All posts by Sarah Kernan

Sarah Peters Kernan is an independent culinary historian. She holds a PhD in medieval history from The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on the production and use of cookbooks in medieval and early modern England. She has published in the journal Food & History and regularly contributes blog posts for The Recipes Project. Sarah collaborates regularly with the Newberry Library, assembling modules for Digital Collections for the Classroom, teaching Adult Seminars, and developing culinary history programming. She has also worked with organizations including The Met Cloisters and the Culinary Historians of Chicago.

Teaching Through Virtual Cooking Demonstrations

By Sarah Peters Kernan

As we continue to negotiate the use of virtual, hybrid, and in-person teaching methods, I offer a reflection on my recent experiences teaching through virtual cooking demonstrations and workshops. I began leading live historical cooking workshops at the Newberry Library via Zoom in the summer of 2020 when the pandemic forced my planned in-person demonstration to a virtual one. I have regularly offered workshops and cook-a-longs since then, teaching continuing education students interested in food and history. Cooking is an outstanding way to draw people into new ideas, topics, and areas of study; this is what makes the preparation of food a useful tool to teach and to research. It is also no surprise to the Recipes Project community that this type of activity complements traditional lectures, virtual and in-person transcription activities, classroom website creation, and other in-person modules on recipes.

This year, I have been asked to speak to several academic audiences about my experiences with virtual cooking workshops, discussing the benefits and drawbacks to the exercise, as well as providing step-by-step tutorials for designing workshops. I hope that providing some of this information here will serve as a helpful starting place for anyone interested in using this model as part of their own courses, or for those interested in trying out in-person demonstrations or workshops in a virtual format.

The author teaching in a virtual cooking demonstration.

In my demonstrations, I do not exactly replicate historical recipes. I do not have the kitchen for it and I do not always have the accurate historical ingredients. I do, however, try to make recipes accessible modern home cooks and kitchens. This method of adaptation rather than exact replication in the cooking process is also an incredibly useful way to interest my students in my own area of research: medieval and early modern cookbooks. Together we can discuss and negotiate what are appropriate changes to make to a recipe and why, and how this compares to the adaptations a medieval or early modern cook might make to a recipe.

Additionally, the more I have presented cooking demonstrations, the more I have come to view the exercise of preparing historic recipes as akin to codicology, bibliography, and other hands-on studies of material books, the other methods of research in which I received more formal training. Cooking historical recipes, however imperfect the process is in a modern kitchen, is one way, and an important way, to teach history, buttress other research methods, and unearth new topics of inquiry. For students, learning that cooking can be a research methodology is an empowering realization, as they usually have some kind of background in preparing food, however limited that might be.

Obviously, I’m not the only one interested in this way of incorporating “creation” into teaching and scholarship: several major projects, like EatMediveal and the Making & Knowing Project, have hinged upon the ways in which performative labor and the creative act is important for understanding a recipe or manuscript. By creating, the product of the recipe is no longer ephemeral. It actually exists and can be studied in a different way than just the recipe text or another historical document or object.

I enjoy incorporating cooking in my teaching because performing or cooking a recipe creates another layer of information that you would not otherwise access by reading and imagining a recipe. That is, the physicality, however temporary, of preparing the recipe, of smelling the ingredients and final dish, and of tasting it, provides a different layer of knowledge than considering it intellectually. Additionally, preparing a historic recipe reveals that there is so much more labor at every stage of the cooking process. This helps students envision how much time was spent by a housewife, cook, or entire kitchen staff preparing food. And finally, the sensory experiences, primarily the smells and tastes, not only provide a helpful historical backdrop, but also make points about the tastes and preferences of consumers.

