Category Archives: Article Round-Ups

Cooking Up New Ideas: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Research through Recipes

Rachel A. Snell

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative (MCSRRC) is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff who are passionate and curious about the role of food, recipes, and cooking in politics and public life; and eager to share those lessons with a broad audience from students to scholars to civic organizations. Members represent a range of disciplines: history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. The MCSRRC is housed within the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center (MCSPS) – a nonpartisan, independent research and public service unit dedicated to promoting the quality of public dialogue about state and national policy issues through applied policy research and community engagement – and the Honors College at the University of Maine

Smith’s personal recipe collection at the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library in Skowhegan, Maine. Photography by Rachel Snell.

Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) stood apart as a political figure, woman, and homemaker. Distinguished as a political trailblazer, she was among the first politicians openly critical of the tactics of McCarthyism, and upon leaving office was the longest-serving female Senator in history. Margaret Chase Smith is one of the most well-recognized and well-studied female figures in Maine history, but few of us would identify her as a domestic being. Most research on Smith and recognition of her role focuses on her life in the public sphere as a Congresswoman, Senator, and public figure. She was, of course, also a wife, cook, and homemaker, and she frequently relied on these roles in her campaigns. Her recipes suggest how she combined her public and private personas and how the balance of the two contributed to her success as a political leader. She was committed to bringing people together through civil discourse and often used food as a diplomatic vehicle. Throughout her thirty-three years in office, she maintained and used a recipe collection to entertain fellow policymakers and friends in Washington and at home in Maine.

Sen. Smith hosted President Dwight Eisenhower for a traditional lobster bake on the lawn of her home in Skowhegan in 1955. Courtesy of Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

Recipes demand an interdisciplinary approach as these sources transcend the boundaries of individual fields. This project brings together the researchers from multiple fields while recognizing recipe collections as sources for collective biography. In her memoir of her mother’s life through her recipe collection, Diane Tye argued, “one woman’s baking offers a contextually situated example of how a generation constructed and managed identity roles.”[1]This approach demands recognition of a cookbook or a collection of recipes as a narrative, in Anne Bower’s definition as, ”a verbal artifact that is organized and endowed with meaning by its readers” or as an “embedded discourse” in the analysis of Leonardi, representative of relationships between friends, neighbors, relatives, and broader communities.[2]  Leonardi persuasively argued that recipes are much more than lists of ingredients and methods for combining them into dishes. Rather, the intertextuality of recipes engages the reader or the cook in a conversation with context and relationships that should not be ignored. Therefore, the recipe “besides being a narrative itself, offers us other stories too: of family sagas and community records, of historical and cultural moments or changes, and also personal histories and narratives of self.”[3] Recipes not only reveal human relationships but, as historian Rebecca Sharpless argued, also “important evidence about people’s interactions with their environment and the society around them.”[4] Recipes provide a sense of the tools and materials available, dining customs, identity formation, expectations, food system transitions, the development of unique food cultures, and much more.

Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative members Dominique DeSpirito and Alex Bromley pour over Smith’s recipe collection at the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library. Dominque, a Political Science major with a minor in Environmental Science, is searching for connections between the recipes and Smith’s agricultural policies. Alex, a Food Science major, is curious about how recipes and ingredients change over time.
MCSRRC member Makenzie Baber, a third-year Business Management major, photographs one of the scrapbooks in the Library’s collections. Makenzie’s research explores Smith’s use of a blueberry muffin recipe as a campaign tool during the 1964 Republican Presidential Primary.

The primary objective of the MCSRRC is to foster collaborative, interdisciplinary student and faculty research through projects focused on recipes as sources for research. The work of the Collaborative includes cataloging and digitizing Senator Smith’s personal collection of recipes, currently housed at the Margaret Chase Smith Library and Museum in Skowhegan, Maine. Collaborative members test and, as needed, update the original recipes in efforts towards the creation of an edited volume, grounded in research but written for a broad public audience, focused on the role of food, recipes, and the power of cooking in politics and public life. The MCSRRC utilizes an undergraduate research model tobring creative and innovative approaches to studying the life of Senator Smith through her recipes. This source material offers a new perspective on a well-researched figure and provides ample opportunity for students to develop research projects connected to their fields of study and personal interests. The student research posts published by The Recipes Project provides a sense of the vast research possibilities of this particular recipe collection and any recipe collection.  

