Category Archives: American

Thanksgiving with Galen and Apicius

By Sean Coughlin

For Thanksgiving, I thought I’d come up with a new English translation of a seasonal recipe from the Roman cook-book of Apicius. It comes from the third book of De re coquinaria. The Latin is cucurbitas cum gallina. In Joseph Vehling’s English translation: “Pumpkin and Chicken”.

If only the Romans had turkeys. And pumpkins.

I first learned that the Greeks and Romans were pumpkinless from Laurence Totelin earlier this year and it left me utterly confounded.

I had been revising a translation and commentary of the first book of the sixth-century CE physician Aetius of Amida’s Medical Collections, and a question came up about how to identify different kinds of cucurbits, that immense botanical family of vines which produce comically-large-berries, like cucumbers, melons, watermelons, pumpkins, squashes, gourds, and luffa sponges.

Naively, I thought it would help to look at how authors like Aetius or Galen say cucurbits are prepared. And, since Galen (On the Properties of Foodstuffs, 2.3) tells us that people always ate their cucurbits cooked, I figured that Greco-Roman cucurbits must be something like zucchini.  After all, who on earth would cook a melon?

“But,” Laurence told me, “zucchinis are new world.”

Now, before going into why I found this so shocking, I want to bring everyone up to speed.

“Old world” cucurbits include a lot of different genera: Cucumis, the cucumbers and melons; Citrullus, the watermelons and colocynths; Lageneria, the bottle gourd or calabash; and a few others like Luffa and Bryonia. No one is quite sure where in the old world they first evolved, but the recent consensus is somewhere in Africa. In other words, they could have existed in the Greco-Roman world.

Various old world cucurbits: cucumbers and melons. Photo from the author.

“New world” cucurbits, however, are the vines descended from plants native to the Americas. They almost certainly could not have been known in antiquity, and the group includes all species of the genus Cucurbita. This includes zucchini, courgettes, pumpkins, squashes, decorative gourds, and even those 1000 kg monsters at fall fairs. None of them were known in Europe before Columbus.

I would like to imagine that there is at least one other kindred reader of classics in English who feels a bit anxious at this news. It’s not just a problem for Apicius’ Thanksgiving casserole or my rehearsal of Epicrates’ lampoon of Plato’s Academy.

What about the “Pumpkin Pirates” of Lucian’s True History (2.37)? Or Psyche’s sister’s husband who Apuleius says is “bald as a pumpkin” (Apuleius, Metamorphoses 5.9)? And what will become of Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii – the Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius?

English translations are unusually problematic in the case of cucurbits. Pumpkins show up all over the place. And this isn’t merely because of translators’ license, or a confusion of names.

As far as I’ve been able to sort out, it’s mainly the result of an unfortunate coincidence between the rise of an influential but erroneous botanical hypothesis, and the publication of two influential Greek and Latin English dictionaries.

Here is the story:

Before the mid-19th century, the evidence about the origins of Cucurbita was mixed. The names of the plants suggested they came from the “old world”, but depictions of Cucurbita species don’t show up before the mid-1500s.

For instance, in Leonhart Fuchs’ 1542 herbal, De Historia Stirpium, we get one of the first European depictions of the pumpkin plant, the species Cucurbita pepo L. Fuchs, however, calls it cucumis turcicus, the Turkish cucumber, a name which might lead one to think the plant was native to the “old world”.

Not long after Fuchs, in an herbal of Matthiolus from 1586, the same plant appears again, but with a different name: cucurbita indica – the Indian gourd. And “Indian,” Matthiolus tells us, means American: “they say these [new gourds] came into Italy from the West Indies, whence they are called by many ‘Indian’” (Matthiolus of Padua, Commentary on Dioscorides 1559, p. 292, my emphasis).

“He has a pumpkin” (ipse cucurbita habet). Using pumpkins as camouflage. Woodcut, late 16th century, Netherlands. CCBY

Both Fuchs and Matthiolus agree that these cucurbits are foreign (and probably even recent) imports to European markets. They disagree about where they came from: were they indigenous to the old or the new world?

This continued until the 1850s, when the hypothesis that Cucurbita species were indigenous to the old world reached its most articulated form. It happened as part of a public debate between two great 19th century botanists: Alphonse de Candolle and Asa Gray.

