Cold winter nights have me craving warm and filling meals and nothing pairs with a slice of my husband’s homemade bread like a bowl (or two!) of tomato soup. Used in dishes, sauces, salads, drinks, and eaten raw, thousands of cultivars of the tomato are grown worldwide to meet modern consumption demands. However, this culinary vegetable was not originally warmly received by Anglo-Americans, who didn’t think it was easily adapted to their palates.[i]
Though a “New World” cultivar, the tomato had quite a journey over time and space before becoming a consistent cultivar of antebellum American Southern cuisine. The cultivated tomato originated in Central America and was a late addition to the food supply of Mesoamericans, for no pre-Columbian archeological evidence of its cultivation has been uncovered. It first appears in written record in 1519, mentioned in Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés’s diary of his infamous conquest of Mexico. Although cultivated in Continental Europe since the 1540s, fundamentally altering foodways of the Spanish and Italians, Englishmen remained wary of the tomato for over two hundred years, growing them only for curiosity and for the beauty of the fruit. The Central American fruit’s first appearance in a published English recipe was under the name love apple and used to dress haddock “after the Spanish Way” by Hannah Glasse in the 1758 supplement to The Art of Cookery.[ii] By the 1780s, other tomato recipes appeared in British cookery manuscripts and the 1797 Encyclopedia Britannica announced the tomato was “in daily use; being either boiled in soups or broths, or served up boiled as garnishes to flesh-meats.”[iii]
Despite their late bloom in English cuisine, white colonists rather commonly ate tomatoes in Jamaica and probably throughout the Caribbean. In the early eighteenth century, English naturalist Henry Barham confessed that he had eaten five or six raw tomatoes at a time in Jamaica, “full of pulpy juice, and of small seeds, which you swallow with the pulp, and have something of a gravy taste.”[iv] The first known reference of the tomato in the mainland British North American colonies was by English herbalist William Salmon on his 1710 expedition of Carolina.[v] Linguistic evidence suggests the tomato was likely introduced to the American South from the Caribbean. Late seventeenth-century English, French, and German manuscripts all refer to the fruit as the love apple. and in fact the word tomato did not receive linguistic prominence in England until the mid-nineteenth century. In contrast, almost all eighteenth-century Southern references used some variation of the Spanish- and Portuguese-origin-word for tomato.[vi] Part of indigenous gardens throughout the Caribbean, tomatoes were slowly adopted into the mélange of colonial cooking.
Contrary to prominent Southern food historian Sam Hillard’s claims in his Hog Meat and Hoe Cake that the “tomato was little used as a vegetable in antebellum times,” tomato usage is well-documented in the early nineteenth-century American South.[vii] Among recipe manuscripts of antebellum Charlestonians, tomato cookery paralleled that of English cookery–tomatoes were stewed with other ingredients such as fish, shrimp, beef, or egg dishes. Tomatoes also stood alone–served fried, stewed, baked, or chopped. The most frequently reoccurring recipes for tomatoes, however, called for them to be preserved. For example, the receipt book of Mary Motte Alston Pringle includes three recipes for preserving tomatoes–two for pickling and one for canning–as well as a recipe for tomato catsup. In her recipe “to Preserve Tomatoes,” Pringle advocates scalding ripe tomatoes in hot water to easily remove the skins, boiling them in sugar or salt, then drying inch-thick cakes in the sun before packing the slices away in bags to hang in a dry place. This preparation suggests a later use for application in a dish calling for stewed tomatoes such as “Knuckled Veal” or “Baked Shrimp and Tomatoes.”[viii] Such recipes suggest the considerable effort required to transcend seasonality because of the centrality of tomatoes to dishes consumed in the antebellum South; women like Mary Motte Alston Pringle found the tomato a valuable component to their cuisine patterns and therefore practiced several methods to ensure its availability out of season.
If this article has got you hankering for tomatoes in your next meal, an antebellum Southerner would advise you get a move on! In her recipe book, The Carolina Housewife 1847), Sarah Rutledge notes “the art of cooking tomatoes lies mostly in cooking them enough. In whatever way prepared, they should be put on some hours before dinner.”[ix] To this twenty-first century academic, that means simmering on low in the crockpot! For my favorite out-of-season tomato soup recipe, check out this slow cooker tomato basil soup.
