Around the Table: Celebrating Our Contributors

With the advent of the new year, two members of our editorial team have stepped down from their positions: Recipes Project co-creator Lisa Smith and longtime contributor-and-editor Laurence Totelin. Today we celebrate Lisa and Laurence’s valuable contributions to the project and their service to our community! Amanda Herbert recently spoke with Lisa and Laurence to reflect on their time with the Recipes Project.

Amanda: Tell us about your introduction to the Recipes Project: when did you join, and why?

Lisa: It was a chilly April evening in Saskatoon, Canada, back in 2012… Elaine Leong was over for a week for a conference and various network-building meetings. We were sitting in my (then) living room plotting all sorts of recipe-related activities. We were both intrigued by the possibility of developing a blog that could bring together lots of different voices and would appeal to the wider public. We also wanted to think more widely about what is a recipe, anyway, which is why we took a liberal definition to recipe from the outset, which could encompass ingredient parts, books, magic, and more. Over the summer, we looked into different platforms and ended up going with hypotheses.org as being the most flexible one for a collaboration. We launched the blog on 11 September 2012, with a post on scribblings by Elaine, and were pleased with the good reception it received immediately. 

Laurence: I was on maternity leave with my second child when Lisa and Elaine invited me to contribute to the Recipes Project. At the time, I had never written a blog post, and I was rather nervous. But the invitation sparked something in me, and I started my own blog (Concocting History), which allowed me to grow in confidence. I wrote my first post for the Recipes Project in February 2013 and joined the editorial team at the beginning of 2015, with a series on Greek and Roman recipes. I did not hesitate one second to join because I knew that the Recipes Project was a supportive environment, in which I would be able to develop my editorial skills. 

Amanda: What was your favourite TRP project?

Lisa: What is a Recipe? A Virtual Conversation, an online conference we held in 2017 to celebrate our fifth year. This was a lot of hard work and required a lot of creativity, but we were definitely ahead of the game in terms of a virtual shift. Our goal was to make our conversations about recipes more inclusive, for both people around the world who could not afford to travel and to a wider, non-academic audience. It worked so well, as participants used YouTube, podcasts, blogging, photo essays, and Twitter to join in. We had students, farmers, famous authors, and museum specialists drop in accidentally–they didn’t know it was part of a bigger thing– and contribute to the conversations in thoughtful ways. As Laurence and I were saying the other day, we wish that we had written an article about the conference, which we had planned to do and just never got around to doing… When the pandemic happened, it turned out that our knowledge would have been useful to a lot of people, but by then all sorts of people were trying out virtual conferences with varying degrees of success anyhow. (Readers, let that be a lesson: don’t sit on your good ideas!) 

Laurence: I have two favourites. Like Lisa, I enjoyed the Virtual Conversation immensely. In the COVID era, we have had to switch to virtual conferences, but in 2017, this was very new. We didn’t try to replicate a ‘normal’ conference virtually; we threw away the rule book and tried all sorts of things. Some were more successful than others, but I think that I learnt a lot from the Conversation both in terms of contents and methodologies. My second favourite project was the interaction I had with Jennifer Park on the topic of curdled milk in the breast (here and here). This really demonstrated to me the potential of blogging as a venue for the exchange of ideas between scholars working on different periods (early modern period for Jennifer; Greek and Roman antiquity for me) and different types of sources (drama for Jennifer; medical sources for me). Exchanges between scholars have always happened of course, but blogging allowed us to have our conversation publicly and faster than if we had simply added references to each other’s work in more traditional academic publications. I can’t actually recall whether we had this blogging exchange before or after Jennifer and I met (at the Wellcome Library), but that exchange remains very special to me.  

Amanda: How do you think the project has grown and changed over the years?

Lisa: Our definitions of recipes got even broader. We actively sought out new voices and aimed to be more inclusive by moving beyond our own pre-modern European networks. We quickly realised that we could not do it all with such a small team and expanded to a much larger team of editors and social media editors. This has ensured that we could bring in even more new voices and exciting research! I can’t wait to see what direction the editorial team takes next. 

Laurence: Both the chronological and geographical scope of the project have widened, as we have attempted to decolonise our approach to historical recipes. We used to be a woman-only team, which felt like the right thing in the early days, but we made a conscious effort to change this in the last few years. The blogging format always allowed for flexibility and reinvention, and I look forward to witnessing where the editorial team will take the Recipes Project in the future. 

Amanda: What are your own new directions? 

Lisa: I’ve recently taken on a senior leadership role in my university (Faculty Dean Postgraduate, Arts and Humanities) and will take over as Chair of the Society for the Social History of Medicine Executive in the summer. But my work with the Recipes Project has very much shaped my aspirations in these roles. Through the Recipes Project, I developed my skills in mentoring new scholars and a deep concern about what opportunities are available to them. I also gained experience in virtual community building and collaborative work. These will, I anticipate, be useful in both roles.