De Candolle argued that because people had used the same names for cucurbits since ancient times, the plants with those names must have come from the old world.

In response, Gray argued that new and ‘foreign’ cucurbits only start showing up in 16th century herbals like those of Fuchs and Matthiolus. That, along with documentary evidence from the first European explorers, suggests a new world origin.

The debate continued for over thirty years, only coming to an end in 1883 after a devastating two-part review of De Candolle’s last book, The Origin of Cultivated Plants. In this review, Gray, along his colleague J. Hammond Turnball, presented almost documentary evidence from European explorers that cucurbits were cultivated in the Americas before European explorers ever reached it in 1492.

These explorers recorded indigenous names for the plants they encountered, but they also used European ones, and these are the names that stuck: in Latin, cucurbitae and cucumeres; in Spanish, calabaças, melones, pepinos and cogombros; in French, melons, concombres, citrouilles, and courges; in Italian, zucca; and in English, musk-melons, cowcumbers, and, — most importantly — the pompion, the source of our word, ‘pumpkin’. Only the name “squash” from the Algonquin vernacular made its way into English.

Gray and Turnball’s review, however, appeared only after the work on the great Greek and Latin lexica had finished up – A Greek-English Lexicon by Liddel and Scott, and A Latin Dictionary by Lewis and Short. Both dictionaries identify some Greco-Roman cucurbits with American pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo L. or Cucurbita maxima L.), and pumpkins have shown up in English translations ever since.

So for this recipe, I figure, why fight it?

Tune in tomorrow for Apicius’ recipe!

The author with pumpkins, sometime in the late 2000s. Photo from the author.

Sean Coughlin is Research Fellow in the history of philosophy, science and medicine at Excellence Cluster Topoi and the Institute for Classical Philology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. He is completing a revised translation and commentary on Aetius of Amida, Medical Collections, Book I, an edition and translation fragments of the 1st century Pneumatist physician, Athenaeus of Attalia, and co-editing a volume on the concept of pneuma after Aristotle.

The Golden Ladle and the White Mammy Figure in Post-War America

By Jennifer Cognard-Black

During the early 1940s when American women were asked to help the war effort by driving ambulances or working in the nation’s shipyards, cookbooks and magazine articles underscored how these same women could serve their country by planting victory gardens, cooking healthy meals with rationed foods, and, in the words of Tekla Barclay writing for American Home in 1943, by becoming the “Pinch-Penny Privates of Uncle Sam’s Army.” Indeed, as literary historian Sherrie Inness points out in her study of periodicals from this era, Dinner Roles: American Women and Culinary Culture, “[s]ome cooking literature suggested feeding family members as though they were soldiers…[,and] women’s cooking responsibilities were, at least rhetorically, raised to the level of military endeavors.”

The Golden Ladle by Dorothea “Zack” Hanle and Martin Herz, published in 1945
by the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, with illustrations by Jan Balet.  Author’s Collection.

However, once the war was over and it was time for women to return fully to the home, Rosie the Riveter transformed into June Cleaver, that apotheosis of the happy housewife historian Joanne Meyerowitz has called the quintessential white, middle-class woman “who stayed at home to rear children, clean house, and bake cookies.” Within this historical context, Dorothea “Zack” Hanle and Martin Herz’s children’s book from 1945, The Golden Ladle, becomes a potent example of how the culinary discourse of the postwar period circulated images of white, middle-class womanhood as both idealized and sophisticated home cooks rather than members of the kitchen infantry.

Even more, though, Hanle and Herz’s book demonstrates how dominant culture appropriated the image of the enslaved mammy to invest middle-class white women with the same “magical” powers attributed to black cooks from the antebellum period onwards. In this way, The Golden Ladle remakes household cookery into a new kind of empowerment: not the double-duty of domestic and industrial work done on behalf of Uncle Sam but, rather, the work of a professional-amateur cook who combines the homespun wisdom of the mammy with a burgeoning culinary cosmopolitanism—one that presages Julia Child and the Americanization of continental cuisine in the early 1960s. And the fact that this white, middle-class woman’s empowerment narrative comes out of a written text is what intellectualizes and professionalizes the new white mammy, thereby distinguishing her from her black female predecessor, who was of either the enslaved or working classes and mostly educated through oral traditions.

