works, like aqueducts, conduits and fountains, to the construction of public and domestic rainwater cisterns, to the everyday presence of water-sellers in larger towns. If I gave drinking water rather short shrift in my recent study of food, diet and health (Gentilcore 2016), it at least means that I can now devote a research project entirely to the ‘water cultures’ of early modern Europe and the Mediterranean. It is already evident from work in progress that doctors went from being circumspect in their advice regarding drinking water, during the Renaissance, to great enthusiasts for table water as a ‘universal cure’, effective both in preventing and treating disease, during the eighteenth century.

Whatever his own personal drinking preferences might have been, the widely travelled Père Labat turns out to be a connoisseur of waters. Although his enthusiasm occasionally gets the better of him – the water-sellers of Naples were actually a necessity in a city perennially short of fresh water – Labat provides a generally reliable and entertaining introduction to the importance of water and its provision throughout the early modern world.

David Gentilcore is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leicester. His research interests lie in the medical, dietary, social and cultural history of early- and late-modern Italy. He is the author of seven books and his most recent monograph is Food and Health in Early Modern Europe. Diet, Medicine and Society, 1450-1800 (Bloomsbury, 2015). Our blog readers interested in the history of food might also be interested in David’s books on the potato and the tomato in Italy.

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Jean-Baptiste Labat, Nouveau voyage aux Isles de l’Amérique (Paris: Pierre-François Giffart, 1722), 6 vols. A heavily abridged translation by John Eaden was published as The memoirs of Père Labat, 1693-1705 (London: Frank Cass, 1970 [first ed. 1931])

Jean-Baptiste Labat, Nouvelle relation de l’Afrique occidentale (Paris: Guillaume Cavelier: 1728), 5 vols.

Jean-Baptiste Labat, Voyages du P. Labat de l’ordre des FF. Precheurs, en Espagne et en Italie (Paris: Jean-Baptiste Delespine, 1730), 8 vols.

Paolo Squatriti, Water and society in early medieval Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

David Gentilcore, Food and health in early modern Europe (London: Bloomsbury, 2016)

 

Introducing the Summer University on Food and Drink Studies

Graham Harding (Oxford) and Beat Kümin (Warwick)

Founded in 2001, the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) has become a major research and public engagement hub. It runs an annual open convention, thematic colloquia and numerous outreach and heritage activities. Based at Tours in France, it collaborates with the city, region, François Rabelais University and other partners to raise the profile of food studies world-wide. Resources include meeting / exhibition rooms and a specialized library – at the Villa Rabelais in the town centre – as well as an ever-expanding searchable network of currently over 400 members.

Since 2003, the Institute has also run a ‘summer university’ dedicated to food and drink studies. The first eleven editions were led by food history pioneers Allen Grieco (Harvard/Florence) and Peter Scholliers (Brussels), the last four years by Isabelle Bianquis (Tours), Antonella Campanini (Bra Pollenzo) and Beat Kümin (Warwick). On each occasion, fifteen-twenty masters / doctoral students and around ten senior scholars meet at the Croix Montoire residential centre overlooking Tours for an intensive week of student presentations, faculty lectures, inter-disciplinary exchange (the official language is English) and – given the location’s distinction as one of France’s official Cités de la Gastronomie – excellent hospitality. Alongside, participants have the opportunity for independent work in the IEHCA’s collection of over 9,000 books / dedicated periodicals and to gain formal study credits, while also honing their debating, chairing and commenting skills.

Participants of the 2017 Université d’Eté at Villa Rabelais in Tours. Picture: Olivier Rollin.

 

In 2017, ‘all of us’ meant seventeen students from thirteen different countries ranging in age from 22 to 69 and nine faculty members from Italy, France and the UK. The disciplinary spectrum of the week’s programme included archaeologists and anthropologists, historians, historians of art, sociologists, medical doctors and literary scholars, while the chronological scope ranged from early Bronze Age Europe to modern day Asia. Alongside their academic endeavours, participants attended a cinema evening (watching the 1996 movie Big Night inspired discussions on gastronomic stereotypes and the relationship between food and migration), a trip to a Loire château and two hands-on ateliers: a visit to the buzzing Saturday market and the chance to taste specialities from the Touraine region. Quite a few were also spotted engaging in field studies at the lively guingette on the nearby river shore and the ever-packed cafés lining the central Place Plumereau.