[1] Diane Tye, Baking as Biography: A Life Story in Recipes(Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010), 42.

[2] Anne L. Bower, “Bound Together: Recipes, Lives, Stories, and Readings,” in Anne L. Bower, ed., Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories(Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), 30; Susan J. Leonardi, “Recipes for Reading: Summer Pasta, Lobster àla Riseholme, and Key Lime Pie,” PMLA104, no. 3 (1989), 340.

[3] Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster, “The Recipe in its Cultural Contexts” in Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster, eds., The Recipe Reader: Narratives – Contexts – Traditions(Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), 2.

[4] Rebecca Sharpless, “Cookbooks as Resources for Rural Research,” Agricultural History 90, no. 2 (Spring 2016), 195. 

Cold! A Recipe Project Thematic Series

Hiroshige, Two men by a gate in the mountains. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

– it’s cold! A dreary chill and rain have just descended across Europe and perhaps most of you are also cranking up the heat and bringing out winter scarves and hats. December has arrived and it seems apt for us to follow our fun and successful series on “Heat!” with a thematic series on “Cold!”. Within medical conceptions of the human body across a number of cultures, notions of hot and cold are hardly be separated. Within kitchens, craft and artisanal workshops, although heat played a crucial role in production processes, cold was also essential occasionally – especially if ingredients had to be preserved for a period of time, or if heat had to be tempered in some way.

To get ready for the long winter, our contributors have explored the notion of “Cold!” in a number of areas. Thijs Hagendijk returns to the RP with a post on the Dutch polymath and painter Simon Eikelenberg (1663-1738), detailing how cold features in the practices of his paint making with surprising insights.  Jean-Olivier Richard, a historian with interests in early modern natural philosophy, alchemy and environmental history, invites us reflect upon mankind’s impact on our planet by offering a reading of “divine recipes for a cooling earth”.

Having written about how to “treat the heat in 1793 Beijing”, Marta Hanson returns to the RP this month with a post titled “Treating the Deadly Cold in 1918 China”, co-authored with Michael Shiyung Liu. Returning to another theme explored in the Heat! Series – fertility recipes – Yi-Li Wu will tell us about Chinese formulas dealing with cold genitals, the standard historical explanation for male and female infertility.

Finally, as we move closer to the holidays, we offer a few posts to “warm” you up. Marieke Hendriksen and Ruben Verwaal return with more adventures with Boerhaave’s “little furnace” (go here for part 1 of their explorations). New contributor historian Reinhild Kreis will tell us about Christmas Cookies in 20th century Germany and our Tales from the Archives will feature the wonderful post on “snowballs” by Rachel Snell.

“Christmas Dessert of layers of fruit, arranged for color effect. ‘Snowball’ is one of the most attractive Christmas Desserts” from American Homes and Gardens, 1911.

We can’t do much about the chilly weather outside but we hope that this wide-ranging edition of the Recipes Project might distract you from the weather and inspire you to think about the cold and chills in different ways.

Enjoy and happy holidays!

Marieke Hendriksen and Elaine Leong


Ps. This is my last edition for a little while as I’m taking a tiny break from editing the Recipes Project in 2019. Things have been all-go at the RP headquarters over the past few months, and we have some really exciting news to share with you after the holidays. So, watch this space and see you all soon, Elaine.

Teaching Resource Round-Up!

Jess Clark

In 2017, the academic journal Global Food History published a roundtable on “Teaching Food History.” Participants, including one of this month’s contributors Jeffrey Pilcher, described the exciting outcomes and periodic challenges of developing food history courses. This includes the use of recipes in the classrooms as a means to consider silences in the archives; grapple with questions of material history; and to think about (and experience) issues around labor, production, and supply.[1]

"Food Administration - Education - Teaching food conservation in canning in Western Nebraska," 1917-1918, National Archives at College Park, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
“Food Administration – Education – Teaching food conservation in canning in Western Nebraska,” 1917-1918, National Archives at College Park, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

All through the month, we’ve had the pleasure of extending these conversations, featuring different approaches to teaching with recipes. As our contributors have shown, recipes represent an exciting and accessible form that encourages students to think in new ways about reading practices, but also histories of class, gender, and global exchange.

