Category Archives: what is a recipe

Sweet Endings

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Pastern.

The Recipes Project team would like to thank everyone who participated in our month-long Virtual Conversation on ‘What is a Recipe?’ It was a wonderful month in which had a chance to explore a question near and dear to our hearts, as well as to meet (virtually) people working on recipes in a wide-range of ways.

On 10 July 2017, we hosted a two-part discussion on Facebook Live, in which the RP editors (Amanda Herbert, Elaine Leong, Lisa Smith, and Laurence Totelin) joined Elma Brenner at the Wellcome Library, London. The first part is available here, or on Facebook.

In this section, we chatted about some of our favourite recipe books at the Wellcome Library, as well as four themes that came up during the conference: recipe-like things, reconstruction, celebrity, and stories.

Laurence also put together a great Pinterest board on Cleopatra as a celebrity endorsement of products.

In part 2, we opened with a discussion about how different archives–the Wellcome Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library–have collected recipe books, followed by an examination of two sources that Laurence brought in from her own collection: an early twentieth-century advertisement for Allenbury’s food (infant formula) and a 1960s Australian edition of Mrs. Beeton. These sources led us to a conversation on empire, race, and recipes.

We then took questions from our Facebook audience. Unfortunately, Facebook has lost our video! Some questions were quite general (e.g. how can you start researching recipes), while others were much more specific (e.g. why do we assume recipes only mean food today?).

For those of you interested in researching recipes, please take a look through our blog, which is a snapshot of recipes scholarship. Our First Monday Library Chat series also offers a glimpse into various recipe collections around the world. We also have a Zotero bibliography in which several recipe scholars have shared details of  useful primary and secondary sources. And, eventually, we will have an exhibition site of our entire virtual conversation — so please stay tuned!

As to why we think of recipes being food… We considered, in particular, the ways in which the term ‘recipes’ is used in a lot of ways, even today — such as IFTTT ‘recipes’ or recipes for paint. It’s just that these occur within more niche groups. And when it comes to science and medicine, the search for precision has led to the use of the term ‘formula’ rather than ‘recipe’.

A fine place to conclude our many discussions on ‘what is a recipe?’… We still can’t pin down the term, as flexible boundaries are useful when looking at the subject. But the distinction between formula and recipe also links back to our earliest discussions on recipes being alive and in the wild. We can’t detach experience, embodiment, and constant change from the concept of ‘recipe’. Whatever a recipe is, it is NOT precision.

And that is what makes them so much fun.

Thank you once again for your presentations, your chats, and your interest that have made our virtual conversation such a success! Regular blogging resumes next Tuesday. Please don’t be a stranger.

Day 9: What is a Recipe?

Ferdinand Wright, Summer Landscape, 1877. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

We hope you’re still enjoying this brilliant weather and are equally as excited for our last big event day of the virtual conversation on ‘What is a Recipe?’. We’ve got some brilliant new topics coming your way and some of our oldies, but goodies, joining us too.

“Teaching Cookbooks: A Twitter Conversation on Food, Gender, History & Writing” from Emily Contois with the hashtag #teachingcookbooks. Twitter: @emilycontois and website: bit.ly/foodgender. Emily will be sharing her reading list, lesson plan, and teaching tips—plus some of her students’ cookbook analysis essays in a 24 hour twitter chat on the topic starting from 8am.

Credit: Katherine Hysmith.

“#FreeFireCider: Folk Herbalists, Feminist Hashtags, and the Instagram Modernity” from Katherine Cheyenne Hysmith. Twitter: @kchysmith, Instagram: @kchysmith and blog post here. Herbalists regard Fire Cider as a community-owned recipe but it has built up a commercial niche. Katherine will be exploring the historic “recipe” and how this community of shared knowledge deals with modern legal issues with a focus on the Instagram accounts of women folk entrepreneurs, how they use the hashtag #freefirecider in the hopes of winning back their recipe, and, in turn, help form a folk narrative within the Instagram modernity.

“Teaching Recipes: Recipes as Sources for Women’s Lives” from Rachel Snell.  Rachel blogs about her module here and shares the website of students’ work from “Food, Femininity, and Feminism in American Culture from Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart”, which looks at the ways in which  the production and consumption of food fundamentally shaped concepts of femininity and feminism in American culture.