Open-air food and wine-tasting atelier at Croix Montoire in 2014. Picture: Beat Kümin.

The great advantage of food and drinks studies is that – regardless of personal, regional and academic backgrounds – there are always points of common ground and numerous intersections between apparently diverse topics. Our discussions ranged over the nature of evidence, the importance of empathy in interpreting the testimony of our subjects (be they real or imagined, living or dead), the necessity (and risks) of engaging with the wider world / public around us, techniques of ‘close reading’, the utility of ‘big data’ analysis, and the trajectory and future of food studies. In particular we engaged with the challenge of ‘fragmentation’. Informed by a presentation from Professor Jean-Pierre Poulain (author of The Sociology of Food, Bloomsbury 2017), we assessed the approaches and implications of different models for ‘Food Studies’ and how we as individuals could reach out across geographical, personal and disciplinary boundaries. Registrations for the next gathering will open early in the new year, with full details published on the website. The co-directors are always happy to answer any questions and would be delighted to welcome you in 2018.

Our posts to the Recipes Project over the next few weeks draw on the summer university proceedings to highlight the extraordinary variety of work that food and drink scholars are now generating. The series starts with a posting from Graham Harding of the University of Oxford on how champagne shaped and was shaped by its role as the central (even the only) ‘dinner wine’ in at the formal meals of the nineteenth-century British elite. Then, in no particular order (as yet), there will be posts on cookbooks and nationalism in Latvia, Poland and contemporary Catalonia; on the drinking landscape of early modern Britain; on ‘osh palov’, the dish that defines the Uzbek diaspora worldwide; and the food habits of modern Malaysia. Bon appétit!

Graham Harding returned to the study of history after a career spent in publishing, advertising and marketing. Having completed an M Phil in Cambridge, he is now a final-year D Phil student at St Cross College, Oxford. He has written several books including The Wine Miscellany (2005). More recently he has published on champagne, on the nature of connoisseurship in wine in the nineteenth century and on the nineteenth-century wine trade.

Beat Kümin is Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Warwick (U.K.) and co-director of the IEHCA Summer University on Food and Drink Studies in Tours. His research focuses on social exchange in local communities, particularly in parish churches and drinking houses. Publications include the monograph Drinking Matters: Public Houses and Social Exchange in Early Modern Central Europe (2007), the co-edited source collection Public Drinking in the Early Modern World: Voices from the Tavern 1500-1800, vols 2-3: The Holy Roman Empire (2011) and the edited anthology A Cultural History of Food in the Early Modern Age (2012).

Re-Centering Europe

By Clare Griffin

St Mary Basilica, Cracow From Wiki Commons
St Mary’s Basilica, Cracow
From Wiki Commons

Think about the histories of Europe, European medicine, European science or European magic and witchcraft you have on your desk. Think about the European cookbooks, or travel guides, or novels you have heard about. How many of them cover events, characters, places, cultures, or cuisines further east than Berlin? Of those that do, how many jump from Berlin to Moscow, bypassing the cities in between? Central, Eastern, and South-Eastern Europe tend to be treated by English-speakers as a world apart.

In academia, expertise on those countries is corralled into regional studies departments, rather than dealt with as European history. In part, this is a relic of the twentieth century, reflecting and replicating Churchill’s idea of an Iron Curtain that cut Europe in two. As The Recipes Project often demonstrates, regions and recipes go hand in hand. There is our sister series on Russian recipes. Similar series deal with the early modern Netherlands, China, and Ancient Greece and Rome. After all, anyone reading the ‘country of origin’ labels in their local supermarket knows that recipes link together ingredients and places. This month, we will use recipes to tear down the academic Iron Curtain, reclaiming this region not only as Central Europe, but as a central part of Europe.

from Wiki Commons
Map of Modern Central and Eastern Europe            from Wiki Commons

Focusing on place and space is important – where is Central and Eastern Europe? What does it look like? What is its political geography? South-Eastern Europe is perhaps more familiar in its fictionalized guise on Game of Thrones. In that series, Croatia’s Dubrovnik stands in as both King’s Landing and Qarth. Similarly, Prague and other Czech towns have been the location for numerous fictional intrigues: Karlovy Vary stood in for Montenegro in Casino Royale

