Spring – Summer 2024

A Digital


Working with Archives, Collections, and Recipe Books


By Heather Froehlich and R.A. Kashanipour

We are proud to present a Spring-Summer volume of essays around the theme of “A Digital Feast: Working with Archives, Collections, and Recipe Books.” For scholars, students, and just fans of historical recipes, it can be difficult to keep up with the changing digital landscape. Librarians the world over have been digitizing cookbooks, medical books, and family recipes at an unparalleled pace.  Early planning for this volume sought to emphasize the ways that librarians, archivists, and practitioners are bringing historical collections into our modern screen-powered age. Many libraries are actively growing their recipe book collections and are eager to provide them as resources for teaching, research, and public collaboration. But, of course, recipes are all written for consumption!  This volume contains a sampling of works from some of the most noteworthy digital collections of recipe books.  

Historical recipe collections center communities in place and time and represent important areas of outreach and collaboration between local groups, international scholars, and archival institutions. In “Sifting Through the Archives: Creating Community Through Experiential Historic Baking,” Maggie Vanderford, Julie McLoone, and Kira Dietz describe how they turned March 14th into “Historic Pie Day”, pulling together a rich tapestry of historical recipe book collections and some highlights for people to cook at home and share the outcomes annually. In “The Barclay Manuscript”, Marissa Nicosia and Christina Riehman-Murphy, with Clara Drummond, describe how a one-off manuscript cookbook housed in Special Collections offers rich engagement with the past and in the present – through transcribing the book and recreating dye recipes for inclusion in an exhibition.

The issue of discoverabilty looms large on disparate digital platforms. We may know we have these objects, but it may not be obvious how to search for them or find their contents. Increasingly, Galleries, Archives, Libraries, and Museums are providing platforms for delivering digital content from their collections to widen access to these materials. James Edward Malin and Gary Thompson provide two examples of how it can be difficult to trace the same information across more than one institutional approach. In their essay “Pasta, Pasta, or Maccheroni? Obstacles in the Digital Culinary History, parts 1 and 2”, they suggest a need for developing a controlled vocabulary and illustrating some of the metadata issues that could make searching across collections more efficient.

Digital collections also offer new entry points for old collections. Elisa Tersingi takes this one step further, providing a vantage point of how one may use text analysis techniques to leverage the collections-as-data model. In her essay, Elisa shows how transcribed receipt books held at the Folger Shakespeare Library can be analyzed with a birds-eye view using resources like Voyant Tools to identify individual ingredients and vocabulary commonalities across a collection. 

Finally, Anne Holloway provides an intercontinental perspective on bringing people together to bake around culturally recognizable touchstones in her piece. The Great Rare Books Bakeoff, a friendly competition between Penn State University Libraries and Monash University Libraries, highlighted the value of cross-national engagement. Historical recipes from both Australia and the USA are selected as representative for each country, and bakers from both places are encouraged to try their hand at something that might be unfamiliar (such as the Pennsylvania regional shoe-fly pie for the Australians, and the Australian tea-time classic lamingtons for the Americans). 

Bringing together outreach, discoverability, and historical recipes, “A Digital Feast” aims to provide a sampler platter for duplicitous ways historical recipe collections online can reach new audiences and find second, third, or even fourth lives – bringing recipes from the past together with the present, and ensuring they continue to nourish us.

Cover Image: Edouard Vuillard, “The Cook, plate eleven from Landscapes and Interiors” (1899). https://www.artic.edu/artworks/22744/the-cook-plate-eleven-from-landscapes-and-interiors


Sifting Through the Archives: Pi(e) Day and Creating Community Through Experiential Historic Baking

By Maggie Vanderford, Juli McLoone, and Kira Dietz

Whoever coined the phrase “easy as pie!” has never made an eighteenth-century historic pie recipe before. Historical recipes represent opportunities to build community and establish connections to the past. The challenges of such a project are multifold: Fining a recipe in the archives, “translating” it for modern-day equipment and ingredients, and documenting the process of doing so are all tasks that require thoughtfulness and care. The field of Critical Food Studies, and popular initiatives such as Dr. Marissa Nicosia’s Cooking in the Archives (among so many more) have for many years created community and camaraderie by sharing the trials, tribulations, and successes of these research experiments. However, a gap seemed to exist in the community available for the librarians, curators, and archivists who care(d) for the physical and digital collections encompassing the broader field of culinary history. 

