Category Archives: 5-year anniversary

“Stone Soup”: Reflections on Community Conversations

Editorial: This is the final of a series of reflection posts from Recipe Project contributors and editors.

By Jennifer Sherman Roberts

Recipes form communities.

Readers of The Recipes Project know this to be true. Scholars from diverse backgrounds meet in this forum to exchange ideas, thoughts, insights, experiments, and discoveries, brought together by a shared fascination with this amorphous form of record-keeping, receipt-making, and instruction.

Contributing to The Recipes Project has provided me with a rare chance to explore connections between historical recipes, to chart and analyze—and frequently delight in—what to modern eyes might seem bizarre and outlandish (pigeon blood eye wash, anyone?).

But the examination of the recipe’s central role in our lives and histories can also be expanded and enriched beyond the academic through public history and storytelling. There’s a special magic in talking about recipes, a visceral emotional reaction and an almost immediate connection to the past, to personal heritage and individual history.

It’s that sort of alchemy that I wanted to explore further when I applied to be a conversation project facilitator with Oregon Humanities, proposing a topic called “Stone Soup: How Recipes Can Preserve History and Nurture Community.” 

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Recipes gathered for the Oregon Humanities conversation project “Stone Soup” at the Frazier Farmstead Museum in Milton-Freewater, Oregon (author’s photo)

Since the fall of 2016, I have facilitated conversations all over the state, in venues ranging from quiet libraries to bustling restaurants, from coastal towns to urban centers. And while the people and the recipes and the insights are always different (intriguingly and marvelously so), there are a few consistent threads.

Heritage

Before the event, participants are invited to bring recipes from their past—from a beloved family member, friend, or neighbor—and a story to accompany them. (My favorite: the woman in Grants Pass who brought a recipe for the cake her mother had burnt to a crisp–her husband had written “I love you” in the soot left on the walls.)

Often, the recipe is on a tattered index card, spattered and stained by years of use. Sometimes it’s in a small binder or book held together with rubber bands. Always it’s presented with memories.

(There’s a look people get when they talk about these recipes and stories, a faraway gleam, a small smile.

I love those moments.)

Often these recipes will spark conversation between participants as one memory is ignited by another, one culture compared with another, one history explained by another.

“What is a recipe?”

To begin the conversation, I ask participants to spend a minute or two thinking of the words they associate with recipes. Evocative words like “memories,” “grandma,” and “holidays” often make an appearance. We consider the figurative language surrounding recipes, a genre so unique the word itself has become a central metaphor (“recipe for disaster,” for example).

I then ask the participants to partner with one or two others to discuss the genre of the recipe: how is it different from a shopping list, or a narrative, or even a poem? We talk about ingredients and measurements, instructions and oven temperatures. We think about ways a recipe is like a chemical experiment–scientific and reproducible.

I’ll often use that distinction as a springboard to talk about some historical recipes and ways the form changes or stays the same. We look at a copy of Lady Ann Fanshawe’s recipe “Against the biting of a Mad Dogge taught by Sir Kenelm Digby.”

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Lady Ann Fanshawe, 1625-1680, Wellcome Library, MS 7113

People often notice that recipe books from the 16th and 17th centuries are visually compact and uniform, and that the basic elements of the recipe—ingredients, instructions, measurements—are familiar. One difference we have made note of, however, is the occasional focus on seasons in the harvesting of ingredients, as can be seen in Lady Fanshawe’s direction that crabapple flowers should be picked in June or July.  For those of us used to ingredients available at all times (even if shrunk-wrapped or frozen), this can be a revelation.

This discussion also led to one of my favorite stories from these conversations, shared by a woman in Beaverton who said her grandfather always knew to plant his corn “when the leaves of the white oak tree were the size of a grey squirrel’s ears.”

Recipes and community

We then, together, read aloud a short version of the folk tale that serves as the springboard for the project, “Stone Soup,” and talk about the story itself as a kind of recipe and about the metaphorical underpinning of community. We focus on the end of the story, where in some versions the villagers not only share the soup but dance and sing together, opening their homes and offering their beds with the strangers in their midst.

At this point, I introduce the participants to three examples of people who used recipes to create community and preserve history: Freda DeKnight, Mina Pachter, and (closer to home for Oregonians) Ing “Doc” Hay.