A view of the old city of Dubrovnik. from Wiki Commons
A view of the old city of Dubrovnik.
from Wiki Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In real life, medieval and early modern Central and Eastern Europe saw power struggles and battles no less dramatic than those of Tyrion Lannister and James Bond. At various periods, Dubrovnik was under the protection of the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Habsburg Empire.  These waxing and waning dynastic and imperial powers commonly intersected with religious divisions. In the Byzantine-controlled and Russian-influenced lands, Eastern Orthodoxy was the majority religion.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683 From Wiki Commons
The Ottoman Empire in 1683
From Wiki Commons

The Ottomans were the major Muslim power of the region, building mosques across South Eastern Europe that stand today. The Habsburgs and the Jagellonians were both traditionally Catholic dynasties, tying themselves and their empires to Rome, despite the Reformation making converts among many of their subjects. There were also substantial Jewish populations in many cities throughout the region. Each of these religions made their mark upon the landscape, with mosques, synagogues and churches, graveyards, and crosses of various kinds crowding the skylines.

In the shadow of these landmarks, Europeans wrote and followed recipes.

Medieval Serbian Mosque From Wiki Commons
Medieval Serbian Mosque
From Wiki Commons

As Marija-Ana Dürrigl and Stella Fatović-Ferenčić’s post highlights, men of the cloth jotted down medical recipes in their liturgy books. This was a Europe-wide phenomenon: from Porto to Moscow, the clergy wrote recipes, preserving them in religious manuscripts. Lay Europeans were often concerned with their stomachs. The post by Christopher Nicholson deals with recipes to husband fish. Originating in Bohemia, the text was translated and read as far away as England. Bohemians were not alone in wanting a nice fish dinner. For unhappy European households, food could lead to poisoning or bewitchment. Magic, for good or for ill, was used across Europe. Adelina Angusheva-Tihanov and Margaret Dimitrova’s post presents us with some examples of Slavic magic. A more specialized pursuit of pre-modern Europeans was alchemy. Alchemists, like those in Agnieszka Rec’s post, created networks across Europe. They circulated books, and themselves travelled from place to place. To read European recipes is to see how Europe is connected.

The Holy Roman Empire in 1648 from Wiki Commons
The Holy Roman Empire in 1648
from Wiki Commons

In order to read recipes, you need to know the language, and the alphabet, in which they are written. This is where people often see Central and Eastern Europe as divided from Western Europe. Don’t people from those places use different languages? Not always. Agnieszka Rec’s alchemists found recipes in Poland-Lithuania, but wrote in German. Christopher Nicholson’s Bohemian fish were described in Latin and English. Sometimes, the recipes are in different languages, and in different alphabets.  For example, Adelina Angusheva-Tihanov and Margaret Dimitrova’s recipes are in the Church Slavonic language and the Cyrillic alphabet. Marija-Ana Dürrigl and Stella Fatović-Ferenčićs texts are also in Church Slavonic. But they would not be comprehensible everyone who reads Church Slavonic (including me). These texts use the Glagolitic alphabet. Recipes show us connections, but they also show us the uniqueness of their authors, dividing as well as uniting.

Codex Zographensis from Wiki Commons
Codex Zographensis in Glagolitic
from Wiki Commons

 

 For the next four Thursdays, The Recipes Project will be returning to this region. We hope you will join us as our contributors take us further into Central, Eastern and South Eastern European recipes, to see how those texts bring Europe together.

Reading the Landscape and a Dish of Weeds

By Theresa Tyers

Landscapes and weeds take centre stage in Honey from a Weed, the work of one of my favourite authors Patience Gray. This is much more than a cookery book as it records the way of life in the landscapes of the Mediterranean during the 1960s and 1970s. It gives details of how those landscapes provided plants for food and medicine that had not changed for centuries–if not millennia!

Carrara, Nikolai Ge. Courtesy of Taganrog Museum of Art. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Carrara, Nikolai Ge. Courtesy of Taganrog Museum of Art. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Gray embarked on a Mediterranean odyssey that took her to Carrara, Catalonia, the Greek island of Naxos and, finally, to southern Italy. She immersed herself in the landscapes she travelled as she moved from place to place noting that at that time that she “was reading the landscape and its flora with as much attention as one gives to an absorbing book”.

