All posts by Amanda Herbert

Spicing up the Victorians: Teaching Mrs. Beeton’s Recipe for Mango Chutney

Isabella Beeton Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (London. S.O. Beeton, 1861).  New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 5, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/8ed44a87-9220-cb3c-e040-e00a18060cbd
Isabella Beeton Beeton’s Book of Household Management (London. S.O. Beeton, 1861). New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 5, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/8ed44a87-9220-cb3c-e040-e00a18060cbd

By Erika Rappaport

I love to teach with Isabella Beeton. Her biography and her opus, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) confound several popular stereotypes about gender, middle-class Victorians and British foodways. The book is important for studying the development of the modern cookbook and recipe and reveals the international context that produced national cuisines in the nineteenth century. My students at University of California often imagine that “British cuisine” is an oxymoron. Except for a good cup of tea, the popular conception of British food is that of overcooked, bland vegetables and simple roasted meats. One look at Household Management dispels all such myths.

I first introduce students to the book itself. At over 1,000 pages, it is huge. I bring in an old edition available in my university library, but it is now available in full via Project Guttenberg. There are also useful background essays for students and instructors on the British Library website and via BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History. I first ask students to examine how the recipes are written, arranged, to look at what ingredients and tools are used, and finally what is in the book beyond the recipes. They notice right away, for example, that the first line compares the Mistress of the house “with the Commander of an Army” (7). We talk about what or who the housewife is “fighting;” who her soldiers might have been, and why Mrs. Beeton used a masculine metaphor while addressing a largely female audience. This opens a discussion of the complicated nature of the mistress-servant relationship, particularly surrounding foodwork, and this leads to a broader discussion of domesticity, gender and class identity.

I then ask students to make a list of adjectives they would use to describe Mrs. Beeton. They invariably come up with terms like old, solid, stocky, severe and tell me she must have been an aging Victorian cook, likely from a large aristocratic home (such as that they have seen in television series such as Downtown Abbey). They are surprised to find that Mrs. Beeton was in her mid-twenties when she wrote Household Management and that she was a fashionable and modern (by the standards of the day) woman married to a very successful journalist. Among other important texts, Samuel Beeton brought out the first English edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He published mass-market magazines for children; and, with his wife he published the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (started in 1852), one of the first inexpensive women’s magazines for the growing middle-class female market. We talk then about the standardization and commercialization of culinary literature.

I assign several recipes from Mrs. Beeton, but in my upper division, food and world history course I especially like to use the recipe for “Mango Chetney” (124). The recipe, Mrs. Beeton tells us, “was given by a native to an English lady, who had long been resident in India, and who, since her return to her native country, has become quite celebrated amongst her friends for the excellence of this Eastern relish (124).” This passage opens up a discussion about race, gender, and how food knowledge travelled between metropole and colony. We discuss how “Eastern” tastes were surprisingly acknowledged, absorbed, shared and celebrated by middle-class women just a few years after the “Indian Mutiny.” At the same time Mrs. Beeton published her guide, the same middle class readers were being inundated with frightening tales of the dangers of the East, particularly for white women. This leads students to contemplate the complex but everyday nature of the Empire and the way that cooking and dietary might have been considered a way that women in particular participated in the colonial project.

We then look at the ingredients. Mrs. Beeton is very precise, with the ingredient list right at the top: 1 ½ lbs. of moist sugar, 3/4 lb. of salt, ¼ lb. of garlic, ¼ lb. of onions, ¾ lb. of powdered ginger, ¼ lb. of dried chilies, ¾ lb. of mustard-seed, ¾ lb. of stoned raisins, 2 bottles of best vinegar, 30 large unripe sour apples. Students are struck by the ample amount of onions, garlic, ginger, mustard and chilies, salt, and sugar. We think about the supposed British distaste for spices in the modern period and talk about how spices might be used differently (or similarly) than in the Middle Ages. It is about this time that someone notices that “Mango Chetney” has apples not mangoes, and this leads to a discussion about adaptation, availability, trade, grocery shopping and authenticity.

