Around the Table: Digital Resources

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Since the COVID-19 pandemic restricted physical access to resources for teaching and research this spring, educational, research, and cultural institutions have been busy digitizing their collections and creating digital content to assist their patrons. This is a roundup of some recently digitized recipes-related materials and newly created digital content (like videos, exhibitions, and source guides), compiled with the assistance of the Recipes Project community on social media. Thank you to all who contributed! This list is incomplete, as hearty as it is. Also, some digital items have been around for several years, but have recently received an update or reorganization due to increased web traffic during the pandemic.

Crowdsourced Digital Resources

The Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) is hosting its annual Transcribathon in coordination with the Wellcome Library and the Royal College of Physicians on 4 March. This is a great opportunity to delve into some digitized early modern English recipe books and transcribe the text to benefit researchers and students alike! For details and updates, visit the EMROC website.

The Sifter, an online database of culinary writing, especially cookbooks and recipes, is now publicly available after years of development. Free for all users, it is a tool in finding, identifying, and comparing historical culinary texts. It currently includes over 5,000 works in multiple languages. Registered users can also populate The Sifter with texts and information, in addition to using the database for research.

Videos

The William Andrews Clark Jr. Memorial Library launched a web series titled “Bad Taste, where we explore what it truly means to be disgusted.” Each episode documents the process of recreating and tasting a historical recipe which seems “disgusting” to modern palates. Episode 1 is about an eighteenth-century recipe for toast water.

The Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library launched a series of brief collection presentation videos in coordination with the recent conference Food and the Book: 1300 to 1800. Each of the five videos highlights a food-related early modern resource in the Newberry’s collections.

English Heritage’s History at Home presents an array of digital content, especially videos, related to English Heritage sites and programming. The site contains videos on Georgian makeup application, Victorian cooking, and grand historic feasts. The site is also family-friendly, with content like coloring pages for children, and tours of historic sites.

Refashioning the Renaissance’s website contains an engaging archive of the project’s activities and experiments involving historic textiles, dyes, fabric cleaning, and fragrances. Many of the documented experiments include brief video summaries, which can be very helpful in digital classroom settings. The project also has blog posts and a podcast to introduce new audiences to these topics.

Digital Collections and Exhibitions

The Library of Congress has long hosted a collection of digitized Community Cookbooks; it has been consistently updated since its originally posting in 2009. Here you can find links to nineteenth- and twentieth-century community cookbooks from the United States. In addition to searching for specific items, you can also sort the collection by place or date.

The National Library of Medicine has gathered links to their digital projects, exhibitions, and collections onto a single page. Here you can find links to their digital collections (which include many digitized manuscript recipe books) and exhibitions ranging from the consumption of intoxicants as medical prescriptions and Food and Enslavement in Early America.

Lifting the Lid: 400 Years of Food and Drink in Scotland is an online exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in 2015. It explored 400 years of Scottish food history, telling the story of Scotland’s relationship with food and drink. Here you can find digitized recipes for turtle soup and curry powder, as well as the library’s Burnfoot family recipe books, which include the same recipes by different people over four generations.

An Image from the Newberry Library’s Digital Collection for the Classroom on Foods of the Columbian Exchange. Thomas Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (1590). Used with permission through a Creative Commons Public Domain license.

The Newberry Library’s Digital Collections for the Classroom contains a wide range of digitized primary source collections for teaching based on collection items at the Newberry. While many collections only mention recipes-related materials in passing, some collections are more explicitly connected, like those on the Discovery of Chocolate, Foods of the Columbian Exchange, and the Medieval Spice Trade.

The New York Academy of Medicine has just posted a new digital collection, Recipes and Remedies: Manuscript Cookbooks. This digital collection boasts eleven fully digitized manuscript recipe books of the NYAM’s physical collection of approximately forty.

The Mexican Cookbook Collection at UTSA Libraries includes a breathtaking array of texts, many available online. Now the collection is even more accessible to public audiences through their recent outreach effort, Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus. Visit the link to find booklets of updated recipes, published in Spanish and English, picked from the collection’s many options.

