Recipes and Memory: Thinking Back

Amanda E. Herbert and Annette E. Herbert

Alzheimer's disease, artwork. Credit: Florence Winterflood. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Alzheimer’s disease, artwork. Credit: Florence Winterflood. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


Over the past two months, we’ve learned so much about recipes and memory. Sonakshi Srivastava taught us about cities, identity, and the legal as well as cultural ownership of a historic recipe. Lina Perkins Wilder shared what happens when a family recipe is tweaked so many times that it stops working. Betsy Golden Kellem recovered the (delightfully unsavory) origins of the nostalgic treat that is pink lemonade. And Heather Ariyeh asked for community contributions to a project on beans and rice — and please do contribute! The project is ongoing and all are welcome to either skype, zoom, or write to teach Heather their recipe via hariyeh@sva.edu. We are extremely grateful, to all of our contributors, for sharing their writing, their labor, and, in many cases, their own memories with us.

This series has shown us the power and the pitfalls of remembering. The work of art that has been featured on our site over these two months is by Florence Winterflood, and it’s called Alzheimer’s Disease. Held by the Wellcome Collection, Winterflood’s oil and ink painting was “created shortly after ‘Mama’, the artist’s grandmother, moved to a nursing home after her Alzheimer’s disease progressed to a stage where could no longer look after herself. ‘She lost a lot of weight, and a broad, strong, matriarch became a feeble, bird-like woman. Yet however small her frame became, her hands remained large and strong and capable.’ The hand, here a strong tangible image, represents the way the body can settle and remain hardy, even when the mind has become chaotic. The maps breaking up the lines of the hand further represent fragmentation of character, particularly in the way Alzheimer’s interrupts neurological pathways in the brain, disrupting and even tearing up, knowledge, thoughts and memories.”

Strength and chaos, breadth and fragmentation, capability and disruption are all represented in the way that recipes are recalled and remembered. As we share them, ingredients can be forgotten, instructions lost, temperatures reset. But it is a recipe’s very capacity for and easy adaptation to communication, generosity, swapping, and donation which gives it such longevity, allowing it to transcend people, time, and space. 

Golden State: Recipes and Memory

Amanda Elise Herbert and Annette Elise Herbert

Alzheimer's disease, artwork. Credit: Florence Winterflood. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Alzheimer’s disease, artwork. Florence Winterflood. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0), Wellcome Collection.

How do recipes make memories, and how do we remember the methods, ingredients, and techniques that go into making a dish, a piece of technology, a work of art, a scientific method? Memory is a powerful force, capable of sustaining a story, instructions, or guidelines over generations. It’s also unpredictable, malleable, incomplete, manufactured.

For the next two months, February and March 2021, we will be exploring recipes and memory at The Recipes Project. In this series we’re delighted to feature and amplify many writers who are new to the RP, and who are bringing their own work on recipes and memory to us in a rich variety of formats and media. Some contributors ask us to absorb, learn, and listen: Ozoz Sokoh will share her work on memory and foods of the West African diaspora; Stephanie Shiflett will explore starvation in sixteenth-century France; Simon Newman will write of recipes created during the Holocaust. And some contributors ask us to join and participate: Heather Ariyeh will invite readers to share their own memories of beans and rice via a memory of twentieth-century Guatemala.

Describing his childhood in Zambia, poet Kayo Chingonyi has said that he “uses the writing as a way of reconstructing that place from memory.” For Chingonyi, sharing memory – whether in writing, like his poetry, or in visual art, or sound, or taste – is generative. “Something new,” he says, “is created by the experience of sharing.”

Inspired by Chingonyi’s own ideas about memory, art, and community, I’m proud to be co-editing “Recipes and Memory” with my mother, Annette Herbert. To launch the series, here is our own post about our family’s history with a sugar factory in Northern California. Like sugar, this recipe and its memory are sweet: they tell a story about resilience, love, devotion. And like sugar, this recipe and its memory hold the potential for erasure, elision, and, if you’re not careful, rot. 