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Pasta, Pasta, or Maccheroni? Obstacles in the Digital Culinary History Environment – Part 1

By James Edward Malin and Gary Thompson

With the preponderance of new technology, interest, and a critical mass of digital and digitized gastro-historical material available online, the era of digital culinary history should be here. However, the lack of cohesion among digital infrastructures and data types has led to an online environment of highly disconnected and siloed culinary historical research tools. Even among historical cookbook databases, for example, concepts like recipes, ingredients, and cooking directions may be defined, organized, and structured differently. “Pasta” in one database, for example, has few ways to crosswalk to “pasta” in another. Therefore, a researcher must retry their query over and over again, in different ways: perhaps “pasta” as a recipe in one collection (Figure 1), “pasta” as an ingredient in another (Figure 2), and “maccheroni” in yet another.

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Pasta, Pasta, or Maccheroni? Obstacles in the Digital Culinary History Environment – Part 2

By James Edward Malin and Gary Thompson

Unlike those unstructured databases discussed in the previous part, there are a smaller number of culinary history databases that are structured. These include resources like The Sifter, CoReMA, and ckbk. Among this small selection most have used unique approaches to structuring data entry and discovery. A common first step among these projects is to define the structure and components of a recipe. But as any recipe historian knows, this is already a challenge as “some [recipes] are very detailed, some are rather vague.” Historical recipes can include much that doesn’t fit a standard structure, such as associations with feast days, a cook’s personal notes, lists of ingredients, and other procedural cooking instructions. These may also be accompanied by engraved carving diagrams, photographs of the finished dish, or, more recently, video demonstrations. Determining what should or should not be included in recipes is not easy.

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The Barclay Project

By Marissa Nicosia, with Christina Riehman-Murphy and Clara Drummond

Christian Barclay Jaffray (1680-1758) began gathering recipes for cookery, medicine, and dyeing cloth in 1697 when she was seventeenin a book that she titled “A Receipt Book, or, The Fruits of a Young Woman’s Spare Hours” (Manuscript, Scotland, 1697-1723). This small, fine volume arrived at Penn State Libraries’ Eberly Family Special Collections as part of the “Robert Barclay of Ury family papers and maps” collection. Robert Barclay, Christian’s father, was a prominent Scottish Quaker leader and author of Apology for the True Christian Divinity(1678). The Ury family papers include Robert Barclay’s correspondence with William Penn and maps of his proprietary holdings in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as Christian’s receipt book.

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A Digestive for the Voracious Reader: Digital Humanities Approaches to a Recipe Book Corpus

By Elisa Tersigni

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably a voracious reader of recipe books. And, if you’re anything like me, you might even be partial to manuscripts. If so, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s holdings—which include the largest collection of early modern English manuscript recipe books in the world—is truly a feast for the mind. But one could spend years digging into this buffet of books, with its indecipherable early modern hands, challenging orthographies, and pages and pages of intriguing discoveries. How then might one quickly consume such a breadth of material? As one solution, I present to you a metaphor to go with this feast—a digestive, if you will. Digital humanities (DH) tools and methods can help an ambitious reader make sense of a lot of text at once—even when that reader has no programming skills—allowing them to detect patterns or isolate the points of interest.

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Tales from the Archives

  • MOOCing about with Ancient Recipes

    A while ago, Professor Helen King (Open University) offered Dr Patty Baker (University of Kent) and me the opportunity to be involved in an exciting project: a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) on the topic of Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World. We had previously worked together on a pedagogical project (an article on the…

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  • Notes from a Newly Discovered English Recipe Book

    By Francesca Vanke Sir Robert Paston (1631-1683) of Oxnead Hall in Norfolk was known in his own time for his loyal support of Charles II, his magnificent house and kunstkammer collection, his political activities, and for his chymical and alchemical pursuits. His family died out in the early eighteenth century with the premature deaths of…

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  • A forgotten chapter in natural history: the taxidermy of man

    By Marieke Hendriksen Having written a book on eighteenth-century anatomical collections, I know a thing or two about historical techniques for preserving (parts of) the human body. As I am interested in natural history collections more generally, I also did some research on the preservation of animal bodies, and even took a taxidermy course myself.…

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  • The Wellcome Library’s Manuscript Recipe Books: Reflections on a Quarter-century of Collecting

    By Richard Aspin Manuscript recipe books were at the forefront of Henry Wellcome’s collecting activities. Perhaps no other genre of European written artefact spoke more directly to his conception of healthcare as the fundamental preoccupation of human beings. Indeed his first recorded Library acquisition in 1897 was a late 17th-century English manuscript recipe book. At…

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Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine

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