Indiana Jones movies have been a staple of the action-adventure genre since the 1980s. Audiences have been enthralled by the films’ generous blending of fiction, history, archeology, action, and special effects. I remember especially how terrifying the special effects of Raiders of the Lost Ark seemed to me as a child watching it on VHS for the first time! While the melting face from Raiders of the Lost Ark is memorable, the special effects have definitely improved in this summer’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny—for example, you can witness Harrison Ford’s remarkable transformation into a youthful Indiana Jones of the 1940s.
The colorful plot revolves around a fictional artifact, the Archimedes Dial. The Dial, created by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes, allows for time travel by revealing time fissures. Of course, everyone wants to own and control the Dial, so the artifact passes through many hands throughout the movie. These exchanges naturally lead the audience through many disparate times and places.
Time travel is central to the plot of the Dial of Destiny, particularly the matter of controlling time. As Recipes Project readers know, time is also an essential element to harness in the preparation of any recipe. Rachel Rich, for example, considers the passage of time in nineteenth-century kitchens in her 2013 post, “Keeping Time in the Victorian Kitchen.” Upon seeing the youthful Indiana Jones in the Dial of Destiny, audiences will undoubtedly recall another method of controlling time, cosmetic procedures, despite the film’s use of digital effects rather than plastic surgery or related interventions to de-age Harrison Ford. Jess Clark has detailed some early twentieth-century cosmetic procedures in London intended to “renew the youth” of patients; the special effects used to create a younger Indiana Jones are thankfully safer and more effective.
While time travel is crucial to the storyline, the prominent role of an artifact in the film sustains an Indiana Jones tradition. Everything hinges on one object—the Dial. The film’s characters are repeatedly concerned with the counterfeiting of artifacts such as the Dial, as well as the theft of artifacts, both as spoils of war and subsequent smuggling in peacetime. These are timely matters to consider as major museums and art collectors are publicly reckoning with the future of their stolen, smuggled, and counterfeit items.
As the film’s characters travel through time, we catch a glimpse of ancient Greece. Not only is the titular Dial created in this setting, but pivotal moments in the film’s action and Indy’s self-reflection occur here. The Recipes Project is a wonderful source for filling in more quotidian elements of Grecian life than depicted in the Dial of Destiny. Laurence Totelin has contributed posts on lice and the alleviation of fevers. Other posts include Glyn Muitjens on hemorrhoid relief, Flint Dibble on animal sacrifice, and Effie Photos-Jones on miltos, a mineral with a myriad of uses in ancient Greece. These essays provide significantly more nuance to the period than the movie’s focus on the battlefield.
In true Indiana Jones fashion, the Dial of Destiny keeps viewers focused on action and adventure, rather than nuance and historical background. Rest assured that after you finish the film, you can turn to the Recipes Project for some extra context and a gentler time travel experience.
Disney’s animated The Little Mermaid (1989) is the first movie I remember going to see at the theater. In case you’re wondering, that makes me two things: 1) old and 2) the target demographic for the 2023 live-action remake of the animated classic. Not only do I have fond-but-hazy memories of hearing “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World” for the first time, lo those many years ago, I also now have a daughter through whom I can experience that magic all over again. The movie industry may be selling nostalgia these days, but as it turns out, I’m buying.
All of this is to say: it should come as no surprise that I loved every minute of the live-action The Little Mermaid, released in theaters this past May. Can we talk about Halle Bailey for a minute? That voice! Her gorgeous face! The athleticism required to appear as if she was actually swirling, floating, and diving underwater! She was magnificent, as was the whole world conjured in the film. Somehow, Halle and the wizards behind the computers at Disney studios made mermaids, sea witches, and singing crabs feel real.
When I began thinking about The Little Mermaid and its relationship to the RP, my first inclination was to highlight our many posts on love magic. After all, love spells like this one from eighteenth-century Russia or this one in a sixteenth-century English manuscript aren’t so very different from the spell Ursula weaves for Ariel. True, neither of these magical recipes requires a mermaid to give up her voice in exchange for legs, but grinding the heart of a snake into powder to sprinkle in a woman’s food as a love potion isn’t so very far removed from Ursula’s oeuvre.
