All posts by Lisa Smith

A historian of gender and medicine in eighteenth-century France and England, Lisa Smith (Lecturer in Digital History, University of Essex) has published widely on leaky bodies, pain, fertility, and the household. She is finishing a book on “Domestic Medicine: Gender, Health and the Household in Eighteenth Century England and France”. In addition to developing an online database of the Sir Hans Sloane Correspondence, she is a co-investigator on a crowd-sourcing recipes transcription project. She blogs at The Sloane Letters Blog and Wonders & Marvels and tweets as @historybeagle.

What is a Recipe?: A Recipes Project Virtual Conversation

We are excited to announce an upcoming event to celebrate The Recipe Project‘s fifth year. From 2 June to 5 July 2017, we will be hosting a Virtual Conversation on ‘What is a Recipe?’ Details are below. Please share our call for participation widely!


The Recipes Project is a DH/HistSTM  (Digital Humanities/History of Science, Technology, and Medicine) blog devoted to the study of recipes from all time periods and places. Our readership and contributors highlight the growing scholarly and popular interest in recipes. Over the five years that the RP has been running, our authors have continued to revisit one key question: what exactly is a recipe?  How do we know one when we see one?  What is their structure? What functions do recipes serve? How are they shared and passed on? Are they a set of instructions, a way of life, or a story? Aspirational or frequently used? Prose, poem, or image? The list could go on!

A doctor on the telephone (which is linked up to a television screen) to a patient whom he can both observe and talk to from a distance; representing possible technological innovations. (D.L. Ghilchip, 1932.) Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

And the question becomes even more complicated when we consider  the ways that social media creates new and innovative formats for conversations about recipes, across disciplines, academic/non-academic boundaries, and the world. At the RP, we’ve found that blogging is a wonderful way for recipes scholars to share their work and interests, but we recognize its limits as static text.

Introducing… the Virtual Conversation

We would like to invite you – whatever your background – to join us in our first Recipes Project Virtual Conversation, which will take place across a series of online events over the course of one month (2 June to 5 July).

Modern Medicine Pamphlets, Recipes (1930s). Credit: Wellcome Library.

The month-long event will be framed by two more traditional panels of speakers. The first, “Repast and Present: Food History Inside and Outside the Academy,” will be convened at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians in June. The second will be held in the UK in July, and will feature all of the RP’s editors.  We’ll record these two panels and post them online for discussion.

In between these panels, we’ll host a series of virtual events during which we flood social media with images, texts, and conversations about ‘What is a Recipe?’

Are you a visual person who loves Pinterest or Instagram? Or do you prefer the brevity and playfulness of Twitter? Do you use recipes in historical re-enactment, or try to reconstruct historical recipes in the lab? Are you a knitter who uses old patterns? Whether you’re a recipes scholar, or a recipes enthusiast, there is a place for you in our conference.

During the Virtual Conversation, we will be collecting and archiving presentations for a post-event exhibition site.

Types of Presentations

Designs for mince pies from Hannah Bisaker’s recipe book
1692. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

We are open to any form of online presentation on the topic of ‘What is a Recipe?’ You might use Twitter for poems, stories, or essays… Or Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat for photo-essays… Or YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook Live for videos… Or a blog forum… Or you might have another brilliant idea, which we’d love to hear!

Participation is open to ALL, whether you decide to present or to simply join the discussion.

How to Participate

Please register your interest in participating by contacting Recipes Project editors Lisa Smith and Laurence Totelin (historicalrecipes@gmail.com) by 30 April 2017.

In your email, please indicate your activity, medium, and (if any) preferred dates between 2 June and 5 July. In the interests of open participation, we are not vetting abstracts.

But in your application, please be detailed, because this will help us as we organise online activities, find participants, and ensure that we have permission to reproduce work on our exhibition site. Some virtual technical support may also be possible, depending on your needs.

We have reserved two hashtags for the conference: #recipesconf and #recipesproject. Please use these for all presentations and discussions, so participants can be sure to find each other.

We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Sites of Inspiration

An apothecary making up a prescription using scales, his wife holds a recipe for him and two assistants are working with the bellows and pestle and mortar. Line engraving by F. Baretta after P. Mainoto. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

If you’re looking for digital inspiration…

Funding for this conference has been provided by the University of Essex.

Here’s to a New Year!

By Lisa Smith

A celebration party given in honour of a good harvest. Engraving by B. Picart, 1733, after himself after Vergil's Georgics. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
A celebration party given in honour of a good harvest. Engraving by B. Picart, 1733, after himself after Vergil’s Georgics. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

September 2017 will mark The Recipe Project‘s fifth anniversary: a big one in the blogging world. And on 29 December, we published our 501st post!

