By Amanda Herbert and Elaine Leong
Day Four represented the best of what our “What Is A Recipe” digital conversation has come to represent. Our contributors joined the #recipesconf conversation in a wide range of media: blog posts, podcasts, YouTube videos, Instagram photo essays, and Tweetstorms. As our discussion ranged across platforms and topics, we were reminded that recipes act as a connecting thread, bringing together helpful research and insights that help us to understand the past from many perspectives, disciplines, and time periods.
We had some new recipe recreations today, via Simon Walker and Siobhan Clark. Both of these contributors reminded us – in keeping with Marissa Nicosia’s post on early modern chocolate – that recipe recreation helps us to see a past which is available yet not necessarily accessible.
Siobhan Clark’s Spuddenly Farming experiment continued as Siobhan began to divide and cut potatoes that had been grown according to eighteenth-century farming methods. This was not straightforward, as the potatoes came in a variety of sizes and each had very different numbers of eyes. What started as a math puzzle quickly became an exercise in aesthetics.
But Simon Walker’s brilliant YouTube tutorial on how to make WWI Lemon Hardtack Pudding reminded us that aesthetics are sometimes lost in translation. As Simon shared, soldiers in WWI were expected to eat 4,500 calories per day, approximately 500 of which were devoted to puddings — or, as the soldiers called them, “duff.” (For another RP post on wartime duff, see Jessica Eichlin’s post on Apple Duff in the American Civil War.)
The most important things about these dishes were probably their characters (filling) as well as their contents (sugar) rather than their visual or textural appeal. Puddings made out of things like bacon grease, sugar, and rehydrated hardtack might seem today to be only marginally edible — but they were nonetheless critical to WWI soldiers’ morale and their sense of normalcy. Both Siobhan’s and Simon’s recreations might not allow a replica of past experience, but they do offer unexpected and useful insights into things like the material conditions of labor, the impact of tradition and culture, or the importance of logistics, supply, and trade.
Two other contributors, Louise Cilliers and Véronique Ginouvès, offered blog posts. Cilliers discussed remedies to treat breast engorgement in the ancient world, and Ginouvès reflected on her experiments with podcasting at the sound archives at the MMSH. Cilliers shared insights about a North African doctor, Theodorus Priscianus, who was a student of the famous Carthaginian physician, Vindicianus (late 4thcentury CE). Priscianus’ cures for postpartum women revealed that the physician was attuned to and respectful of ancient women’s own systems of knowledge and their experiences.
Meanwhile Ginouvès wrote about the ways that she her team have approached a series called “La Recette Du Mois,” uncovering recollections of recipes in the MMSH Sound Archive Center’s more than 8,000 hours of sound archives (6,000 of which have been digitized, and 3,000 of which are directly accessible online). Although Cilliers’ and Ginouvès’ topics vary widely in terms of time period and topic, both offered the opportunity to reflect on the important work that recipes do in making the past seem relevant, approachable, and accessible.
This was a point forcefully born out by Lisa Smith’s tweetstorm about her innovative undergraduate teaching with recipes. Smith’s tweets directed readers to blog posts and citizen transcription projects completed by her students at the University of Essex as part of their goal to consider ‘What is a Recipe?’. For more, go here.
Finally, joining the conversation from Australia, Marguerite Johnson shared her analysis of beauty recipes from Ovid’s Medicamina Faciei Femineae via a podcast and storify. Ovid, Marguerite tell us, offered his readers not recipes for cosmetics (make-up and such) but rather ‘cosmeceuticals’, substances which could be used to augment natural beauty. Here, we again see recipes as a connecting thread. Not only were there crossovers in the ingredients, techniques and equipment used between medical, culinary and cosmeceutical production but many of the ingredients recommended by Ovid, such as honey and egg, are still in use today in our more natural face creams. Inspired by Marguerite (and Ovid, of course), we now view those eggs sitting our kitchens with new intentions! Who knows, next week, you might see us sporting smooth, glowing complexions! And that’s only one of the reasons why we appreciate #recipesconf.
… And in case you missed it, a Storify of Day 3 by Tallulah Maait Pepperell is available here.