[i] Though botanically a fruit, the tomato is legally classified, for tax purposes, as a vegetable. See the court decision of Nix V. Hedden (Supreme Court, 1893).
[ii] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (London, UK: Printed for the Author, 1758), 312.
[iii]Encylopedia Britannica (Edinburgh: A. Bell & C. Macfarquhar, 1797), vol. 17, 597-598.
[iv] Henry Barham, Hortus Americanus: containing an account of the trees, shrubs, and other vegetable productions of South-America and the West India Islands, and particularly of the island of Jamaica (written 1711) (Kingston, Jamaica: Alexander Aikman, 1794), 20.
[v] William Salmon, Botanologia, the English herbal, or, History of plants (London, UK: I. Dawkes, 1710), 1356.
[vi] Andrew Smith, The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 1994), 200.
[vii] Sam Hilliard, Hog Meat and Hoecake: Food Supply in the Old South, 1840-1860 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 1972), 173.
[ix] Sarah Rutledge, The Carolina Housewife or, House and Home: By a Lady of Charleston (Charleston, SC: W.R. Babcock & Co., 1847), 102.
Kelly K. Sharp is a PhD candidate and instructor at the University of California, Davis. A native of Encinitas, California, Kelly earned her BA in History at Willamette University and volunteered as an AmeriCorps VISTA worker with Community Housing Works in 2012-2013. Her dissertation, entitled “Farmers’ Plots to Backlot Stewpots: The Culinary Creolism of Urban Antebellum Charleston,” is a culinary history of race-making in the urban center of the South.
Kelly has experience teaching survey courses in United States history, women and gender history, and material studies at University of California, Davis. She has been active in public history, including editorial and curatorial work for the Blackville Historical Center and at the University of California, Davis, and mentorship initiatives within the Coordinating Council of Women Historians.
Outside of her academic work, she enjoys hiking, traveling, reading, and eating.
Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat! To start the new 2018 year we’re speaking with Kathryn Harvey, Head of the Archival and Special Collections at the University of Guelph Library, and Melissa McAfee, Special Collections Librarian at the University of Guelph Library.
For our readers who may not be familiar with the University of Guelph’s Archival and Special Collections center, can you provide a brief overview of your holdings and research strengths? What tips can you offer to help users find recipes via your catalogue or finding aids?
In 1903, the Macdonald Institute was founded in Guelph by Adelaide Hoodless and Sir William Macdonald. This institute (one of the three founding colleges of the University of Guelph in 1965) took as its mission the education of women in the areas of nature study, domestic science, and household management. From the library’s early days it supported these studies; however, the Culinary Collections as a discrete major collecting area within the library did not really come into being until 1993 around the time the University acquired Edna Staebler’s archives. (More on her a bit later.) Since 1993, the collection has grown to encompass more than 18,000 cookbooks—with one of the world’s largest holdings of Canadian titles and authors—as well as the personal and professional papers of food writers, educators, and editors.
Our Culinary Collections are strong in many areas. In addition to having a world-class collection of specifically Canadian cookbooks and books about Canadian foodways, we have books international in scope to help contextualize these collections and support research on the many cultural, social, and economic influences on Canadian cuisine, the food industry, and the hospitality industry. These works comprise what we call our Canadian Cookbook Collection.
Our collections include more than sixty manuscript receipt books dating from the period between 1722 and 1959, with two-thirds of these dating from prior to the 20th century. Many of these receipt books contain recipes not solely for food and beverages, but also for medicinal purposes. This is a rich and largely un-researched collection. Only one of these manuscripts has thus far been published: A Receipt Book of Mrs Johnson 1741/2 recently appeared as The Johnson Family Treasury, edited by Nathalie Cooke and Kathryn Harvey (Oakville, ON: Rock’s Mills Press, 2015). Two other of our manuscripts are available for transcription through the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Dromio interface as part of the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective Project (located under EMROC > GuelphMS).
