Category Archives: what is a recipe

Recipes in the archives of the early Royal Society

By Sietske Fransen

‘What is a recipe?’ was the simple opening question asked by the organizers of the virtual conversation hosted by The Recipes Project. This month-long online discussion has made me look at the archives of the Royal Society with different eyes.

During my weekly visits to the Royal Society Archives in London I am usually searching for anything visual from the period 1660-1710. Once found, the particular page of archival material with something visual on it is added to the Making Visible database. With this database the Making Visible team is creating a research tool through which it will be possible to enter the archives on image level, and ask and answer questions about the usage of images in early modern science. Have a look at our blog in case you are curious to find out more, or follow us on twitter @MVCRASSH. However, while my colleagues and I are looking for images, we also come across many other interesting documents that are currently part of the early archives. Like recipes!

Those of you who have followed the Twitter storm during the #recipesconf might have seen that I have tweeted about recipes in the last few weeks: recipes for the making of pigments and varnish; food recipes (for bread, butter, and bacon); and medical recipes. The discussions on Twitter have made me come up with several questions. And even though there are too many questions to answer in one blog post, I will discuss them briefly, and hope to continue this wonderful conversation with so many colleagues around the globe.

First of all, why did all these recipes make their way into the archives of the Royal Society? When I started working on the Royal Society materials two years ago, I did not expect to find so many recipes for making food and drinks, nor was I expecting the Fellows’ interest in the making of pigments and varnishes. However, it turns out that the Fellows of the Royal Society were very interested in the history of trades, which made them collect recipes from artisans, including many recipes and treatises on things related the making of images, book printing, and engraving techniques.[1]

The food recipes might need to be seen from the perspective of making products in the house, with which men and women can show off their skills to their friends.[2] During my tweet-storm, I showed a set of recipes brought to the Royal Society by John Evelyn about how to make the best French bread. But also bacon, butter, cheese, and cider recipes are part of the collections in the archives.

In the case of the bread recipe we have the name of John Evelyn stuck to it. And it is indeed interesting to know who provided the Fellows of the Royal Society with the information now in the archives. Who were the sources for the recipes? Were they named? Relatively often we find a name on the recipe. Many to the recipes related to the art of picture making have male names on the recipes, such as Jonathan Goddard in the recipes for colours. Between the recipes I found several had a female name on them, such as the butter recipe from Mrs Elizabeth Papworth, and the recipe for a remedy for scurvy by Mrs Bancroft. Is this surprising? Not at all, since regular readers of this blog know very well that recipes were very often collected by women in early modern English households. However, from the perspective of the early history of the Royal Society it is definitely interesting how recipes from women are still part of the archives. Much more research needs to be done on the women around the Royal Society.

A Receipt to cure mad dogs, or men. Cl.P/14i/33. Image @ Royal Society

There was an interesting discussion about whether or not the description of a tool needed for the performance of the recipe (such as an oven for bread baking) should be treated as a recipe? Or is it even an ingredient? The description of the oven in John Evelyn’s bread recipe almost looked like a recipe inside a recipe, as it was so clearly describing the various things needed to make the oven and made sure it would actually work correctly. And a good working oven was a prerequisite for making the best bread in itself. Also here I am looking forward to a continuing discussion about tools in recipes!

A Receipt to cure Mad Dogs, or Men. RBO/7/8. Image @ Royal Society

Finally, I would like to quickly answer a question that Elaine Leong raised  about the many underlinings and crossing-out in a recipe for curing rabies. As I suspected the crossings were done in the original document that was brought in to the Royal Society. The recipe was thought important enough to make it into the Royal Society’s Register Book, where we find it again in volume 7. All the crossed out sections that you can see in the image to the left are omitted from the neat version of the recipe in the Register book. Also the information about the effective cure of the His Majesties’ dogs is left out. But instead we do find a short Note Bene, explaining that the plant named in the recipe as “Starr of the Earth” has several Latin and vernacular namens “known among Botanists”, which will make it easier to find this ingredient.

Thanks to the organisers of the #recipesconf for giving me a great excuse to look into recipes in the Royal Society Archives and for all the stimulating conversations online!

[1] See for the history of trades and especially the Royal Society’s interest in the making of images Matthew C. Hunter, Wicked Intelligene (Chicago, 2013), esp. chapter 1.

[2] See on the exchange and discussion between households for example Elaine Leong, “Brewing Ale and Boiling Water in 1651”, in M. Valleriani (ed.), The Structures of Practical Knowledge (Springer 2017), pp. 55-75.  DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45671-3_3

Stories and memories: Day 8 of the Recipes Project

By Tallulah Maait Pepperell

On Day 8 of the Recipes Project, we revisited some themes that had popped up on previous days of our virtual conversation. There were reconstructions, along with discussions of the ‘art’ of a good recipe. And, of course, we came back to the connections between recipes and family history, and the many forms of recipes that appear in our daily lives.

To start with the reconstructions, Maria Galanaki shared her video on constructing a meal that follows the Hippocratic Regimen.  Simon Walker continued his “Feeding under Fire” series with a video on Classic French Soldiers’ Food and a twitter thread on the subject.