Love magic we’ve got a-plenty in our archives, but that wasn’t what stood out in my viewing of the live-action The Little Mermaid. For me, the thrill of the remake came from seeing Ariel’s underwater existence come to vivid, three-dimensional life. We live in an entertainment era chock-a-block full of CGI effects, and even still, I found myself agog at the visuals in the film. How did they make Ariel’s hair swirl like that? The visual effects actually changed how I thought about a story I know by heart. Because Ariel’s CGI-conjured world felt both real and fantastical, her deep desire to give it all up for the mundanity of carriage rides and dinner conversation (or lack thereof) came into sharper focus for me.
In the Disney version, Ariel’s choice to leave the water comes with consequences: she has to give up her voice to grow legs. She can’t be what she was underwater when on dry land.
In that respect, she’s kind of like coral—or, at least, she’s kind of like coral as premodern philosophers understood it. As Laurence Totelin wrote in her 2016 post, The Coral and the Seal: Ancient Amulets Against All Ills, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that naturalists discovered that coral was in fact an animal—or, more precisely, thousands of marine animals whose secreted exoskeletons form the structures we call coral. Before then, natural philosophers believed that coral began its life underwater as a plant and then transformed into stone when it came into contact with air. Like Ariel, coral became wholly different when it crossed from the underwater world into our own.
Because it transformed from plant into stone, premodern people believed that coral had transformative properties when used as a medicinal or magical ingredient. Totelin wrote about ancient recipes in which coral was used to staunch blood, to whiten teeth, or to protect against all manner of evils. Other posts in the RP archives show coral being used in recipes centuries later: in the medieval French Livre de simple médicines, in recipe collections from early modern Austria, and in published recipe books from seventeenth-century England, to name just a few. The prevalence of coral in recipes spanning from the ancient to the early modern world points to its perceived power as a transformative ingredient. Like a singing mermaid, coral was precious because it was that rare object that could cross from the watery world into our own. The very fact of its presence on land suggested a wondrous metamorphosis.
The worldview that brought us mermaids and medicinal coral may be long gone, but in so many ways we remain fascinated and mystified by the creatures of the deep—and for good reason! Every day scientists discover new life lurking in the depths, some of it nearly as fantastical as singing mer-people (though not, perhaps, as photogenic as Halle Bailey). Who knows? Maybe somewhere in those depths is an organism with powerful, transformative properties of the kind premodern philosophers could only imagine for coral.
But just as Ariel was up against Ursula’s deadline in The Little Mermaid, we have our own deadline to meet when it comes to marine life. At the rate our oceans have warmed this summer, we may lose the world’s coral reefs within a few years. Early modern naturalists would be appalled—as should we. Deep sea creatures we can only imagine may become extinct before we have a chance to discover them.
So, if there’s one lesson I think we should take from this summer’s excitement for The Little Mermaid and premodern philosophers’ misapprehensions about coral, it’s this: the ocean may be inhospitable to humans and filled with creatures beyond our wildest imagination, but, in the lightly edited words of our marine heroine, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a “part of [our] world” worth saving.
In the spirit of remembering those who have been “part of our world,” I’d like to take this opportunity to offer enormous thanks to our co-editor, Clare Gordon Bettencourt, who is stepping down from our editorial board. Clare first joined the RP team with me in 2019 as a social media coordinator. If you’ve enjoyed our Twitter feed over the past few years or felt buoyed by the RP’s community online, it’s because of Clare’s work amplifying new scholarship, celebrating accomplishments, and bringing people together in ways that made us all stronger. Of course, Clare is also a researcher and scholar in her own right, and we were lucky to feature her post on “Food Identity Standards and Recipes as Legislation,” based on her dissertation research, in 2021. We are so grateful for her contributions and wish her well in her new career at Santa Clara University.
Lime or limestone (an abundant sedimentary rock) has found great use in construction throughout history. The usage of lime in construction dates back to some of the world’s earliest settlements. Even though some experts estimate the usage of lime in mortar started at least 10,000 years ago, radiocarbon dating of lime mortar found in early Neolithic settlements in Nevali Çori (Turkey) would suggest an even earlier use, going back more than 20,000 years. The irony is that we cannot really date Nevali Çori that far back.
