Category Archives: Amanda Herbert

Tales from the Archives: Pen, Ink, and Pedagogy

This month, This Recipes Project is six years old. This September also marks our fourth Teaching Series, first launched by co-editor Amanda Herbert in 2014. This post comes from that first series, as Amanda provides some fantastic advice for bringing recipes–and more specifically ink–into the classroom.


By Amanda E. Herbert

Pen and Ink Lab in HIST 488 at Christopher Newport University. Photo by the author.
Pen and Ink Lab in HIST 488 at Christopher Newport University. Photo by the author.

I teach an undergraduate seminar on gender in early modern Britain, and throughout the semester, students learn about the ways that people in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries worked to differentiate women from men.  We talk about early modern ideas on the human body: Galen’s four humors, the two-seed versus the one-seed model of conception, and “reversible” reproductive systems.  We also talk about the ways that early modern people mapped gender onto the workings of the human brain, ascribing mental acuity to men, and emotional intensity to women.  All of these lessons help to show students that gender is a social construct, and that it is historically variable.  But the exercise that truly brings these concepts home is one on education.  After providing an overview of the topics that were taught to early modern children, I divide the classroom:  half learn to write like girls, and half learn to write like boys.

I tell the students that they are going to learn about early modern education and material culture by writing with quill and ink.  The students think that they are being given identical materials for this “hands-on” exercise.  I distribute goose quills and powdered ink packets (both of which are available for sale via the Colonial Williamsburg website), and I pass out model alphabets from the seventeenth century, so that the students can form their letters in the style used by early modern people.  But what they don’t realize is that they have received separate models: one alphabet comes from a guidebook for young boys, and another alphabet comes from a guidebook for young girls.

With their alphabets in hand, the students are then set a task: they are asked to copy a recipe for early modern ink.  This receipt, which I transcribed from a commonplace book held at the Folger Shakespeare Library, is entitled “To make Inke Verie Good.”  It was created by Anne (Granville) Dewes in the seventeenth century:

Take a quart of snow or raine water and a quart of Beere vinegre, a pound of galls bruised halfe a pound of coperis [protosulphates of copper, iron, and zinc], and 4 ounces of gum bruised; first mix your water and vinegre together, and putt itt into an earthen Jug, (then put in the galls) stirring itt 2 or 3 times a day letting it stand 8 or 9 daies and then put in your coperas and Gumme as you use it straine itt. &c.

As the students mix their ink, shape their quills, and start copying their recipes in “early modern style” handwriting, we talk about the ingredients contained in the recipe, as well as their cost and accessibility to people of both high and low status.  We talk about the time and labor that must have been involved in the production of ink.  We discuss the ways that ink was used in the home, and the gallons of ink that must have been consumed by early modern print shops.  We consider who made ink (both women and men) and who used ink (both women and men).  Ink was a ubiquitous part of life for early modern Britons, as essential to communication as are our own smartphones and tablets today.

About fifteen minutes before class ends, I ask the students to compare their transcriptions, and they are always surprised at the differences: half the class has written in one style, and half in another.  That’s because in early modern Britain, girls were encouraged to learn “Italic hand,” a style of writing with clearly defined, beautifully sculpted, decorative letters.  But boys were taught “Secretary hand,” a flowing, connected style intended for those who, it was implied, wrote with urgency, volume, and haste.  Realizing the ramifications of this – that although women and men used the same tools and the same recipes to communicate, early modern men’s words were seen as authoritative, while early modern women’s were viewed as window-dressing – brings our lesson on gender and education to a powerful close.

*****
Interested in early modern ink, or early modern education and handwriting?  The Folger Shakespeare Library has some excellent resources:

[1] Anne (Granville) Dewes, Cookery and Medicinal Recipes, ca. 1640-1750, V.a.430 f. 42, Folger Shakespeare Library.  You can access Dewes’ ink recipe via the Folger’s Digital Image Collection: http://luna.folger.edu

[2] Dr. Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts for the Folger, has written a great piece on education and early modern handwriting for the Folger’s Collation blog: http://collation.folger.edu/2013/05/learning-to-write-the-alphabet

Mistranslating Macaroni and Cheese

Amanda E. Herbert

Macaroni and cheese. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Macaroni and cheese. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mac and cheese is a well-loved, popular, time-tested dish, one that’s woven into the histories and cultures and memories of people around the world.  In America it’s an essential soul food dish.  In Canada, Kraft Dinner – mac and cheese with pieces of hot dogs and a squirt of ketchup – is a comfort food staple.  Western Europeans claim macaroni and cheese too, tracing its origins to the Swiss Alps, where Älplermagronen was made by French-speaking Swiss people, who believed it was the ideal snack for shepherds.