Why does all this information that comes through a cooking demonstration matter? What can this possibly impart for students, particularly those in a general course? First, it can assist in the understanding of motivations for events, like the global medieval spice trade or the rapid establishment of the colonial sugar industry. If such a large number of recipes reflect the same spices or sugar, you can quickly identify broad historical trends. It is easy to grasp this by smelling and tasting, then move onto the critical work of considering texts and data. Second, students quickly understand the desire for technological changes in the kitchen after experiencing the physicality of cooking. My students and I have the luxury of cooking without open flames and with amenities like refrigeration and appliances. Still, it is easy to imagine in the most modern setting how destructive and dangerous an earlier kitchen might be. The fire, smoke, and embers, no matter how careful you are, can be destructive for you, buildings, parchment and paper recipes, especially if you have to stand close to turn a spit or simply stir a pot. Experiencing the cooking of this period will make you understand how much food needed to be cut, chopped, or minced. Trying to complete some of this work with a small mortar and pestle hammers home the physical toll kitchen laborers experienced.

The author teaching in a virtual cooking demonstration. Photo by Thomas Kernan.

Teaching through cooking demonstrations is a very different experience than lecturing or leading a seminar. Cooking as teaching, in both a practical and performative way, requires different preparation and instincts. In contrast to my strict outlines and detailed PowerPoints for traditional lectures, I have loose lists of things to discuss while cooking, whenever I have time during the process. I also have to think about what the students can see of me and the food, and I have to describe other sensory aspects they cannot sense through Zoom. I have to elaborate on the process itself, noting the steps students and participants must take to get their oven or stove ready, how to chop ingredients, and in many instances, the differences between what we are doing that day and what would have been done a few hundred years ago.

Virtual cooking demonstrations are not without drawbacks, however. Just as a lecture or seminar on Zoom can be difficult to facilitate, ensuring that students feel welcome and are able to easily ask questions can be challenging. While Zoom can feel like a silent, black hole at times, I have found that the demonstrations come alive in a way that I don’t normally experience in other online meeting settings. For example, when participants have questions and I can hear the clanging of their pots and pans, or they want to check their sensory cues against mine to compare our processes, or verify information about certain ingredients. Using a virtual platform means that I can get right up to the camera and show them something like grains of paradise or blade mace up close, so while they cannot smell or taste it, they are able to see it in a way that might be otherwise difficult. Other logistical hurdles can arise, like ensuring students have access to the right equipment and ingredients, that you have a high-quality audio feed, and you do not let a pot boil over on live video, but those issues can be addressed with thorough planning and practice.

That planning and practice is paramount to a successful cooking demonstration in any teaching setting, whether in-person or virtual. Unfortunately, there is not enough space here to provide a full tutorial for designing a cooking demonstration, but for anyone interested in crafting a demonstration for a preexisting class or as a standalone workshop, I have created an infographic below to help you get started. It provides an overview of the design process, logistical parameters, and the long and short term preparations.

Virtual cooking demonstrations are a useful teaching method that can stand alone as a distinct workshop, or can be integrated into virtual, hybrid, or in-person classes. The setting is an engaging and creative place to teach.

 

 

Around the Table: Re-Introductions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Nearly four years ago, the Recipes Project introduced Around the Table, a monthly series intended to highlight the blog’s community of scholars, writers, and readers. I proposed the series in order to further promote a sense of community among Recipes Project readers; while I had long turned to the blog as a source of new ideas and information and as a resource for identifying scholars with related interests, I hoped to formalize this role for others.

Happily, Around the Table has been a success! The series has allowed readers to connect with recipes scholarship and learn about a variety of related professional activities, such as publishing, bookselling, and curatorial work; library and museum collections; and research methodologies. The series, already well-established by the time the Covid-19 pandemic began, provided the Recipes Project community with a platform for sharing information about our shared virtual reality, like online conferences and presentations, digitized teaching resources, and eventually hybrid and in-person museum exhibitions and programming.

In the editors’ recent introductory post to the new Recipes Project format, we mentioned a change in the format of Around the Table. We are trying out the series as a podcast! You can expect an episode at least once a quarter. We will be offering the same exciting interviews and community-building for the Recipes Project you have come to expect, just in an audio format.

As we pivot to a new delivery method for community information, the editors wish to again remind you that we want and value your suggestions! Please reach out to pitch any ideas for Around the Table or the Recipes Project. You can find us on social media (we are active on Twitter and Facebook) or email the Recipes Project.