“‘Unboxing’ a new acquistion” from Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. We’ll be witness to the ‘unboxing’ of a new French receipt book manuscript! Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/umnbiomedlib, Twitter: @umnbiomedlib, and Instagram: @umnlib.

From the Potato Experiment.

The “Spuddenly Farming: A reconstruction of Rev. Mr. Cochran’s Potato experiment, 1791” from Siobhan Carlson is back again with updates on the experiment! Siobhan will be on Instagram  @SpuddenlyFarming and Twitter @Spuddenly_Farm

“Henri’s Kitchen”, the final installment in which Harry Hayfield looks at Boeuf Bourginon through the eyes of his seventeenth-century musketeer, Henri.

“Recipes in the Early Royal Society Archives” from Sietske Fransen, who has been exploring the visual practice of the early Royal Society will be on twitter as @sietske_fransen and @MVCRASSH and her blog post on her archives tweets here.

Still ongoing we’ve got ‘Cooking With Anger’  where you can join the comments and create your own improvised recipe from a basket of ingredients. If you joined in Day 8’s discussions about fictional foods, you might enjoy taking a crack at ‘Cooking With Anger’.

In any case, make sure to check out Tallulah’s intriguing blog post about ‘Stories and memories: Day 8 of the Recipes Project’ where she explores all of the brilliant things which happened on Monday– including that extended discussion of fictional meals! She also discusses the focus on reconstructions, discussions of the ‘art’ of a good recipe and the connections between recipes and family history, and the many forms of recipes that appear in our daily lives.

It looks like there’s going to be a lot of themes today for our last big event day with focus on gender, community, improvisational cooking, digital recipes, and pedagogy cropping up already. We’ll have to see if we get reconstruction popping up again today…

We’ll see you again on the 10th with a final recording at the Wellcome Library.

Recipes as Sources for Women’s Lives: Student Reflections on Food, Feminism, and Femininity

By Rachel A. Snell

In the summer of 2016, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Maine approached me with the opportunity to teach a course exploring women and food. I eagerly accepted, since opportunities to teach connected to your research don’t come around every day. My dream course, titled, “Food, Femininity, and Feminism in American Culture from Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart,” considered the ways in which the production and consumption of food fundamentally shaped concepts of femininity and feminism in American culture from the period of the American Revolution to the present.

Since the course was listed as both a History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies course, these majors were well-represented among the students taking the course. However, the topic of food attracted a number of social scientists, education majors, and even a Biology major who all confided they otherwise would not have considered signing up for a history or a women’s studies course.

An intriguing 1925 Maine publication that was the starting point for several student projects.

Throughout the course, students were asked to develop the skills to read a recipe not just as a set of instructions for a culinary process but as sources for women’s lives. Although they initially approached the assignments with some skepticism, in their end-of-semester reflections many divulged that “before this class, I had never looked at recipe further than how it would get me to a completely finished baked product;” through in-class exercises and weekly recipe analysis presentations students came to appreciate recipes as “stories and little snapshots of a woman’s life” and “a reflection of the time in which [they were] written.”

Mildred “Brownie” Schrumpf, Maine food expert, author, and home economist.

Over the course of the semester, students developed independent research projects that used recipes to explore major course themes. The research project was purposefully open-ended, to allow students to draw on their personal and academic backgrounds to demonstrate the breadth of recipes as sources for historical research. The one limiting factor placed on students’ projects was a requirement to make substantive use of materials from the Mildred “Brownie” Schrumpf Papers, a collection of recipes, newspaper columns, cookbooks, and personal correspondence collected by Maine culinary authority, Brownie Schrumpf. The final products demonstrated the students’ research creativity, as they used recipes to exploring topics ranging from:

  • An analysis of chocolate chip cookie recipes from six different time periods to explore changing ingredients and tastes.
  • Combining The State of Maine Cookbook produced by the Democratic Women of Maine in 1925 with genealogical and archival research to create a personal and culinary portrait of selected participants.
  • Analyzing 1940s cookbooks to better understand housework and cookery as patriotic service.
  • A nutritional analysis of several mid-twentieth century recipes compared to similar recipes published on social media within the past year to contextualize the Center for Disease Control’s data on rising obesity rates in Maine.
  • A historical survey of labor-saving devices in the kitchen, focusing on the development of refrigeration from ice boxes to modern appliances and the transformation of American diets and culture as a result.
  • A geographic analysis of community cookbooks published throughout Maine to explore the regional variance in the identification of “Maine” food (lobster, potatoes, blueberries, etc.).
Collage of cookbook covers from the Schrumf Collection.