Digitized Materials

First introduced to the Recipes Project in this 2019 blog post by Rachel Rich and Lisa Smith, the English royal household’s menus for each day when they were in residence at Kew Palace between 1788 and 1801 is now digitized and available on Adam Crymble’s website.

Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has been busily digitizing since the pandemic began and have kept readers updated about their progress through blog posts. Their most recent includes mention of several items of interest to the Recipes Project community, including fragments of medical encyclopedias, alchemical texts, and instruction on the “treatment of eye sores.”

Digital Collection Guides and Compilations of Resources

McMaster University History of Medicine has compiled a list of digital exhibits based at institutions in North America and Europe. This list is organized into an array of medical history topics, ranging from Canadian cookbooks, significant works of the Renaissance, and Ancient and Classical medicine.

The British Library has just published a collection guide for Food History: Archives and Manuscripts. The guide highlights several physical and digital items at the British Library related to food history; however, the guide is limited to the library’s holdings from the seventeenth through twentieth centuries.

Several institutional libraries have created and updated online resources lists for teaching food history. Examples include lists at the Culinary Institute of American, Marshall University, and Virginia Tech.

Thank you to everyone who contributed a digital resource to include in this post! If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Food Identity Standards and Recipes as Legislation

By Clare Gordon Bettencourt 

In 1933, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) organized an exhibit that came to be known as the Chamber of Horrors. The horrors on display were examples of packaging intended to deceive consumers. The FDA organized the exhibit to call attention to the pervasiveness of dishonest dealings in the food marketplace, a marketplace that the FDA was ostensibly in charge of regulating. Despite the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 after the publication of Upton Sinclair’s muckraking sensation The Jungle (and decades of organizing by grassroots campaigners), the FDA argued that the law offered inadequate regulatory power. 

Five years later, after another watershed public health crisis captured public attention, regulators repealed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and replaced it with the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. As a part of this overhaul, lawmakers looked to recipes as a new way to regulate food purity. 

In the process of evaluating why the Pure Food and Drug Act had failed, some believed that the 1906 law had been too negative by focusing on regulating adulteration rather than defining purity. The Consumers’ Guide newsletter of July 1938 explained:  “it named certain practices as taboo, but did not list the affirmative requirements of honesty and safety in the merchandising of food and drug products.”[1] One way the framers of the new law sought to balance the carrot with the stick was through a new form of legislative “recipes” called the food identity standard provision. 

The provision states: 

‘Whenever in the judgement of the Secretary such action will promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers he shall promulgate regulations fixing and establishing for any food under its common or usual name so far as practicable, a reasonable definition and standard of identity, a reasonable standard of quality and/or reasonable standards or fill of container.’[2]

In short, this provision grants the FDA commissioner the power to create a grade of quality, standardize packaging fill, or establish a recipe (of sorts) for a commonly recognized food. With this new power, the FDA began writing standards detailing the permitted ingredients and production methods. In the first years, the FDA wrote standards for canned fruits and vegetables, jam, and a variety of egg and milk foods. 

The earliest food standards followed a format similar to a recipe a home cook might have used at the time. A good example of this is the canned pea standard enacted in 1940:

Pea standard published in the US Code of Federal Regulations, 1940

Though the standard contains some technical language like the scientific names for the acceptable pea varieties, and the option to include ingredients like dextrose and artificial coloring that home cooks may not have had in their pantries, for the most part the ingredients and method of this standard would have likely made sense to a home cook in 1940; it aligned with common home-canning practices.

 

“Don’t let pretty labels on cans mislead you, but learn the difference between grades and the relative economy of buying larger instead of small cans. The Pure Food Law requires packers to state exact quantity and quality of canned products, so take advantage of this information and buy only after thorough inspection of labels.” US Office for Emergency Management, 1942 Image Courtesy the Library of Congress.

The recipe format is significant because it suggests a radical and somewhat romantic belief that national food regulations could be based on home cookery. The standardization process also suggests that one single standard could be established that would align with the expectations of consumers across backgrounds, regions, and socioeconomic categories. Despite the innovation of detailing exactly what made a food “pure”, the recipe format operated under the assumption that industrial food production and home food production were analogous. While this approach was possible for foods like canned peas, new processed foods that did not exist outside of industrial preparations (like pasteurized prepared cheese food product), particularly in the postwar period, would go on to test how standards were written, and whether a recipe format continued to be applicable. Since the implementation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the FDA has created more than 300 standards of identity. While the recipe format has changed since 1938, the process demonstrates the centrality of recipes to state-level notions of purity, identity, and integrity. 

