Editing the Recipes Project — 5 Years On: Teaching with Recipes

Editorial: This is the eighth of a series of reflection posts from Recipe Project contributors and editors.

By Lisa Smith

Classroom kitchen in Norway, undated. Source: National Library of Norway.

A momentous day: on this day, five years ago exactly, we published our first blog post. Feel free to reminisce here with that post by Elaine Leong.

Other blog posts in our Five Year Reflection series have emphasised the role of The Recipes Project in our own research–from the importance of intellectual networks to inspiration. But teaching has been part of this blog’s core identity from the outset. As of writing, there are seventy-eight blog posts labelled ‘teaching’, three teaching series, and multiple presentations during our recent Virtual Conversation.  Recipes are clearly a wonderful pedagogical tool.

In this post, I want to consider the trends in teaching (as revealed on the blog) and reflect briefly on why recipes are so useful in teaching, even for non-recipe specialists. Recipes offer students new ways of  experiencing the past, as well as providing methodological challenges in the classroom.

One of the main themes in recipe pedagogy is sensory engagement. This is well known to those working in the heritage industry, as discussed by Deborah Lawton in her Virtual Conversation contribution on ‘A Recipe is a Tasty History Lesson‘. Tasting food invites reflection on historical issues such as ‘what is a comfort food’ or methods of food preparation.

Academics may not be able to prepare recipes in their classes (alas, few of us have access to the wonderful lab settings enjoyed by the Making and Knowing Project), but there are other ways of experimenting in the classroom. Claiming that ‘history has a distinct taste’ as his starting point, Ian Mosby considers the importance of teaching how similar-tasting recipes take on different meanings depending on their historical context. The products of recipes can always be brought to the students, or prepared by the students outside of class.

Food is not the only recipe, however; other senses can be involved. Jen Munroe has her students take a close look at recipes and consider the practice and experience of reading, while Amanda Herbert has her students write out an early modern ink recipe using the tools and alphabet of the time. What students quickly learn is the gendered experience of engaging with the tools and recipe meaning.  As Tovah Bender explains, ‘sensory expeirence helps students bridge this divide with the past and see history through the eyes of their subjects’.

The digital world also offers exciting new ways of engaging with the past. In my own teaching, for example, I found that doing the online transcription of recipes (and translating between early modern English, extensible mark-up language, and modern English) trained students in close-reading. Frank Klaassen’s fascinating post here on testing out a Holy Almandal suggests the potential of 3D printing for reconstructing sensory experience.  Digital tools, whether transcription or 3D printing, can encourage deeper reflection.

The digital world can also provide a sense of community. Rebecca Laroche, for example, discussed the ways in which online transcription as part of a larger group has reshaped her pedagogy of online teaching. Building links among classrooms and between learners and texts has directly emerged from her digital work on recipes. Some of our Virtual Conversation participants demonstrated their students’ online projects, such as Emily Contois’ class on food and gender and Rachel Snell’s class on food, femininity and feminism. Sharing research online is a form of public engagement (and an employable skill) for our students. Certainly any history class could be doing digital projects, but recipes have a particularly wide appeal beyond the academy! Recipes are, in many ways, naturally suited to a virtual classroom; the long-distance sharing and sense of community mirror the pre-modern transmission of recipe knowledge over long distances and far-flung networks.

The usefulness of recipes for pedagogy, then, is their evocativeness, their familiarity and unfamiliarity for students. They offer opportunities for hands-on learning and public engagement. In short, they are quite wonderful.

But…

Inside Mount Morgan Technical College’s Cooking Class Room, Mt. Morgan, 1909. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Recipes are so much fun–and do provide that sense of community and sensory experience–that it sometimes easy to overlook the methodological problems of using them in the classroom.

In one class, I encountered a series of technological fails that resulted in a constantly shifting learning environment for the students. While I can put a positive gloss on it–that this was showing student-collaborators the real, sometimes dark, underside of research–it also meant that students faced unexpected barriers and uncertainties in their learning. It is also worth noting (as I didn’t at the time) that not all of my students had ready access to technology, either, unless they came to campus.

Valerie Korinek discussed how the failure of an assignment one year (after previous success) highlighted a basic ethical issue. Teaching recipes in the classroom, particularly as part of family history, can be destabilizing and distressing for students. Food is not fun for everyone, and recipes are not always familiar or comfortable.