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Our family migrated to California as part of a gold rush. We weren’t drawn in 1849 by precious metals, but arrived fifty years later, pulled into the new state by sticky, golden sugar. We have a family recipe that proves it.

Recipe for California Date Bars. Image courtesy of the authors.
Image courtesy of the authors.

My name is Amanda Elise Herbert. I remember this story this way. My mother, Annette Brown Herbert, told it to me; my grandmother, Doris Ahlgrim Brown, told it to me. Two brothers, both in their teens, were born in Prussia. They were pacifists and didn’t want to be conscripted into the Kaiser’s army. They signed up to work on a cargo ship and traveled halfway around the world. When the boat docked in Crockett California, the smell of burned sugar filled the air, for Crockett was home to the famous California and Hawaii (C&H) Sugar Company. Fearing that violence would meet them if they returned to Prussia, they escaped from the ship, hid until it steamed away, and found jobs at C&H. Two years later they’d saved enough money to bring their baby sister and their parents to California. The family settled and grew. They soaked in the sunshine. They hiked in the Sierras. And the baby sister created a recipe to commemorate their new life: California Date Bars, packed with golden brown C&H sugar.

Brown sugar. Image courtesy of the authors.
Image courtesy of the authors.

My name is Annette Brown Herbert. I remember this story this way. My mother, Doris Ahlgrim Brown, told it to me; my aunt, Dorothy Ahlgrim Young, told it to me. Anna Schuetz immigrated from Danzig with her parents when she was twenty. They left a married sister, named Clara, behind. Clara wanted to come, but she was married and her husband was unkind to her. Anna’s older brothers had left East Prussia to avoid conscription into the Kaiser’s army. They arrived in San Francisco, jumped ship, and then made their way to Crockett, where they worked at the C&H Sugar factory. They eventually sent for their parents and sister. When they weren’t working at the factory, the two brothers would go fishing down the hill, on the piers at the Bay’s waterfront, and when it was time to come home, their mother would wave a dish towel at them from the front door.

Eggs. Image courtesy of the authors.
Image courtesy of the authors.

My name is Dorothy Ahlgrim Young. I remember the story this way. My twin sister, Doris Ahlgrim Brown, learned it with me. Our grandmother Anna Schuetz immigrated from Danzig around 1888. She traveled with her parents to Crockett, California, where her brothers had settled in order to avoid conscription into the Kaiser’s army. Upon arrival she began working as a seamstress and upstairs maid for the Hooper Family, owners of the Hooper Candy Company. Her talented fingers made trousseaus for each Hooper daughter. Anna married a man named Charles Drewicke, who worked at C&H Sugar. While in Crockett, Anna and Charles had three children: Irwin, Doris, and Arnold. Anna was not a good cook. She would bake pfefferkuchen at Christmastime, cut in diamond shapes with a piece of candied citrine or a sliver of almond on top. But she often burned them, passing this off by saying “they’re just a little brown.” Anna’s daughter, our mother Doris Drewicke Ahlgrim, was an excellent cook. She would make California Date Bars for us and our friends when we went hiking in the summer.

Walnuts. Image courtesy of the authors.
Image courtesy of the authors.

The historical record – itself manufactured, smoothed out, cut and pasted – tells a different story. Census data, voter registration records, and death certificates show that a woman named Annie Schuetz and her parents arrived in California in 1892. None of them could read or write or speak English. Their names were misreported by an impatient census-taker in 1900, who labeled Annie’s mother “Wilhemina Wilhelm” when he couldn’t understand her German speech. Members of the family did not work at C&H; that company didn’t begin operations until 1921. Instead they were described as laborers: factory laborers, warehouse laborers. Annie’s father was still working full-time at the age of sixty-nine. Illness, death, and financial mismanagement saw a widowed Annie Schuetz Drewicke and her children living in a rented house in San Francisco by 1920, where all of the members of the family were “working for wages or on own account, not salaried.” 

Spices.
Image courtesy of the authors.