I look forward to sharing our new Around the Table format with you soon!

Thomas Rowlandson, “Here’s Your Potatoes, Four Full Pounds for Two Pence from the Cries of London” 1811, The Metropolitan of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

This summer proves to be an exciting one for anyone seeking recipes-related exhibitions at museums, libraries, and other institutions. Many exhibitions featuring the history of food, medicine, and science are well underway or opening soon, and many of the below institutions have created online components to accompany the in-person exhibitions. You will also see below that two culinary museums have opened this year. Furthermore (and excitingly!), exhibitions of interest are already being announced for 2023, such as Staging the Table in Europe, 1500–1800. Be sure to check the websites for full descriptions, as well as information like hours, fees, directions, and COVID-19 updates. Thank you to all in the Recipes Project community who contributed to this post and let me know about upcoming exhibitions! We always welcome readers to share your trips to any museums and exhibits of interest to the Recipes Project community on Twitter or Facebook!

African/American: Making the Nation’s Table

Museum of Food and Drink (New York, NY, USA)

Through 19 June 2022

African/American offers a view of the breadth of African American culinary traditions and innovations. The exhibition celebrates and seeks recognition for the countless Black chefs, farmers, and food and drink producers who shaped American food culture. Visitors can experience 400 years of Black influence on agriculture, culinary arts, brewing and distilling, and commerce, particularly through their movements during the Atlantic Slave Trade and Great Migration. The exhibition features impressive installations, such as the Ebony Magazine Test Kitchen and the Legacy Quilt, a collaborative project celebrating people, stories, and art; the Legacy Quilt also includes an interactive, virtual experience. Links to other interactive experiences such as the Virtual Reality Theater and Mapping the Nation’s Table are available on the exhibition website.

Alchemies of Scent

Prague, Czech Republic

June 2022

Alchemies of Scent is an interdisciplinary research group exploring the practice of ancient Egyptian and Greek perfumery, studying its place in the history of science, and examining the changing connections between art, craft, science and culture in the ancient Mediterranean world. In June 2022, the group is hosting two public workshops and a performance. Participants in the workshops, The Metopion Perfume: Ingredients and Experiment, will learn the myths and stories of scents and substances of the Ancient Mediterranean by plunging into one of the first cross-cultural perfumes of the Greco-Egyptian world: the Metopion. Through smell, taste, and touch, participants will experience the differences between past and present ingredients. Additionally, participants will develop skills of interpreting ancient recipes. Alchemies of Scent is also hosting a dramatization of the myth of Myrrha (the birth of Myrrh according to Ovid and Hyginus) on 17 June 2022.

Animalistic! From Animals to Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients

Pharmaziemuseum Universität Basel (Basel, Switzerland)

Through 5 June 2022

Four institutions in Basel are exploring a single theme, the relationship between humans and animals, through four distinct exhibitions. Each exhibition considers questions such as “how has the relationship between humans and animals changed, here and elsewhere?” and “what are the strengths and abilities attributed to animals?” The Pharmacy Museum’s exhibition investigates the use of animals as drugs, active ingredients of pharmaceuticals, and symbols in the history of pharmacy up to the present day. These themes are addressed through a fascinating collection of texts, artifacts, and specimens such as bezoars, isinglass, musk, Spanish flies, and snake flesh.

The Essence of a Painting. An Olfactory Exhibition

Museo del Prado (Madrid, Spain)

Through 3 July 2022

This innovative exhibition allows visitors to experience the Prado’s collections through the sense of smell. In collaboration with the Perfume Academy Foundation and the “AirParfum” technology developed by Puig, the perfumer Gregorio Sola created ten fragrances associated with elements present in the painting “The Sense of Smell,” part of the series on “The Five Senses” executed by Jan Brueghel in 1617 and 1618. The fragrances allow visitors to appreciate elements in the painting in a new way. For example, Sola has crafted the fragrance “Gloves,” which reproduces the smell of gloves scented with ambergris, based on a 1696 recipe. All ten aromas in the exhibition are detailed on the website.