We’ve come a long way since Elaine Leong and I had the idea of setting up a blog. One of our goals right from the start (besides sharing our love of recipes) was to build a community of scholars and recipe enthusiasts

In this endeavour, we’ve been successful. Since 2012, we’ve had over 100 wonderful contributors–and two co-editors (Amanda Herbert and Laurence Totelin) and one social media editor (Laura Mitchell) have joined our team. In 2016 alone, we’ve had over 198000 unique readers and over 525000 unique visits.  Our Twitter feed continues to grow (over 6500 followers), as does our Facebook page (over 830 followers). Thank you, dear readers and contributors for making The Recipes Project such a success!

Now, what were our top five posts of 2016? The vast majority of our readers come directly to the home page and browse through the latest posts, which means that actual favourite posts are difficult to measure. But the top five posts that lured in readers directly to the page reveal an intriguing range of interests and reading patterns.

  1.  ‘Palm Trees and Potions: On Portugueuse Pharmacy Signs’, Benjamin Breen (2 August 2016).
  2.  ‘Jolly Good Ale and Old: Or, Were Early Modern People Perpetually Drunk?’ James Brown and Angela McShane (20 September 2016).
  3.  ‘Hans Sloane: Eighteenth Century Mixologist’, Amanda Herbert (12 January 2016).
  4.  ‘Of Dirty Books and Bread’, Anke Timmermann (12 May 2013).
  5.  ‘Transcribing Early Modern Recipes with the Crowd on Shakespeare’s World‘, Victoria Van Hyning an Paul Dingman (2 February 2016).

The New Year brings new opportunities and challenges. As ever, we are always interested in new contributors. If you’ve been thinking that you’d like to contribute to RP or to set up a new themed series, please do send us an email–we’d love to hear from you! With a number of our Ph.D. student contributors graduating this past year, we’re also keen to encourage junior scholars to become a part of our community.

Over the years, we’ve noticed that the blog provides a wonderful snapshot of recipe research, but one topic has repeatedly emerged: the difficulty of pinning down what exactly a recipe is in different regions and different time periods.  With this in mind, the RP editors will be hosting an entirely virtual conference on ‘What is a Recipe?’ in the summer.  We are super excited about this and hope to see many of you involved as participants. Please keep your eyes open for our upcoming Call for Participation!

With the lead up to our fifth anniversary, we will be including a new feature for the year that will add a soupçon of historiography to our monthly mix.  RP editors and invited contributors will reflect on the past, present, and future directions of recipe scholarship, as well as what the blog has meant to us.

Thanks again for your support. We hope that you enjoy our new directions in 2017 as we will!

An obese doctor acknowledging the favours of a French chef in his kitchen; denoting their complicity, the chef's food providing patients. Coloured etching by C. Williams, c. 1815. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
An obese doctor acknowledging the favours of a French chef in his kitchen; denoting their complicity, the chef’s food providing patients. Coloured etching by C. Williams, c. 1815. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

 

 

 

Tracing Recipes to Kill Vermin

By Lisa Smith

Innocent Sport? T.L. Busby, 1826. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Innocent Sport? T.L. Busby, 1826. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Among the papers of the Newdigate family of Arbury Hall (Warwickshire), I found a pile of loose eighteenth-century recipes. The recipes are practical in nature: remedies for minor ailments, plasters and such for home renovation, medicines for animals, and poisons for killing vermin. It was the poisons that captured my imagination, as such recipes have not appeared in the early modern recipe books that I’ve examined—despite the troubles that would have been caused by vermin on a daily basis. A comparison of the Newdigate recipes with published early modern ones reveals an interesting process of knowledge transmission.

In mid-eighteenth century hand, the Newdigate papers includes the following recipes on one page (Warwickshire CRO CR 136B/2504B):

Poison for Mice or Rats. Roots of white Hellebore & staves are powdered & mixed with wheat Flour. Mr Pennant

D. for Moles. The Roots of Palma Christi & white Hellebore made into a paste & laid in their holes. Mr Pennant

Similar recipes to these appear in a horrible little book, The Vermin-Killer, which was published in seventeen different versions between 1680 and 1790. A how-to manual on the best ways of ridding the household of any type of vermin from adders to weasels, this book includes instructions on trapping (and torturing) animals, as well as several recipes for poison.

In 1680, The Vermin-Killer recommended laying a paste of hellebore leaves, wheat flour, and honey into the holes, ‘where the Rats and Mice come, and when they have eat of it, its Present Death. Approved Paxamus [1st century Greek author of a cookbook]’ (1). A combination of white hellebore, wheat flower, egg white, milk, and wine was also used to get rid of moles: ‘lay little cakes of it in the mouth of the holes, and the Moulds will greedily eat of it, and it certainly kills them, approved Pliny [1st century Roman natural philosopher]’ (10).

