Reconstructing Recipes? : Day 7 of “What is a Recipe?”

By Amanda Herbert and Elaine Leong

Here at the Recipes Project virtual conversation Day 7, reconstruction has also emerged as a main theme.  What does “reconstruction” entail?  Is it following directions laid out by someone long-dead?  Or is it breaking down a past concept or culture according to our own systems, standards, and logics?  As our participants in Day 7 proved, reconstruction can mean many things.

Siobhan Carlson (@Spuddenly_Farm) continues to monitor her potatoes (see here and here). Working in parallel, Hillary Nunn (@HillaryNunn )  and Whitney Thompson (@klahom) explored eggs and the making of orange pudding. Prompting them to ask “What is an egg?” and “What is pudding?”. Elsewhere, Katherine Allen (@KAllen622 ) tried her hand at making lip salve and seed cake from an 18th century recipe book now in the Warwickshire Record Office. Katherine’s blog post highlights the difficulty and ease (via Amazon) of sourcing ingredients. Though we might be talking about potatoes, eggs or beeswax, one clear theme emerges from these #recipesconf about reconstruction – the difficulty in identifying precisely what our historical actors mean when they name an ingredient and in pinpointing their modern equivalents. Hillary and Whitney’s parallel experiment was particularly enlightening as the two versions of the pudding look somewhat different but still pretty appealing! 

#recipesconf aside, twitter has been filled with recipe reconstructions lately. The @makingknowing and @artechne projects have both taken advantage of the summer breaks to reconstruct recipes for all kinds of art processes from casting, soldering, melting to the production of colours like azurite. So, if you’re interested in reconstructing historical recipes, you’re in good company and there are plenty of resources out there!

Approaching “reconstruction” from a slightly different angle, Mark Sundaram (@alliterative) and Aven McMaster (@avensarah) reconstruct the history and etymology of the word “recipe” in their podcast, The Endless Knot.  If you’ve ever wondered how “recipe” was used in the ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern worlds — or even where we get the “Rx” symbol used for prescriptions, chemists, and drug stores! — then Mark and Aven’s exploration of words, history, and meaning offers some revealing insights.

The Instagram photo essay produced by Paveen Puneet and Priyanki S. Bishnoi explored “reconstruction” in the sense of breaking down and documenting the architecture, scaffolding, and framing of space and place.  Puneet and Bishnoi’s gorgeous images of cooking sites – both indoors and outdoors – in rural north India reveal that it is critical to explore the constructions which surround recipe activities.  You can find their essay, “A Pinch of This and a Handful of That: Food and Recipes in Kitchens of Rural North India” on Instagram @ppp_cookingchronicles

Courtesy of Paveen Puneet and Priyanki S. Bishnoi, on Instagram @ppp_cookingchronicles.
Courtesy of Paveen Puneet and Priyanki S. Bishnoi, on Instagram @ppp_cookingchronicles.

A more metaphorical reconstruction involves delving deep into one’s own family recipe collection to examine themes of cultural exchange of foodways, commercial functions of recipes, and memes, cliche, and memory. Will Burdette launched his new project, Food Moves, in which he’ll be exploring and reconstructing the family rolodex of recipes digitally! His video discussion is an intriguing counterpoint to Puneet and Bishnoi’s project. Where their interviewees dismissed the importance of written recipes as fuel for the fire, Burdette considers commercial recipes written on the side of boxes–as decoration, marketing… and family tradition. As @AvenSarah responded on Twitter:

Finally, we “reconstructed” the archives of several libraries and special collections with a series of tweets from The College of Physicians in Philadelphia (@CPPHistMedLib), the Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives (@CUSpecialColls), the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections (@UofGlasgowASC) and the Thomas Fisher Library (@FisherLibrary).  All four institutions offered images and descriptions of images from their collections, focusing particularly on medical recipes, scientific recipes, and recipes revealing the cultures of composition and writing–specifically, of ink.

Of course, reconstruction has been a strong theme throughout the virtual conversation and indeed on our blog (and elsewhere–the researchers at The Chymistry of Isaac Newton, for example, have been doing replications for years now, see videos here). All this talk about reconstruction reminded us of our conversations on Day 1 of the virtual conversation (Storify here), where Thijs Hagendijk’s tweeted on how to make pearls from fish eyes and @rare_cooking‘s  discussed her work on Cooking the Archive, comparing the blog to a laboratory notebook open to public. We encourage you to start your own notebook on reconstructing historical recipes and share it with us on twitter, blogs, instagram and more.

It’s been a great day at #recipesconf. Please join us again on July 3 for Day 8 of “What is a recipe?”  The Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and  Medicine at the University of Minnesota (@umnbiomedliband the Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives  (@CUSpecialColls ) will continue to bring us gems in their collections. See you very soon!


One thought on “Reconstructing Recipes? : Day 7 of “What is a Recipe?””

  1. Wow!! Its very Nice explanation for use egg pudding recipe.we can also use cold pressed coconut oil for more healthy and delicious recipe.

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