Food for Thought: Riddles and Riddling Ways

McGill Library (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Through 30 June 2022

Visitors to the Food for Thought exhibition will explore mealtime riddle practices through items curated from McGill Library’s collections and beyond. Focusing particularly on the 18th and 19th centuries, the exhibition reveals ways in which people bonded during meals. This exhibition stems from a broader project, the Riddle Project.

FOOD: Recipe or Remedy

Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, UK)

Through 27 January 2023

This exhibition explores the relationship between food and health over the last 600 years. The featured objects and texts on display consider changing ideas about how food could be used as a prophylactic, cure, and more. The exhibition also highlights the role of the physician, particularly Fellows and Members of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, in the development of food-based medical treatments. The website includes links to recorded talks and articles related to the exhibition.

Garum, Biblioteca e Museo della Cucina

Rome, Italy

Garum is a culinary library and museum tracing the history of cooking and eating habits from the fifteenth century to the present. The museum boasts collections of culinary artifacts used in haute cuisine, home kitchens, and the creation of professional pastry, chocolate, and ices. The library consists of a fine collection of antiquarian culinary texts, including rare editions of Platina, Scappi, Menon, Carême, and Escoffier.

“Window display #4 Chocolate molds,” Garum, Biblioteca e Museo della Cucina https://www.museodellacucina.com/en/vetrina-4-stampi-per-cioccolato/

LA Plaza Cocina

Los Angeles, CA, USA

LA Plaza Cocina, a museum dedicated to Mexican and Mexican American cuisine, opened earlier this year with its inaugural exhibition Maize: Past, Present and Future. Through objects, images, and cookbooks, the exhibition celebrates maize as a sacred grain and global food source. The museum will feature a new exhibition every six months. This culinary museum also includes online tours and exhibitions.

Awaken ______: An Experimental Exhibit, Prototype B

Mercer Museum (Doylestown, PA, USA)

Through Late Summer 2022

Henry Mercer established the Mercer Museum to give people tangible reminders of preindustrial daily life, including the collective acts of creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and making do. Prototype B, the second part of the exhibition series, Awaken, explores these acts through the themes of food, cooking, dining, and inheritance. The exhibit includes an installation devoted to cooking and recipes and another on dining and unforgettable meals. Visitors are encouraged to share their own food-related stories, traditions, and memories.

[Re]Framing Graphic Medicine: Comics and the History of Medicine

University of Chicago Library (Chicago, IL, USA)

Through 15 July 2022

Drawing upon prints, illustrated newspapers and magazines, comic books, zines, and more, this exhibition seeks to reframe the history of medical images towards a broader socio-cultural history. The exhibition’s images span a range of themes, perspectives, and eras to address topics such as environmental health, gender and sexuality, disability, and health inequities.

From the [Re]Framing Graphic Medicine exhibition: Hans von Gersdorff, The Wound Man, Feldtbuch der Wundartzney, 1530.The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center. The University of Chicago Library.

Rice: A Story of Africa and the Americas

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (Cambridge, MA, USA)

Opens 16 June 2022

This mini exhibit set within the Resetting the Table exhibition is focused on rice cultivation in the Americas. It explores the establishment of the rice industry based upon African knowledge systems, the toll of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the lasting culture of the Gullah Geechee, the descendants of the enslaved Africans who provided labor for the rice industry.

Through a Glass Darkly: Alchemy and the Ripley Scrolls 1400-1700

Princeton University Library (Princeton, NJ, USA)

Through 17 July 2022

Princeton University holds two of the twenty-three extant Ripley Scrolls, each spectacular manuscripts central to the transmission of alchemical knowledge in premodern Europe. This exhibition featuring Princeton’s Ripley Scrolls shows how European alchemists built upon Greco-Egyptian, Islamic, and late medieval knowledge to create a golden age of alchemy from the 15th through 17th centuries. An accompanying digital exhibition is also available.