In course reflections, students addressed how their perception of a recipe had changed through course instruction and their research process. When asked to define a recipe, students described their shifting attitudes toward recipes and the discovery of recipes as historical sources:

“What I have learned is that a recipe can provide an image of the identity of women during a certain time period. We often do not get to hear about the perspective of women in history, so cookbooks help fill in the gaps of what it meant to be a woman during certain eras.” (Mara Hintz, Secondary Education)

“From the earliest cookbooks we looked at to the more modern ones, it was evident to me that recipes are often more than just directions for how to prepare food. In fact, recipes seem to tell their own story. They hint at relationships, economic status, available resources, and the roles of domestic women and how those roles changed over the years.” (Naomi Holzhauer, Biology)

“What I also learned from this class is how the power of a recipe can empower a movement in spreading a message, raising funds for the cause, or show a way of life that doesn’t have to be solely about homemaking . . . It is more than just a way to share good meal ideas. A recipe is a way to share culture, promote independence, and when used in the right way, used to further the conversation and culture shift regarding women’s roles in society.” (Sarah Nichols, Secondary Education)

“The dictionary’s definition of a recipe is as follows: ‘a set of instructions for preparing a particular dish, including a list of ingredients required.’ I find that what this definition fails to capture the essence of recipes. It fails to acknowledge that recipes are so much more than just mere instructions and ingredients. Collectively, recipes give us insight into different parts of history. How people lived, what they had available, what their homes and families were like, how society functioned, among many more things. Recipes often times have deeper meanings and connections within our lives than we realize. History is certainly reflected in the cookbooks, diaries, and other examples of culinary literature. By studying recipe books throughout time, we are able to better understand how we came to be where we are with food today.” (Sarah Noble, Psychology/Women’s Gender, Sexuality Studies)

“I’ve learned that a recipe is more than just a list of ingredients with instructions on how to make it. A recipe has history, family connections to people. A recipe could be a reminder of the first time you’ve made it with someone you love; a recipe that has been passed down through the female generations with all the written side notes of modifications.” (Sierra Crosby, Psychology/Women’s Gender, Sexuality Studies)

Finally, history major Abby Belisle Haley, provided the perfect postscript for the course as an in-depth exploration of transformations in American women’s lives through the lens of food:

“In terms of ‘recipes’ I think this course in itself was a recipe because it provided new and interesting ingredients for the student to combine together to produce a wholly new product that is different from another dry, overcooked research paper.”

More information about the course can be found here, including syllabi and sample student projects.

Henri’s kitchen: 4. Boeuf Bourguignon

Harry Hayfield, a resident of Ceredigion in Wales, has long had an interest in the stories of the Musketeers which are set in early 17th century France, this led in turn to an interest in the Stuart period of history and joining a living history group. However, as a registered carer for his grandparents, he is unable to get to many of the events and yet wanted to do something to help. One day he was watching “The Little Paris Kitchen” broadcast on the BBC and thought “These are recipes designed by the French, therefore could they be converted in the 17th century versions of themselves?”. Doing some research he found that they could. Harry will therefore contribute four of the recipes as shown in the programme as if cooked by Henri de Ceredigion (Harry’s Stuart persona) a cadet member of the Musketeers, with able assistance from Planchet, his manservant cum stable lad.