“Jo-Anne Meets Mrs. Pinafore,” from The Golden Ladle,
the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1945. Author’s Collection

The main characters of The Golden Ladle are Jo-Anne, a little girl with “long, beautiful curls,” and Mrs. Pinafore, a “plump, pink-cheeked” apparition who materializes in Jo-Anne’s bedroom the night before her birthday party. The book’s premise is simple: Jo-Anne would like to bake something for her party, but she doesn’t know how. As the narrator explains, “How happy she would be if she could say, as her mother often said to her friends, ‘Oh, it’s really nothing at all. I just whipped it up in my spare time!’” As Jo-Anne lies in bed, wishing this wish and unable to sleep, Mrs. Pinafore arrives on a soft, pink cloud of light, wielding a giant golden spoon and introducing herself as “THE MISTRESS OF ALL KITCHENS IN THE WORLD.”

The remainder of Hanle and Herz’s book shows Mrs. Pinafore teaching Jo-Anne how to make “dozens of pretty things” for her party, either by whisking her across the Atlantic to visit little European girls cooking up delicacies in their own kitchens or by conjuring the ingredients for easy recipes while the two of them float above the clouds—Mrs. Pinafore’s preferred method of travel. And while such a plot may seem like nothing more than a fluffy mix of food and fairytale, in fact the cultural work that’s being performed in The Golden Ladle is profound, especially in terms of constructions of femininity, class, and whiteness in postwar America.

“No Other Cook Could Get that Same Flavor in Pancakes.”
The Ladies’ Home Journal, October, 1923: 71. Author’s Collection.

Numerous scholars have discussed the problematic popularity of the mammy figure in American culture, beginning before the Civil War and extending to the present moment. To offer one example, the mammy is still used to sell Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix, a product and a persona created in 1893 by the R. T. Davis Company for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As Toni Timpton-Martin explains in her wide-ranging study of African-American cookbooks, The Jemima Code, this trademarked mammy provides “a shorthand translation for a subtle message that went something like this…: ‘Buy this flour and you’ll cook with the same black magic that Jemima put into her pancakes.’” As represented in this advertisement from 1923, the mammy’s perpetual happiness and culinary intuition—the codes of her mythology—are appropriated by white women who wish to harness her abilities for their own domestic proficiency.

In body and behavior, Mrs. Pinafore is just such an appropriator—even though she doesn’t keep a mammy on a box in her cupboard. Rather, Mrs. Pinafore is a new kind of mammy. Wearing a self-referential pinafore and waving her magic ladle, she’s described as the “roundest, fattest lady” Jo-Anne has ever seen, with “twinkling” eyes and a big laugh. Her cooking is innovative, charming, and foolproof. And while her magical powers are intuitive—seemingly innate, beyond explanation—Mrs. Pinafore is also a writer, which professionalizes her wondrous abilities.

“Fruit Candies in the Land of Good Cooks,” from The Golden Ladle,
the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1945. Author’s Collection.

Moreover, by broadening Jo-Anne’s palate and cooking skills in taking her to allied countries—they visit England to make a Tiffin of crumpets and marmalade, Holland to learn Dutch Cheese Snacks, France to create Fruit Candies, and neutral Switzerland to cook Apple Delight—Mrs. Pinafore both demonstrates her own cultivated tastes and also instills them in Jo-Anne. In this postwar environment, Mrs. Pinafore is a worldly woman, which strengthens her bid as a kind of amateur-professional: exactly the ethos that Julia Child would adopt fifteen years later in Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Because The Golden Ladle is intended for young girls and includes a recipe in every chapter, this narrative is didactic as well as empowering, meant to raise up white, cosmopolitan mammies for a new generation. In fact, it’s clear that Jo-Anne is a white-mammy-in-training.  When she overeats Apple Delight, she says to her new Swiss friend named Clara, “Oh, my…, I have been a little pig. But it was so good. I hope you can excuse me.” And, of course, she is excused by both Clara and Mrs. Pinafore. Being “piggy”—having enough heft to throw her weight around—is vital to Jo-Anne’s training.

In the end, Mrs. Pinafore’s legacy as a white mammy is handed down by the book itself, so that Jo-Anne—as well as the flesh-and-blood girls reading along—can “grow,” both literally and figuratively, cooking and (over)eating these stylish dainties. Thus, although the white, American female cook of the 1940s does not have the masculine autonomy of her predecessor, Rosie the Riveter, she can still lay claim to a domestic literacy largely withheld from the black mammy—and, thus, to the dual authority of kitchen prowess and culinary authorship as proof of her expertise.