This month’s Series means that we now have some 24 posts on teaching available on the site. In this final post of September 2018, we’ve listed these resources for our readers, categorized by approach and topic. Some of them date to 2014, when Amanda Herbert first launched the Series. We hope this makes our teaching resources even more accessible for educators and will encourage the use of recipes in the classroom. And, as always, we want to hear from you about how you use recipes in the classroom! Please join us in the Comments section to continue the conversation.

Foods and Cookery laboratory, School of Household Art, Teachers' College, Columbia University, 1910-20. From Collection #23-2-749, item M-OS-08. Cornell University Library. Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.
Foods and Cookery laboratory, School of Household Art, Teachers’ College, Columbia University, 1910-20. From Collection #23-2-749, item M-OS-08. Cornell University Library. Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.


Recreating Recipes

Understanding Recipes

 National Approaches

Online Approaches

Recipes in the Public: Exhibits, Objects, and Living History



[1] Beth Forrest et al, “Teaching Food History: a Discussion Among Practitioners,” Global Food History 3.2 (2017): 194-208.



HEAT! A Recipes Project Thematic Series

Astronomy- the Earth and the sun during summer in the Northern hemisphere. Wellcome Collection.

As humans, we want to control heat. We want to create heat, temper or even extinguish it, depending on context and purpose. We have a very limited temperature range at which we are comfortable (some microbes and bacteria can survive temperatures as low as -20C and as high as 130C), so we spend an incredible amount of time managing heat, whether it is our body temperature or that of our homes, offices, laboratories, cars, or food.

When we started planning this series of blog posts in early May, we could not have suspected how appropriate the theme would feel by now. While much of northwestern Europe has not seen rain in weeks and is sighing under a heatwave with temperatures rising to 37C/98F, we have fled to airconditioned spaces to edit the posts. Climate-wise, heat is seasonal in these regions, but it has always played an important role in recipes year-round, all around the world, from antiquity to the present day, in fields as diverse as alchemy, chemistry, art, cooking, medicine, and personal grooming.

The common denominators of heat in all these realms are that it is either internal – emanating from the human body – or external, naturally occurring from the sun, thunder, or lava, or man-made through friction or fire. In the posts in this series, we will see a wide variety of attempts to control these different kinds of heat through recipes and instructions.

Managing natural heat: Venice turpentine is a thick paste (aka sticky mess) at room temperature, but becomes fluid around 25C, and nicely mixes into the rest of the varnish ingredients when left out in the sun. Photo: Marieke Hendriksen

Some of our authors recreate such attempts by reconstructing experiments outlined in historical art technical and chemical sources. Indra Kneepkens recounts how she discovered through reconstruction research that sometimes for a recipe to make sense, it should not only be followed to the letter, but also be read between the lines. Ruben Verwaal and Marieke Hendriksen use their experiments with two reconstructions of small chemical ovens to reflect on the role of experimental heat in the development of theories on the nature of life in the eighteenth century. Working in a similar vein but with culinary recipes, Marissa Nicosia, from Cooking the Archive, examines the problem of heat control in her recipe recreation adventures, outlining the challenges of translating cooking instructions meant for the early modern hearth to the modern gas stove.

The four elements, four qualities, four humours, four seasons, and four ages of man. Airbrush by Lois Hague, 1991. Wellcome Collection.

Other authors in the series took our invitation as an opportunity to investigate heat in medical theories across time and place. Aileen Das kicks off this series by arguing that heat occupied a central place in ancient Greek, Roman and medieval Islamicate theories about the human body and its care. Taking on the smelly problem of perspiration and body odor, Cari Casteel reminds us that this issue is as old as mankind and offers several remedies from Roman authors.  Catherine Rider, on the other hand, examines notions of heat in fertility remedies in medieval England, noting that, whilst popular, heat-based treatments (to either increase or reduce heat in the body) were not the only kind of fertility aid available to English couples. The series concludes with two posts focused on fever and disease. Fittingly in this current heatwave, Laurence Totelin offers a post on fever and dog days of summer in antiquity. Finally, writing on in Late Imperial China, Marta Hanson introduces us to ideas of fever in Chinese medicine.

We’ve had a great time editing this series – hope you enjoy reading the posts wherever you are. Happy summer and stay cool!

Marieke Hendriksen and Elaine Leong

P.s. We were so inspired by our contributors’ posts that we’ve decided to dedicate the December issue to (you guessed it) COLD!. If you’re interested in joining the conversation, send a short pitch to