By 1710, the book was now rather more grandly titled, The Compleat English and French Vermin-Killer: being a Companion for All Families. The recipes had also changed slightly. To kill rats and mice, the recipe included wheat or barley-flour mixed with honey, metheglin (mead), and bitter almonds, though ‘I think if you mix a little of Helibore Leaves, powder’d with it, its better’ (5). The section on moles was greatly expanded. It included a version of the 1680 recipe in which moles could be destroyed with nut-size ‘pellets’ of the following ingredients strewn about their holes: white or black hellebore, wheat-flour, egg white, milk, and sweet wine or metheglin. The moles would eat the pellets ‘with Pleasure, and it kills them. Approv’d’ (9). But it added one more similar to the Newdigate recipe: pellets made of white hellebore, Palmus Christi root, barley meal, egg white, and wine or mead or milk. This was also ‘Approv’d’ (14).

Credit: Michael David Hill, 2005, Wikimedia Commons.
Credit: Michael David Hill, 2005, Wikimedia Commons.

The Vermin-Killer: being a compleat and necessary family-book (1765), drastically changed its layout. Whereas previous editions had started with rats and mice, the mid-eighteenth-century priority (if placement in the book is anything to go by) was bedbugs and lice. The recipes had also been updated. The one to kill rats and mice was nearly the same, but added at the end: ‘Hemlock seed thrown into their holes, kills them’ (10). As to the moles, both recipes remained the same as the 1710 edition, although the ‘approv’d’ tag was dropped for both; indeed, similar tags had been removed from other recipes throughout the book (13, 16).

In 1790, the book was reduced to an eight-page pamphlet: The Vermin-Killer, being a very necessary Family Book. But two recipes were retained. The latest version for killing rats and mice dropped the hemlock and listed fewer ingredients: hellebore leaves, wheat flour and honey (1). Only the first recipe to kill moles remained, but was closer to the 1680 version, specifying once more white hellebore, calling them ‘little cakes’ rather than ‘pellets’, and describing the moles as ‘greedily’ eating them (4).

Although the Newdigate papers listed Mr. Pennant as the source for both recipes, it’s clear that the two recipes came from a long tradition, dating in print to at least 1680 and, in manuscript, to the first century. These recipes, however, were clearly in wider circulation than even The Vermin-Killer editions would suggest. For example, I came across the same recipes in The Sportsman’s Dictionary (1778)  and the American Stockport Advertiser: Notes and Queries vol. 4 (1884). The Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine (1799) refers to the naturalist Thomas Pennant’s recommendation of Palmus Christi oil and hellebore to kill moles (27). Although this is likely the same Pennant referred to by the Newdigates, it is probable that The Vermin-Killer was his source, given his dates (1726-1798). I have so far been unable to trace the book in which Pennant discussed killing moles.

The Newdigates’ ingredient lists and directions are much briefer, suggesting implied—and possibly practiced—knowledge. Obviously a powder of wheat and hellebore would be less tempting than if it was mixed with something sweet, which would also ensure that the poison stuck to the rodent. (This is the logic specified in other similar recipes in The Vermin-Killer.) As to the recipe to destroy moles, the reference to ‘made into a paste’ suggests an implied knowledge of how to make a paste in the first place.

The ingredients remained, more or less, the same over the centuries, suggesting that the recipes were considered useful enough to remain in circulation. However, two issues were new in the eighteenth century. The first is the way in which printed recipes moved away from traditional statements of efficacy. The classical authorities were first dropped (1710), and then the ‘approv’d’ by mid-century. A new form of authority had emerged—that of the learned man of science, Thomas Pennant, who was attributed as the source for a recipe much older than him! One did not have to create knowledge to be credited; one need only be a contemporary authority who deemed the recipe useful.

Credit: orders.cameocupcakes.co.uk .
Credit: orders.cameocupcakes.co.uk .

The second relates to the perception of moles and their behaviour. Mary Fissell has written about the early modern personification of vermin, which emphasised their thieving and greedy behaviour that was a threat to social order. In the Newdigate recipes, there are no references to greedy moles tempted by fanciful little cakes. This is also a description that fades out over the eighteenth century, although it returned in the 1790 version, which is curious. Was the later re-emergence of the description tied more to the growing romantic view of nature than the earlier threat to survival? Or to a growing social concern with the frivolity and parasitic behaviour of the blind, governing elite who also ate little cakes?

The relationship between recipes in print and manuscript is not always so clear-cut, but comparison can be fruitful in uncovering details about the transmission of knowledge: shifting cultural interpretations, changing ideas about efficacy and authority, and usage.

 

UK Medical Heritage Library

By Lisa Smith

german-national-cookeryThis just in: the UK Medical Heritage Library is now available. From 28 October, it will be fully integrated into Historical Texts, but for one glorious day — TODAY — it is completely open.

I spent yesterday at a Live Lab workshop hosted by JISC in which researchers had an opportunity to spend time playing with the datasets. This meant I indulged in trying out the new platform to look for things like vampires, pain, and cookery smells–as you do–while giving feedback to people who were actually thinking about tools to make the dataset even more useful.

flowers-and-flower-loreBut as for you, dear readers, there is much to capture your interest. Folk medicine? Oh yes! Plant folklore? Most certainly! Cookery? Absolutely! Plus, so much more.

Go. Go now! And explore. It is a delight.