The “lime cycle” is a well-known property of lime that enables its use in construction. It is a three-step process:
During the first step, calcium carbonate (in limestone) is heated to produce calcium oxide (burnt lime, or quicklime). The second step is the hydration of lime. Upon contact with water, burnt lime produces a strong base: calcium hydroxide (aptly named as slaked lime). The third and final step is carbonation. The slaked lime in water (limewater) comes into contact with carbon dioxide and reverts to its original form: calcium carbonate. This cycle has been essential in the invention of lime mortar. In order to produce the mortar, slaked lime in water is mixed with some aggregate (e.g., sand). Upon its application, the carbonation step is triggered by the atmospheric carbon dioxide to complete the cycle, forming calcium carbonate.
While lime-based mortar must have been an integral part of building many kitchens throughout history, usage of lime in the kitchen has not been limited to construction alone. It has traditionally been used as a key ingredient in numerous food preparations. Out of many of its culinary uses, I will focus on two distinct recipes originating in two regions far away from each other.
Our first recipe utilizes a technique from ancient Mesoamerica: Nixtamalization. “Nixtamalización” is the name of the process that is used for the preparation of maize. Passed from generation to generation, this ancient technique is still used around the world today for various maize products, tortilla being a popular one. The process uses slaked lime or limestone in boiling water. The usage of lime not only softens the maize, so it can be ground easily to create a dough, but it is also helpful in terms of food safety as it destroys almost all the aflatoxin in mycotoxin-contaminated produce. The treatment also uncovers additional nutritional value by making more essential amino acids available. During their research into the food safety aspects of the traditional nixtamalization process, Dr. Doralinda Guzmán-de-Peña studied their family recipe. The recipe relayed here outlines the basic steps of the technique that has been used in Mexican homes traditionally:
(1) Boil maize (1 kg) with water (3 l) and limestone or slaked lime (10 g) for 50 min; (2) Soak the mixture overnight (14 h); (3) Wash the cooked maize two or three times with water and (4) Ground nixtamal to obtain the dough (masa). Once the dough is ready, different dishes can be prepared: tortillas, tamales, atole, gorditas, etc.
Our second recipe is for Pekmez. It is, in essence, a molasses-like reduction of grape juice. Instead of grapes, it could also be made using other fruit rich in sugars. Traditionally, the version that uses grapes has been prepared in Turkey almost unchanged for ages.The earliest written accounts of pekmez date back to Divan-i Lugati’t-Türk, written in 1073. Similar to how it is used in nixtamalization, lime is also used to make pekmez. The function of lime in this process is two-fold: 1) it reduces the acidity of the grape juice, 2) it also aids in clarifying the syrup by adsorbing impurities. The traditional recipe uses limestone soil called “pekmez toprağı” (pekmez soil) rich in calcium carbonate. Based on the oral tradition, many families – including mine – prepare it more or less using the same method. Here is a recipe relayed by Dr. Selma Birer from their paper on the dietary use of pekmez in Turkey:
The grapes harvested from the vineyards are washed, have their stems separated, and juiced by being pressed in crushing mills. The excess water is evaporated by boiling. In order to prevent the acidity (sourness) of the grape juice, white soil called pekmez soil containing 90% or more CaCO3 (calcium carbonate) is used. Besides entirely or partially removing the juice’s acidity, the soil also helps clarify it. Pekmez soil is added in the ratio of 0.1-1 kg to 100 kg of juice. When the pekmez soil is added to the reduction, it is boiled for 5-10 minutes and then rested for clarification. pH change, temperature, and positively charged calcium ions play a role in this chemical process.
Even though archeological evidence has not yet been established about its history, the recipe for pekmez made from grapes is believed to have originated in prehistoric Anatolia. If we were to compare the two grape-based products, pekmez must have been even more critical for neolithic communities than wine, especially when we consider its function to preserve the nutritional value of the grapes.
Our ancestors must have understood and experimented with the lime cycle, enabling the recipes discussed above. The discovery of the lime cycle had its use both in culinary and construction applications. A hypothesis on how this could all have started comes via another ancient culinary practice: stone boiling. Stone boiling is the practice of transferring heat via heated stones instead of direct heat from open fire to the cooking vessel. Large stones would be heated in a fire or hearth and then placed in the cooking liquid. More stones would gradually be introduced in order to sustain the cooking process. According to this hypothesis, the discovery of the lime cycle could have “accidentally” been ignited by using limestones for this purpose. Limestones heated in a wood fire would get hot enough to start the calcination process described above. The cook would then naturally notice how these stones changed when heated and reacted with water. Being curious, they would also not have missed how it hardened over time and reverted to a stone-like material: reshaped limestone.