Macaroni and cheese appears in Anglo-American cookbooks as early as the fourteenth century – its antecedents include a sort of lasagna-like food called “Macrows” in the 1390 Forme of Cury – and by the long eighteenth century, the cheesy noodles were an established dish, garnering frequent mentions in both print and manuscript.  Marissa Nicosia and Alyssa Connell chose an eighteenth-century “Maccarony Cheese” for their very first post on Cooking in the Archive, and it was a hit, helping to launch their incredibly successful blog and garnering a host of re-posts, comments, and suggestions.  In most Anglo-American recipes for mac and cheese, eighteenth-century authors called for the noodles to be boiled until tender and then mixed with ingredients like butter, eggs, and cheese.  The noodles were then either baked or put under a salamander – which in the period was a piece of iron that was heated and passed over a dish – that was supposed to give it a nice brown crust.  It’s a wonderful dish to suggest to folks who like to re-create early modern recipes, because most early examples of macaroni and cheese contain familiar, easy-to-obtain ingredients and clear, straightforward instructions.

But there are always exceptions to the rule.  Recently I found a recipe for macaroni and cheese in an eighteenth-century letter, and the account was confusing, if not downright disgusting.  Philip Thicknesse (1719-1792), an eighteenth-century artist, traveler, and writer, included a recipe for mac and cheese in a letter written to a man named John Cook.  Thicknesse spent a lot of time in France and took pride in his knowledge of French cuisine.  He wrote to his friend Cook on January 14, 1770 that he had recently “recv’d a very small present from France,” which included foods such as “Olives, a few Anchovies, [and] a pint of Vinegar.”  But the crowning glory of this gourmet stash was “some Maccerone.”  Thicknesse shared a portion of his dried French noodles with John Cook, bragging that macaroni and cheese was “no bad dish” and including instructions for preparing the food.  And this is where things seemed to go wrong.

Nathaniel Hone, Philip Thicknesse, enamel on copper, 1757, NPG 4192. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
A pleasant and confident Thicknesse.  Nathaniel Hone, Philip Thicknesse, enamel on copper, 1757, NPG 4192. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Thicknesse told Cook to take the packet of noodles and “boil it in water til it is quite tender, on[e] hour and a half at least, then the remaining water is poured off, and some butter and scraped cheese is put to it til both are well melted & dis[s]olved.” [My emphasis.] When I read this in the Huntington’s reading room I had to rub my eyes and take another look.  Boiling modern-day macaroni noodles for an hour and a half (at least!) would render them into an unappetizing slush, so far beyond al dente that they’d surely constitute a crime against pasta.  Was Thickness a bad cook?  Why was his advice so terrible?  At first I thought that this was a classic example of mistranslation in the period: the introduction of new foods into Western European diets via the so-called “Consumer Revolution” wasn’t a straightforward or guaranteed process, and British experiments with foods sourced from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean worlds could go wrong as frequently as they went right.  Thicknesse didn’t understand how pasta was supposed to be cooked, and as a result he offered bad culinary advice to his friend.

Another contemporary depiction of Thicknesse, perhaps grumpy about overcooked pasta. James Gillray, “Philip Thicknesse,” etching published by James Ridgway (1790), NPG D12410. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Another contemporary depiction of Thicknesse, perhaps grumpy about overcooked pasta. James Gillray, “Philip Thicknesse,” etching published by James Ridgway (1790), NPG D12410. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

But the more I thought about Thicknesse and his overcooked macaroni, the more I began to wonder if there wasn’t an entirely different process of mistranslation at work: one that was my own, rather than my historical subject’s.  What did Thicknesse’s pasta look like?  How long would it have taken to cook?  It turns out that, in the long eighteenth century, Western European people ate two very different kinds of pasta: soft noodles, made out of a paste of water and dough that was boiled quickly and lightly (akin to “fresh” pasta today) and hard noodles, where the dough was extruded through a machine before being dried (a bit like the crunchy, shelf-stable pastas you can find at modern grocery stores).  Soft noodles, like the “Macrows” featured in the Forme of Cury, called for cooks to roll out “a thynne foyle of dowh and kerve it on peces, and cast them on boillying water & see[th] it wele.”   Quick-cooking and easy to make, soft noodles were popular in a lot of eighteenth-century dishes.