Our knowledge of the past, recovered with care and hard work and difficulty by scholars of modern history, offers further nuance. The sugarcane that fed C&H’s refinery was grown on land stolen from the Kanaka ʻŌiwi; the refinery itself stood on the land of the Karkin and Muwekma. Working conditions in sugarcane fields in Hawaii, on cargo ships across the Pacific, and in factories in California, were dangerous and dehumanizing. Annie Schuetz Drewicke and her daughter Doris Drewicke Ahlgrim had only just earned the right to vote when the census-taker visited their lodging house in 1920 to take account of them. 

Dates. Image courtesy of the authors.
Image courtesy of the authors.

Thousands of miles apart, in our kitchens in California and Maryland, we make the California Date Bars. We miss each other. The pandemic has meant that this is the longest we’ve ever been apart. We read the recipe off of screens. It’s been carefully and lovingly scanned and sent to us by Auntie Dorothy. It’s in Doris Drewicke Ahlgrim’s hand. The directions are sparse, and we talk about implied and implicit knowledge. We make guesses. We talk about memory. The recipe looks good, but it also seems cloyingly sweet. We add more salt.

California Walnut Date Bars on tea towel with California poppies. Image courtesy of the authors.
Image courtesy of the authors.

Revisiting Christopher Heaney’s How to Make an Inca Mummy

In this last “revisiting” post in our August 2020 series, we return to a piece by Christopher Heaney in 2016 to learn about sixteenth-century Europeans and their use of the dead in medical recipes. Practitioners believed that preserved bodies were powerful ingredients — but as Heaney shows, whether these bodies originated in Egypt or in Peru, what it meant for these bodies to be non-white, and whether they could or should retain a sense of gender, was a matter of debate. 
Thank you for joining us this month as we explored the intersections of race, medicine, sexuality, and gender in recipes! –AH

Christopher Heaney

As any National Geographic reader will tell you, the Incas and their predecessors in the Andes made mummies, that category of deceased being whose selfhood is artificially or environmentally preserved. In the sixteenth century, however, learned Europeans weren’t sure of anything of the sort, given that ‘mummy,’ or momía, mostly referred to dried flesh of the ancient Egyptian dead that had been ground up to become a materia medica. Admitting the Incas to the Egyptians’ company meant an expansion of medical prowess, and civilization, well beyond the allowances of the day. In Les vrais pourtraits et vies des homes illustres grecz, latins et payens (1584), the French cosmographer André Thevet challenged Claude Guichard—a cataloguer of funerary customs who had claimed that the Andes yielded “mummy”

to ask merchants who deal at the Lyon merchant-fairs to enquire whether any of these good Mummies are found by these drug peddlers in these parts [Peru] and in that case (otherwise I presume that, had he known, he would never have dared publish such a lie) he will learn that there is no trace, any more than there is in his Lagnieu [Guichard’s hometown].

For Thevet, mummies came only from Egypt.

The burial of Huayna Capac Inka in Cuzco (379-380)
The body of Huayna Capac Inka, being carried from Quito to Cuzco. Felipe Guaman Poma, Nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615). Credit: Det Kongeliege Bibliotek

In other words, before we recover the sacred and medical indigenous recipe of how “ancient Peruvians” made mummies, we must understand how Europeans made mummies Peruvian. That latterly recipe, centuries in the crafting, had two key ingredients: the sixteenth century study by Spanish chroniclers and natural historians of the means by which skilled Inca made embalmed bodies—embalsamados—of their emperors; and the Atlantic celebration of that recipe by half-Inca chroniclers, English translators, and French encyclopedistes, who made embalsamados into mummies.[1]

That the Incas and other Andean peoples preserved their elite dead to make sacred and still-living ancestors, illapa, or mallqui, is well-established, having intrigued the earliest Spaniards to the Andes. In 1533, when the first two Spaniards to Cusco found the breathless bodies of Huayna Capac, the last undisputed emperor of the Incas, and a second person—likely his principal wife, Coya Cusirimay—they described them as “two Indians in the manner of embalmed dead.” By the late 1550s, the chronicler Juan de Betanzos had learned—possibly from his wife, Angelina Cuxirumay Ocllo, formerly betrothed to Atahualpa—that Huayna Capac’s lords “had him opened, and all his flesh removed, adorning him”— aderezándole, which implies the use of a substance—