Contemporary recipes for pekmez and nixtamalization do not call for heated limestones. However, archeological and experimental evidence suggests that using limestones for stone boiling can facilitate the cooking and start the required molecular reactions for nixtamalization. It could be possible that the innovation of lime mortar in construction was not the only happy result of the accidental use of limestones for cooking. Due to lack of evidence suggesting otherwise (yet), we should accept that limestones found their initial use in construction. Nevertheless, we also need to appreciate their incidental use in cooking (through stone boiling). Observations on how it altered the cooking results must have followed naturally. It seems to me that the accident of using limestones for cooking might not only have resulted in the discovery of lime mortar in construction, but it could also have resulted in the development of pekmez and nixtamalization.
Utku Can Topçu is a software engineer living in Amsterdam. Next to his day job, he spends most of his time in his kitchen: reading, researching, and experimenting.
+++++  I would like to thank Dr. Inci Gunler for her invaluable feedback during the preparation of this text.  Dorn Carran, John Hughes, Alick Leslie, Craig Kennedy, “A Short History of the Use of Lime as a Building Material Beyond Europe and North America,” International Journal of Architectural Heritage, 6(2), (2012): 117-146. https://doi.org/10.1080/15583058.2010.511694  S. Felder-Casagrande, H. G. Wiedemann, A. Reller, “The calcination of limestone – Studies on the past, the presence and the future of a crucial industrial process,” Journal of Thermal Analysis, 49(2), (1997): 971-978. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf01996783  Carran, A Short History of the Use of Lime  Ibid.  Doralinda Guzmán-de-Peña, “The Destruction of Aflatoxins in Corn by ‘Nixtamalización,’” in Mahendra Rai, Ajit Varma (eds.), Mycotoxins in Food, Feed and Bioweapons, (Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer, 2009), 39-49. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-00725-5_3  Emily C. Ellwood, M. Paul Scott, William D. Lipe, R. G. Matson, John G. Jones, “Stone-boiling maize with limestone: experimental results and implications for nutrition among SE Utah preceramic groups,”Journal of Archaeological Science, 40(1), (2013): 35-44. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2012.05.044  Guzmán-de-Peña, “The Destruction of Aflatoxins in Corn by ‘Nixtamalización’”  Selma Birer, “Pekmezin Beslenmemizdeki Yeri ve Kullanılması,” Beslenme ve Diyet Dergisi, 12, (1982): 107-114. https://beslenmevediyetdergisi.org/ind  Sevan Nişanyan, “pekmez,” in Nişanyan Sözlük Çağdaş Türkçenin Etimolojisi, https://www.nisanyansozluk.com/kelime/pekmez (accessed on 16 January 2022)  Birer, “Pekmezin Beslenmemizdeki Yeri ve Kullanılması”  Ahmet Uhri, Anadolu Mutfak Kültürünün Kökenleri – Arkeolojik, Arkeometrik, Dilsel, Tarihsel ve Etnolojik Veriler Işığında (İstanbul: Ege, 2016), 46-51  Carran, “A Short History of the Use of Lime”  Ibid.  Ellwood, “Stone-boiling maize with limestone: experimental results”
Paragraph 285 of the 1861 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management is a recipe for baked red mullet with a sauce of anchovies, sherry and cayenne. As is usual in the Book of Household Management, this recipe starts with a list of ingredients (with quantities), followed by the mode of preparation, the time needed for the preparation, the average cost, an indication as to when the dish is seasonable (at all times), some notes on other modes of cooking, and an illustration. Paragraph 285 does not end there, however. It concludes with the following notes, in smaller characters, on the history of the red mullet:
THE STRIPED RED MULLET. — This fish was very highly esteemed by the ancients, especially by the Romans, who gave the most extravagant prices for it. Those of 2 lbs. weight were valued at about £15 each; those of 4 lbs. at £60, and, in the reign of Tiberius, three of them were sold for £209. To witness the changing loveliness of their colour during their dying agonies was one of the principal reasons that such a high price was paid for one of these fishes. It frequents our Cornish and Sussex coasts, and is in high request, the flesh being firm, white, and well flavoured.
