RECIPES AS LITERATURE
For Autumn, we are introducing our latest quarterly volume: Recipes as Literature.
Despite their veneer of practicality, readers of The Recipes Project will know that many recipes are much closer to fiction than they first appear. They inevitably capture multifaceted dishes in a single dimension. Sometimes this is purposeful, and a recipe’s very creation can be a form of rhetoric: a spirited argument that this is how a dish should be made. Other times, they exist without any desire for the reader to follow their instructions at all. Dave Chang’s recipe for 48-hour short ribs opens with an earnest recommendation not to attempt it. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has (half-)joked that he hopes no one has ever tried to follow his essay-length recipes verbatim.
It is this complicated niche which recipes occupy, somewhere between fiction and formulae, that makes considering their literary nature so fascinating. At the Recipes Project and beyond, scholars have explored recipes as a literary genre, including the ways that conventions and devices function across texts. This series contributes to this work, further interrogating the complex relationship between text and experience in a variety of locations and contexts. In Su Hyeon Cho’s essay on harisa, a sacred porridge, for example, she notes how such simple things as portion sizes can be used to preserve memories of gathering even in times when communities become scattered. And, in John Broadway’s piece, he reflects on the wider implications of the standardisation of ingredients in recipes and considers how our portrayal of the culinary world plays a key role in shaping it.
Rüstem Ertuğ Altınay’s piece Failed Interpellations also takes a philosophical approach, considering the sometimes surprisingly heartwarming consequences of a particular recipe’s well-meaning but simplistic approach to culture and class. GJ Sevillano’s piece, meanwhile, on Transpacific Kitchens considers the intimacy of cooking from someone else’s cookbook; how ‘consuming’ autobiographical cookbooks forces a reader to confront the material realities of the life of a kusinera (chef).
We hope you enjoy each post and are looking forward to sharing them with you over the coming weeks. Please join us every Thursday for a new instalment on recipes as literature.
Cover Image: Perkins Harnly, Rural Kitchen 1935/1942, Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington, Index of American Design.
RECIPES AS LITERATURE
By John Broadway
Like any other piece of literature, a recipe is an act of translation. As literature takes the complexity of the human experience and translates it into a coherent set of signs and symbols, recipes take nature’s diversity and translate it, through language, into a recognizable semiotics. Yet in this translation process information is lost and changed. Just as literature is prone to omit minorities (and focus on the straight, white and male), recipes are liable to problematic limitations through their in- and exclusions.
By Su Hyeon Cho
Mid-August is the grape harvest season in Vakfılı, an Armenian village perched on the mountainous region of the southernmost Turkish province of Hatay. Tasting grapes takes the form of ritual in the patient waiting until Surp Asdvadzadzin, the holiday that celebrates the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary by blessing the grapes and cooking a sacred porridge.
By GJ Sevillano
While elusive, the embodied culinary performances of self-actualization—the private moments and movements in which the cook slices, stirs, and spices her meals to her satisfaction—are palimpsestically constructed in recipes. Recipes serve as a key genre in which historical subjects have constructed versions and visions of themselves that have exceeded the bounds of normative archives and their print cultures—the “undigested” figures that symbolize everyday forms of cultural resilience. Thus, it is important as we expand our understanding of recipes beyond a mere set of culinary instructions, we must also expand our understanding of the figures that “dance” alongside us as we cook through the culinary repertoires of past, present, and future.
By Geeta Budhraja
This is the apéritif to what I hope can translate into a larger comprehensive project on the delights of Anglo-Indian cuisine. Born into a family where conversations celebrated food – what to eat, why, the origin of the dish or ingredients, etc. – and a healthy inclination towards fusion, it’s not surprising that Anglo Indian cuisine is by far my all-time favourite.
By Rhiannon Scharnhorst
Originally published in 1970, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s cookbook/memoir Vibration Cooking: or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girlreally began in the coastal waters of South Carolina, where the Gullah Geechee people, descended from West Africans, created their own unique culture, language, and foodways. A self-proclaimed culinary griot, Smart-Grosvenor uses food, and stories about food, to bring people together—an early visionary of the self-stylized food documentarian genre. What her work captures—beyond the literary imagination of an African-American woman in the mid-twentieth century—is the need for serious scholarly attention to recipes as a form of storytelling.
tales from the archives
A Great Tea-Drinking: Collective Memory and Victorian Invalid Cookery
By Bonnie Shishko Midway through Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1853), Esther Summerson relinquishes her beloved role as adopted housekeeper and assumes another: sick nurse. In a tense scene that’s painfully relevant in this era of COVID, Esther rushes to isolate herself and Charley, a servant who has contracted smallpox. Quickly locking her bedroom door, Esther … Continue reading A Great Tea-Drinking: Collective Memory and Victorian Invalid Cookery
A Recipe for a Gothic Novel
By Katherine Bowers “Terrorist Novel Writing,” an anonymous essay that appeared in The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1797 (Volume 1), closes with the following recipe for creating a gothic novel in the style of popular author Ann Radcliffe, “should any of [the journal’s] female readers be desirous of catching the season of terrors, … Continue reading A Recipe for a Gothic Novel
Of Kebabs and Lawsuits: A Case for Authenti‘city’
By Sonakshi Srivastava Authenticity is a reflexive term, its nature is to be deceptive about its nature. — Carl Dahlhaus There is an instance in Intizar Husain’s popular novel, Basti, where, while dining at the Shiraz, a restaurant in the newly created Pakistan, discussion ensues about the authenticity of the identity of the bread seller, … Continue reading Of Kebabs and Lawsuits: A Case for Authenti‘city’
Nearly every year, I teach a senior seminar in the English department at the University of Texas, Arlington (near Dallas) that changes thematically each time. With the recent proliferation of both cookbooks and books about cooking, I decided this spring to try out a class that focused on literature that features recipes as a major … Continue reading Teaching Recipes
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