Her comments on Edwardian Englishmen laughing at French governesses picking wild chervil, dandelions and sorrel in Spring for salads, and for cutting nettle heads for soup is a fascinating insight into how knowledge such as this passed through generations. The Englishmen who found the governesses’ practice strange and were eating rhubarb, were themselves continuing a long tradition of purging.

Gray also notes that “Everyone in Apollona (on Naxos) but more especially women and children, wandered about in February and March before Spring declared itself, in search of weeds”. While in the Carrara she was shown how to collect a wide range of edible plants from a vineyard. Her guide, a little girl, had an amazing, yet simple weed vocabulary, which was “culled from the vineyard where her father worked”: as she picked her plants and stashed them away to take home she simply said “this is for cooking” or “this is for salad”.

Around seven centuries earlier an Anglo-Norman writer in England was in the process of translating a Latin work, for those who had no Latin, and in doing so he also recorded the virtues of plants to sustain life and heal. In reading his landscape the compiler of this thirteenth-century recipe and remedy collection known as the Physique rimee (MS Cambridge Trinity College O.1.20) notes that herbs and plants grew ‘everywhere’.

Like the small girl in Tuscany, he didn’t differentiate between what was good to eat and what was medicinal: all came under the portmanteau term of ‘erbes’. For him these plants were to be found flourishing throughout the landscape for all to collect and use: women, children and men. “Herbes ont mult tresgrant virtue, De Bois, de pré, et de palu”; they were found in “the woods, the meadows, and in the marshes”. He points out that the seeds, flowers, leaves and roots were all invaluable and even goes as far as to remind his readers, or perhaps listeners, that “you might know of these plants, their leaves, their seeds and their flowers” but not know (my emphasis) of their qualities, their virtues or that they are “a gift which is freely given”.

Encouraging his audience he asks them “Why not benefit from these when it is so expensive to go and buy them? Pointing out also that, should his reader not have need of them, they should share this knowledge with their good friends or, for that matter, anyone else.

The variety of plants and herbs cited throughout the manuscript is vast and the remedies can only be described as eclectic. For giddiness, dizziness, or vertigo he suggests a simple kitchen remedy to wash the sufferer’s head containing rue and common ivy, oil and vinegar mixed together. There are numerous recipes to staunch blood where pretty purple periwinkle, wood betony, or yellow cinquefoil, are cited.

There is also a recipe to increase lactation that calls for fennel and verveine, lettuce (lactuca–wild lettuce), pungent rue (probably goat’s rue) and the pretty flower of white hawthorn: “Si ele use c’est beivre et fait, Mult graunt plenté avra de lait”. (If she takes the drink that is made, she will have great quantities of milk). In Tuscany Gray notes that wild forms of lettuce Eruca were so valued that it was also grown in gardens, along with borage (with its fresh cucumber taste), peppery rocket, and pimpernel.

Miniature of a lactuca, or lettuce plant; miniature of a lupinus, or lupin plant. From Egerton 747, f. 53v.  Image Credit: British Library.
Miniature of a lactuca, or lettuce plant; miniature of a lupinus, or lupin plant. From Egerton 747, f. 53v. Image Credit: British Library.

The advice for using milky-sap producing lettuce for lactation is also found in a number of herbals such as the well known late thirteenth-century manuscript MS British Library, Egerton 747 and copies of the widely disseminated herbal known as Macer floribus. The earliest known verse vernacular copy dates to the second half of the thirteenth-century and is notable for its comment that no physician “should scorn the plants brought by the local ‘wise woman’ in good faith. For her faith and the patient’s hope are powerful factors in the healing process”.(1)

The edible contents of the foragers’ baskets on Naxos and in Tuscany, as noted by Patience Gray as she walked the ancient landscapes, are the same as many of those that appear in the Physique rime: the knowledge of their uses crossing time and geographical boundaries. All that it took was a simple wash under the nearest fountain followed by boiling in water, then the water was drained off and the harvested weeds eaten with olive oil and wine vinegar–a tradition and a dish that defies both time and place.

(1) Tony Hunt, An Old French Herbal (2008), p. 13.