There really was no end to the bready delights available yesterday (though specifically absent in Maria’s Hippocratic menu!).  We had @Pamphilia2‘s video on gingerbread recipes, Deborah Lawton writing on gingerbread in historical re-enactment, and Molly-Taylor Polesky’s interview with a master baker.

A lot of the activity of the day was focused around Twitter, with conversations surrounding family medicine recipes. We had chicken soup, hot toddies, mustard plasters, “The Remedy”, onion compresses, honey and salt water, honey-onion syrup, lemons, and Schmaltzwickel… All old family recipes, bringing together themes of family, memory, and personal links to recipes that has permeated this project.

Then I took over the Twitter feed for a few hours to indulge a personal project and explore the subject of fictional foods and recipes. A few suggestions of my own started us off on a journey through Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away” to Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” and then it took on a life of its own. Our wonderful contributors pitched in their own literary recipes, with a number from fairy tales and books from their childhood; we had an overflowing porridge pot, Little Red Riding hood’s picnic, the darker sides of Beatrix Potter, Narnian Turkish Delight, and the wonderful stories of Roald Dahl.

Participants came together around common themes, all  falling under the topic “recipes”.  We all have recipes that hold personal meanings, whether from tradition or memories associated with them. Recipes are just another way that family history is kept alive– like quilts, cookbooks, or photograph albums. This is also the case with the Winslow family in the bread posts today, and with the use of recipes as a wider historical teaching, such as the gingerbread reconstructions.

Similarly, the focus on fictional recipes explored the meanings food and recipes hold in both narrative and real life. Many of the recipes contributed dealt with fairy tales and children’s literature, showing how people can be shaped by what they encounter as a child. For me, the most vivid fictional recipe that sticks in my mind is the hideous roly-poly from Tom Kitten that Michael Rosen reminded me of during the discussion.

If there’s anything that the virtual conversation on ‘What is a Recipe?’ has shown us this last month, it’s that while they may not always be historical, recipes connect people in a multitude of ways.

Day 8: What is a Recipe?

Une Boulanger, A female Baker. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A lovely summer day ahead–what awaits us on Day 8 of ‘What is a Recipe?’ Lots of videos! And also bread and gingerbread, and more!

Let’s kick off with a blog post that takes us on a trip to Wales… Lisa Tallis, from the Special Collections and Archives at the University of Cardiff, offers a blog post on their delicious collections, from brewing to farriery. She examines recipes from the perspective of Welsh-English bilingualism and cross-cultural travel between the two countries.

The Wellcome Library will be joining from around 11:30 on Twitter (@WellcomeLibrary) to consider: what is a medieval recipe? How did medieval people create and use recipes?

Siobhan Carlson’s eighteenth-century potato experiment, ‘Spuddenly Farming’, continues on Twitter and Instagram. She includes some videos of her experiment to show the differences between the cuttings. Spoiler: it’s very noticeable! It certainly seems like there just might be a recipe for growing better potatoes…

Molly-Taylor Polesky has a lovely ‘Interview with a Baker’ on YouTube. She visited a historical bakery in Berlin (Alte Bäckerei Pankow) and spoke to a master baker there, who tells us (among other things) that ‘Recipes are an art.’ Make sure to turn on the Close Captioning for English subtitles!

Un Boulanger, A Baker
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

 

Over at her new blog, Cooking up the Archives, Deborah Lawton will be exploring ‘A Recipe is a Tasty History Lesson’. Indeed.  In this she looks at a gingerbread recipe and how it provides opportunities to discuss wide-ranging historical information. (She also has a taster from last week in which she ruminates on #recipesconf.)

Gingerbread mould, Alsatian, 1650. Credit: Musée du pain d’épices et de l’art populaire alsacien.

Edith Snook and her team at the Early Modern Maritime Recipes project (Annabelle Babineau, Karim Baccouche, and Siobhan Carlson) will have a video on ‘Edward Winslow’s Receipt for Gingerbread Cakes’.  They will prepare a nineteenth-century recipe found in the account book of Loyalist and early Fredericton settler Edward Winslow. Along the way, they will think about  recipes and communities, how recipes bring things together—ingredients, tools, methods, flavours, tastes, people—and the tensions in these migrations across political, geographic, and cultural spaces.  (Link here.) You can also follow their discussion about the video on Twitter, with @BellePepper1, @Spuddenly_Farm, and @Pamphilia2.

Maria Galanaki shares video of ‘A Hippocratic Menu’ on YouTube (here). In this, she demonstrates the preparation of three recipes–a starter, a main course, and a dessert—using ingredients reported in the Hippocratic Regimen.

And from ancient Greece, we head to the trenches of the First World War with Simon Walker who will have a video on ‘Classic French Soldiers’ Food’ for his series Feeding Under Fire. (Link to the video here.) He will also be joining in to discuss his video on Twitter as @Dark_Nocterna.