Beeton peppered her Book of Household Management with such historical notes, focusing especially on antiquity, which particularly interest me as an ancient historian. In these notes she named various ancient sources: the Scriptures, Homer, Herodotus, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Xenophon, Theocritus, Cato, Caesar, Horace, Martial, Virgil, Pliny, Dioscorides, Galen, Athenaeus, Apicius, and Julius Firmicus. However, in most cases, her knowledge of these sources was second-hand: she had borrowed it from a curious book published in 1853, the Pantropheon, which was circulated under the name of Alexis Soyer, a famous and flamboyant Victorian chef (but origianllly composed in French by Adolphe Duhart-Fauvet). The Pantropheon retraced the history of food and eating habits, with a focus on antiquity. It drew on numerous classical sources, listed, with varying degrees of accuracy, in the ‘table of references’. Beeton only acknowledged Soyer’s Pantropheon once (paragraph 1016), probably deeming the information to be, as it were, ‘in the public domain’.
Some of Beeton’s borrowings are word-for-word copies of what she found in the Pantropheon. In most instances, however, she reworked the Pantropheon’s material . For instance in her paragraph on the red mullet, she brought together various passages from the Pantropheon’s chapter on this fish, and added the information on where to find the fish in the British isles.
Even though Beeton’s historical notes are trivia apparently selected at random, two types of anecdotes recur with particular frequency. First, she often commented on the religious practices of the ancients, usually displaying a critical attitude towards what she deemed to be superstitions. Second, she often included anecdotes relating to the excesses and cruelty of the ancients. We have already encountered her comments on the cruelty of the Romans towards the mullet. In paragraph 214, which is part of her general introduction on fish, she also wrote that ‘with all the elegance, tastes, and refinement of Roman luxury, it was sometimes promoted or accompanied by acts of great barbarity’. Writing on the luxurious excesses of the ancients (and more particularly of the Romans) was nothing new, but Beeton seems more angered by cruelty towards animals than by conspicuous displays of wealth. The theme of humane treatment of animals is one that runs through the Book of Household Management: historical anecdotes helped Beeton reinforce her argument against animal cruelty. Thus, even with plagiarised material, Beeton managed to convey at least two moral messages. Her readers may have been oblivious to these implicit lessons, but they cannot have been to her explicit aim to educate her middle-class readers in every aspect of household management and its history.
Including historical and scientific information in Books of Household management was not entirely new. Books of household managements published at the beginning of the nineteenth century sometimes included sections on geography, history, architecture, or similar topics. Yet, I would argue that what Beeton was doing was new in two respects. First, rather than concentrating all her historical notes in one chapter on the history of food, she offered food history in bite-sized parcels. Second, she integrated those historical bites into the structure of her recipes. These innovations may appear trivial, but they are not. The readers of Beeton’s Book of Household Management could irgnore her historical notes only with some difficulty. These readers may have chosen not to read them, but it would have been very difficult not to see them. If the readers ever chose to examine some of these historical and scientific notes, they could do so in very little time. Beeton was well aware that time was of the essence for many of her readers who did not often have the leisure to read for pleasure.
It is for this time-poor reader that Beeton pre-chewed and bite-sized history. One could easily imagine a reader of the Book of Household Management pausing for two minutes to read the notes on the red mullet once she had placed her concoction on the stove. In that reader’s mind the trivia she had learnt about that fish thereafter would be associated with the smell of the roasting fish. To today’s reader, Beeton’s didactic method may appear surprisingly modern: she had chopped history into small bits easy to memorise, and by associating them with recipes, she made the learning experience a multisensory one. Of course, it would be wrong to overinterpret Beeton’s didactic method, but it would be equally wrong to deny that Beeton had didactic intentions. The Beetons were fervent advocates of female education.
In her small way, then, Beeton did contribute to the education of the middle classes. Isabella would certainly have disagreed with Sarah Sewell who in 1868 argued that ‘Women who have stored their minds with Latin and Greek seldom have much knowledge of pies and puddings’ (Woman and the Times we Livein, p. 51) . As any aspiring domestic goddess will know a woman’s brain can well accommodate pie and pudding recipes as well as Latin and Greek!