 

[1] Agricultural Adjustment Administration, “Consumers’ Guide”, Volume V Number 6, July 1938

[2] 34 Stat. 768 (1938) http://constitution.org/uslaw/sal/052_statutes_at_large.pdf

From the Archive: A New Year’s Recipe from Old Prussia

As we prepare to enthusiastically welcome a new year (and say good riddance to 2020), I would love to revisit a wonderful recipe for celebratory cakes. In this piece that originally published in 2014, Molly Taylor-Poleskey notes that honey cakes commemorated the ending of the plague and the arrival of a new era. Let us all toast spiced cakes and lebkuchen to bring in the new year! –R.A. Kashanipour

by M. Taylor-Poleskey

Handschrift Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg Amb. 279.2°, Folio 11 verso (Landauer I)
The Lebküchner, Handschrift Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg Amb. 279.2°, Folio 11 verso (Landauer I).

By Molly Taylor-Polesky

In the winter of 1397, the effects of plague were finally beginning to lift in Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). The citizens, grateful that the Lord’s wrath had been appeased through their suffering and prayer, made honey cakes. They formed the cakes into deer, rabbits and people and laid them on warm oven tiles to harden. In the afternoon of New Year’s Day they carried the cakes to their neighbors with the wish that God would bless them with long life and health.

This story is recounted by Lucas David in his Prussian Chronicle (Preußische Chronik) of 1575 (p. 25–7).  David, a Protestant convert, was employed by the Duke of Prussia to revise Prussian history without the Catholic slant. He used this story about local customs to jump into a diatribe against the 1564 ordinance by the Catholic French king Charles IX that the year begin on January 1, not on Christmas. (January 1 was later also confirmed as the first day of the year by Pope Gregory’s calendar of 1582.)

The traditional New Year’s cake survived dynastic changes at the court in Prussia and was still being made there in the seventeenth century, when the Hohenzollern were Dukes of Prussia. Palace kitchen accounts from the years 1631, 1646, 1651-2, and 1655 record as much as 24 quarts of honey being used specifically for “the New Year’s dough.”[1] The court was not in residence at the palace in Königsberg over New Years in all of these years, which suggests that the cakes were not for the court itself but rather were gifts either for remaining palace servants or citizens of the town.

Even when the old Julian calendar was abandoned in the Protestant lands of the Holy Roman Empire, the honey cake remained a New Year’s tradition in Prussia-it simply migrated to the new calendar date. The 18th-century lexicographer Johann Georg Krünitz described a “Leib=kuchen (a variant name of the aforementioned honey cake) that “in some regions, for example, Prussia, was a round bread of fine wheat flour that was baked for New Year’s and either sold or given as a gift.” Krünitz continued by relating a superstition associated with the bread in which the name of the intended recipient would be written on a slip of paper and placed atop the loaf before baking. If the loaf cracked, it was an omen that the named person would die in the coming year, which eerily harks back to the role of the cake during the uncertain time of the plague.

In Königsberg in the medieval and early modern period, the honey cake took on religious and communal meanings, which changed in conjunction with other historical shifts. Ultimately, it was not the date, or the religious conflict, or cake’s role in the thanksgiving ritual that mattered. The traditions varied, but the honey cake remained.

Today, the Nuremberg recipe for Lebkuchen is the most famous of this type of spice cake and it is undoubtedly associated with the Christmas holiday in Germany. The East Prussian honey cake is all but forgotten, but recipes can still found online–and perhaps among descendants of displaced Prussians.


[1] Geheimes Staatsarchiv, Preußische Kulturbesitz, XX. H.A. Ostpreuss. Folianten. Current-day measurements estimated for “24 Stof” of honey based on Wolfgang Heidecke. “Alte Maße Altpreußens.” Altpreußische Geschlechterkunde 13 (1939): 22–23, 53–54, and 92.