This particular version of public history, these conversations that evoke memories and elicit stories, have been a wonderful way for me to explore the more human, face-to-face side of recipe exchange that can sometimes get lost in manuscripts and archives.

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“Stone Soup” participants at conversation project sponsored by Washington County Museum (author’s photo)

 

 

A recipe for a community — 5 Years On

By Marieke Hendriksen 

My first contribution to The Recipes Project appeared in June 2013: a post on mercurial drugs, the topic of my then postdoctoral project at Groningen University. Elaine Leong had read my own research blog, The Medicine Chest, and invited me to contribute. Seventeen posts and over four years later, I still write for The Recipes Project a couple of times a year, even though the focus of my research has now shifted from the history of alchemy and medicine to the intersections of (technical) art history and the history of medicine.

For the five-year anniversary, Elaine asked me if I would like to write a blog about what The Recipes Project means to me, and of course I am happy to do so.

From one of my first posts: Antimony ore, antimony cup and Basilius Valentinus, Triump-Wagen Antimonii, Leipzig 1604. From: C. van Heertum, Alchemy on the Amstel. On Hermetic Medicine. Amsterdam: In de Pelikaan, 2012.

The beauty of The Recipes Project to me is that it facilitates and encourages a broad interdisciplinary approach. For me, it is a place to test new ideas, to announce new projects, to let my peers know what I am working on and to keep track of what they are doing. It has helped me to see that my seemingly diverse research interests are inextricably connected, and to find others who share them. Over the years I have been asked by a few people if it isn’t dangerous to put your ideas out at an early stage, and why the ‘regular’ academic channels of conferences and peer-reviewed printed publications aren’t enough to keep in touch with the field.

Nothing too strange for The Recipes Project: from my post on human taxidermy. Fragment of an engraving of the anatomical theatre of Leiden University, early 17th century showing visitors who appear to discuss a human skin. Contemporary engraving by Willem Swanenburgh; drawing by Jan van ‘t Woudt (Johannes Woudanus).

The first time someone suggested it could be ‘dangerous’ to blog about work in progress I really thought I had misheard them. When I asked them why it would be dangerous, they suggested someone else could run off with my ideas, and that I would look ridiculous if I had to change my mind about something I wrote in an early stage of a research project.

My rebuttal to this is that I see only benefits from discussing my research with my peers as it evolves. I am not worried about someone ‘stealing’ my ideas – as a matter of fact, a blog could even serve as proof that I was working on something first, but that is not something I was ever really worried about.

As for the idea that I would make a fool of myself if I change my mind about something over the course of researching it… I expect my ideas to change, and I do not mind sharing that process with the world. What would be ridiculous to me is a researcher who never changes their mind.

To me, blogging on a collaborative platform like The Recipes Project is a valuable addition to sharing ideas at conferences and in printed publications. The main reasons for this are speed and accessibility. A blog is a fast way to test and spread your ideas. Writing it forces you to develop your thinking and express your initial thoughts and questions in a concise manner, and the responses it elicits can help you develop your work further.

A blog can be published within a matter of days–a pace that is unheard of in traditional academic publishing, where research often isn’t published until after a project is finished. In terms of accessibility, a blog is a very democratic way of sharing your research: it is not hidden behind a pay wall, and readers do not have to have the financial means to attend an international conference. Although both print publishing and conferences have an important function, I think academic blogging is a valuable addition.

Last but not least, what makes The Recipes Project such a constant factor for me is that it is an online community of peers, a repository of work in progress. Over the years, it has not only enabled me to share my ideas and learn about other people’s work, it also helped me find panel members for conferences, collaborators for grant applications, to be found by others, and lowered the bar for approaching people via email, at conferences and during visiting fellowships abroad.

When I finally first met Elaine in person in Berlin in the fall of 2014, thanks to The Recipes Project, it felt as if we already knew each other. More than anything, The Recipes Project has proved to be the perfect recipe for building a community.

Editing the Recipes Project — 5 Years On: Teaching with Recipes

Editorial: This is the eighth of a series of reflection posts from Recipe Project contributors and editors.

By Lisa Smith

Classroom kitchen in Norway, undated. Source: National Library of Norway.

A momentous day: on this day, five years ago exactly, we published our first blog post. Feel free to reminisce here with that post by Elaine Leong.