Even if recipes aren’t distressing, there is also the danger of slipping into nostalgia, or assuming that reconstruction of a recipe gives a real connection to the past. Nostalgia and family history came up repeatedly in the Virtual Conversation, as did the problems of reconstruction.

The illusion of direct engagement with the past, as well as unequal access to digital learning tools or recipes in the present, are issues we need to keep at the forefront of our teaching. However, awareness of methodological issues as we plan our syllabi or assignments, or discuss them in the classroom, can only improve our teaching…and challenge our students.

And, of course, it will make recipes even more compelling as a teaching tool: they are not for the faint-of-hearted or those interested in the cozy past.

A Sampling of Food-Related Panels at the 2017 Berkshire Conference

By Rachel A. Snell

Held at Hoftra University June 1-4, the 17th Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities contained a number of panels of interest to food studies scholars. As those who study food are well-acquainted, food and food writing offer a richly rewarding lens for studying the past. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the conference theme, “Difficult Conversations: Thinking and Talking About Women, Genders, and Sexualities Inside and Outside the Academy,” generated several papers and on entire panel devoted to exploring the connections between food and gender.

“Native New Yorker,” Pura Cruz 2006.

My own research interests naturally gravitated me toward a handful of food-related panels at this year’s Big Berks, but this is by no means an exhaustive review. The full conference program can be accessed here.

On Thursday afternoon, two papers exploring home economics lead me to a panel titled, “Bloomers, Domestic Violence, and Home Economics: Print Sources and the Politics of Gender” and chaired by Carol Ruth Berkin. While all four papers were excellent, food scholars, particularly those interested in the home economics movement, will want to note the following two papers:

Food, Empowerment, and Iowa: Exploring Mrs. Welch’s Cookbook

Mrs. Welch’s Cookbook (Des Moines: 1884).

Jaycie Vos, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill/Special Collections Coordinator and University Archivist, University of Northern Iowa @jaycie_v

Jaycie Vos’s paper provided a close-reading of Mrs. Welch’s Cookbook (Des Moines: 1884). Written by the head of the Domestic Economy Department at Iowa Agricultural College (later Iowa State University), Mary B. Welch, the cookbook was a compilation of recipes used for instruction in the department. Vos argues the cookbook and Welch’s career presented food preparation as a source of empowerment for women.

The Porosity of Public and Private in Ellen Richards’s Home Economics

Serenity Sutherland, University of Rochester @serenitys37

In her examination of the career of Ellen Richards, the pioneering founder of the Home Economics movement and the first female student and instructor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sutherland contrasted the development of scientific housekeeping with earlier moral domesticity. Her concentration on Richards allowed Sutherland to explore ideas of individuality and the overlap of public and private in the Home Economics movement.

Friday morning’s “Repast and Present: Food History Inside and Outside the Academy” organized by the Recipe Project’s own Amanda Herbert not only explored food as an engagement tool in the study of the past, it was also the opening event for a virtual conference exploring the question, “What is a recipe?” A video of the panel is available on the Recipe Project’s Facebook page, therefore, I will provide brief notes on each speaker.

Public and Professional Dimensions of Creative Food History Programs

Amanda B. Moniz, Smithsonian Institution @AmandaMoniz1 

Moniz discussed her development of historical cooking classes and the accessibility of food history.

Cooking Class: Women, Domestic Science, and Higher Education since the Progressive Era

Tandra Taylor, St. Louis University

Through a focus on Progressive-era domestic science education opportunities for African-American women, Taylor argued that cooking class was actually cooking class (i.e.: status).

A Recipe for Teaching (and Learning) Atlantic World History: Food and the Columbian Exchange

Zara Anishanslin, University of Delaware @ZaraAnishanslin

Anishanslin shared her techniques for bringing food into the classroom, describing this effort as a more uplifting aspect of Atlantic history (creation rather than destruction). Those who teach the early American history survey or Atlantic history courses will be interested in her assignment to select and study a recipe that would not exist without the Columbian Exchange.

Food for the People: How Food History is Changing the Conversation at the National Museum of American History

Paula Johnson, National Museum of American History

Julia Child’s kitchen on display at the Museum of American History – http://americanhistory.si.edu/food/julia-childs-kitchen

Johnson discussed food-related initiatives at the National Museum of American History including exhibits and live cooking demonstrations that combine food and history. Mark your calendars for this year’s Smithsonian Food History Weekend, October 26-28.