Laurence: Like Lisa, I have learnt so many skills through working with the Recipes Project. Most importantly, the Recipes Project has shown me a model for a supportive scholarly community. I have tried to take some of that ethos to my current roles, which include several editorial roles and the co-chairwomanship of the Women’s Classical Committee UK. I’m currently on research leave and I feel at a crossroads from a career point of view, as many large projects I was involved in have come to an end. I’m not entirely sure which road(s) I will take next, but I’m excited to find out. 

Thank you Lisa and Laurence for your years of innovations and contributions! The entire Recipes Project team wishes you all the best in your future endeavors.

If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Call for Editors: Social Media and Acquisitions

The Recipes Project is looking for new editors to grow our readership and expand the range of scholarship we feature on the blog. Are you a savvy Tweeter who loves the back-and-forth exchange of social media? Are you a regular reader with ideas about what you’d like to see us feature on the blog? Do you love thinking about recipes in all their myriad forms? Then you might make a great social media or acquisitions editor, and we would love to hear from you!

Editorial duties include:

Social Media Editors

  • Amplifying, sharing, and promoting writing on recipes, especially by underrepresented groups 
  • Running our social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)
  • Regular liaising with co-editors about site development, content, and promotion

Acquisitions Editors

  • Engaging with underrepresented groups and areas of study related to recipes, especially among underrepresented groups and non-Western societies
  • Connecting with and inviting potential contributors 
  • Organizing, editing, and uploading posts in rotation with other co-editors 
  • Regular liaising with co-editors about site development, content, and promotion 

About Us

The Recipes Project is an interdisciplinary, volunteer organization. This work is the unpaid product of a community of passionate scholars of recipes.

We welcome candidates from all backgrounds, including those engaged with the culinary arts, creative food writing, and academic research. We welcome scholars from a variety of disciplines: anthropology, comparative literature, classics, history, linguistics, literary criticism, sociology, and more. Graduate students are valued members of our community.  We particularly invite submissions from those from underrepresented groups and non-Western societies. 

The Recipes Project has an international reach that explores recipes of all kinds: medical, culinary, scientific, magical. Our posts cover a range of topics relating to historic cookbooks, instructions, ingredients, guidelines, and methods of cultivation and production across time and place. We value new writers and early career researchers, giving them a platform for new writing and supporting and amplifying their work. We have a broad audience—in 2021, we averaged 18,000 unique site visitors per month, and we have over 11.5K Twitter followers. We look forward to expanding further, with your help!

Application Details

To apply, please include a CV and one-page pitch describing what you wish to bring to the team. Acquisitions Editors: include two ideas for a month-long series and how you might expand our reach to new audiences. Social Media Editors: include two ideas for a week-long social media campaign that reaches distinct and diverse groups. Have other ideas? Send them our way! 

Please submit applications via email to recipesproject@brocku.ca. First review will begin on Feb. 1, 2022 and will continue until positions are filled.

Current Editorial Team

  • Clare Gordon Bettencourt
  • Jessica Clark
  • Amanda Herbert
  • R.A. Kashanipour
  • Sarah Peters Kernan
  • Melissa Reynolds
  • Joshua Schlachet
  • Miles Wilkerson

Cha (ឆា):The Remarkable Role of Stir-Fries in Khmer Gastronomy and Healing

By Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam

Within the grand, yet nebulous universe of what food and culture writers deem as “Asian” cooking and gastronomy, there is a deep love and affinity for the stir-fry. In a hot oily pan, various combinations of vegetables and proteins are tossed and transformed into something wonderful. The simple act of tossing becomes momentous – a way to incorporate flavours and aspects of a cuisine’s eccentricities with chosen ingredients in an endless number of ways. To say that the stir-fry “belongs” to as specific culinary tradition is contentious at times. While the origins of stir-fry, as a cooking technique and dish, originated in China, many cultures across the Asian continent and beyond have embraced it within their own cooking traditions.[1]

Growing up in the Khmer diaspora of the United States, my family and friends have had many conversations about what truly constitutes “Khmer” food and cuisine. More often than not, a joke about Cha (ឆា) would be made. Typically referencing how our moms would throw together whatever vegetables were floating around in our fridges with slices of random meats to feed us on small budgets of both time and money. To spruce up one’s cha,  additional clumps of garlic, onion, chili peppers, and or ginger were fried and immediately dashed with soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce.

A plate of cha trakhoun (morning glorywith chicken and rice

These core ingredients, with their strong and savoury aromas, constantly perfumed our kitchens. We ate cha for lunch, for dinner, at family potlucks, and when we were sick — to the surprise of many. Stir-fries as being curative cuisines, or the foods you consume (and lean on) when you’re unwell, is not a common association. In what reality could an oily and heavily spiced dish facilitate healing?

These were just some of my initial thoughts when I began my doctoral research in Siem Reap, Cambodia on Khmer traditional and folk food-medicines used in response to changes brought forth by seasonality, maternity, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the interviews and conversations that took place, the consistent mentioning of a number of Khmer dishes which defined my childhood arose, with several types of cha being the most common. As I listened to each study participant’s reflections on food-medicines and/or curative cuisines, the actions and rationalities of my mother began to clarify intensely.