Other blog posts in our Five Year Reflection series have emphasised the role of The Recipes Project in our own research–from the importance of intellectual networks to inspiration. But teaching has been part of this blog’s core identity from the outset. As of writing, there are seventy-eight blog posts labelled ‘teaching’, three teaching series, and multiple presentations during our recent Virtual Conversation.  Recipes are clearly a wonderful pedagogical tool.

In this post, I want to consider the trends in teaching (as revealed on the blog) and reflect briefly on why recipes are so useful in teaching, even for non-recipe specialists. Recipes offer students new ways of  experiencing the past, as well as providing methodological challenges in the classroom.

One of the main themes in recipe pedagogy is sensory engagement. This is well known to those working in the heritage industry, as discussed by Deborah Lawton in her Virtual Conversation contribution on ‘A Recipe is a Tasty History Lesson‘. Tasting food invites reflection on historical issues such as ‘what is a comfort food’ or methods of food preparation.

Academics may not be able to prepare recipes in their classes (alas, few of us have access to the wonderful lab settings enjoyed by the Making and Knowing Project), but there are other ways of experimenting in the classroom. Claiming that ‘history has a distinct taste’ as his starting point, Ian Mosby considers the importance of teaching how similar-tasting recipes take on different meanings depending on their historical context. The products of recipes can always be brought to the students, or prepared by the students outside of class.

Food is not the only recipe, however; other senses can be involved. Jen Munroe has her students take a close look at recipes and consider the practice and experience of reading, while Amanda Herbert has her students write out an early modern ink recipe using the tools and alphabet of the time. What students quickly learn is the gendered experience of engaging with the tools and recipe meaning.  As Tovah Bender explains, ‘sensory expeirence helps students bridge this divide with the past and see history through the eyes of their subjects’.

The digital world also offers exciting new ways of engaging with the past. In my own teaching, for example, I found that doing the online transcription of recipes (and translating between early modern English, extensible mark-up language, and modern English) trained students in close-reading. Frank Klaassen’s fascinating post here on testing out a Holy Almandal suggests the potential of 3D printing for reconstructing sensory experience.  Digital tools, whether transcription or 3D printing, can encourage deeper reflection.

The digital world can also provide a sense of community. Rebecca Laroche, for example, discussed the ways in which online transcription as part of a larger group has reshaped her pedagogy of online teaching. Building links among classrooms and between learners and texts has directly emerged from her digital work on recipes. Some of our Virtual Conversation participants demonstrated their students’ online projects, such as Emily Contois’ class on food and gender and Rachel Snell’s class on food, femininity and feminism. Sharing research online is a form of public engagement (and an employable skill) for our students. Certainly any history class could be doing digital projects, but recipes have a particularly wide appeal beyond the academy! Recipes are, in many ways, naturally suited to a virtual classroom; the long-distance sharing and sense of community mirror the pre-modern transmission of recipe knowledge over long distances and far-flung networks.

The usefulness of recipes for pedagogy, then, is their evocativeness, their familiarity and unfamiliarity for students. They offer opportunities for hands-on learning and public engagement. In short, they are quite wonderful.

But…

Inside Mount Morgan Technical College’s Cooking Class Room, Mt. Morgan, 1909. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Recipes are so much fun–and do provide that sense of community and sensory experience–that it sometimes easy to overlook the methodological problems of using them in the classroom.

In one class, I encountered a series of technological fails that resulted in a constantly shifting learning environment for the students. While I can put a positive gloss on it–that this was showing student-collaborators the real, sometimes dark, underside of research–it also meant that students faced unexpected barriers and uncertainties in their learning. It is also worth noting (as I didn’t at the time) that not all of my students had ready access to technology, either, unless they came to campus.

Valerie Korinek discussed how the failure of an assignment one year (after previous success) highlighted a basic ethical issue. Teaching recipes in the classroom, particularly as part of family history, can be destabilizing and distressing for students. Food is not fun for everyone, and recipes are not always familiar or comfortable.

Even if recipes aren’t distressing, there is also the danger of slipping into nostalgia, or assuming that reconstruction of a recipe gives a real connection to the past. Nostalgia and family history came up repeatedly in the Virtual Conversation, as did the problems of reconstruction.

The illusion of direct engagement with the past, as well as unequal access to digital learning tools or recipes in the present, are issues we need to keep at the forefront of our teaching. However, awareness of methodological issues as we plan our syllabi or assignments, or discuss them in the classroom, can only improve our teaching…and challenge our students.