Cooking on the Internet: Historical Recipes and Public Scholarships

Marissa Nicosia, Pennsylvania State University – Abington College @Nicosia_Marissa 

Nicosia’s joint-project with Alyssa Connell transcribes, contextualizes, and updates early modern recipes for modern kitchens while sharing them on a blog titled, Cooking in the Archives. Nicosia discussed the insights that stemmed from this work and the importance of actually preparing recipes as part of the research process.

My review of food history at the Big Berks concludes with a panel exploring the politics of women’s businesses that included four fascinating and innovative presentations, but it was Maria McGrath’s history of Bloodroot Restaurant that connects with the subject of this post.

Living Feminist: The Liberation and Limits of Separatist Business and Radical Lesbian Ethics at the Bloodroot Restaurant

Maria McGrath, Bucks County Community College

Dining Space, Bloodroot Restaurant – www.bloodroot.com

In this paper, McGrath examined the founding of Bloodroot Restaurant in Bridgeport, CT, a feminist and collective restaurant and bookstore, in 1977. She explored the role of food in the pursuit of feminist and counter-cultural ideologies.

As a first-time Big Berks attendee, I was blown away by the quality and variety of presentations and the uniquely supportive atmosphere. I’m looking forward to more food history at the 2020 meeting!

Note: In the interest of self-promotion, I would be remiss to not mention I also presented, during the Digital Humanities Spotlight, on mapping cookbooks to reveal women’s networks. An early version of that work is available here.

Slow-Churn Democracy: Ice Cream in 18th and 19th c. America

Kelly K. Sharp

As a historian of antebellum foodways of Charleston, South Carolina, it’s a pleasure for me to bring my work home with me — my husband and colleagues have endured historic recipes for cornbread (it was intolerably dry), sweet potato pudding (surprisingly boozy), and spring pea purloo with Carolina Gold rice (pleasantly creamy). However, my personal ice cream consumption must far outdo that of even the most gaudy, excessive, and conspicuously-consuming planter-elite. While today’s average American eats about twenty quarts of ice cream a year, freezing a liquid mixture laden with sugar — a special commodity — by using ice — an ephemeral luxury — was something elite Americans began enjoying only late in the eighteenth century.

While French and Italian confectioners published books in the late seventeenth century giving directions for water ices and cresme glacée, the prototypes of ice cream, the earliest known written account of ice cream embellishing an American dinner table is from the mid-eighteenth century. [1] The following is an excerpt from William Black’s description of a dinner given by Maryland’s colonial governor, Thomas Bladen, in 1744:

Following a Table in the most Splendent manner… came a Desert no less Curious, among the Rarities of which it was Compos’d, was some fine Ice Cream, which with the Straw-berries and Milk, eat most Deliciously.[2]

George and Martha Washingtons’ visitors enjoyed desserts made in a “cream machine for ice” bought for one pound thirteen shillings in 1784 and Mrs. Washington, after the general became president, served ice cream and lemonade to the ladies who attended her levees.[3] As the new republic grew, frozen desserts became less than state treats.

To make ice cream, popular London cookbook author Elizabeth Raffald used an eight-step recipe that involved paring apricots and beating them in a mortar, mixing them with sugar and scalding cream, working them through a sieve, breaking ice and packing it around a pailful of the apricots and cream, stirring the partially frozen mixture, repacking it for more freezing, unpacking and molding it, and finally refreezing it. In Mary Randolph’s “Observations on Ice Cream” from The Virginia Housewife, she comments that “it is the practice of some indolent cooks, to set the freezer containing the cream, in a tub with ice and salt, and put it in the ice house” but she advocates instead “the freezer must be kept constantly in motion during the process.” Ever economical, Randolph explains the freezer “ought to be made of pewter, which is less liable than tin to be worn in holes” but emphasizes that a silver spoon with a long handle should be used to scrape ice from the sides.[4]

With the bottom portion filled with ice, just the top portions of these glaciers were filled with ice cream to be dished into individual dishes at the table by the host or hostess. Image Credit: Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, Pair of Glaciers, 1790-1810, Jingdezhen, China, Hard paste porcelain, Lime glaze, Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont, 1965.706.1,.2
With the bottom portion filled with ice, just the top portions of these glaciers were filled with ice cream to be dished into individual dishes at the table by the host or hostess. Image Credit: Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, Pair of Glaciers, 1790-1810, Jingdezhen, China, Hard paste porcelain, Lime glaze, Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont, 1965.706.1,.2

