Tag Archives: Carla Cevasco

Vast and Bewildering: Early America at The Recipes Project

By Carla Cevasco

From the outside, the field of early American studies still looks an awful lot like the Founding Fathers. (Even if they have a catchy soundtrack.) But this white, wealthy, male stereotype is no small source of frustration to those of us who study the global connections and collisions that make up #vastearlyAmerica.

As I completed my Ph.D. in May, I’ve been reflecting on graduate (or, for those on the other side of the pond, postgraduate) education. For many people it is an exercise in specialization, a process of narrowing one’s field of expertise. By contrast, I found myself drawn to interdisciplinary research in American Studies precisely because I have too many interests to confine myself to one discipline.

So it was with delight that I discovered The Recipes Project, when my colleague Theresa McCulla wrote about a panel we presented at the American Historical Association annual meeting in 2015. An in-person connection led me to this online community. On this site I’ve found a place to share many odds and ends of my research, blogging about blood pudding, baby food, fermentation, teaching teenagers, and gluttony. My work here has also inspired me to write for other public scholarship outlets, such as Nursing Clio and Common-Place.

But as varied as my own interests are,  I’m forever amazed at The Recipe Project’s reach. Vast early America is here, in enslaved people’s medical knowledge and Algonquian cooking and the foods of the Columbian Exchange. (And yes, the Founding Fathers are here too, but in some surprising ways.)

Corneille Wytfliet, Vtrivsqve hemispherii delineatio, 1597. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Image Credit: New York Public Library.

The variety does not end there. Where else would I find a post on human taxidermy cheek-by-jowl with an analysis of arranging recipes? The chats with libraries and archives, the teaching series, and the updates on digital humanities projects? The many, many posts on booze around the world?

An academic community like The Recipes Project provides a place for the vastness of my own field to meet the vastness of everyone else’s. While blogging about breastfeeding in early America, I discovered other scholars working on breastmilk as medicine in imperial China, and remedies for nursing problems in early modern England and the ancient world.

The online community here has in turn facilitated powerful in-person connections. The first time that someone came up to me at a big conference and told me they’d heard about my work before, it was because of a post on this site. That moment of having my work recognized as a junior scholar, that moment of knowing that someone else had found my research compelling, kept me going through the long solitary months of dissertation-writing. And I will strive not to forget that feeling as I become faculty myself.

One of the speakers at my commencement ceremony described graduate education as a process of “becoming bewildered,” of learning the limits of what you know. I’ve emerged from an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the field of vast early America, utterly bewildered. But thanks to The Recipes Project, I know where to start looking as I continue seeking answers.

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.

Gluttony and “Surfeit” in Early Modern Europe

By Carla Cevasco

From buttery stuffing to champagne, the holidays give us plenty of opportunities to indulge…and plenty of nutritional advice on how to avoid holiday decadence. Early modern Europeans likewise feared gluttony and offered remedies for overeating, but I can’t say that I’ll be too tempted to try any of them myself this holiday season.

In famine-wracked early modern Europe, gluttony was the deadliest of the seven deadly sins, and as The Divine Physician warned in 1676, “Diseases are the Interests of Sin.”[1]  Medical professionals instructed their readers to restrain their appetites in the interest of physical and spiritual health. “Take heed of surcharging thy stomach,” Raymundus Mindererus cautioned in 1674, noting that there was “nothing more hurtful to health” than an “extravagant” appetite. Thomas Tryon’s 1698 The Way to Health recommended a kind of fasting cleanse, claiming that “a little gentle Hunger” cleared “superfluous Matter” from the digestive system (43). An 1816 print (shown below) by Thomas Rowlandson depicted an obese man dining with Death.

Thomas Rowlandson, The Dance of Death: The Glutton, aquatint, 1816. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Thomas Rowlandson, The Dance of Death: The Glutton, aquatint, 1816.
Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Warnings against gluttony did not always sit well with readers. Louis-François Charon’s print “Le Médicin et la Malade” (shown below),  in which a gluttonous doctor instructed his patient to go on a diet, mocked medical professionals’ emphasis on moderation and suggested that they failed to practice what they preached.

V0011678 A doctor instructs his English patient not to eat as he does Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A doctor instructs his English patient not to eat as he does. Coloured engraving by Louis-François Charon. after: Louis-François CharonPublished:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Louis-François Charon, “Le Medicin et le Malade,” colored engraving (undated).   Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Medical practitioners even recognized specific, pathological forms of overeating. Phillip Barrough‘s 1601 The Practice of Physick described the “Doglike appetite,” which caused sufferers to “devoure in meate without measure” before “vomiting like dogges” (110-11). For a curative diet, Barrough prescribed stale bread, herbs, “fat & oily” meat, mallows, and most of all, wine, to “heate the stomacke, and destroy the sharpnesse of humours” that provoked patients to a canine hunger.

For those unable to heed injunctions against overeating, many recipe books offered remedies for “surfeit.” A recipe “To Make Poppies Water which is Good for a Surfeit,” in Wellcome MS 4054, called for soaking “Corn poppys,” marigolds, gillyflowers, sweet marjoram, angelico root, raisins, licorice, aniseeds, white sugar, and rosasolis in aquavitae, then straining and bottling the resulting cordial. John Gerard’s Herball or Generall Historie of Plants noted that “black Poppy drunketh in wine” stopped diarrhea; in addition, the opioid content of distilled poppy flowers or leaves would have eased the pain associated with indigestion (400-401). I would be interested in hearing from other scholars here about how the other ingredients of poppy waters might have affected their consumers.