Other areas where our collections are strong are community cookbooks, often created for fund-raising purposes and corporate/advertising/publicity cookbooks including the little pamphlets which come with food (flour, yeast, jello to name only a few) and appliances (stoves, blenders, microwaves, etc.). The case of community cookbooks is particularly interesting. Such works differ from those by professional chefs coming out of larger publishing houses because the community cookbooks reflect the type of cooking actually done in the community and not ideals to aspire to. Furthermore, because the cookbooks often give information about the community putting it together and recipes are often signed, genealogists and social historians (two name only two groups) use them to track relatives and learn about the community.
All of our holdings are available for on-site viewing and may be access via the library’s online catalogue at http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/.
Guelph has a particularly strong culinary collection. What are the oldest and the newest objects you’ve acquired that relate to recipes and food, and what can they tell us about the scope and texture of the collection as a whole?
The oldest cookbook in our collection is Murrel’s Two Books of Cookerie and Carving; the Fifth Time Printed with new Additions. London: Printed by M.F for John Marriet and to be sold at his shop in St. Dunstans Churchyard in Fleetstreet, 1641.
Written by John Murrell, a professional cook from London, who studied cooking in France and the Low Countries, this was one of the first cookbooks to establish cooking as a fashion rather than a domestic household guide. The book is divided into three sections: the first two sections contain a variety of recipes for boiled, baked, and roasted meats, puddings, food preservation, and the third is on carving. Murrell’s cookbook is innovative in promoting cooking as a cosmopolitan fashion, which he experienced while studying cooking in France, rather than the focus on provincial recipes of earlier English cookbooks. In the carving section, Murrell republished parts of The Boke of Kervyne, the first carving manual published in England. This cookbook contains many recipes “on the French fashion”, such as capon with lemons, pigeon with rice, rack of veal, steak pie and classics “on the English fashion” such as rice pudding, boiled rabbit, and gooseberry tart.
Early editions of this cookbook are very rare. Only four copies of this edition are listed in Worldcat. This book was part of an early donation to our culinary arts collection by Una Abrahamson, a Toronto food writer.
The newest cookbook added to our collection is Catharine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide: Cooking with a Canadian Classic, edited by Nathalie Cooke and Fiona Lucas. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.
Originally published in Toronto in 1855, The Female Emigrant’s Guide provides the most authentic account of cooking in Ontario in the first half of the 19th century. Catherine Parr Traill (née Strickland) emigrated with her husband to Upper Canada form England in 1832. She states that her book was not “intended for a regular cookery-book,” but to explain to recent English immigrants the distinctive practices in Canadian kitchens. The book covers the whole cycle of food production, from growing and gathering to preserving and storing. This new edition edited by food scholars Nathalie Cooke and Fiona Lucas not only reprints this important Canadian culinary classic, but provides a “Guide to Traill’s World” containing sections that contextualize and interpret 19th c. Canadian cooking.
Although these two volumes barely scratch the surface of the breadth and depth of the collections, what they do show is the fact that Canadian foodways have a much larger context and lineage. Additionally, our books focus on all aspects of food from “food as fashion” to practical domestic cookery.
Some of the most impressive things about Guelph’s recipe sources are the ways that they bring to light the noteworthy careers of Canadian women food-writers and chefs (eg., the Edna Staebler Collection, the Helen Gagen Collection, the Jean Fewster Collection, Jean Paré Collection). What do these sources tell us about gender and work in twentieth-century Canada?
One of the real strengths of our archival collections is the way they demonstrate the depth and breadth of women’s contributions to Canadian culinary and food culture. The strongest examples, I believe, are the extensive Edna Staebler papers and the smaller—but no less important—collections of Jean Paré’s fan mail and Marie Nightingale’s papers. In the 20th and early 21st centuries, cookbooks published by the big publishing houses tend to focus on what we might call aspirational meals, the type of meal you might find in a restaurant. These women’s cookbooks focus on the practical, on meals that a cook might reasonably be expected to make in the home on a regular basis. Furthermore, the archives of women such as Jean Paré, Jean Fewster, and Helen Gagen also reveal their exceptional business acumen and influence over product development, education, marketing, and nutrition within Canada and abroad.
Edna Staebler (1906-2006), is the author of the successful Schmecks cookbook series, beginning with “Food that Really Schmecks” in 1968, based on the food and culture of the Mennonite communities of Waterloo County, Ont. She is recognized as one of the nation’s leading voices on the lifestyles of Canadians coast to coast, primarily for the Hutterite colonies on the Prairies, miners in Northern Ontario and the descendants of refugee slaves in Nova Scotia. Her articles appeared in Maclean’s,Chatelaine,Reader’s Digest, and Saturday Night magazines, among others. An avid diary writer, she began keeping diaries at the age of 16 and continued throughout her lifetime, so these diaries would be of great interest to those researching women within the food industry.
Marie Nightingale (1928-2014) is considered the definitive authority on Canadian East Coast cuisine. She began her career in radio, working at Halifax’s CHNS Radio; Windsor, Nova Scotia’s CFAB Radio; and Halifax’s CJCH Radio. She published Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens in 1970, and it remains the best-selling cookbook to come from Nova Scotia and was awarded a spot in the Canadian Culinary Landmarks Hall of Fame in 2011. She went on to publish five more cookbooks: Marie Nightingale’s Favourite Recipes (1993), Out of Nova Scotia Gardens (1997), Cooking with Friends (2003), Traditional Holiday Fare (2004), and Your Best-loved Menus (2005). As the food writer and editor for Halifax newspapers The Chronicle-Herald and The Mail-Star from 1982 to her retirement in April 1993, she continued to contribute to the papers on a regular basis even beyond her retirement. She was the founding food editor of Saltscapes magazine, where she worked from 2000 to 2009. In 1998, she was the second individual to receive the second Edna Staebler Lifetime Achievement Award from Cuisine Canada. (Edna Staebler herself was the first.) In 2013, she was presented with a Canadian Food Hero Award from Slow Food Canada.
Helen Gagen (1908-1998) was hired by Katherine Caldwell Bayley in 1931 to assist with the latter’s and her husband’s consulting company, and she worked for the next ten years helping to produce a monthly 12-14 page supplement for the Canadian Home Journal (later part of Chatelaine) and also preparing food sections of the Globe and Mail. She and Bayley were additionally responsible for developing the food profile of Maple Leaf Milling, including recipe development and testing, cookbook writing, developing several series of cooking lessons, and preparing copy for product packages. Her work in advertising in the 1940s and 1950s put her at the centre of development of advertising copy for Jell-O, Carnation evaporated milk, Swan’s Down baking powder, and Baker’s chocolate, among others. This early work influenced many of her activities over the next forty years: food editor for the Toronto Telegram (1963-1971); consumer adviser for Miracle Food Mart supermarkets in Ontario (1972 on), “Shopping Basket” columnist for the Globe and Mail (1976-1987), and anonymous restaurant reviews for Toronto Life magazine. The fact that Helen Gagen was made the first member of the Ontario Home Economists in Business Hall of Fame shows how important her contributions to Canadian foodways.
Like Gagen, Jean Fewster (1924-2015) spent a significant portion of her career in product development, consumer information and education. She received a BHSc in 1946 from the University of Saskatchewan. From 1951-1964, Fewster was Director of Home Economics, Dairy Foods Service Bureau, Dairy Farmers of Canada in Toronto. Under the pen name “Marie Fraser,” she developed and directed their consumer information/education program. In the 1960s she enrolled in a summer course at the University of West Virginia and then decided to go back to school full-time. She enrolled in the University of Wisconsin–Madison earning an MS (Home Economics, Journalism) in 1966 and a PhD in 1969 (Communications). After graduation, she accepted a three month consultancy job with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations at its headquarters in Rome. That position turned into a 15-year commitment which took her travelling to almost 100 countries around the world. She was particularly influential helping women in emerging countries learn about nutrition and food handling practices.
While Staebler, Gagen, and Fewster were active in journalism, product development, nutrition, and consumer education, Jean Paré’s legacy to the Canadian culinary scene is largely through her influence on home cooks through her more than 200 cookbooks, published by the Company’s Coming Publishing Company empire which she founded herself. Evidence of this legacy is readily apparent in the 30 years’ worth of her fan mail which is housed in Archival and Special Collections. And as a testament to her dedication, she kept copies of all her responses to fans and detractors alike! She started her culinary career as a caterer, launching a catering company that operated for more than 18 years. Over the years, attendees kept asking her for the recipes, which led to the self-publication of her first cookbook, 150 Delicious Squares, at the age of 54. It sold out its entire print run of 15,000 in less than six weeks. As a cook herself and a shrewd businesswoman, she produced spiral bound volumes instead of traditionally bound books so they would easily lie flat while the home cook worked around in the kitchen. Another of her innovations was to sell the compact volumes in places where people were buying groceries rather than solely in bookstores. As a result since 1981, she has sold more than 30 million copies of her books around the world. All this was accomplished through amassing more than 6,700 cookbooks from around the world that she used for inspiration (volumes also donated to the University of Guelph) and through building a large test kitchen and food staging area/photography studio, and publishing house where all her recipes were created, tested, photographed, and then published. Although she retired in 2011, her books are still readily available.
Who was Una Abrahamson and how did she help to shape Guelph’s archive?
Una Abrahamson (1922-1999) was a Canadian writer who authored a book on domestic life in nineteenth century Canada and wrote articles on food and nutrion for Canadian magazines. She also chaired the Ontario Council of Health’s Task Force on Nutrition and Dietetic Services In 1997 the University of Guelph acquired her distinguished library of published and manuscript cookbooks and domestic manuals dating from the early seventeenth century to the late twentieth century. Abrahamson’s donation of 3,000 historic cookbooks formed the foundation of our Culinary Art Collection, which now includes over 18,000 items.
Examples from the Una Abrahamson collection of English, French, and early Canadian cookbooks, domestic manuals, and medicinal receipts include:
De Tuenda Bona Valetudine: libellus Eobani Hessi; commentarijs doctissimis illustratus a loanne Placotomo, professore medico quondam in Academia Regiomontana, illustratus i quibus multa erudite explicantur, studiosis philosophia plurimum profutura, accesserunt & alia nonnulla lectu non indigna quae versa pagina indicabit. Franc. : Apud Hared Chr. Egen, c. 1521.
The Queen-like closet, or rich cabinet stored with all manner of rare receipts for preserving, candying and cookery by Hannah Wooley. Fifth edition. London: 1684.
American cookery, by an American orphan by Amelia Simmons. Poughkeepsie, NY: 1815.
The Queens closet opened Incomparable secrets in Physick, chirugery, preserving, candying, and cookery; as they were presented to the Queen by the most experienced persons of our times, many whereof were honoured with her owne practice, when the pleased to descend to these more private recreations. London : Printed for Nathaniel Brook, at the angel in Cornhill 1655
Vinetum Britannicum : or, A treatise of cider, and such other wines and drinks that are extracted from all manner of fruits growing in this Kingdom. Together with the method of propagating all sorts of vinous fruit-trees. And a description of the new-invented ingenio or mill, for the more expeditious and better making of cider. And also the right method of making metheglin and birch-wine. By John Worlidge. London : Printed by J.C. for Thom. Dring. 1676
Le cuisinier royal et bourgeois, qui apprend a ordonner toute sorte de repas en gras & en maigre, & la meilleure maniere des ragouts les plus delicats & les plus à la mode. Ouvrage tres-utile dans les familles, & singulierement necessaire à tous maitres d’hotels, & ecuiers de cuisine. New ed. By Francois Massialot. Paris : Chez Claude Prudhomme 1704.
A treatise of foods, in general: First, the difference and choice which ought to be made of each sort in particular. Secondly, the good and ill effects produced by them. Thirdly, the principles wherewith they abound. And, fourthly, the time, age and constitution they suit with : to which are added, remarks upon each chapter; wherein their nature and uses are explained, according to the principles of chymistry and mechanism. By Louis Lémery, London : John taylor 1704
The cook’s and confectioner’s dictionary : or, The accomplish’d housewife’s companion. By John Nott. London : Printed for C. Rivington 1723
The cook not mad, or, rational cookery; being a collection of original and selected receipts, embracing not only the art of curing various kinds of meats and vegetables for future use, but of cooking, in its general acceptation, to the taste, habits, and degrees of luxury prevalent with the American public in town and country; to which are added, directions for preparing comforts for the sick room, together with sundry miscellaneous kinds of information of importance to housekeepers in general, nearly all tested by experience. Watertown, New York : Knowlton & Rice 1831 (First cookbook in English published in Canada)
Abrahamson was also was a collector of manuscript cookbooks, and many of the more than sixty in our collection (as mentioned above) were donated to us as part of her collection.
Tell us a bit more about how you’re encouraging faculty and students at Guelph to use your recipes holdings. I saw an announcement about an experiential learning exhibit curated by students at Guelph and I’d love to learn more about it.
Since 2015, we have supported experiential learning projects based on our collections to students at the University of Guelph. Last year we worked with 37 students in Dr. Rebecca Beauseart’s Food History course to develop “Tried, Tested, and True: A Retrospective on Canadian Cookery, 1867-1917”. The student curators explored cooking in Canada from Canadian Confederation until the First World War. The aim of this project was for students to gain an appreciation for cookbooks and domestic manuals as primary resources that provide a window into Canadian society during the fifty-year period after Canadian Confederation in 1867. An online component to the exhibit was developed by as an independent study project by a 4th year History major. This can be viewed here. During the Fall 2018 term, Archival & Special Collections is supporting another classroom project based on our culinary collection. Students in Dr. Kevin James’ First Year Seminar on ephemera are using advertising cookbooks from our holdings to research and curate an online exhibition on the variety of fascinating and colorful cookbook pamphlets published by food producers, kitchen appliance manufacturers, and professional food organizations. Through these experiential learning projects students learned how to interpret and contextualize original and primary sources; protocols for using rare books and archival materials, and how to develop and curate physical case and online exhibits.
The theme of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery for 2017 was “Landscape.” From Friday July 7 to Sunday July 9, 270 chefs, food producers, journalists, scholars, and general foodies gathered to discuss (and taste) the relationship between food and landscape.
There were many interpretations of what a landscape is and how humans interact with their landscapes to get certain foods. The thread of nostalgia for lost or disappearing food landscapes emerged early in the conference thanks to plenary talks by writers Catherine Brown and Colin Tudge. Brown recounted sharing meals of tender mutton with aging crofters in desolate regions of northern Scotland in the 1970s and thinking that their recipes and ways of cooking would be lost with their generation. The next generation was drawn away from the land to more lucrative and comfortable urban livelihoods. On Saturday, talks about shepherding in the Lake District (James Rebanks) and the food traditions of Catalonia (Claudia Rodin) pursued the theme of urbanization and the decline of family-run farms from the 1970s to today.
Many of these nostalgic views on food landscape were accompanied with hope that a small farm renaissance is on the horizon. Rebanks (himself a shepherd) and Brown pointed to young people who are turning back to the farms that their parents abandoned to earn less money, but live according to their values.
Joshna Maharaj is a young chef working to return whole foods to institutional settings such as hospitals and universities in the urban landscape of Toronto. Maharaj shared ironical, yet revealing, anecdotes about counterproductive hospital dietary regulations that left her arguing that the stem of a strawberry was not a choking hazard and other such battles for bringing truly healing food to sick people.
Revitalization of food landscapes was also tasted throughout the weekend. First, at the Boyne Valley Banquet on Friday night, which was sponsored by the Irish tourist board and presented a cow carcass twelve ways. This meal highlighted Ireland’s “Ancient East,” a region northeast of Dublin that has enjoyed a resurgence thanks to its branding as a gastronomic destination. During this feast, I had the pleasure of being regaled with stories and jokes by the chef’s brother, Ronan, who had driven the meat and other local delicacies from Ireland with his brother. He shared one story about being waved through the immigration checkpoint when he mentioned that his destination was the Oxford Food Symposium, and therefore avoided having to open the doors of a van crammed with raw animal parts.
Ronan’s story brought to mind how political borders influence the mobility of food and made me reflect on how different this drive might be once Brexit takes effect. Brexit was clearly on the minds of other symposiasts as well: Reblack saw that there might be a silver lining in last year’s vote to leave the E.U., as Britons might now take stock of their food policies and enact regulation to support small farmers. Olivia Potts gave a fascinating retrospective on how European Economic Community legislation has affected farming, food pricing, and surpluses. Potts articulated how the E.E.C. legislators responded to outcries from farmers and consumers in adapting and reforming food legislation in the last decades.
The Saturday night dinner poignantly expressed how people could be linked by a shared food landscape even when divided by a political boundary. The meal consisted of food and drinks from the Turkish and Armenian borderlands. Gamze Íneceli screened a short film of the mountainous wine region that included the parts of Armenia and Turkey that supplied our wine for the evening.
While some of the explorations of the theme were poignant, others were more playful, such as the talk about rice paddy art tourism in Japan by Voltaire Chan and the Urban Landscape created for Saturday’s lunch with microgreens growing on the long banqueting tables.
The most startling take on the theme came from Nicola Twilley’s Sunday morning’s plenary in which she introduced the concept of “aerior.” She described her project to harvest the taste of particular atmospheres. Egg foam is reportedly 90% air. This factoid inspired a seemingly light-hearted art piece in which meringues were whipped in a sealed “smog chamber” so that people could literally compare the tastes of the airs of different places. Twilley has been asked by meringue tasters, “is it safe to eat?” To which she responds, “well, is it safe to breathe?”
Although humans are not the only species to shape food landscapes (Joshua Evans brought up the tireless work of microbes), there was an undercurrent at the symposium of our environmental responsibilities as we develop our food cultures. As Colin Tudge emphasized in his talk, “The Nature of the Task,” ever-increasing production is not the goal of enlightened agriculture, rather the goals are kindness and quality.
It’s hard to set a compound fracture when the patient is in so much pain that he won’t let you touch him. For such situations, the Chinese doctor Wei Yilin (1277-1347) recommended giving the patient a dose of “numbing medicine” (ma yao). This would make him “fall into a stupor,” after which the doctor could carry out the needed surgical procedures: “using a knife to cut open [flesh], or using scissors to cut away the sharp ends of bone.” Numbing medicine was also useful when extracting arrowheads from bones, Wei said, enabling the practitioner to “use iron tongs to pull it out, or use an auger to bore open [the bone] and thus extract it.” More generally, Wei recommended using numbing medicines for all fractures and dislocation, for it would allow the doctor to manipulate the patient’s body at will.
Wei’s preferred numbing medicine was “Wild Aconite Powder” (cao wu san), and he detailed the recipe in his influential compendium, Efficacious Formulas of a Hereditary Medical Family (Shiyi dexiao fang), completed in 1337 and printed by the Imperial Medical Academy of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). In his preface, Wei affirmed that medical formulas were the foundation of medicine and that a doctor’s ability to cure depended on his ability to use these tools skillfully. Wei’s family had practiced medicine for five generations, and he synthesized their knowledge with that of other doctors to produce a comprehensive treatise encompassing internal medicine; the diseases of women and children; eye diseases; illnesses of the mouth, teeth, and throat; ulcers and swellings; and diseases caused by invasions of “wind” (ailments with sudden onset, including febrile epidemics and paralytic strokes). Numbing medicine appeared in Wei’s chapters on bone setting and weapon wounds.