The pasta Thicknesse was describing, however, would surely have been dried, as it had been transported to Britain from France.  Early modern dried pasta was durable and was considered easy to transport, even under very difficult conditions.  And it was massive: the earliest surviving example of an eighteenth-century pasta extruder made bigoli (a huge type of spaghetti) which was just over a foot long and 3 inches wide.  Even one of these enormous, snake-like pieces of pasta could have constituted a meal.  Hugh Plat (c.1552-1608), an English inventor and writer, created a different kind of pasta machine in the late sixteenth century, which produced oval-shaped, wafer-like pieces of pasta.  Plat included a diagram of this pasta machine in his Jewell House of Art and Nature (1594); while it’s notoriously difficult to get a sense of scale in early modern schemas such as these, comparing the size of the hand-crank on the right side of the machine with the pieces of pasta coming off of the wheel suggests that each wafer would have been three or four inches across – much larger than a modern orecchiette or conchiglie.

Pasta Machine in Hugh Plat, The Jewell House of Art and Nature: Conteining Divers Rare and Profitable Inventions… (London, 1594) STC19991, c.2, Folger Shakespeare Library, 75. Image courtesy of the author and the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Pasta Machine in Hugh Plat, The Jewell House of Art and Nature: Conteining Divers Rare and Profitable Inventions… (London, 1594) STC19991, c.2, Folger Shakespeare Library, 75.

Everything I learned about eighteenth-century dried pasta suggested that it would have taken ages to cook until tender.  And although the resulting pasta might well have differed from the way that I expect modern pasta to look and taste, Thicknesse’s estimate of an hour and a half in cooking time perhaps wasn’t so far off after all, and the confusion was on my part rather than his.  Historical food recipes are fun and engaging, offering us almost instantaneous senses of familiarity and closeness with the past: food is a great universal.  But as we analyze old recipes and work to understand them, we have to fight our assumptions and presuppositions – perhaps especially about ingredients which are the most familiar to us – in order to make sure that we’re translating accurately.

Primary Sources:

The Forme of Cury, c. 1390. This book exists in manuscript in many different copies. I’ve consulted the first print version, compiled in 1780 and reproduced via Project Gutenberg.  Accessed April 23, 2018.  http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/8102/pg8102-images.html

Hugh Plat, The Jewell House of Art and Nature: Conteining Divers Rare and Profitable Inventions… (London, 1594) STC19991, c.2, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Philip Thicknesse Letters, c. 1770-c. 1785, MSS TH 1, Huntington Library.

Secondary Sources:

The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davison ed. (Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 1999), 580-584.

Sidney Lee, “Plat [Platt], Sir Hugh (bap. 1552, d. 1608), writer on agriculture and inventor,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed April 23, 2018. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-22357.

Malcolm Thick, “Sir Hugh Plat’s Promotion of Pasta as a Victual for Seamen,” Petits Propos Culinaires Vol. 40 (1992).

Conferencing and Conversing: Summary of Day 9 of “What is a Recipe?”

Amanda Herbert

Crispijn van de Passe, "Tactus" (Cologne, 17th c.) ART Box P281 no.5, Folger Shakespeare Library.
Crispijn van de Passe, “Tactus” (Cologne, 17th c.) ART Box P281 no.5, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Reading over the posts and conversations on Day Nine of our digital conference “What is a Recipe?” I was struck by the many ways that our participants engaged with one another.  When we started this project, we wanted to make sure that we were speaking with, and to, all of our constituents.  The Recipes Project is a blog invented and managed by academics, but our readers and contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds: professional chefs, activists, scientists, medical doctors, linguists, folklorists, and food enthusiasts.  We wanted to talk with, and to, all of the parts of our community.

It should come as no surprise that academics love to talk about their discoveries and ideas.  When academics talk to each other, they use formal, traditional venues and formats (professional conferences/20-minute read-aloud papers) as well as more free-form, new ones (of all the forms of social media, academics seem particularly taken with Facebook & Twitter).  Both offer advantages as well as drawbacks.  But in order to reach new audiences, sometimes you have to move the conversation into different formats and genres.

That’s why we were determined to embrace a wide range of social media outlets and online platforms for the #recipesconf (or, as it’s officially called, our Digital Conversation).  Over the course of this project, we have all “talked” with one another on Instagram and YouTube; on our blog and on guest blogs; in podcasts and in person; via Google Chat, Skype, and Join.me; on Facebook and especially on Twitter.  Each platform had its strengths and weaknesses, and each also engendered different styles and sorts of conversations.