Picture the scene for a moment, you open the door to your house and find a person who blows a bugle in your face. Once you have finished twiddling with your eyes he declares “Henri de Ceredigion, Musketeer Cadet, you are hereby summoned to attend His Majesty at once. God Save the King!” That is precisely what happened to me a week before my first Christmas in Paris, and let me tell you, it was not an invitation you could ignore. So what had I done to warrant such a meeting? I had been challenged by no less a personage than the King himself to, as he put it himself, “on the day of the celebration of the birth of our Lord, the King commands that you give your Captain, Musketeers Porthos, Athos, Aramis and your manservant a present to be given at the end of a meal for those aforementioned!”. After bowing so meekly I wondered if I would ever get back up again, I reversed out of the throne room, leant against a wall and just gasped with disbelief. I had to make a full-blown meal for six people, including someone with the most voracious appetite possible, in just a week! Needless to say when Planchet got back from his trip to the market he found me absolutely in a state of panic. Thankfully he managed to calm me down a bit and set a plan in action. It would be a combination of all the things I had cooked up to that moment in time, which I have told you about, plus something from the Planchet school of cookery, Boeuf Bourguignon with Baguette Dumplings. 

Needless to say, the following day I was rushing around the market like a man about to face execution, so the fact that just as was about to return home Jussac, the captain of the Cardinal’s guards, decided to interfere was not welcome. He and I have a bit of a history, that I shall not go into, and fearing the worst I was about to draw my sword when he thrust a small envelope into my face. I cautiously opened it and found a card with the message: “This month is a month of peace to all men, be they living in the moors or the fen, and so I wish to say to you, Joyeux Noel and god speed too.” This took me a little by surprise, but as he explained being employed by a Cardinal of Rome, Christmas is the one time when normality reigns. Thus with the ingredients bought, it was time to make everything. The ingredients were: beef shin cut into six large chunks, some flour, oil, a small collection of lardons, peeled onions, a bay leaf, some parsley, thyme and rosemary, peppercorns, red wine, a small amount of sugar and salt and some mushrooms and then we got to work with Planchet doing the rest of the meal and me tackling this monster of a dish.

You will need a good wine for this dish! Credit: Agne27, Wikipedia

First, I dusted the beef with flour, and then placed them into a hot pan until they browned, and when they had done I added the lardons, onions, one of cloves of garlic, and some of the peppercorns. Now, whilst I was doing all this, there was a knock at the door. My Englishness came to the fore and I answered it. It was the butcher’s son from down the lane asking for something for the family for Christmas but as I found him a coin I smelt something burning and rushed back to find the bottom of the pan burnt. I was devastated, the meal ruined before it had begun, but Planchet placed a friendly hand on my shoulder and reassured me that it was a good thing. I knew he would never tell me a lie so I carried on by adding the meat back to the pan. Next I went to add the red wine, the usual bottle that I serve for Athos, but as I went to pour it in, Planchet grasped my hand firmly and said “Use a wine that you can drink” and with that handed me a bottle of wine I was going to give to Aramis for Christmas. Again, I knew he was in the right and so added the wine, followed by the same amount of water (rainwater, before you raise any eyebrows) and with that put the lid on and placed it in the oven, where it stayed for three hours. As I said, this was a mammoth task, and so during that time we made up all the things that I have mentioned earlier, the cheese and potato nests, the croque madames and the chouquettes and just in time too, because an hour before the meal was due to start in walked Athos, and demanded feeding. Thankfully, Aramis arrived a short while later and put a stop to his devouring, followed by Porthos and then the Captain, during which time I had to act like a host.

About fifteen minutes before the meal was due to be served, Planchet asked me to attend him in the kitchen and gave me some very bad news. We had forgotten to make the dumplings that go with the dish, mainly due to having so much to do anyway. I immediately panicked and when I do I sometimes have flashes of inspiration. And that’s what happened here. I grabbed a very old baguette and sliced it into large cubes, placed it in a bowl with some herbs, poured over some milk, added an egg and gave the whole thing a good mash together, then added some flour mixed it all up, grabbed a large handful, squeezed in my hand and said to Planchet, “Remind you of anything?” to which he declared “Dumplings, master!”. We then quickly made up six of them, fried them in a pan with some oil and just as they cooked I heard a voice saying “Henri, time to serve!”.

Taking a deep breath I pulled the pot out of the oven, placed the dumpling replacements on top and carried it to the table declaring “Henri has completed his task!” From the looks on their faces they were very impressed indeed with the end result, so much so that, and I don’t like to sound too boastful about this, the King declared me to be “un gentilhomme” which Aramis explained was a very high title for someone like me to hold and I will admit that for the rest of that Christmas I did rather have my nose up in the air on a large number of occasions, but it was all in the name of fun.