Although today vanilla is far and away the most popular ice cream flavor, in 1800 the bean was considered a “peculiar and delicious flavor, agreeable to some palates and disagreeable to others.”[5] While cooks of the first half of the nineteenth century largely ignored vanilla as a flavor, they made good use of dozens of other flavors including strawberry, pineapple, lemon, peach, blackberry, chocolate, almond, pistachio, and coffee. Hostesses served ice cream in several ways — piled high in individual glasses or china cream cups, spooned it into an ice pail called a glacier, or pressed it into a mold and turned it out into a plate with tall geometrical shaped among the most popular.

This newspaper advertisement promotes an evening’s festivities at Charleston’s Vaux Hall Garden. The garden, located in the center of Charleston at Queen and Broad Street, was opened by French immigrant Alexander Placide- also a dancer, acrobat, actor, tightrope walker, and theatre impresario. Image Credit: The Charleston City Gazette, June 13, 1808.
This newspaper advertisement promotes an evening’s festivities at Charleston’s Vaux Hall Garden. The garden, located in the center of Charleston at Queen and Broad Street, was opened by French immigrant Alexander Placide- also a dancer, acrobat, actor, tightrope walker, and theatre impresario. Image Credit: The Charleston City Gazette, June 13, 1808.

However, a Charlestonian needed not churn for hours to enjoy the specialty confection. In 1800, Frenchman Alexander Placide opened a pleasure garden in the center of Charleston at Queen and Broad Street called Vauxhall Gardens. Just as in fashion in mid-eighteenth century France, Charleston’s pleasure garden offered “benches and other convenient seats,” “cold suppers prepared at a minute’s warning,” and the garden remained illuminated “for those ladies and gentlemen who wish to take ice cream and refreshments until 10 o’clock in the evening.”[6] The name “Vauxhall” was later given to tea gardens in not only Charleston but also New York and Philadelphia. Ice cream became so associated with pleasure gardens throughout early nineteenth century America including Boston, New York, and Philadelphia that “ice cream garden” became synonymous with the urban greenspaces.

Food consumption can alter any space, turning a work-desk into a gourmet delicatessen or the glove box of one’s car into a mobile vending machine. And between the mid-18th century and the early  19th century — paralleling America’s political independence — ice cream transitioned from a dessert enjoyed by elites in protected political spaces to one celebrated by members of the general public within the open spaces of pleasure gardens. 

[Interested in learning more about the mechanics of making ice cream in the 18th and 19th centuries?  Check out Sally Osborn’s 2013 post on ice cream and ice houses!]

[1] Laura B. Weiss, Ice Cream: A Global History (London, UK: Beakton Books, 2011), 15-17.

[2] R. Alonzo Brock, ed., “Journal of William Black, 1744.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 1, no. 2 (1877): 117-123.

[3] Louise Conway Belden, The Festive Tradition: Table Decoration and Desserts in America, 1650-1900 (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983, 146.

[4] Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, Or, Methodical Cook ed. Janice Bluestein Longone (New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1993), 143.

[5] Abraham Rees, The Cyclopaedia, quoted from Louise Conway Belden, The Festive Tradition: Table Decoration and Desserts in America, 1650-1900 (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983, 154.

[6] South Carolina Gazette, May 1, 1800.

*****

Kelly K. Sharp is a PhD candidate and instructor at University of California, Davis. A native of Encinitas, California, Kelly earned her BA in History at Willamette University and volunteered as an AmeriCorps VISTA teacher with Community Housing Works in 2012-2013. Her dissertation, entitled “Farmers’ Plots to Backlot Stewpots: The Culinary Creolism of Urban Antebellum Charleston,” is a culinary history of race-making in the urban center of the South.

Kelly has experience teaching survey courses in United States history, women and gender history, and material studies at University of California, Davis. She has been active in public history, including editorial and curatorial work for the Blackville Historical Center and at the University of California, Davis, and mentorship initiatives within the Coordinating Council of Women Historians.

Outside of her academic work, she enjoys hiking, traveling, reading, and eating.