We next turn to the “mode” of cooking, which involves a lot of pounding and drying of the spices, peeling, coring and chopping, and simmering everything until it is thoroughly blended. The concoction is then stored in bottles, corked and tied with a “wet bladder.” Finally, Mrs. Beeton tells us that “this chetney is very superior to any which can be bought, and one trial will prove it to be delicious” (124). Students are struck by the apparent contradiction between the use of the wet bladder and the large amount of work involved, which they see as old fashioned, and the fact that clearly there are at least several types of chetney for sale. Mrs. Beeton is thus advising the use of homemade as superior to store bought. I ask students whether they think this is a modern recipe, or a rejection of “modernity,” or both. This leads to a discussion of what precisely modernity might mean.

Finally, just when students start rethinking the nature of British cooking, Mrs. Beeton starts talking about “Garlic.” Next to the recipe she writes a brief history, but begins: “the smell of the plant is generally considered offensive and it is the most acrimonious in its taste of the whole of the alliaceous tribe” (124). We then learn that garlic was introduced into England from the Mediterranean in 1548, and was “in greater repute with our ancestors than it is with our selves, although it is still used as a seasoning herb. On the continent, especially it Italy, it is much used, and the French consider it an essential in many dishes” (124). Here we see how a national “British” cuisine emerged through the process of dissociation and absorption with continental Europe and the Empire. Invariably someone wants to start researching the history of garlic, Victorian chutney brands, and recipes for curry and Indian food in Britain.[i]

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861: Abridged edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 124. Photo courtesy of Erika Rappaport.
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861: Abridged edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 124. Photo courtesy of Erika Rappaport.

[i] Some helpful books on this include, Lizzie Collingham, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Anita Mannur, Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010) and Krishnedu Ray and Tulasi Srinivas, ed. Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food and South Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).

Erika Rappaport is an Associate Professor in the History Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has published, Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London’s West End (Princeton UP, 2000) and many articles on gender, consumption and middle-class culture in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. She is on the editorial board of Gastronomica and an associate editor of the Journal of British Studies. She recently co-edited Consuming Behaviours: Identity, Politics and Pleasure in Twentieth-Century Britain (Bloomsbury 2015) and is completing a major book on the history of tea that explores the connections between imperialism, consumerism, foodways and globalization from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries. The book is tentatively titled, An Acquired Taste: Tea in the Age of Empire (Princeton, forthcoming).

 

History Bound Up in Every Bite: Food, Environment, and Recipes in the Western Civ Survey

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "Best wishes for a good Thanksgiving." New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 1, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-6467-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Best wishes for a good Thanksgiving.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 1, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-6467-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

By David C. Fouser

I use food as much as possible in my surveys of Western Civilization and world history. As a cultural and environmental historian, I use food to give meaning to the lived experience of our subjects. We read The Epic of Gilgamesh alongside an ancient Mesopotamian recipe for beer, the “water of life” that Shamhat the Harlot gave to the wild-man Enkidu to mark his entry into her society.[1] Our discussion of Emile Zola’s Germinal pays particular attention to the contrasting diets of working class and bourgeois characters, and how their diets reflect their relationships to industrial capitalism. But, even better than talking about food is eating it.[2] Each semester, I hold a class potluck, and participation is (mostly) mandatory. The food is a novel sensory experience for the classroom, and the assignment bridges the gap between past and present by exposing the history bound up in every bite.