And, of course, it will make recipes even more compelling as a teaching tool: they are not for the faint-of-hearted or those interested in the cozy past.

Exploring CPP 10a214 – Five Years On: Of Binaries and Collaboration

Editorial: This is the eighth of a series of reflection posts from Recipe Project contributors and editors.

By Rebecca Laroche and Hillary Nunn

When we began this blog project in February 2013, we did not know where it was going to take us. We always saw our work with College of Physicians of Philadelphia Manuscript 10a214 as a work in progress, a work on progress. Given our different backgrounds and interests, we had a sense of the themes that may emerge, but in reading back through our collaborative endeavor, we can clearly see our efforts to locate the College of Physicians manuscript in time and place, but we also have seen how avenues of inquiry have permeable definition and numerous overlaps, can evolve and change. In particular, we have seen how working with recipe books requires a different sense of textual identity, that the individuals involved are not simply individuals – fixed identities tied to one lifespan and contained geographical boundaries – but rather entities that exist together as an interrelated network of being across time and space.

After all, this is a do-si-do book: on one side a collaborator who seems to have died for the Parliamentarian cause, and on the other, likely a man who was imprisoned as a Royalist. There are two compilers, but to treat them as being in binary opposition is misleading. Furthermore, extending these political differences to their wives and mothers, named as authorities and owners of the book, would be a mistake. There are also numerous people who probably never saw the book but who nonetheless are cited within it and who therefore influenced its creation. How these voices came to be captured within one collection is part of its mystery, but it is clear that these disparate elements are not oppositional, but rather in conversation with each other. The result is a multivocal, overlapping mixture of concerns.

To say that the two of us are working in a binary structure is also a temptation, with Rebecca concentrating on the textual history and Hillary working from a different angle on the geopolitical history. But this is not actually true. Looking at source material, from John Gerard’s Herball to Lancelot Andrewes’s Private Devotions, and imagining recipe exchanges between Anne Dacre and Elizabeth Downing illuminates a text that is many texts, spanning over a century of production, at once. Similarly, finding out more about those less famous people who contributed their recipe knowledge to the manuscript brings a different sense of how domestic practices were communicated outside of print in the time period. In the course of our research, which is indexed here, we have pursued timelines of personal history for those named in the manuscript (birth to death, marriage, children, and occupational appointments), religio-political history (particularly around the English Civil War), and textual history. While most of the relevant dates fall between 1606 (birth of Calybute Downing) and 1680 (death of Edward Layfield), the cross generational circulation of recipes and the staying power of print mean that the earliest associated dates extend well back into the 16th century and forward into the 18th. What we have discovered is that our seemingly separate topics are embedded in interconnected networks. Our efforts have helped us locate the text, but we have come to realize that we may never pinpoint it, and that doing so would be inaccurate and falsely stable. In fact, we have come to see that recipe manuscripts challenge that very desire for stability.

Furthermore, our work has been influenced by a collection of other scholars and texts in a mode that no doubt mirrors the circulation that gave rise to the CPP manuscript. Numerous postings to the Recipes Project blog itself have leaked into our thinking – as have our monthly conversations with Early Modern Recipes Online Collective steering committee members. As a result, Elaine Leong’s name occurs several times in these postings, for example. But there are certainly conversations that we’ve had that have less clear-cut trails through our thinking as well. Attempting to trace these networks is at the heart of our collaborative efforts, even though there will always be elements that escape our recognition.

This is not to say that we have made no progress in articulating the complicating connections embodied in the CPP manuscript. We have realized that, while we first hoped to discover how a Parliamentarian text fell into Royalist ownership, our terminology was unhelpfully confining. Instead, we now hope to articulate how people with such seemingly different views occupied the same, or overlapping, networks. In doing so, we hope to also complicates similar ideological categorizations that might hinder our readings of other texts. In the end, we may have to ask how the fluid nature of recipes and their circulation break apart/open the historicist project.

Without the Recipes Project and the collaborative possibilities it offers, articulating these observations would have been far more difficult. Having the space, and opportunity, to report our research in increments has enlivened our project, allowing room for serendipitous discoveries in the archives, as well as in conversations with colleagues. Our work with the CPP manuscript has already taken us in some surprising directions, and our continued engagement with the text will no doubt bring other unexpected possibilities. And we can’t wait to report them all here in the coming months.