Bulk Medicine and Waged Labor in Eighteenth-Century London

By Zachary Dorner

In the eighteenth century, druggists, chemists, and apothecaries began producing medicines in larger quantities for sale in a variety of markets, resulting in a more coherent manufacturing sector in Britain. Making medicines at such scale typically involved labor-intensive chemical processes occurring in laboratories that resembled other early industrial spaces as sites of work. We can catch a glimpse of these spaces in images like the frontispiece of the chemist Francis Spilsbury’s Friendly Physician (1773) where two figures toil with mortars, stills, and other instruments in the background, separated from the well-organized shop in the image’s foreground. A variety of business records from period pharmacies, including wage books, inventories, and recipes, enable us to uncover a little more about those indistinct figures bent over their work.

Figure 1: Interior of a pharmacy. From Spilsbury, The Friendly Physician (1773). Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.

The increasing concentration of labor and capital in London’s medical marketplace encouraged men and women to set up laboratories, big and small, around the city, as seen in contemporary fire insurance policies. These laboratories were no longer artisanal workshops, though also not yet the steam-powered production lines of the nineteenth century. Alchemical techniques formerly applied to the transmutation of metals found use in the production of medicines in these spaces, such as the chemical laboratory depicted in William Lewis’s Philosophical Commerce of Arts (1763). They could contain machinery for grinding, pounding, and sifting drugs (the raw materials for compound medicines), as well as high-pressure boilers and furnaces for distillation and drying. Open fires were common beneath hundred-gallon stills, evaporating pans, condensers, copper boilers, and stoves. If temperatures went unmanaged, ingredients could burn, ruining a preparation; even worse, stills could boil over or even explode. Manufacturing medicines with this equipment required significant inputs of energy, increasingly supplied by waged labor forces during the eighteenth century.

Figure 2: A view of William Lewis’s chemical laboratory. From Lewis, Commercium Philosophico-Technicum (1763). Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.

Some traces of their daily routines can be found in recipe books from Corbyn & Company, one of the highest volume producers and distributors of medicine in London at the time. A recipe for flower of benzoin (benzoic acid, a topical antiseptic also used for a variety of internal matters) from the 1760s, for example, evokes the work of pharmacy. To start the process, several hundredweight of gum benzoin, a fragrant resin from the benjamin tree of Sumatra and Java, had to be purchased at auction and carted to the partnership’s laboratory at Cold Bath Fields where it would be pressed and milled, requiring several days, multiple men, and lots of charcoal. These manipulations were followed by 50 days purifying the resin through distillation (called rectifying). All in all, Thomas Corbyn estimated that the production of benzoin took 63 days and cost about 2 shillings per day for the work, which also included cleaning the distillation equipment, wear and tear of the machinery, and extra expenses (such as 8 weeks of beer for the workers costing 18 pence per week). These costs, nevertheless, remained relatively minor compared to the sometimes quite significant costs of raw materials, thus incentivizing production at scale.

Figure 3: Flower of benzoin costing from Thomas Corbyn’s miscellaneous papers, c. 1760, MS.5448/2, Wellcome Collection.

Corbyn & Co. shipped much of the medicine they produced, such as the hard-pressed flower of benzoin, to the overseas markets provided by imperial institutions, such as the Royal Navy, East India Company, transatlantic slave trade, and Caribbean plantations. With increasing demand at home and aboard, political support, and capitalization, London’s pharmacies kept growing in the early nineteenth century, with some of them providing the seeds of several of today’s major pharma firms.

Figure 4: Glass medicine bottles for export used in the eighteenth century. Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.

It can be surprisingly easy to miss the labor in London’s laboratories that underwrote the expanding production of medicines in eighteenth-century London. A chemist’s or druggist’s work area has received far less attention in histories of capitalism or industry than the cotton mill, for example. Recipes and other business records from London’s pharmacies, however, offer an opportunity to begin reconstructing the rhythms of work in these spaces and reintegrate them into studies of economy, labor, and health.

Figure 5: Plan of the laboratory at Apothecaries’ Hall, 1823. From The Origin, Progress and Present State… (1823). Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.