“so that no damage would be done to him, without breaking a single bone; they adorned and seasoned him in the sun and the air, and after he was dried and seasoned, they dressed him in expensive clothes and placed him on a litter.”[2]

Subsequent Spaniards declared that this was embalming, a distinction that credited the Incas’ medical expertise—and possibly advertised the New World balsam that to this day bears the name “balsam of Peru”—but also limited speculation that their preservation resembled the grace of Europe’s saintly dead. To further control their meaning, the Spanish in 1559 confiscated the illapa and displayed the best-preserved among them in Lima’s most sophisticated center of European healing and botanical knowledge—the Hospital of San Andrés. Once there, the Jesuit natural historian José de Acosta studied them, deciding (1590) that their “astonishing” preservation owed to the use of a certain resin or bitumen: literally, betún, a word redolent of associations with the Egyptian dead.

November, month of carrying the dead (258-259)
The eleventh month, November; Aya Marq’ay Killa, month of carrying the dead. Felipe Guaman Poma, Nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615). Credit: Det Kongeliege Bibliotek

The Incas’ embalsamados only became mummies, however, through the process of celebration by their half-Inca heirs, and their interpreation by the English and French. In 1609, “El Inca” Garcilaso de la Vega remembered touching the finger of his great-uncle, Huayna Capac, which “seemed like that of a wooden statue, it was so hard and stiff.” Responding to Acosta, Garcilaso suggested that it was a combination of betún and the dry Andean environment, which the Incas had harnessed to “leave the bodies as whole as if they were still alive and in good health, lacking only the power of speech, as the saying goes.” The translator of Garcilaso into English in 1688 took the embalsamados to still greater heights, claiming that “these Bodies were more entire than the Mummies”—that is, the Egyptian dead. And in 1749, the French naturalist Jean-Marie Daubenton simply included the Inca dead as mummies, alongside those of the Egyptians.

Daubenton’s contemporaries had to take it on faith, however; the Inca illapa had long since disappeared, likely having deteriorated in Lima’s damp climate and been buried somewhere in the hospital. Hope remains that their bones might be someday be found, but until the means of their owners’ preservation is recovered via new archaeological studies of their contemporaries, our recipe for their making is as colonial and Atlantic as it is indigenous.

 

[1] This post draws from my recent dissertation, Christopher Heaney, “The Pre-Columbian Exchange: The Circulation of the Ancient Peruvian Dead in the Americas and Atlantic World” (Ph.D. Diss, University of Texas at Austin, 2016), Chapter Four.

[2] Juan de Betanzos, Suma y Narración de los Incas, Ed. María del Carmen Martín Rubio (Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2010 [Cuzco: 1557]), 235 [1557: Pt. I, Ch. 48].

Revisiting Yi-Li Wu’s Cold Wombs and Cold Semen: Explaining Sonlessness in Sixteenth-century China

Welcome back to our August 2020 Edition, exploring intersections of race, medicine, sexuality, and gender in recipes. In this 2018 post by Yi-Li Wu, we consider gender, sexuality, the idea of “family,” and their impact on the study of recipes. In Imperial China, fears that “cold” could invade, impair, or alter the functioning of reproductive organs led both women and men to seek medical care. This was part of the complex process of “seeking descendants” (qiu si): an expression of desires for family, lineage, and legacy. –AH

By Yi-Li Wu

Figure 1. Depictions of boys at play were a popular Chinese decorative motif during the sixteenth century, imbued with auspicious meaning and conveying hopes for male offspring. This porcelain bowl was made in Jindezhen during the Jiajing reign period (1522–66). From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Gift of Denise and Andrew Saul, 2001. Accession number 2001.738. On-line at https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/64484

Throughout imperial China, a family’s well-being and longevity required the birth of sons. [Fig. 1]  Sons performed the ancestral rites, inherited land, and were responsible for supporting aged parents. And only men could take the examinations for government office which conferred elite socio-economic status. But at age 40, Liu Xiaoting was still sonless (wu zi). He appealed to the physician Gong Tingxian (15`38-1635), promising him rich recompense if he could help. As Gong recorded in his influential treatise, Curing the Myriad Diseases (Wanbing huichun, preface dated 1587), Liu’s “male member was weak, and his semen was icy cold.” Furthermore, his pulses were flooding when felt at the first position (cun) at the wrist, but deep and faint at the third position (chi). Gong’s diagnosis: a profound deficiency of primordial qi (yuan qi)the source of all the body’s vitalities and material manifestations. This was caused, he explained, by excessive drinking and sexual indulgence.