If you haven’t yet tried it, I encourage you to try ‘Cooking with Anger‘. Get your list of emotional ingredients from the Protag-o-matic and write a VERY short story in the blog post comments. After all, as the German Master Baker says, ‘Recipes are art.’

Lots to keep us busy at #recipesconf today. Please do come join in the conversation in the comments below, on Twitter (@historecipes and #recipesconf), or at the individual projects. We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Reconstructing Recipes? : Day 7 of “What is a Recipe?”

By Amanda Herbert and Elaine Leong

Here at the Recipes Project virtual conversation Day 7, reconstruction has also emerged as a main theme.  What does “reconstruction” entail?  Is it following directions laid out by someone long-dead?  Or is it breaking down a past concept or culture according to our own systems, standards, and logics?  As our participants in Day 7 proved, reconstruction can mean many things.

Siobhan Carlson (@Spuddenly_Farm) continues to monitor her potatoes (see here and here). Working in parallel, Hillary Nunn (@HillaryNunn )  and Whitney Thompson (@klahom) explored eggs and the making of orange pudding. Prompting them to ask “What is an egg?” and “What is pudding?”. Elsewhere, Katherine Allen (@KAllen622 ) tried her hand at making lip salve and seed cake from an 18th century recipe book now in the Warwickshire Record Office. Katherine’s blog post highlights the difficulty and ease (via Amazon) of sourcing ingredients. Though we might be talking about potatoes, eggs or beeswax, one clear theme emerges from these #recipesconf about reconstruction – the difficulty in identifying precisely what our historical actors mean when they name an ingredient and in pinpointing their modern equivalents. Hillary and Whitney’s parallel experiment was particularly enlightening as the two versions of the pudding look somewhat different but still pretty appealing! 

#recipesconf aside, twitter has been filled with recipe reconstructions lately. The @makingknowing and @artechne projects have both taken advantage of the summer breaks to reconstruct recipes for all kinds of art processes from casting, soldering, melting to the production of colours like azurite. So, if you’re interested in reconstructing historical recipes, you’re in good company and there are plenty of resources out there!

Approaching “reconstruction” from a slightly different angle, Mark Sundaram (@alliterative) and Aven McMaster (@avensarah) reconstruct the history and etymology of the word “recipe” in their podcast, The Endless Knot.  If you’ve ever wondered how “recipe” was used in the ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern worlds — or even where we get the “Rx” symbol used for prescriptions, chemists, and drug stores! — then Mark and Aven’s exploration of words, history, and meaning offers some revealing insights.

The Instagram photo essay produced by Paveen Puneet and Priyanki S. Bishnoi explored “reconstruction” in the sense of breaking down and documenting the architecture, scaffolding, and framing of space and place.  Puneet and Bishnoi’s gorgeous images of cooking sites – both indoors and outdoors – in rural north India reveal that it is critical to explore the constructions which surround recipe activities.  You can find their essay, “A Pinch of This and a Handful of That: Food and Recipes in Kitchens of Rural North India” on Instagram @ppp_cookingchronicles

Courtesy of Paveen Puneet and Priyanki S. Bishnoi, on Instagram @ppp_cookingchronicles.
Courtesy of Paveen Puneet and Priyanki S. Bishnoi, on Instagram @ppp_cookingchronicles.

A more metaphorical reconstruction involves delving deep into one’s own family recipe collection to examine themes of cultural exchange of foodways, commercial functions of recipes, and memes, cliche, and memory. Will Burdette launched his new project, Food Moves, in which he’ll be exploring and reconstructing the family rolodex of recipes digitally! His video discussion is an intriguing counterpoint to Puneet and Bishnoi’s project. Where their interviewees dismissed the importance of written recipes as fuel for the fire, Burdette considers commercial recipes written on the side of boxes–as decoration, marketing… and family tradition. As @AvenSarah responded on Twitter:

Finally, we “reconstructed” the archives of several libraries and special collections with a series of tweets from The College of Physicians in Philadelphia (@CPPHistMedLib), the Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives (@CUSpecialColls), the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections (@UofGlasgowASC) and the Thomas Fisher Library (@FisherLibrary).  All four institutions offered images and descriptions of images from their collections, focusing particularly on medical recipes, scientific recipes, and recipes revealing the cultures of composition and writing–specifically, of ink.

Of course, reconstruction has been a strong theme throughout the virtual conversation and indeed on our blog (and elsewhere–the researchers at The Chymistry of Isaac Newton, for example, have been doing replications for years now, see videos here). All this talk about reconstruction reminded us of our conversations on Day 1 of the virtual conversation (Storify here), where Thijs Hagendijk’s tweeted on how to make pearls from fish eyes and @rare_cooking‘s  discussed her work on Cooking the Archive, comparing the blog to a laboratory notebook open to public. We encourage you to start your own notebook on reconstructing historical recipes and share it with us on twitter, blogs, instagram and more.

It’s been a great day at #recipesconf. Please join us again on July 3 for Day 8 of “What is a recipe?”  The Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and  Medicine at the University of Minnesota (@umnbiomedliband the Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives  (@CUSpecialColls ) will continue to bring us gems in their collections. See you very soon!