References

Barclay, Tekla. “Pinch-Penny Privates.” American Home (June 1943): 68. 

Deck, Alice A. “‘Now Then—Who Said Biscuits?’ The Black Woman Cook as Fetish in American Advertising, 1905-1953.” Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race, edited by Sherrie Inness. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001: 69–93.

Hanle, Zack and Martin Herz.  The Golden Ladle: How to Be a Cook Without Using Fire.  Chicago and New York: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1945.

Inness, Sherrie.  Dinner Roles: American Women and Culinary Culture. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001. 

Meyerowitz, Joanne. “Introduction: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960.” Not June Cleaver, edited by Joanne Meyerowitz. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994: 1–16. 

Tipton-Martin, Toni. The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.

Walden, Sarah. “Marketing the Mammy: Revisions of Labor and Middle-Class Identity in Southern Cookbooks, 1880-1930.” Writing in the Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways, edited by David A. Davis and Tara Powell. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014: 50-68.

The Art of Preserving Eighteenth-Century Cookery Through Interpretation

In this post, Tiffany Fisk explains the importance of recipes for apprentices in Historic Foodways, an immersive program offered at Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg.

Tiffany A. Fisk

Every day my colleagues and I are asked by visitors to Colonial Williamsburg the following: “You aren’t REALLY cooking, are you?” The purpose of Historic Foodways is to do the work of eighteenth-century cooks by using and understanding the techniques, equipment, and recipes from the period. We do this by completing a 5-level apprenticeship that involves building and mastering a variety of skills and techniques, understanding how to use and care for a wide-range of equipment, and how to read and comprehend eighteenth-century cookbooks. Those of us who “do” this type of history can attest to the fact that the latter is the most challenging component for many new apprentices.

Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg. Image courtesy of WikiMedia and Larry Pieniazek
Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg. Image courtesy of WikiMedia and Larry Pieniazek

As readers of the Recipes Project will know, cookbooks of the eighteenth century were written differently than their modern counterparts, and, in our case, they provide context for understanding gentry households of the Colonial Era. The books were typically written by men and women who cooked for wealthy households including royalty.  Recipes or receipts were written in paragraph form, usually with very little detail, or if there are details, they don’t always make sense to the modern reader. Often steps are referred to but not explained, and sometimes, a step or ingredient is left out. Modern cookbooks, as most people know, have every ingredient listed with precise measurements, and the instructions are listed in order and are usually detailed. When a new apprentice starts out in Level 1, he or she quickly finds out that reading a recipe also means trying to get into the mind of an eighteenth-century cook. While a recipe for fried potatoes sounds easy, the cooks needs to know the size of a crown piece in order to slice the potatoes the right thickness. And what is the end result supposed to look like? Smell like? Taste like? The recipe says stir until it is enough; WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Why is utilizing the cookbooks of the period so important? As is true today, we can learn about what ingredients and flavor combinations were fashionable. For example, you can track how popular certain ingredients are over the course of the century based on how often they show up in new editions of certain books. This includes the increase in the use of sugar as the century progresses, as it becomes more affordable as a result of enslaved labor. In this way, cookbooks reveal the impact of global trade on food consumption. In wealthy households, cooks could obtain ingredients from all over the world.

In addition to revealing what foods were fashionable, certain cookbooks can also show practices around meals, such as how tables were set in the period. For example, Charles Carter’s The Complete Practical Cook (1730) has several suggestions for table settings.

Charles Carter's The Complete Practical Cook, (1730). Public Domain
Charles Carter’s The Complete Practical Cook, (1730). Public Domain

In gentry households in the last half of the eighteenth century, everyone at the table was expected to know how to serve the food. They passed their dinner plates around, rather than passing platters of food. This encouraged conversation among guests. Dishes on each course were placed symmetrically around the table. Dining in such a way was daily for this class at this time. Today, big, fancy meals are saved for holidays and special occasions, but we still set the table a certain way and implement traditions unique to our families. Despite this, it seems that most people are fairly detached from their food. Most food today is not consumed in its place of origin and has been packaged for convenience. The average American does not have to dispatch, pluck, and gut a chicken before he or she eats it. Nor do many people know how to do any of those steps.