Depletion from debauchery was a common diagnosis for upper-class men of the time, those who had the means to own concubines and patronize courtesans. Doctors agreed that such carousing exhausted the body’s vitalities, not least because male semen was produced from “essence” (jing), the vitality that enabled growth, generation, and reproduction. Besides depleting the body, excessive outflows of semen harmed the kidneys, the organs that produced, stored, and transformed essence.  To cure Liu, Gong prescribed a 16-ingredient formula called “Elixir to Solidify the Root and Strengthen Yang” (Guben jianyang dan) (see below).  After taking one recipe’s worth, Liu felt that his nether parts were warm again.  After an additional half-recipe, he felt recovered. To his great joy, he then begat a son. Liu subsequently shared the formula with a Liu Boting and a Liu Min’an (probably kinsmen) who also used it successfully. [Figs. 2 and 3]

Figs. 2 and 3: The recto and verso of a page from a seventeenth-century edition of Gong Tingxian’s Curing the Myriad Diseases, showing his recipe for Elixir to Solidify the Root and Strengthen Yang (Fig. 2, recto) and explaining how he used it to cure Liu Xiaoting (Fig. 3, verso). Note that Chinese books were read from right to left. From Expanded edition of “A Collection on Curing the Myriad Diseases” by Mr. Gong Yunlin, Confucian doctor (Zengbu ruyi Gong Yunlin xianshen Wanbing huichun ji), Renren shushe woodblock edition, 1641. Yulin was Gong Tingxian’s sobriquet (hao). In the collection of the Berlin State Library, Germany. Digitized and on-line at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK digitalisierte Sammlungen, permanent URL: http://resolver.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/SBB000160F000000000.

Gong Tingxian placed Liu Xiaoting’s case in his discussion of “seeking descendants” (qiu si), which was part of a larger section on “women’s diseases” (fu ke).  “Descendants” here referred specifically to sons.  Although Chinese medical writings on childbearing focused primarily on the female body, people had also long recognized that male ailments could impede conception. These concerns were especially salient in Gong and Liu’s time, when population pressure, urbanization, and commercialization were creating new forms of socio-economic mobility and instability.  As Charlotte Furth has shown, this inspired a proliferation of writings on male self-cultivation and producing sons. Such material appeared in various textual genres, and it was not uncommon to find the reproductive illnesses of men discussed in chapters on women. These discussions assumed, furthermore, that a deficient man might still be able to father daughters, but that only a properly regulated male body would create sons. The question was how best to achieve that regulation.

In medical discussions of infertility, cold could refer to somatic sensations of chillness, as well as to a sense of deficiency and absence of vitality.  Writings on women were primarily concerned with ensuring the ample and free flow of female blood, which constituted the female seed, nourished the fetus, and later transformed into breast milk.  But doctors also worried about coldness in the womb, whether from an invading wind, or arising from internal depletion. Cold would cause female blood to stagnate and become corrupt.  But concerns about female cold were also expressed in terms of agricultural metaphors which portrayed the womb as a field that needed to be warm and nurturing to receive the male seed.

Women with cold wombs would simply not produce children. But when couples produced only girls, this suggested deficiencies in the man, who played a key role in determining the child’s sex. The various theories of sex selection might differ as to details, but they agreed that a man could produce boys by shooting (she) his seed into the woman on certain days, in a certain manner, at a certain point in the copulatory act.  Particularly important was the belief that both men and women released reproductive seed during orgasm, and that the fetus’ sex was determined by the seed that came last.  A man who wanted sons thus needed to bring his female partner to climax before releasing his own seminal essence. His semen also needed to be sufficiently “dense” (mi), lest it dribble uselessly out of the womb.