If you’d like to feature a museum exhibition or collection on the Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Tales from the Archives: Around the Table: Research Technologies

In 2019, I spoke with Helen Davies and Alexander Zawacki, Program Coordinators of the Lazarus Project. Since that time, the project has continued to thrive and multispectral imaging has become an increasingly popular methodology for examining manuscripts and a particularly useful one when dealing with the stains, erasures, and other common marks found in recipe texts. The Rare Book School now offers a course on multispectral imaging and other scientific methods of book analysis, and the Coding Codices podcast recently highlighted the Lazarus Project in a conversation with Helen, now an assistant professor of English at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Alex, still serving as a Program Coordinator, and Katie Albers-Morris, also a current Program Coordinator. Today we revisit this Around the Table chat for a helpful explanation of imaging and the Lazarus project. -Sarah Kernan

This month on Around the Table, I am speaking with Helen Davies and Alexander Zawacki, Program Coordinators of the Lazarus Project and PhD students in English at the University of Rochester. This month on the Recipes Project, we’ve explored all kinds of ideas about texture. Now, we’ll get a chance to learn about digital textures, and how technologies like multispectral imaging can help scholars unearth new information about manuscripts. Those of us dealing with manuscript recipes from any time period are accustomed to erasures, stains, and layers of writing. Helen and Alex provide information about the ways in which multispectral imaging can help us interpret these elements of our sources.

Tell us a bit about the Lazarus Project. Do you work with materials from a specific time or place? With what sorts of projects and partnerships has your lab been involved?

The Lazarus Project is a multispectral imaging endeavor located at the University of Rochester. We’re a mix of professors, graduate students, and undergraduates from a range of different fields all working to use cutting-edge technology to digitally recover lost texts and images. Many of us — Helen, Alex, PhD Candidate Kyle Huskin, and our advisor (and the director of the project) Gregory Heyworth — are medievalists, and so many of projects tend to focus on objects from that time period in Western Europe, but we’ve also worked on Biblical manuscripts from Egypt, pre-Columbian material from the Americas, postcards sent from concentration camps and censored by the Nazis, and eighteenth-century musical scores from Germany. We’ve partnered in the past with (to name just a few) the United States Holocaust Museum, the Folger Library, the Beinecke Library, the Saxon State and University Library Dresden, the Vercelli Chapter Library in Italy, and the Bodleian Library.

How does your lab select items to analyze? Do libraries and organizations reach out to you, or do you seek out specific items and projects?

A bit of both. Sometimes we’ll find objects that we particularly want to work on, and set about applying for grants and searching for funding to make that happen. Other times institutions or even private individuals will reach out to us about an object in their care that they would like to have imaged.

Could you explain how multispectral imaging works? Can you provide a few examples of what scholars can learn about books with this technology?

We take an object — a manuscript, for example — and photograph it first under discrete wavelengths of light, moving from the ultraviolet through to the infrared. Then we take another series of images under only ultraviolet, violet, and blue light, which induces fluorescence in the object, like when you wear a white t-shirt under a blacklight. We use filters to separate out different wavelengths from the fluorescence that the object emits, trying to squeeze as much data out of it as possible. Lastly, we take a final group of photographs while shining light upwards through the manuscript, which has the potential to reveal “ghost letters” — places where the ink has been removed, but the parchment has thinned enough to reveal where it used to be.

Photographing the object is only the very tip of the iceberg, though — almost never do any of the images reveal all or even much of what we’re looking for. Next, we process the images using software originally designed to analyze satellite and aerial imagery. This can be a very laborious and time-consuming process.

Our goal is to recover texts and images that have been lost to time and damage. Palimpsests are a great example of the kind of thing that scholars can learn using this technology. In the medieval period, people would sometimes erase entire manuscripts by scraping or washing the parchment clean, and then re-use the pages to make a new book. The “undertext” — the book that was erased — is often illegible, far too faint and obscured by overwriting to read. We try to make that undertext visible again, usually for the first time in centuries. Other times we work on objects that have been damaged by fire, water, chemical staining, or simple fading, all with the goal of bringing scholars new texts to work on and study.