Day Nine of our conference showcased this phenomenon.  There was an Instagram essay by Katherine Cheyenne Hysmith (Twitter: @kchysmith, Instagram: @kchysmith, and blog here).  Emily Contois shared an e-journal and created a Twitter chat (hashtag #teachingcookbooks, Twitter: @emilycontois and website: bit.ly/foodgender).  Rachel Snell blogged about her teaching and shared a website of her students’ work.  The Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine at the University of Minnesota unboxed a new manuscript via Facebook Live (https://www.facebook.com/umnbiomedlib, Twitter: @umnbiomedlib, and Instagram: @umnlib).  Siobhan Carlson continued her Instagram and Twitter essays (@SpuddenlyFarming and Twitter @Spuddenly_Farm).  Harry Hayfield wrote a blog post (on Boeuf Bourginon) and Sietske Fransen talked to us via Twitter and her blog (Twitter @sietske_fransen and her blog post on her archives tweets here).  And last but not least, some of our RP editors and our #recipesconf participants joined together on Twitter for a two-hour open forum on the “recipe” for our program — or, what were our guiding principles, designs, and methods in creating and administering a virtual conference?

I was struck by the ways that each platform offered its own unique sort of conversation.  Real-time, instant engagement came most readily on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook; in these formats, participants seemed more willing to make comments and ask questions.  Twitter was particularly lively, and it felt like the conference “lived” there, with quick response exchanges and lots of helpful reminders about the content that was being hosted elsewhere.  On the blogs and on YouTube, participants shifted into a more scripted, prepared mode — carefully plotting out their presentations ahead of time, delivering them, and then giving us time to process and think through on our own.  Over the course of the month-and-a-half that we’ve run this virtual conversation, I’ve enjoyed thinking and learning and conversing in all of these different modes, and I hope that you have, too.

Editing the Recipes Project – 5 Years On

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

By Amanda E. Herbert

Seminar at Harris Manchester College, Oxford. Image courtesy of the author.
Seminar at Harris Manchester College, Oxford. Image courtesy of the author.

My first post for the Recipes Project, “Early Modern Comfort Foods,” appeared in March 2013.  At the time, the blog was not quite a year old, but had already been getting some excellent attention.  Friends who knew that I worked on recipes kept sending me links to it, asking if I’d seen it and what I thought about the work that was being done.  But I was already hooked: from its very earliest posts, the RP offered a unique platform, a place for anyone who studied recipes – and especially early-career scholars – to share their newest research and to receive supported, structured feedback on their ideas.  I’m proud that we’ve continued this mission through to today.

There is a huge value in the openness and inclusivity of the RP.  Authors can, and do, create posts which follow a variety of forms and formats.  I’ve taken advantage of this myself, as both a contributor and an editor.  I’ve written posts constructed on a microhistorical level, out of snippets pulled straight out of the archive; that first “Comfort Foods” post was written from inside of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester MA, where I’d gone to do dissertation research on colonial British American recipes and commonplace books.  When that dissertation became a book, I wrote a couple of posts about the project as a whole, taking a macroscopic view of the roles played by recipes in early modern social networks.  When I got my first job, I brought the RP along with me into my classrooms and advising meetings.  I wrote about the ways that I taught with recipes for chocolate and for ink, and in partnership with talented undergraduates, I helped them to write about their own recipes research.  When I started the search for my next research project, I turned straight to the RP, exploring recipes holdings in libraries and archives around the world.  When I joined Lisa and Elaine as an RP editor in June 2014, it opened even more opportunities: organizing a themed series, writing round-ups, and participating in reflection posts like this one.  Along the way, my RP colleagues and friends have been exceptionally generous in writing posts to help recognize, publicize, and bring attention to my work.  And I’m beyond pleased that the RP has followed me to the Folger, where in the coming years we’ll continue to explore the library’s many amazing recipes sources.

Early-career scholars juggle a lot of different roles.  The RP, with its flexible format and warm, thoughtful community of scholars, offers those who study recipes the chance to share their work, in whatever form it’s taking.  As my own example – and those of many others – can prove, the RP can grow with you.  Supporting and promoting people who are just embarking on their careers is one of the most important things that the RP does, and it’s what I value most as a member of this group.