The Live Chicken Treatment for Buboes: Trying a Plague Cure in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

By Erik Heinrichs 

Titlepage of Philippus Culmacher’s plague treatise, Leipzig: circa 1495
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

While researching German plague treatises I became fascinated by one odd treatment for buboes that appeared again and again, despite sounding so far-fetched. One sixteenth-century version calls for plucking the feathers from around the single hole in a chicken’s backside, then placing it on a person’s bubo. The instructions say to hold the chicken on the bubo until it dies, when it must be replaced with a new chicken, similarly plucked. I soon dubbed this the “live chicken treatment for buboes” and after years of casual encounters I began to track the recipe more systematically. As strange as it sounds, versions of this “live chicken treatment” were fairly common in plague writing, beginning with the Black Death and lasting, amazingly, into the eighteenth century. Tracing the long history of this recipe led me to explore questions such as: Where might this come from? Why chickens? Why might healers think that this was a good idea? Did anyone actually try this or is this all theoretical? As a historian, I was also interested in change over time within the recipe. Here I found much to explore, as I followed the recipe’s twists and turns over a seven-hundred year period, roughly 1000 to 1700.

The “live chicken treatment” turns out to have a long history, indeed. Its origins seem to lie in Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, although it may be older than that. Chickens and chicken broth were a common source of medicine in early times, probably because chickens were such ubiquitous and useful animals since antiquity. Not only did Avicenna praise chicken broth for its general benefits for the body, but he also recommended placing a cut chicken on a poisonous bite or sting in order to fight poisons. In later centuries European physicians turned to Avicenna’s advice when they faced the mysterious and devastating epidemics of the fourteenth century. As Europeans emphasized the poisonous nature of the plagues around them, older treatments for poisons drew new attention. The first mention of using a chicken rump to draw poisons out of a bubo appeared in the very first plague treatise of 1348, coming in response to the so-called Black Death. Here the Catalan author Jacme d’Agramont seems to have introduced a novel and lasting adaptation of Avicenna’s recipe, although the “cut chicken” version persisted in plague treatises for centuries to come.

Most interesting for the history of trying and testing cures are the many variations of the “cut chicken” and “chicken rump” versions of the treatment, as well as physicians’ comments about how effective they are. Especially after 1400, physicians seem to be thinking about this recipe quite often as they seek practical treatments for the plagues of the time. Physicians were preoccupied with altering the recipe in order to reason out the nature of the mysterious poisons underlying the plague. Some add substances to the process, such as salt placed on top of the chicken as it is placed on the bubo. During the fifteenth century, a number of German physicians began to explain the treatment’s workings in a strikingly physical way—that the chicken breathes through its backside and thus pulls the bubo’s poisons into itself. This change led to the suggestion to hold the chicken’s beak shut during the treatment in order to force the chicken to breathe from below. My article (accessible here) show how all aspects of the treatment changed over time as physicians engaged with the recipe, including the quantity of chickens used, the amount of time required, and even the type of animal in question. This work demonstrates the importance of the recipe itself as a platform for thought, experimentation, and communication among physicians.

Perhaps a surprise to modern readers, many physicians praised their version of the “live chicken treatment,” describing it as effective and desirable. Such comments multiply after the introduction of print, which encouraged the production of plague treatises, some fitted with fetching cover illustrations for the marketplace (see image below of Philippus Culmacher’s treatise of circa 1495). In German-speaking lands especially, sixteenth-century physicians used their printed plague treatises to promote their own services and expertise at a local level.[1] This brought about a change in the genre whereby physicians seem more eager to discuss their own experiences with effective recipes in order to appeal to the practical interests of a broad audience. Amidst this change comes evidence that some German physicians witnessed first-hand the successful use of the “live chicken treatment.” Another interesting change during the sixteenth century is the increased attention to the bodily warmth of the chicken as the treatment’s active healing force. These emergent views provide a tantalizing link to modern medicine, since moist heat remains one of the treatments for buboes today. For more information, please read my article.

Erik Heinrichs is an associate professor of history at Winona State University (Minnesota). His interests are the history of medicine and religion in the late medieval and early modern periods. His book Plague, Print, and the Reformation: The German Reform of Healing, 1473-1573 will be published by Routledge this November.

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[1] For a survey of German plague treatises from the first century of print, see: Erik A. Heinrichs, Plague, Print, and the Reformation: The German Reform of Healing, 1473-1573 (London: Routledge, 2017).

Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine