First Monday Library Chat: The Huntington Library

The Recipes Project heads to San Marino, California this month, to learn about the recipe collections of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  We spoke with Alan Jutzi, Curator of Rare Books, and Shelley Kresan, rare book cataloguer for the Huntington’s new Anne Cranston American Regional and Charitable Cookbook Collection, about the many recipe sources – both early modern and modern – held at the Huntington.

The Huntington Library, San Marino CA.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Huntington Library, San Marino CA. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Huntington is known for the breadth of its collections, which have particular strengths in British and American history as well as the history of the American West. Tell us a bit about the early modern and modern recipes materials held at your institution.

During Henry E. Huntington’s buying splurge between 1910 and 1927, he acquired large English and American libraries and archives that included printed herbals, cookbooks, and works on domestic management as well as manuscripts dealing with medical and food recipes.  Examples of some of our major English holdings include the Bridgewater House Library (16th-19th centuries), which incorporate the Ellesmere papers, and the Stowe House manuscripts (mostly 16th-18th centuries) which entail the Temple, Brydges, and Grenville family papers.  The Robert A. Brock Collection (17th-19th centuries) on Virginia is an example of a large American collection of published works and family and regional archives.

Identifying early modern and modern printed recipes is much easier than locating those in large archival manuscript collections. The Huntington’s holdings in pre-1801 imprints from the British Isles and North America appear in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). All of the catalogued cookery publications appear in the Huntington’s online catalogue. The library has continued to concentrate on English and American cooking and culture by adding new materials, primarily through gifts to the library. In 1983 we acquired the 500-volume California cookbook collection of Helen Evans Brown and Philip S. Brown. A related collection that the Library has recently received is the Jay T. Last Collection of Lithographic and Social History. It includes a huge section of ephemeral printing dealing with American food and beverage promotion.

For information and access to manuscript materials and the Last Collection, researchers should contact the curator – they can find out how to do this via the library staff directory on the Huntington website.

I was especially excited to learn about the Huntington’s Cranston Collection, which includes 4,400 British and American cookbooks from the 19th and 20th centuries. What’s the history behind the Cranston Collection, and how did it come to be a part of the Huntington Library?

The Anne M. Cranston Collection on American Cookery was donated in 2000 by her daughter Elanne Callahan, of San Marino CA. It includes several thousand “trade” cookbooks, printed by major publishers over the last 150 years, and an equal number of “charitable” cookbooks from the same period.

The Cranston Collection consists of four main categories of cookbooks: 1) those written by the forerunners of the home economic movement and the heads of culinary schools in the late 19th century to promote the education of women; 2) 20th-century cookbooks that took cooking to a higher precision, which includes many foreign recipe books published in English; 3) 20th-century ephemeral cookbooks and pamphlets (e.g. Campbell’s Soup and Corn Products Refining Company promotional cookbooks,) 4) charity and fund-raising cookbooks created by churches, schools, hospitals, clubs, philanthropic organizations, etc.

Joseph Campbell Company canned beans advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post, 1921.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Joseph Campbell Company canned beans advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post, 1921. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Huntington’s primary reason for accepting the Cranston Collection was the depth of the regional and charitable sections; indeed all of the research done in this collection since its arrival has been in those areas.  And even in Mrs. Cranston’s home, the collection was organized by region, state, and city.  Anne M. Cranston (1906-1993) was a fascinating figure; she came to Southern California with her husband William E. Cranston in the early 1930s, and he founded the Thermador Company (which specialized in electrical, and especially kitchen, appliances) in Los Angeles.  Mrs. Cranston began to collect cookbooks around this time, and it was a pastime she continued throughout her life. It is obvious that she loved the hunt for the books as much as recipes the books contained. She was a bibliophile.

Shelley has been writing some great posts on the Cranston materials for Verso, the Huntington’s blog – and the public’s response to those posts has been terrific. People love to engage with culinary sources from the past! Does the Huntington have any future plans to make these materials widely accessible?

The Huntington Digital Library, representing only a fraction of our holdings, is an online tool to aid in the dissemination of just some of the library’s rich and unique collections. It is designed to support the research needs of Huntington readers and staff, and to share digitized resources with the broader community. The Huntington would certainly like to do much more with its cookery holdings, but we see our first responsibility to make collections available that will be consulted by our researchers. Eventually we anticipate more blogs, exhibits, conferences, and closer interaction with historical culinary organizations. There is nothing specifically planned for the near future.

Modern recipes were often used to circulate ideas about supposedly “exotic” or “foreign” nations and cultures. In the Cranston materials, do you see evidence of 19th and 20th century Americans experimenting with recipes from different cultures, geographic regions, religions, or ethnic groups?

The evidence for the circulation of ethnic recipes and cultural ideas in modern America comes out foremost in the Cranston Collection’s American charity cookbooks, particularly those from the early to mid 20th century. As immigrant groups settled throughout the United States and came into contact with established communities, local charities published cookbooks which reflected the adaption and adoption of cuisines offered by the newcomers.  The variety of ethnic cookbooks in the Cranston Collection is testimony to the impact of widespread regional ethnic population changes.  One of the Cranston books, Agnes Jekyll’s Kitchen Essays (1922), included a recipe for “Malay Curry of Prawns,” which called for western cooks to use seemingly-exotic ingredients such as coconut, turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon.  (Shelley’s post on Jekyll’s book, including the full recipe for the “Malay Curry” can be found here, at Verso.)

Agnes Jekyll.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Agnes Jekyll. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But modern American cooks also saw European cuisines as “novel” and “sophisticated.” The large selection of books on European cuisines published in English, as well as souvenir cookbooks that were obtained by Americans traveling to Europe, indicates the willingness of both American chefs and home cooks alike to venture into exotic and foreign territory.

Recipes frequently feature notations and marginalia made over the course of many years by the cooks who used them. Can you tell us a bit about the marginalia in the Huntington’s recipe collections (both early modern and modern)?

The Huntington rare book cataloguing descriptions attempt to provide copy-specific information with notes about manuscript notations and inserts; however, not all early modern or modern books have gotten this full treatment. There is no easy access to annotated recipes in early modern printed books.

The most marginalia to be found is in the American charitable cookbooks. These are corrections to the printed text, recipes mostly on the flyleaves, and recipes transcribed on separate sheets. These marginal, handwritten recipes, as one can imagine, are mostly those of the owner or ones received from a relative or friend. From working through the volumes, it appears that the majority are for breads, cakes, puddings, and desserts, but there are plenty of main dishes, appetizers, and side dishes. Some examples of marginal recipes in the Cranston Collection include scrawled recipes for a Lady Baltimore cake, a date pudding, and even a vegetarian meat substitute loaf made from lima beans.

There is much yet to be found in the Huntington’s extensive cookery collections. The search will lead in many directions, and the culinary rewards will be plentiful and rich.

First Monday Library Chat: Schlesinger Library at Harvard University

This month’s First Monday Library Chat features the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.  We spoke with Marylène Altieri,  Curator of Books and Printed Materials, about the Schlesinger collections.  She was joined by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, an independent scholar and culinary historian who became an affiliate of the library in the 1970s and who has welcomed legions of budding scholars to Schlesinger as a de facto research advisor.


Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia:
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Image courtesy of Wikipedia:


The Schlesinger is known for its commitment to collecting materials on the history of women in America, including the historic ties between women, food, and etiquette. Can you tell us about the range and scope of culinary materials held at your institution? When did the Schlesinger begin collecting materials on these topics?

Schlesinger Library, the world’s most significant collection of books, manuscripts, periodicals, images, and artifacts documenting the history of women in America, is also home to one of the country’s most extensive and distinguished culinary collections. The Schlesinger’s culinary collecting goes back to 1960, when 1500 historic cookbooks, many donated to Harvard College by Marietta Greenough, were transferred to the library, then known as the Women’s Archive, from Widener Library in Harvard Yard. Building on that kernel, the culinary collection grew to encompass not only books but periodicals, papers of culinary figures, and ephemera such as pamphlets and menus. Barbara Haber was the Curator of Books at Schlesinger for over three decades at a time when few academic libraries had any interest in this area, and through her advocacy the culinary collection became firmly established here and continued to grow. The culinary collection grew mainly by gifts and continues to benefit from them, combined with strategic purchases of essential new publications and antiquarian purchasing to fill gaps and deepen our strengths. Our collection policy, reflecting the reality that now many libraries collect in this area, defines our focus on cookbooks that emphasize the domestic aspects of food and its role in the lives of women and families.

We estimate that the culinary collection now includes 20,000 volumes, going back to 1567 and including thousands of rarities from America and Europe. Our main strength in the printed collections is American culinary history. Other strengths include cooking as part of domestic science (which crosses over into our women’s history collections); a large collection of periodicals, both culinary and general women’s publications; French and Continental cookery from the 16th to 21st centuries; significant collections of Russian and Eastern European cookbooks; Swedish cookbooks; modern Greek cookbooks; works on vegetarianism and other health diets; 20th-century British cookery; wartime cookery; culinary ephemera including over 4500 pamphlets, and menus, films, and even blogs. We also have significant holdings in domestic arts and kitchen design; a recent Museum of Modern Art show on the History of the Kitchen featured quotations from the works of Christine Frederick, a domestic scientist whose papers we hold. Etiquette and consumer advocacy are two further related areas; we hold historian Arthur M. Schlesinger’s collection of 19th and early 20th century etiquette books, which includes many works on dining etiquette, and many works on consumer aspects of food and cooking. And of course, the related collection here of 80,000 volumes of books on women’s history contain a vast amount of material on women’s activities in the home, including cooking.

In addition to the print collections, we have many outstanding and important culinary collections among our 3,500 manuscript collections. Here you will find the papers of many women and organizations of the culinary world: Julia Child, M. F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, Simone Beck, Dione Lucas, the Rombauer-Becker Family, Grace Zia Chu, Stella Standard, Peg Bracken, Roberta Kalechovsky (a Jewish animal rights and vegetarian writer/activist), and Zarela Martinez; The Window Shop café founded by wartime Eastern European immigrants on Brattle Street in Cambridge, the Corner Book Store, a renowned culinary book shop operated by Eleanor Loewenstein in New York City, papers of Christine Frederick and Esther Peterson, home economists; several home economics associations; culinary organizations such as Les Dames D’Escoffier, the Epicurean Club of Boston, oral history interviews with members of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Records of the Women and Food Information Network, Records of the Fishermen’s Wives of Gloucester, and many handwritten, or manuscript, cookbooks.

What distinguishes Schlesinger from other culinary collections is that our culinary collections are embedded in a rich and deep context of materials documenting women’s lives and domestic and family life. There isn’t another collection that can offer such a supportive context; this context greatly enhances the research experience and the possibilities here. Another distinction is that we are open to the public; no academic affiliation or prior vetting process is required to use our materials.


Two of the most well-known collections at the Schlesinger are those of Julia Child and her fellow author Simone Beck, with whom she wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking I and II. What’s the history behind the Child and Beck papers, and how did they come to be a part of the Schlesinger Library?

First Edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961).  Image courtesy of Wikipedia:
First Edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Image courtesy of Wikipedia:

It was through Avis DeVoto that Julia Child’s papers first came to the Library. Mrs. DeVoto, a cookbook editor at Knopf, had corresponded extensively with Julia during the 1950s and 1960s, during the time Julia Child and her collaborators were laboring on the manuscript of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she and her husband became good friends of Julia and Paul Child. When Mrs. DeVoto, who knew the collecting interests of Schlesinger Library very well, decided to give the letters she received from Julia and Paul Child to the library, the Childs also donated their letters from Avis DeVoto. This gift, heralded in the Library’s annual report for 1968-70 as “an especial pleasure,” opened the door. Nearly every year from that point on, the annual reports record donations of books from Julia Child, eventually numbering in the thousands. Julia Child had built an impressive collection of rare and important cookbooks during her residency in France, in her zeal to master French cooking techniques and to research the historic antecedents for every recipe she wrote. In 1976, she signed the agreement that formalized the donation of her papers, and she began to deposit her papers as well as books here steadily. The final chapter in the Schlesinger’s acquisition of Julia Child’s papers was written in the fall of 2001, when Child moved to California. This last donation comprised 94 cartons; included were Julia Child’s detailed subject files (covering everything from Artichokes to Zucchini), carefully organized over the years by her office staff. There were also thousands of photographs, mostly taken by her husband Paul; files on her television programs, correspondence, records of dealings with her publishers, framed awards, and Paul Child’s diaries of their travels. One can imagine many uses of these papers in the future, from studies of early television history to the conditions of social life in France, Germany, Scandinavia, and other countries in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1992 Julia Child donated a significant collection of papers of her longtime professional colleague and close friend Simone Beck to Schlesinger Library. Simone Beck, Julia Child, and Louisette Bertholle founded the Ecole des Trois Gourmandes in Paris, and they also wrote the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961; Child and Beck then went on to bring out volume two in 1970. Child and Beck remained extremely close until Beck’s death in 1991. It is said that many of the recipes in Mastering were Simone Beck’s recipes, researched, greatly enhanced, and carefully explicated for American cooks by Julia Child. In light of this, it’s particularly interesting to see Beck’s own early handwritten recipe collections, included with her papers. Schlesinger recently acquired further materials that will enhance scholars’ understanding of Beck’s own cookbook writing and how Child encouraged and influenced her friend. The new material consists of 80 letters, as well as typescript drafts and recipes, and a photograph of Beck.

Julia’s papers radiate with her serious and thorough approach to everything she did. Her papers are important because she believed deeply that what she was doing was important, not for her own glory, but in service of her goal: raising the standard of cooking and eating and making it attainable and fun for everyone. In addition, her papers trace her astounding personal evolution and her invention of new career paths for women.


Most people associate Child with her books or with her very popular cooking shows (“The French Chef,” “Julia Child & Company,” and “Dinner at Julia’s,” among others) but she was also devoted to scholarly study of gastronomy. Can you tell us a bit about her efforts to introduce this as a serious field for academic work?

Julia Child at KUHT.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Julia Child at KUHT. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Julia Child was a diligent student of culinary history and acquired a substantial research library of historic cookbooks during her residency in Europe in order to study the history and variations of the recipes she was developing. Julia Child’s books comprise one of the largest collections of European, particularly French, cookbooks in America; when still housed in Child’s own home, she generously opened her door to researchers who could not find these books in American libraries at the time – Barbara Ketcham Wheaton was given a key to the house and encouraged to use Child’s books as needed. Before she died, Childs donated nearly 5,000 titles to Schlesinger. There are many treasures among them: her beautiful 18th and 19th century editions of Menon, La Chapelle, La Varenne, Carême, Grimod de la Reynière, and Urbain Dubois; her two 19th-century editions of The Frugal Housewife, by Lydia Maria Child; a wonderful late 19th-century work on using leftovers (L’art d’accommoder les restes, dédié aux petites fortunes), her 1931 first edition of The Joy of Cooking, her Santa Barbara Junior League Cookbook of 1939, her Fannie Farmer, her Larousse Gastronomique boldly inscribed “La Pitchoune”, the little Norwegian cookbook issued by her cooking instructor in Norway, Lolly Raestad, and the work on Chinese Snacks translated from the Chinese by Nina Simonds, who wrote an entire letter to her mentor Julia inside the front cover. Julia Child’s book collection has been cataloged in detail, is used by many researchers, promoted extensively in our public outreach and exhibits, and stored in the best possible climate-controlled and secure storage.


I know that the Schlesinger’s culinary collections have inspired both exhibits and seminars (most notably those organized by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton), and the public’s response to those efforts at outreach has been terrific. Can you tell us a bit about the ways that members of the public are invited to engage with your culinary collections?

Many researchers come to the Schlesinger every year to make use of our culinary resources, and to look at and learn from our exhibitions. In 1993, Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Barbara Haber, and Joyce Toomre organized a major and ground-breaking exhibition at Harvard in 1993 entitled “No Food in the Library” (with the word No crossed out) that highlighted how much undiscovered material on food history was to be found throughout all the varied Harvard subject libraries. In addition we organize exhibits, including a major exhibit on Julia Child during 2012, the centennial of her birth. We have held several culinary symposia at the Radcliffe Institute, and the Culinary Historians of Boston meet at Schlesinger once a month to offer a talk by a cookbook author or culinary history scholar. We have also collaborated with the instructors of an undergraduate course at Harvard on the Science of Cooking, organizing an online exhibit and talks and hosting tours for some of the international chefs who teach in the course. Finally, we host Barbara Ketcham Wheaton’s annual Reading Historic Cookbooks Seminar, about which she writes:

Cookbooks, unlike novels, often change from one edition to another. The reasons for these changes include new ingredients, new equipment, changing tastes and perceptions of health benefits. The library has an especially notable sequence of Menon’s Cuisinière bourgeoise, from its first edition in 1746 until well into the 19th century. It was published in many parts of France, even during the Revolution; it was translated into most European languages, English, and Russian. The Schlesinger Library’s collection documents some of these changes in its more than four dozen editions. These books are full of information but much of it comes in very small units, making comparisons among the editions a challenge. To gain control over the details I have evolved a method for analyzing the contents of cookbooks in a structured way, and for more than a decade I have been offering a week-long seminar at the Schlesinger Library on these topics. A close reading of a dozen or more cookbooks looking only at ingredients reveals much about nutritional, sensory, seasonal, and class differences. On the second day a fresh group of books is read, and only the kitchen, its equipment, cooking techniques, and the management of heat and cold are considered. On the third day each person chooses a menu and mentally recreates the work-flow that produces the meal, and the means by which it is presented and eaten. Next we look at the cookbook as a genre, its structure and language, and the audience it addresses. Recipes are ideas, and like other ideas they move freely across boundaries of language, space, and class. They populate the cookbook-structure, but are not confined to it. At the end of the seminar we ask what place these books played in the lives of the writer, the publisher, the reader, and the cook.


Clearly there is something in this material that calls out to people. I get many offers from families who have a precious mother’s or grandmother’s recipe book that they’d like to donate. For them, these items have deep sentimental value; but more and more people are recognizing that they have research value as well. They are not unlike family photo albums. For many adults, the mere sight of the faded spine of their mother’s Settlement Cookbook or Joy of Cooking or the cracked plastic spines of those charitable cookbooks is enough to reduce them to tears.


How can we access your collections? Do you offer any travel fellowships? How much material is available online?

Our collections are fully cataloged in our online catalog, HOLLIS, which is available worldwide on the Internet. Many thousands of our photographs are digitized and also available for viewing on the Internet. A substantial number of our books are also digitized. For scholars who wish to come to the library in person, we offer small research grants for undergraduates, advanced degree candidates, and postgraduate researchers as well as independent investigators (see All materials must be used in our supervised Reading Room, but no academic credential is necessary. Researchers simply register at our front desk to use the collections. Our Research Services staff can correspond with researchers at length about their needs and advise them in detail on the contents of our collections. They can be contacted at The online catalog can be consulted at Detailed information about visiting Schlesinger Library and about all our collections is available on our website,

The researchers who come to the Schlesinger are able to read, and touch, the cookbooks and papers of women they’ve never met and to piece together the quality of their lives, the structure of their society, and the nature of their discourse from the simple texts of their daily domestic work.

The Pharmaca of Jozeph Coelho: A Family of Converso Apothecaries in Seventeenth-Century Coimbra

By Benjamin Breen

Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho (1668), fol. 1r.
Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho (1668), fol. 1r.

The apothecaries of early modern Portugal were tradesmen, and, although they were typically literate and well read, they left few archival records. The “Pharmaco de Jozeph Coelho,” a little-known manuscript housed in the National Library of Portugal, stands as a remarkable exception. The face that peers out at us from the title page—long-haired, surmounted by an angel, wearing a dapper black hat along with a rather quizzical expression—appears to be this manuscript’s primary author, Jozeph (or Joseph) Coelho.[1] Although Jozeph’s “Pharmaca” mainly consists of excerpts from Greco-Roman and Islamic medical authorities like Dioscorides and Yuhanna ibn Masawaih (Mesue), it also tells us a surprising amount about Jozeph and his family.

One of the first things that jumps out at anyone who consults Jozeph Coelho’s “Pharmaca” (which has recently been digitized) is the surprising number of doodles and visual puns. Coelho’s talent for drawing is evident from the very first page, which, in addition to his apparent self-portrait, features an ornate border abounding with fruits and flowers as well as some typically Baroque scrollwork. Coelho has even gone to the trouble of highlighting two plume-like vertical objects (jets of fire? feathers?) with green ink.

Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho (1668), fol. 1r.
Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho (1668), fol. 1r.

After a short dedication written in Spanish by another hand (an ode to the wisdom of Andrés Laguna, a converso physician who authored one of the most influential sixteenth century commentaries on Dioscorides), the text gets down to business, with minimal ornamentation to distract from a series of Latin and Portuguese quotations of Dioscorides’ De materia medica and Pseudo-Mesue’s Canones universalis. But when he segues into translating Pseudo-Mesue’s list of medicinal simples (De simplicibus), Coelho’s decorative inclinations seem to kick in. Many medicine names receive ornate borders, like these for Cassia fistula (the “Golden Shower tree,” native to Southeast Asia) and conserve of violets, where Coelho plays on the similarity between the Portuguese words for violet (violeta) and guitar (violão).


Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 14r.
Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 14r.


Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 15r.
Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 15r.


By page thirty, Coelho’s doodling has ramped up even further. On fol. 33v, a list of pills described by Mesue and the Byzantine physician Nicolaus Myrepsus, there are no less than seven decorated initials, including two personified moons, two men holding arrows, and a man wearing a headdress (a motif that reocurrs throughout the text and might reflect Coelho’s idea of an indigenous Brazilian).


Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 33v.
Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 33v.


Coelho’s “Pharmaca” may have been a didactic work designed to instruct journeyman apothecaries, so this visual ornamentation might amount to something more than mere doodling. Perhaps we can liken Coelho’s drawings to the early modern equivalent of New Yorker cartoons: visual jokes that allow the reader to pause and catch their breath before diving into another complex block of text.


Not only does the manuscript abound with unusual drawings, it also offers some useful clues about the Coelho family’s practice. One place to start is the title page itself, which identifies itself as a product of the botica (apothecary shop) of Rua Larga (Broad Street) in the Portuguese town of Coimbra. From this we can surmise that the botica supplied the physicians of the University of Coimbra, because that university’s school of medicine was located on the same short street. Indeed, although the shop of the Coelhos has long since been replaced by boxy buildings of gray concrete and student parking, the Rua Larga is still the home of the University of Coimbra’s School of Medicine today.


Credit: Georg Braun, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, (Cologne, 1598), “Illustris Civitati Conimbriae In Lusitania.”
Credit: Georg Braun, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, (Cologne, 1598), “Illustris Civitati Conimbriae In Lusitania.”

A 1598 bird’s eye view map of Coimbra gives a sense of the town as the Coelhos would have known it. It was already an ancient settlement by this time, having been founded by the Romans as a frontier outpost in the first century CE and successively controlled by a series of Visigothic kings, the Islamic caliphs of Al-Andalus, and finally the Portuguese crown. The map testifies to this complex history, depicting both Roman ruins (the three columns to the left of the Rua Larga) and a gate to “Almedina” (the medina quarter of the old Moorish city). Following the forced conversion or expulsion of Portuguese Jews in 1496, the University of Coimbra became a haven for the converso, or “New Christian,” descendants of Sephardic Jews who chose to remain in Iberia.


The Coelhos numbered among this New Christian community. We know this not only because Coelho has historically been a Sephardic name in Portugal, but because a member of their family, Maria Coelho, was arrested by the Inquisition of Coimbra on charges of judaísmo (retaining Jewish customs) in August of 1666. The “Processo” relating to her case records her father as the apothecary Filipe Coelho, and describes Maria as an unmarried, thirty-year-old “boticaria” (female apothecary). Working from the assumption that there was unlikely to have been two different apothecary families named Coelho working in Coimbra at the same time, my conjecture is that Jozeph Coelho was Maria’s brother.


After being interrogated and jailed for three years, Maria was in 1669 transported to Brazil as a degredado (deported criminal), where her fate is unknown. Although Maria likely spent the end of this period in Lisbon, from whence degredados were usually shipped, she would have initially been jailed in the Inquisition prison of Coimbra. As the 1598 map reveals, this was just a few minute’s walk from Maria’s family shop on the Rua Larga. The anguish that Maria and her family would have felt about this drawn-out imprisonment is hard to detect in the surviving sources, but painfully easy to imagine.


I suspect that the the “Pharmaca” actually contains a portrait of Maria. The manuscript’s title page announces that it was written in 1668, and Maria would therefore have been absent from her family for one to years by this time. Given this context, I interpret the drawing of a “Boticario” and “Botica[ria]” (male and female apothecaries) on fol. 76r of the “Pharmaca” as a tribute to Maria’s memory, created by a brother who would never see her again.

Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 76r.
Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 76r.


Benjamin Breen, a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Texas at Austin, is finishing a dissertation on the early modern drug trade. His articles have appeared in The Journal of Early Modern History, The Journal of Early American History, and History Compass. He is the editor-in-chief of The Appendix, a journal of narrative and experimental history.

[1] The manuscript actually contains at least four different hands, but I am making the assumption that the hand that appears in the first half of the text along with the title page is Jozeph Coelho. I suspect that hands in the second half of the text are additions by either Coelho’s family members or perhaps (if my surmise that this was a didactic text is true) by journeyman apothecaries adding further notes and commentaries.

Creatively Interpreting the Ménagier de Paris

By Tovah Bender

When I was handed an upper-level undergraduate course called Medieval Culture at Florida International University, I decided to push the concept of “culture.” I wanted to showcase all of medieval culture, high and low, ideals and practice. I wanted students to appreciate the richness of the cultures and to experience the period—both major events and daily life—through the eyes of those who lived in the period. I also wanted to make the society tangible to modern students, to whom the premodern past is often a very foreign place.


Andres Del Haya cooks chicken according to a medieval recipe.  Photo courtesy of Andres Del Haya.
Andres Del Haya cooks chicken according to a medieval recipe. Photo courtesy of Andres Del Haya.

This resulted in a course devoted entirely to the study of medieval primary sources in all their variety. When I teach the class, I emphasize sources that can be experienced through the senses; polyphonic music, recordings of texts in the original, and images of cathedral windows, in addition to imagining the smoke that filled a peasant’s hut, the cool quiet of a church interior, or the stench of a siege camp. All of these things help students to experience the time as their historical subjects would have done. This sensory experience also helps students bridge this divide with the past and see history through the eyes of their subjects. Taste is certainly a part of this.

One of the final texts that we read in this course is the Ménagier de Paris, a Parisian guide to housekeeping from the early 1390s, ostensibly written by a wealthy bourgeois husband for his much younger wife but likely intended for a larger audience.[1]  The first section of the book consists of advice on the comportment of the wife, including widely told parables such as the stories of Suzanne, Lucretia, and Griselda. The second section is a how-to guide on running one’s urban bourgeois home, including—in the Greco and Rose edition I used in class—nearly 20 pages of menus and 75 pages of recipes.

Yannine Gonzalez's interpretation of "Emplumeus (Baked Apples)" from the Menagier de Paris.  Photo courtesy of Yannine Gonzalez.
Yannine Gonzalez’s interpretation of “Emplumeus (Baked Apples)” from the Menagier de Paris. Photo courtesy of Yannine Gonzalez.

Students are fascinated by this text. The ingredients and the combinations of ingredients are all different from what they have experienced. They are also frustrated by what is left unstated. How long does one cook a swan? What is verjuice? Class discussion can wander from ideas about the ways that different foods function in conspicuous consumption, to food preservation, to local and international trade, and to the division of labor. All of this discussion ties together some of the major themes of the semester, and—really—of any history class. But the recipes also make the Middle Ages incredibly tangible as students think of the tastes of the ingredients and the physical challenges of creating some of these recipes.

I know that the Ménagier de Paris makes a big impression because two weeks later students are asked to submit a final project creatively reinterpreting one medieval source or source-type that they have encountered during the semester, and many students choose to work on the Ménagier. The assignment asks that they interpret the material of any source in a different genre or tell a modern story according to the rules of a medieval sourcetype. The projects are always fantastic and creative, and they always involve a lot of cooking.

Thomas Cartaya's Marinated Chicken.  Photo courtesy of Thomas Cartaya.
Thomas Cartaya’s Marinated Chicken. Photo courtesy of Thomas Cartaya.

These cooking projects vary greatly but all involve a good deal of thought in comparing medieval and modern tastes and cooking experiences. A student prepared Hippocras, and described it as what would happen “if a pumpkin latte and wine had a baby.” Another made a pottage, the cooking of which—the student admitted—was greatly aided by the well-stocked local grocery store. A different student described the local grocery store as a limiting factor; falcon and wood pigeon were nowhere to be found. The students all eagerly sampled medieval pottage, which the chef brought to class, while the graduate students to whom I gave a medieval sampler platter were a little less convinced by the merits of medieval cooking, despite enthusiastically polishing it off.

Yanist Ontivero's interpretation of poached pears from the Menagier de Paris.  Photo courtesy of Yanist Ontivero.
Yanist Ontivero’s interpretation of poached pears from the Menagier de Paris. Photo courtesy of Yanist Ontivero.

For many of the students, I believe the appeal of such a project was the chance to experience through their senses what they could only imagine when reading. Even as they might have been familiar with many of the ingredients, the combinations are sufficiently unfamiliar to most modern palates that it is difficult to imagine the outcomes of the recipes. As one student noted in his project report

“any contemporaneous reproduction of medieval art and writing, as a rule, would be but a facsimile of the original […] By exploring the realm of cooking and recipes, however, one may truly strive towards an accurate and tangible glimpse of at least one facet of medieval life.”

Even if modern interpretations are no more “accurate” than readings or musical interpretations, there is something decidedly tangible and truly enjoyable about them to students of the Middle Ages.

[1] The book is available in two inexpensive English editions, The Goodman of Paris by Eileen Power and The Good Wife’s Guide by Gina L. Greco and Christine M. Rose.


Tovah Bender is a permanent instructor of Medieval and Early Modern European History at Florida International University.

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