NEW YEAR, NEW DIRECTIONS
By the Editors
It’s the new year and an ideal time to highlight cutting-edge research in the history of recipes. That’s why, this quarter, we’re spotlighting student research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. While contributions from students have always been an important part of the Recipes Project, this is an opportunity to highlight—and celebrate—the dynamic work being done on recipes and its intersections with history, anthropology, art history, and the digital humanities.
Interdisciplinary connections and exciting methodologies are at the heart of many of our posts this quarter. Madison Clyburn recreates sixteenth-century perfume as an experiment in embodied knowing. She argues that experimental methods have valuable implications for art history, by expanding scholars’ sensory tools in analyzing visual sources. Alessandra Zinicola Lopez charts her critical making process in ‘gamifying’ an 1864 cookbook published during the American Civil War. Both researchers foreground students’ engagement with exciting new methodologies and processes, currently taking place in institutions around the world.
This Winter’s research also points to the centrality of community in both historical and contemporary understandings of recipes. For the past, Sara de Blas Hernández shows how female-authored cookbooks in eighteenth-century Spain constituted a “community of practice” in which women exchanged knowledge and skills. Meanwhile, Haritha Govind studies Punjabi-Mexican communities in early twentieth-century California to explore how culinary practices remained distinct, despite the blending of families, backgrounds, and traditions. For the present, Grace Palmer offers a contemporary example of community building via her work with an organic farm in north-east England to reimagine early modern recipes for local customers. Florence Swan discusses her collaboration with a Newcastle restaurant to recreate ale pastry in a process that highlights “culinary creativity and knowhow.” As our authors demonstrate, recipes support connection, build bridges, and create a sense of belonging among historical actors, but also people working with and thinking about recipes today.
We hope you enjoy these compelling posts as much as we did, as we celebrate the history but also the future of recipes. Join us every Thursday for new posts!
Cover Image: Winslow Homer, Northeaster, 1895, reworked by 1901. Metropolitan Museum of Art, OA.
NEW YEAR, NEW DIRECTIONS
All of the famous cookbooks emerging in early modern Spain were written by men who worked for the royal court: Libro de guisados (1529) was written by Roberto de Nola, Arte de cocina, pasteleria, vizcocheria, y conserveria (1611) by Francisco Martínez Montiño, and Arte de repostería (1747) by Juan de la Mata. Outside of the palace walls, however, it was generally women —and not men—who were in charge of feeding the family. Even though there is no record of edited cookbooks by female authors during the period, there are some manuscripts authored by nuns and by literate noblewomen that made possible the preservation of knowledge shared through oral traditions. One of these recipe books is Libro de apuntaciones de guisos y dulces written by María Rosa Calvillo de Teruel around 1740.
To make something edible is arguably the anticipated end-expectation of the design and use of any food recipe. Making is entwined with cookery, from the writing of its instruction, guided by the experimentation involved in developing a recipe, through the tactile creation process of the consumable result.
As scholars, we can approach the study of recipes from different perspectives. My educational background is in technical communication, but my doctoral work has been done through the University of Central Florida’s innovative digital humanities program, Texts and Technology.
By Grace Palmer
In the spring of 2023, I undertook a deep dive into early modern British (and some European) recipes for a project with Hexhamshire Organics, an organic farm near Newcastle in the North East of England, focused on creating short sentences on the historic uses of herbs, fruit and vegetables, designed to pique their customers’ interests by examining how their favourite produce was consumed in the past. Within this project, I focused on using domestically-produced receipt books – which were often collaborative family books carefully curated by multiple generations to create unique recipe collections – and horticultural texts, produced as instruction manuals for gardeners, providing information on the multitude of plants that were cultivated by early modern Britons. Admittedly these sources were produced by and for the upper- and middle-classes, however they are a fascinating route to understanding how food was enjoyed in the past, and do provide some insights into the culinary habits of ordinary Britons.
In early modern Italy, perfumes were powerful substances whose therapeutic properties could generate pleasure and preserve or remedy one’s health if worn on or consumed by the body. In this post, I feature a typical Italian perfume recipe, “To make perfume for clothes,” from the Italian engraver and author Eustachio Celebrino’s (c. 1490-after 1535) printed vernacular pamphlet, Opera nova piacevole laqvale insegna di far varie compositioni odorifere per far bella ciaschuna donna…intitulata Venusta (Venice, 1550) intended for female consumers. Celebrino’s formulaic recipe books, typical of the genre, are printed records of socially important topics, like women’s health and adornment.
Food for Thought: A Medieval Experiment with Ale Pastry
Whilst digging through medieval English cookery collections for my thesis I came across a curious fifteenth-century recipe that suggests using ale to make pastry short and supple:
‘Yf ye will have your past short and sopill that ye bake with, knede hit with good ale and it will be short’.
Intrigued by what appears at first to be an early English recipe for shortcrust pastry, I thought I’d give it a go. I am partnered with Blackfriars Restaurant in Newcastle for my PhD, working with their team of chefs to develop medieval culinary recipes with the hopes of better understanding their form, function, and taste balances. I discussed the recipe with Blackfriars’ pastry chef, who was hesitant about the extent to which ale would make pastry short, but wondered if it might leave a beery aftertaste.
Coming March 7…
A Roti by any other Name would Taste like Home: Food Culture in the Punjabi-Mexican Communities of early 20th-century United States
The world has seen the Indian (South Asian) diaspora make its way to many parts of the world, bringing along their cuisine, opening up restaurants, and familiarizing the world with dishes like naan and lassi. These are the immigrant stories that have a strong continuity even today. What about Indian immigrant stories that were a snapshot in time, creating a unique culinary culture in the community that unfortunately didn’t sustain the same continuity? This post will introduce you to the fleeting Punjabi-Mexican community of the early 20th century in California. It will explore how a unique set of socio-political circumstances created an environment for two cultures that unknowingly share similar food to create a distinct culinary history.
Coming March 7…
Dealing with the consequences of perspiration in the Roman period has already been discussed on the blog by Cari Casteel, who, referring to Latin source material, showed that unpleasant bodily smell was perceived as a pressing social problem at that time. Little wonder, then, that the Romans were familiar with the production of various deodorising preparations able to arrest or attenuate unpleasant bodily odour, which is, for instance, testified by Pliny’s Naturalis historia.
The uninterrupted transmission of knowledge of oral traditions, of gestures, of words, of the practices that characterize and give significance to food and eating culture has enabled its deepest tangible and intangible foundations. By taking part in practices and knowledges related to food, people recover from the complexity of contemporary times, reconnecting with the past and collective memory[i] of their community. In the following, I aim to highlight how this has been made possible by two interconnected factors that characterize the memory power of food and food practices: multi-sensoriality and orality.
Around the Table
Tales from the Archives
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 … Continue reading Gluttony and “Surfeit” in Early Modern Europe
By Ruben Verwaal and Marieke Hendriksen Ruben Verwaal is curator of the historical collections at Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, and at the Museum for Communication in The Hague. He obtained his PhD in June 2018 with a thesis on the role of bodily fluids in eighteenth-century chemistry. Marieke Hendriksen is a postdoctoral researcher on the … Continue reading The “Gentle Heat” of Boerhaave’s Little Furnace
In today’s post, graduate student Samantha Eadie discusses her experiences developing the recent University of Toronto exhibit Mixed Messages: Making and Shaping Culinary Culture in Canada, which we featured here on the Recipes Project in May 2018. Samantha Eadie At the conclusion of my first year of graduate studies at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information, I was … Continue reading Mixed Message: A Student Perspective
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