During a July 2019 workshop on Spectral Imaging in Cultural Heritage, the Lazarus Project team shared information about imaging methods with a group of participants. Participants at the workshop could see how chemical reagents are used on palimpsested manuscripts. Pictured here: pumice is used to palimpsest parchment, and then a reagent reveals the erased writing.

As you know, our readers deal with recipes of all kinds (medical, household, culinary, alchemical, etc.) We encounter strange marks and stains all the time in our books! What can multispectral imaging tell us about those marks and stains?

Multispectral imaging can help readers work with a variety of stains and marks in a variety of ways. Firstly, we can help you see through them. MSI can help readers see underneath the stains. This can be very important in manuscripts whatever been treated in chemical reagents. As you and your readers likely know, chemical reagents were widely used for a time in order to bring out ink that had faded. Yet this momentary gain in legibility was frequently followed by long term damage to the manuscript. MSI can help digitally reverse these stains. Hyperspectral and other imaging modalities can be leveraged to look at material composition of stains. Multispectral, however, mostly helps with legibility rather than material analysis. A group of scholars has recently tried to push the material analysis capabilities in new directions through the Library of Stains project.

At the workshop, an image of the Rotovap system distilling the wine + oak gall solution.

What kind of training or partnerships might be necessary for a humanities scholar without a digital background to incorporate imaging into their research?

An interested humanities scholar would first need to either purchase a multispectral imaging system or partner with a group or institution that owns one. This partnership could take the form of receiving some training in operating the technology (unless the group would be doing both the imaging and the processing, as we often do) or being lead scholar on the project.  Training could incorporate learning more about MSI on site or image processing training. There is a range of software available for processing including ENVI (which we use), Matlab, Python or Image J (for which imaging professionals built various custom toolkits). A lead scholar partnership involves a humanities scholar reaching out to us for imaging, working with us to secure funding for the project, and then this individual driving the research. We will work with them to ensure we get as much data as possible from an item, but they lead the transcription, translation and examination of the document. This gives non-digitally inclined scholars the opportunity to work with multispectral images and recovered texts.

How did you become interested and involved in digital humanities and the Lazarus Project?

All of our team members have come to the Lazarus Project through different routes.

Helen: I had the opportunity to photograph early print books in the York Minster Library while working on my MA in Medieval Studies. This led to me pursuing a digital humanities MA and further imaging jobs. Eventually, a friend of a friend asked me to do some work for Lazarus and then Greg encouraged me to apply for a PhD to continue learning from and working with the project.

Also at the workshop, Alex Zawacki transfers the reagent.

Alex: I found out about the project as a first year PhD student at the University of Rochester. I was fascinated by the idea of recovering lost texts. I started working with the project to see what we could find, and I am now cultivating my own projects to search for lost material in my own field.

Do you have any favorite Lazarus Project items you’ve worked with, so far?

We all have our own individual favorites we have worked on in the past.

Helen: My all-time favorite is the damaged medieval world map in Vercelli, Italy. There are only a handful of large scale medieval wall maps to survive (others have fallen victim to bombs, binders and other forms of destruction). The map in Vercelli survives, but has been largely unreadable. We have imaged it, recovered it, and, I am happy to report, as of last week I have created an entirely new digital facsimile of the document. However, I have loved getting the chance to work on a variety of objects from ancient coins to Old English poems to early modern globes.

Alex: I’m torn between the Codex Boenerianus, the Black Book of Camarthen, and a single manuscript fragment from the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections department. The latter had been used as a binding fragment and was terribly faded and stained. No one had been able to read any of it in the 50 years that it had been in the university’s care. That one was particularly rewarding, as not only were we able to recover nearly the whole text, identify the work to which it belonged (Richard FitzRalph’s Summa Questionibus Armenorum), and trace some of its provenance and history as an object, we also found that it was the only witness to that text in a non-European library — and very possibly the oldest extant witness.

Thanks, Helen and Alex, for chatting with me about multispectral imaging! You can follow the Lazarus Project on Twitter @Lazarus_Imaging, Facebook @LazarusProjectImaging, and Instagram @lazarusprojectimaging. If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.