Wei’s Wild Aconite Powder is the earliest datable recipe that I have found for surgical anesthesia in a Chinese text, and it is a valuable window onto practices that were largely transmitted orally, whether in medical families or from master to disciple. Dynastic histories relate that the legendary doctor Hua Tuo (110-207) employed a formula called mafeisan to render his patients insensible prior to cutting them, even opening up their abdomens to excise rotting flesh and noxious accumulations. Some scholars have hypothesized that mafeisan (literally “hemp-boil-powder) may have contained morphine or cannabis (ma), but its ingredients remain a mystery. A text attributed to the twelfth-century physician Dou Cai (ca. 1146) recommended using a mixture of powdered cannabis and datura flowers (shan qie zi, also called man tuo luo hua) to put patients to sleep prior to moxibustion treatments, which in this text could involve a hundred or more cones of burning mugwort placed directly on the patient’s skin. Wei Yilin’s recipe provides important additional textual evidence for a tradition of anesthetic formulas based on toxic plants, one that was clearly in circulation long before he wrote it down.
At least as far back as the Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica (3rd c.), medical authors had described aconite as highly toxic (for contemporary Roman views of aconite, see blogpost by Molly Jones-Lewis). In the right hands, however, aconite was a powerful drug, and part of the Chinese practice of using poisons to cure (see blogpost by Yan Liu). Warm and acrid, aconite could drive out pathogenic wind and cold from the body, break up stagnant accumulations, and invigorate the body’s vitalities. In the language of Chinese yin-yang cosmology, it nourished yang—all that was active, heating, external, and ascending. The main aconite root was considered more toxic than the subsidiary roots (designated by the separate name fu zi, “appended offspring”), and the wild form was more potent than the cultivated variety.
Wei’s numbing recipe consisted of 13 plant ingredients, including the main roots of both wild and cultivated (Sichuanese) aconite, along with drugs known as good for treating wounds:
Young fruit of the honey locust (zhu yao zao jiao)
Momordica seeds (mu bie zi)
Tripterygium (zi jin pi)
Dahurian angelica (bai zhi)
Pinellia (ban xia)
Lindera (wu yao)
Sichuanese lovage (chuan xiong)
Aralia (tu dang gui)
Sichuanese aconite (chuan wu)
Five taels each
Star anise (bo shang hui xiang)
“Sit-grasp” plant (zuo ru), simmered in wine until hot
Wild aconite (cao wu)
Two taels each
Costus (mu xiang), three mace
Combine the above ingredients. Without pre-roasting, make into a powder. In all cases of crushed or broken or dislocated bones, use two mace, mixed into high quality red liquor.
Wei most likely learned this formula from his great-uncle Zimei, a specialist in bonesetting and wounds. Its local origins are also suggested by its use of zuo ru, literally “sit-grasp”, a toxic plant whose botanical identity is unclear. However, according to the eighteenth-century Gazetteer of Jiangxi (Jiangxi tong zhi), sit-grasp was native to Jiangxi, Wei’s home province, and was used by indigenes to treat injuries from blows and falls. While classical pharmacology focused on the curative effects of aconite, Wei’s anesthetic relied on aconite’s ability to stupefy and numb, while curbing its ability to kill. If an initial dose failed to make the patient go under, Wei said, the doctor could carefully administer additional doses of wild aconite, sit-grasp herb and the datura flower.
In subsequent centuries, as medical texts proliferated, we find additional examples of numbing medicines that employed aconite, datura, and other toxic plants, employed when setting bones and draining abscesses, and to numb injured flesh before repairing tears and lacerations to ears, noses, lips, and scrotums. Such manual and surgical therapies are an integral part of the history of healing in China.
Yi-Li Wu is a Center Associate of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (US) and an affiliated researcher of EASTmedicine, University of Westminster, London (UK). 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 medical illustration, forensic medicine, and Chinese views of Western anatomical science. She is currently completing a book on the history of wound medicine in China.
Acknowledgements This research was funded by the Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities Award “Beyond Tradition: Ways of Knowing and Styles of Practice in East Asian Medicines, 1000 to the present” (097918/Z/11/Z). I am also grateful to Lorraine Wilcox for directing me to the work of Dou Cai.
 The weight of the tael (Ch. liang) has varied over time, but during Wei’s lifetime would have been equivalent to 40 grams. A mace (Ch. qian) is one-tenth of a tael.