Whenever my sister or I were sick, she’d encourage us to eat chili peppers, limes, black pepper, ginger, and garlic in excess. Her rationality was that I needed to “warm my body” and that these ingredients would do that for me. Alongside bowls of borbor (rice porridge) and snau (soup), she’d prepare us some cha kgneuy (ginger stir-fry). This orientation of rice, soup, and stir-fry embodied the characteristic spread of Khmer cuisine — a little bit of everything: rice, soup, a fresh vegetables and herbs plate, and cha to bring it all together.[1]

A typical Khmer meal spread with rice, cha, vegetable/herb plate, snau (soup), and grilled fish

In both traditional and folk Khmer medicine, health and wellness are partially reliant on the balancing of bodily humors. Under the humoral theory of medicine, the body is made up of four distinctive humors (blood, phlegm, black/yellow bile) which correspond to specific organs and well as conditions (hotness, coldness, wetness, dryness). When these humors are pushed out of balance for one reason or another, illness ensues. To address this, both traditional and folk Khmer medicine approaches feature consumable remedies that shift one’s humoral orientation back into alignment.

In traditional and folk Khmer food-medicines, cha is a ubiquitous remedy because of its versatility. The ingredients of the cha determine its humoral qualities and impact. You can humorally “cool” or “warm” your body by eating a specific kind of cha. During pregnancy, cha trakhoun with oyster sauce (stir-fried morning glory) or cha mereh (stir-fried bitter melon) is eaten to cool and soothe the humors. In contrast, during postpartum as well as for COVID-19 prevention, cha kgneuy (stir-fried ginger with slices of meat) is used to warm the body and increase immunity.

A plate of chicken and chili pepper cha and sour snau soup

 In combination with other nourishing Khmer dishes, as well as the occasional medicinal decoction, cha dishes act as core components of the traditional and folk Khmer food-medicine healing regiments. In this way, cha blends together processes of eating and healing within certain contexts. The importance of cha to Khmer culture is exceptional, no matter how you frame it. Walk into any restaurant in Cambodia, and you’ll be sure to find one on the menu!


References

[1] http://www.china.org.cn/english/MATERIAL/26142.htm.

[2] In, S., Lambre, C., Camel, V., & Ouldelhkim, M. (2015). “Regional and Seasonal Variations of Food Consumption in Cambodia.” Malaysian Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 21, pp. 167–178.

Around the Table: Digital Resources

By Sarah Peters Kernan

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations cancelled conferences and events in staggering numbers. As it became clear that events would have to move online in order to continue, our organizations and institutions did so with gusto. While the Recipes Project community may not have had the chance to socialize in person at these events, we are left with a treasure trove of recordings. This is a roundup of free recipes-related recordings from Fall 2020-Fall 2021 conferences, webinars, workshops, and symposia.

The Food and the Book: 1300-1800 Conference (October 2020) hosted by the Newberry Library and Folger Institute is available online. The Newberry Library’s Center for Renaissance Studies also has a series of collection presentation videos related to food history.

The Folger Institute’s Critical Race Conversations hosted Jennifer Park and Gitanjali Shahani for the conversation “We Are What You Eat” (15 October 2020).

The Huntington Library’s conference, Ecologies of Paper in the Early Modern World (November 2020), is available on the library’s YouTube channel.

The British Society for the History of Pharmacy’s YouTube channel has videos of the BSHP March 2021 Conference sessions, as well as other 2021 lectures.

A recording of Revealing Recipes: Top Tips from Early Modern Women (4 March 2021), hosted by the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective, Royal College of Physicians, and the Wellcome Collection, is available here.

The Food Cultures research theme at the University of Warwick hosted several 2021 events. Recordings are available for their “Food and Drink Cultures through the Ages” webinar (23 March 2021) and a “Food, Religion and Writing” panel debate (11 June 2021).

Bruce Moran’s keynote address of the Science History Institute’s “The Applied Arts of Alchemy” symposium (May 2021) is available here. The Science History Institute YouTube channel also has a wide variety of lecture recordings, demonstration videos, and “Distilled,” a series of collection presentation videos.

The IEHCA – University of Tours (L’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation) hosted the 6th International Conference on Food History and Food Studies (May-June 2021). Recordings of sessions are available through the conference program by clicking on the “Detailed Schedule” link.

Cooking Recipes of the Middle Ages: Corpus, Analysis, Visualisation (CoReMA) recently hosted a symposium on The Culinary Recipe from the XIIth to the XVIIth Centuries: Europe, Islam, Far East (May 2021). Recordings and detailed abstracts of each presentation are available on the symposium website. CoReMA’s other video offerings, such as cooking demonstrations and lectures are available on their site.

Several presentations from the Institute of Historical Research Food History Seminar are available on the seminar YouTube channel.

Intoxicating Spaces: The Impact of New Intoxicants on Urban Spaces in Europe, 1600-1850 hosted a seminar series, “What’s Your Poison?” Recordings are available for Part 1 and Part 2 of the series. Intoxicating Spaces also hosted the conference, Intoxicating Spaces: Global and Comparative Perspectives (July 2021). Session videos are linked on the conference website.

If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.