The assignment itself is simple: prepare a dish of your choice, describe the historical and cultural context of the recipe, locate the environmental origins of the ingredients, and tell the class about it. Investigating the history and cultural context of a recipe leads to a set of questions: Who first made it? Was it intended for particular occasions or specific people? How did you find the recipe, and is what you made different from the original version? Every semester, at least one student makes pumpkin pie, and informs a surprised classroom that it was in fact not served at the first Thanksgiving, but instead became a common holiday dish only in the early nineteenth century.[3] Such revelations bring into the open the meanings behind foods, especially those as loaded with symbolic value as pumpkin pie. In so doing, students find themselves on the same footing as ancient Mesopotamians and nineteenth-century coal miners, consuming both food and meaning.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. "[Valentines and Christmas cards depicting pumpkin pies, a pumpkin patch, a jack-o'-lantern, farmers, an orchard, cupids and letters.]" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 1, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-c5c1-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “[Valentines and Christmas cards depicting pumpkin pies, a pumpkin patch, a jack-o’-lantern, farmers, an orchard, cupids and letters.]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 1, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-c5c1-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Identifying the environmental origins of ingredients brings to light the fact that our global food system provides us with a cheap and varied bounty, but not with knowledge of our food’s origins. Modern recipes nearly always list their ingredients in the simplest and most abstract terms possible, like “butter” and “all-purpose flour.” Tracing the origins of the flour in a piecrust leads to the company that milled it, but rarely beyond, for both flour and wheat are commodities: part of a homogeneous, fungible category of thing, stripped of its environmental particularity by a global market. Each dish, then, contains both the historical context and contemporary relationships between people and nature: food for thought for courses that take students from our distant past to our shared present.

References:
[1] Josh Jones, “Discover the Oldest Beer Recipe in History, from Ancient Sumeria, 1800 B.C.,” Open Culture, March 3, 2015, http://www.openculture.com/2015/03/the-oldest-beer-recipe-in-history.html.

[2] NOTE: The policies for food in the classroom vary widely across institutions. Some have no problem with it, while at others you might send your department chair into paroxysms of panic—so look carefully before you try anything like this.

[3] Andrew F. Smith, ed., “Pumpkins,” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; ebook 2005), http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195154375.001.0001/acref-9780195154375-e-0724.
David C. Fouser is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine, and an adjunct faculty member at Santa Monica College and Laguna College of Art & Design.  His in-progress dissertation is entitled, “Wheat, Flour, Bread: The Globalization of the British Food Chain, 1846-1914.”  You can follow him on Twitter @journeymanhisto.

Giving Welsh Pupils a Flavour of Antiquity

By Evelien Bracke

Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day.  Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.
Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day. Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.

I organise a lot of events and classes on topics related to the ancient world for school pupils. But when two of my colleagues asked for my help in organising a one-day Technologies of Daily Life in Ancient Greece event for 140 pupils (90 primary and 50 secondary) at Swansea University, even I hesitated momentarily. Tracey Rihll (Swansea University), one of my colleagues who specialises in day-to-day technologies used by the Greeks, and Laurence Totelin (Cardiff University) who works on ancient medicine, wanted to organise an academic conference on technologies in ancient Greece, but were determined to reach a wider audience. And who better than children? We had a very enthusiastic response from six local schools (all from largely deprived areas with high unemployment and low education levels) and decided to give pupils a real flavour of antiquity.

Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day.  Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.
Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day. Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.

In the morning, we focused on basic activities with primary school pupils who were coming especially from the Afan Valley to the north of Swansea: pupils learned how to make rope with nettles, create magical curse tablets, do basic astronomy, grind wood, concoct a chamomile potion, and make bread. For the secondary school pupils who came for the afternoon from two schools in Swansea and Carmarthenshire, we exchanged the grinding workshop for something even trickier: inscribing gems, which only the bravest attempted. The other workshops were delivered at a more in-depth level, but the topics remained the same.

Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day.  Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.
Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day. Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.

The day was abuzz with excitement, in spite of the chaos of two buses arriving late. The workshops were delivered in three different rooms, and pupils could choose two workshops out of those on offer. They were spoilt for choice and many told us in the feedback that they would have liked to have done more. Laurence led a workshop on making a chamomile potion. Pupils used a pestle and mortar (for most, this was the first time they had ever used this kind of equipment) to grind chamomile and other herbs and spices. The recipe even included a hint of myrrh and frankincense! The pupils wondered at the exotic spices and loved getting their hands dirty.