Sala (Angelus), Method of Extracting the Juice from the Poppy, Woodcut, from  Opiologia, or a Treatise...of Opium (1618).  Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Method of extracting the juice from the poppy. Woodcut Opiologia, or a Treatise....of Opium Sala (Angelus) Published: 1618 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Sala (Angelus), Method of Extracting the Juice from the Poppy, Woodcut, from 
Opiologia, or a Treatise…of Opium (1618). 
Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

In a world where people constantly risked lapsing into gluttony, and suffering ill health as a result, lack of appetite was also cause for particular concern. Medical writers identified several types and causes of loss of appetite. Barrough claimed that physiological defects, humoral imbalances, and/or sickness could result in a loss of appetite. In A New Practice of Physick, volume 1, Peter Shaw wrote that a patient might experience “anorexia,” or a long-term distaste for food, “from hard drinking, great heat, a fever,” or “consumptions” (170-71). Medical writers agreed that lack of appetite did not spontaneously occur in a healthy person, but rather could be linked to a hangover, hot weather, sickness, or bodily dysfunction.

To “provoke appetite againe,” Barrough suggested exposing the patient to pleasant odors, such as “wine infused, or decoction of quinces, or peares,” and anointing the patient with fragrant oils “of roses, masticke, and such like.” After aromatherapy, Barrough prescribed a diet of “diverse” foods “after the daintiest fashion,” including corn, eggs, “birds of the mountaines,” dates, and prunes. While medical writers blamed “variety of meats” and “curiously and daintily dressed” foods for gluttonous excesses, Barrough harnessed the appetite-stimulating powers of delicious smells and tantalizing nibbles to encourage those who had lost their hunger to find it again.[2]

Today we might reach for pink bismuth subsalicylate instead of a poppy cordial after a big meal, but early modern Europeans had many of the same questions that we do about how much to eat.

Pepto Bismol. Image Credit: Flickr user Herr Hans Gruber. Via Flickr.
Pepto Bismol. Image Credit: Flickr user Herr Hans Gruber. Via Flickr.

[1] Robert Appelbaum, Aguecheek’s Beef, Belch’s Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections: Literature, Culture, and Food among the Early Moderns (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 114, 243-245.

[2] Nicholas Culpeper, Medicaments for the Poor; Or, Physick for the Common People (Edinburgh, n.p., 1664), 10.

Teaching High School American History With Cookbooks

By Carla Cevasco 

“Ew! Peanut butter in tamales?” a student exclaims. This unappetizing take on Mexican food, from the 1922 cookbook Foods of the Foreign-Born in Relation to Health, provides a perfect jumping-off point for me and a classroom of high school juniors to discuss American immigration policy in the early twentieth century. Bertha Wood’s ‘Americanized’ recipe for tamales hints that many Americans felt anxious about immigrants and the food cultures they brought with them.

Tamales. Image Credit: Phil Gregory. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Tamales. Image Credit: Phil Gregory. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Although I normally teach undergraduates, for the past two years, I’ve participated in a one-day food and farming teach-in at a college preparatory school in rural Massachusetts. The teach-in draws farmers, food scientists, and other community members to campus, including this food historian. It’s an exciting opportunity to get into the classroom with curious, enthusiastic high school students.

I’ve used historic cookbooks to teach American food history to students in classes as diverse as American history, multivariable calculus (the only calc class I’ve ever attended!), and American literature. For many students, this is their first experience with food history, and we usually only have at most an hour and a half in the classroom together. The cookbooks allow us to explore how many themes in American history–labor, gender, race, immigration, and ethnicity, to name just a few–intersect with the history of food. The lesson also trains students to look closely at primary sources, to draw comparisons between them, and to consider the connections between cookbooks and their historical contexts.

To start off the class, we review what a modern recipe looks like, just in case students haven’t really looked at a cookbook before. Next, I break students into groups of 3 or 4 and hand out packets of selections from historical cookbooks (typically the title page, part of the introduction or preface, and a few recipes), arranged in chronological order. Each group looks closely at two or three cookbooks. The students read their assigned selections aloud to each other, and take notes both on factual information (the book’s title, author, date of publication, names of recipes, etc.) and more interpretive questions (stated or implied audience, how this cookbook compares to the others, words/concepts they found interesting or confusing, etc.). The groups transfer these notes to a grid on the chalkboard and then present to the entire class on what they’ve discovered.

In our discussion, I encourage students to place their observations about the cookbooks in broader historical contexts: Why might the formerly-enslaved Abby Fisher have included a recipe for “Plantation Corn Bread” in her cookbook? Why did Peg Bracken’s hilariously sarcastic I Hate to Cook Book become a bestseller in the early 1960s?

For the books themselves, I selected books that held historical significance, or highlighted particular places, times, or themes. (Full-text or images at the links.)

Image Credit: Library of Congress. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Image Credit: Library of Congress. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Amelia Simmons, American Cookery (1798). The first ‘American’ cookbook published in America, the book makes use of English methods and some distinctively American ingredients (such as corn).

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1824). This cookbook features Southern regional cooking, including African influences.

Abby Fisher, What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking (1881). This is the second cookbook published in the United States by an African American writer.

Bertha Wood, Foods of the Foreign-Born in Relation to Health (1922).The book shows ambivalence about immigrants bringing new food traditions to the United States.

Peg Bracken, The I Hate to Cook Book (1960). This book is a good jumping-off point to discuss post-WWII prosperity, convenience foods, and gender roles.