Coldness in men was thus associated with impaired copulatory function, manifesting as cold and watery seed and as a weak penis unable to control its emissions. Gong Tingxian’s fertility formula echoed this understanding, relying heavily on substances that were classified as “principal drugs for treating spermatorrhea” and/or as “principal drugs for treating impotence” in Li Shizhen’s authoritative  and encyclopedic Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao gangmu,preface dated 1590).  At the same time, Gong’s formula implicitly rebuked those who would treat male coldness with heating drugs.  This objection was rooted in a particular understanding of how cosmological yin and yang forces expressed themselves in the male body.

To simplify enormously: yang referred to things that were external, active, and hot, while yin was internal, receptive, and cool. Men were the yang of humankind, and male potency and fertility were understood as expressions of bodily yang. As a result, people routinely tried to treat sonlessness with heating drugs. But some doctors warned that too much heat would damage and consume yin, harming the kidneys (yin) and consuming its essence (yin). Excessive heat would sicken the man, and even if he managed to conceive a son, the heat would remain as a latent poison in the fetal body and the boy would die young. Instead, they argued that the proper way to regulate yang was to address the underlying deficiency of yin.  Gong Tingxian shared this viewpoint, and the key drugs in his prescription acted by nourishing bodily yin and the kidneys.  As Liu Xiaoting swallowed the dozens of pills that Gong prescribed, he may have had initial doubts about their efficacy. But the birth of his son would have convinced him that, at least in this instance, Gong’s approach to male coldness was the correct one.

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Elixir to Solidify the Root and Build Yang (Guben jianyang dan)
Dodder seed (tu si zi) cooked in wine, one and a half taels[1]

White poria, root end (bai fu shen), skin and woody bits removed
Dioscorea (shan yao), steamed with wine
Achyranthes root (niu xi), stems removed, washed in wine
Eucommia bark (du zhong), washed in wine, skin removed, roasted until crisp
Angelica root, main body (dang gui shen), washed in wine
Cistanche (rou cong rong), soaked in wine
Schisandra fruit (wu wei zi), washed in wine
Black cardamom (yi zhi ren), stir-fried in salt water
Tender deer antler (nen lu rong), roasted until crisp
One tael each of the above

Prepared rehmannia (shu di), steamed in wine
Dogwood fruit (shan zhu yu), steamed in wine, the pit removed
Three taels each of the above

Sichuanese morinda (chuan ba ji), soaked in wine, the heart removed, two taels

Teasel (xu duan), soaked in wine
Milkwort (yuan zhi), processed
Cnidium seeds (she chuang zi), stir fried, the husks removed
One and a half taels each of the above

Add:
Ginseng (ren shen), two taels
Goji berries (go ji zi), two taels

Grind the above into a fine powder, and mix with honey to form pills as large as the seeds of the parasol tree. For each dose, take 50 to 70 pills on an empty stomach, washed down with salt water. With wine is also fine. Before bedtime, take another dose. If the woman’s monthly affair is already concluded, then this is the time for planting sons, and if one takes three doses a day, that is no problem.  If essence is not stable, then add dragon bone (long gu) and oyster shell (mu li), heated in fire and quenched in salted wine three to five times. Use one tael, three mace of each. Moreover, add five taels of tender deer horn.

[1] The weight of the tael (Ch. liang) has varied over time, but during Gong Tingxian’s lifetime would have been equivalent to approximately 37 grams.  A mace (Ch. qian) is one-tenth of a tael.

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Yi-Li Wu is a Center Associate of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (US).  She earned a Ph.D. in history from Yale University and was previously a history professor at Albion College (USA) for 13 years.  Her publications include Reproducing Women: Medicine, Metaphor, and Childbirth in Late Imperial China (University of California Press, 2010) and articles on gender and the body; medical illustration; forensic medicine, and Chinese views of Western anatomical science.  She is currently completing a book manuscript on the history of wound medicine in China.