Students used tools like a mortar and pestle.  Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day.  Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.
Students used tools like a mortar and pestle. Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day. Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.

Hands were also dirtied in the bread-baking workshop, led by the National Roman Legion Museum at Caerleon. Here pupils learned about ancient baking techniques, ground grain on an ancient stone, and used a kiln to bake the bread.

Bread Workshop.  Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day.  Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.
Bread Workshop. Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day. Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.
Bread Workshop.  Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day.  Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.
Bread Workshop. Technologies of Daily Life: Schools Day. Image courtesy of Evelien Bracke.

It was an intense day but we had immense fun. Teachers reported that the pupils were now really excited to find out more about the Greeks. In the anonymous feedback, all the pupils said they found the workshops both enjoyable and informative. While some didn’t think the bread was tasty, they thoroughly enjoyed making and baking it. As one pupil said: ‘it’s given me a better understanding and respect for ancient Greek stuff’. And that’s all we wanted to do.

Dr Evelien Bracke is Lecturer and Employability and Schools Liaison Officer in the Department of History and Classics at Swansea University. You can find out more about the Department’s schools’ work at www.ltlresources.weebly.com and www.swwclassicalassociation.weebly.com. A Spotify narrative of the Swansea University and Hellenic Society schools’ day can be found here: https://storify.com/nimuevelien/technologies-of-daily-life-in-ancient-greece-559aef57b572c28d0ebdcaa6.

Cooking (Over an Open Fire) In Class

 By Ken Albala

Hearth Cooking.  Photo courtesy of Ken Albala.
Hearth Cooking. Photo courtesy of Ken Albala.

I often use recipes in various classes as primary documents, to examine social issues and gender roles, to explore the meaning of various ingredients and techniques and their movement around the globe, and to discuss anything the text might yield as a record of the past. Cooking with these recipes is a little more complicated. Apart from the lack of kitchens, my food history class is usually about 60 students, and feeding them is just impractical. But I still really want students to get a sense of what historic food tasted like, especially when cooked on an open fire using period implements. In graduate classes I have had students cook in groups at home and we connect via video conferencing so everyone at least gets to discuss the historic recipes as they cook them. It’s much more satisfying to bring a smaller class to my home so we can not only get our hands dirty before the hearth, but get a physical sense of what cooking was like in the past, and of course taste the food to get a direct idea of people’s taste preferences.

For one gathering of history majors a few years ago I chose to cook from the 16th century Livre fort excellent de cuysine, a cookbook I had recently translated with Tim Tomasik, but neither of us had tested most of the recipes. So there was not only an element of uncertainty, but even I could only guess how the recipes would taste in the end.

I had some students chop pork by hand and stuff intestines to make cervelat sausages. Some used the wood-fired oven to bake, others cooked a rabbit with bacon at the hearth in a clay pipkin. I think the biggest hit was an opulent pie made with sole, rich with spices, dripping with butter and verjuice. There was also a “hochepot” stew made with chicken, dried fruit and a lot of sugar. A dish of frumenty, which is whole wheat berries and “crespes” (which are like funnel cakes) rounded out the menu. The only rule was to stick as closely as possible to the original early modern recipes, which thankfully didn’t include many measurements, so there was a good deal of leeway.

Clay Pipkin.  Photo courtesy of Ken Albala.
Clay Pipkin. Photo courtesy of Ken Albala.

Everything turned out to be not only good, but excellent, as I knew it would if we had stuck to the directions. More revealingly, dishes that the students fully expected to dislike were devoured. Flavors they thought would clash, like the sugar in the stew, turned out to be very appealing. The riot of spices reminded some of Indian food. Most importantly, rather than hearing a description of these flavor combinations, students got to experience them first-hand. It was much like hearing music played on period instruments or seeing a 500-year-old painting up close. History can and should be made palpable and cooking is one of the most thrilling ways it can be done, as long as you start with a lesson in fire safety!

Ken Albala teaches food history at the University of the Pacific in Stockton California and is Director of the Food Studies Masters Program in San Francisco.