Welcome to a special series on natural states of matter: liquids, solids, gasses, plasma. Over the course of this occasional series, we’ll be exploring recipes relating to all of these substances, and how people have imagined, made, shaped, and used them in different times and different places.
The first in the series is liquid, a fluid which conforms to the shape of its container. Liquid is the only fundamental state of matter to hold no fixed shape, although it is understood to retain a (mostly) constant volume. It flows. It resists compression. Liquid particles are bound gently.
Like liquid particles themselves, the pieces in this series are bound gently and productively together within the theme. Some authors are focusing on natural materials: Utku Can Topçu on lime and limestone, Leonie Rau on oil. Others are focusing on liquids derived from and made within the human body: Marguerite Happe Vanderford on blood, and Julie Martins on breastmilk. And some will share their research on liquids made with the purpose of altering human states and understandings: Tyler Rainford’s piece will examine alcohol, and specifically, the eighteenth-century drink called shrub.
Join us as we think and talk about the ways that liquids can help us to better understand recipes in the past and present.
Perhaps especially now, we recognize that taking a break is essential for mental health, physical well-being, good collegiality, and best work practices. The RP editorial team often takes a break in late August and early September, to give ourselves, our authors, and our readers time to reset and relax. This year we’ll put pause on the blog for the last two weeks of August and the first week of September, 2021.
We recognize that this is also a busy time for teachers as we build syllabi, write handbooks, and plan lessons. If you’re looking for materials for the classroom, we recommend our teaching series, which is full of ideas about how to incorporate work on recipes – culinary, magical, artistic, scientific, and medical – into your curriculum. Want to point students towards recipes from the past so that they can do their own research? See our First Monday Library Chat, featuring interviews with libraries, archives, and museums holding recipe collections. Want to assign blog posts from the RP as assignments? Search the RP itself by category, tag, or under the “Thematic Series” tab. There is so much on the site for students and learners of all kinds.
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.
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 Chingonyihas 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.