Cookbooks from the period not only give us recipes and table settings, but they also provide instructions for purchasing good quality meat and produce, how to process live fish and fowl purchased at market, as well as instructions for preserving food and what recipes are appropriate different times of the year. For example, fresh asparagus would not be on the table in January, but asparagus you pickled in May, when it was in season, could be. At Historic Foodways, we learn seasonality by studying the cookbooks and coordinating what we are making with what is growing in our garden. We also have to be aware of the fact that we are cooking in Tidewater Virginia, and most of the cookbooks we use were published in England. What is in season when is usually a little different, as are varieties of seafood and fowl. We learn to adapt accordingly, just at early Virginians did.

The cookbooks of the eighteenth century are essential to successfully completing the work of our trade. They provide us with the context needed to understand cooking, economics, trade, and politics of the period.

Do Objects Lie? Teaching About Food, Material Culture, and Evidence

Carla Cevasco

During my most recent move, I observed (while sweating, and swearing, and trying to keep the packing tape from sticking to itself again) that kitchen items occupied more boxes than any other category of my possessions. Not even books could compete with the weight and bulk of my kitchen, from a sturdy stand mixer to far more glassware than any reasonable person should own.

It was a vivid illustration of how objects for storing, cooking, and eating food surround us. They are intimately related to our bodies, containing the food that we will incorporate into ourselves; some of them, eating utensils like forks or chopsticks, actually enter our bodies. Kitchen and dining items are powerful, and they are part of us.

In my teaching on American food history, I argue that food-related objects offer a rich site of interpretation, as part of my greater mission of teaching with things. Even if I can’t always bring physical objects into the classroom—like gingerbread made according to Fannie Farmer’s 1896 recipe, or a bottle of the Silicon Valley food replacement beverage Soylent—my students engage with visual or material culture in every class. Elaborate tea services illustrate tea’s value as an imperial luxury good for eighteenth century Americans—and emphasize its potency as an instrument of protest in the leadup to the American Revolution.[1] Racist images advertising baking powder and tinned meats in the late nineteenth century demonstrate both the growing business of industrial food, and the ways that stereotypes pervade everyday life, past and present.[2] Trays from mid-twentieth-century university dining halls reveal the shift to military-style dining after the second World War, and the growing concern about public health and nutrition for institutions, governments, and researchers in that period.

My students sometimes argue that material and visual culture are more inscrutable than texts, until I point out to them that they are the most visually-literate generation perhaps in all of history, spending hours navigating completely image-based social media applications. And, in fairness to my students, I didn’t encounter material culture as a field of study, or learn about the methodological rigor of art history, until I arrived to my PhD program and studied with an art historian and other scholars of material culture. But why do objects—despite the many many many examples of wonderful material culture scholarship on this site—seem so untrustworthy to students raised on Instagram and Snapchat?

So, when given an opportunity to make a pedagogical film at the Chipstone Foundation, a center dedicated to, among other fascinating things, research on early British and American ceramics, my colleague Christopher Allison and I decided to confront these questions head-on. How should we use objects as evidence? What can they tell us about the everyday lives of people, and the creation of archives? What if these objects are lying to us? (You can read more about the process of making the video here.)

The result is a Youtube video called “Do Objects Lie?” In it, Chris and I examine a variety of food-related items, from teapots shaped like fruits and vegetables, to pitchers depicting famous battles; from anthropomorphic teacups to, uh, chamber pots. These objects misrepresent the truth, or leave out important details. These omissions and elisions are, in fact, the most interesting part of the story, enabling us to ask questions about how history is made, how collections and archives are formed, and what these processes can tell us about ourselves. We have to engage mindfully with sources (textual or material), look for as many pieces of evidence as possible, and ask questions about how we know what we know. Teaching these practices to our students has taken on a fresh urgency as issues of history, media literacy, and truth itself dominate the news cycle.

I’ll be showing the video as I teach about questions of evidence and interpretation in classes on early American studies, American Studies methods, food history, and material culture. I hope it will be useful to teachers and students across disciplines, from history and art history to food studies and beyond. How might you use this video in your classroom? I look forward to hearing your ideas.

 

[1] Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), Chapter 5.

[2] Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century (New York: NYU Press, 2012).