Category Archives: Culinary History

Unlearning Patriarchy: Flavors of Change in the Kitchen

By Niharika Tripathi

In the heart of our family kitchen, where the flavors of tradition and conformity converged, I witnessed a peculiar blend between food and patriarchal influence. As a child, I observed how my father’s preferences dictated our kitchen. His love for pumpkin permeated every dish, while the absence of spices like amchoor reflected in our meals. The very clear patriarchal hierarchy fueled by the society shaped our family dynamics. However, amidst this influence, my mother quietly rebelled by striving to please my brother and me with foods that catered to our tastes. It was a small rebellion, but it stood out as a symbol of individuality in a household that often adhered to traditional norms. Little did I know then that this seemingly mundane aspect of our daily lives held a deeper connection to the journey of unlearning patriarchal codes and the pursuit of personal rejuvenation, reimagination, reconception, and rebirth.

An image of kaddu ki sabzi (pumpkin dish), lovingly prepared by my mother.

Thinking back on the food choices that were made, one ingredient stands out in my memory: khatai. This small, pickle-like condiment, with its tangy and savory notes, held a special place in my heart. Growing up, khatai was a rarity in our meals, as my father never allowed its inclusion. I could only indulge in its delightful taste when I visited my grandmother once a year.

The limited access to khatai made it all the more precious to me. It became a symbol of the connections I cherished, the memories I treasured, and the small rebellions that brought me joy. So, as I continue to infuse the flavors of khatai into my meals, I do so with gratitude for the memories it evokes and the personal liberation it represents. It’s a reminder that even the smallest additions to our kitchen can carry profound significance, honoring our past while shaping our future.

A collection of spices, including amchoor, representing the diverse flavors explored in our kitchen.

Thinking back on the food choices that were made, one ingredient stands out in my memory: khatai. This small, pickle-like condiment, with its tangy and savory notes, held a special place in my heart. Growing up, khatai was a rarity in our meals, as my father never allowed its inclusion. I could only indulge in its delightful taste when I visited my grandmother once a year.

The limited access to khatai made it all the more precious to me. It became a symbol of the connections I cherished, the memories I treasured, and the small rebellions that brought me joy. As I continue to infuse the flavors of khatai into my meals, I do so with gratitude for the memories it evokes and the personal liberation it represents. It’s a reminder that even the smallest additions to our kitchen can carry profound significance, honoring our past while shaping our future.

As I grew older, I couldn’t help but notice another aspect of patriarchal codes: the unequal distribution of food. Even as times changed, the practice of serving men first persisted within our extended family. Even now, as my cousins’ wives and my sister-in-law strive for change, my aunts and mother find solace in feeding everyone else before savoring the meals they have lovingly prepared. 

Amidst the flavors that defined our family’s culinary landscape, there was one dish that my mother held close to her heart: kadhi. Its tangy notes and velvety texture had always enticed her taste buds. However, a cloud of restriction hung over this beloved dish. My father, driven by his own preferences, made it very clear that he did not care for kadhi. The mere mention of it seemed to trigger an unspoken restriction. Although my mother had a strong fondness for kadhi, she still adhered to the restriction. It was a silent sacrifice, a relinquishing of her own desires to appease the patriarchal codes that subtly dictated our family’s culinary choices.

Kadhi Recipe

Ingredients:

1 cup yogurt

3 tablespoons gram flour (besan)

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

A pinch of asafoetida (hing)

1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)

Curry leaves 

Salt to taste

Fresh coriander leaves for garnish

My mother would whisk curd with gram flour to form a smooth mixture. In a pan, she would heat ghee and add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and a pinch of asafoetida, sautéing them briefly. Then, she would add the yogurt-gram flour mixture and stir in water, turmeric powder, red chili powder, and salt. The kadhi would simmer on low heat until it thickened and the raw taste of gram flour disappeared. Finally, she would garnish it with fresh coriander leaves. While this process resulted in a delicious dish, its significance has always been beyond its flavour for me. 

Through these experiences of our kitchen, I developed a sense of self awareness of the pervasive influence of patriarchal codes and their impact on individuals and relationships around me. I started questioning the norms and expectations that permeated our family dynamics. Witnessing my mother’s quiet rebellion and the compromises she made to accommodate the preferences of others opened my eyes to the hidden sacrifices and silencing of personal desires that often accompany traditional gender roles. It became clear to my brother and I that unlearning patriarchal codes required a conscious dismantling of ingrained patterns and a reimagining of relationships rooted in equality and individual autonomy.

A bowl of tangy and velvety kadhi, representing a dish restricted by patriarchal preferences.

The change in our kitchen may have seemed subtle at first, but in hindsight, it was a much-needed and transformative shift. As I began questioning the patriarchal nature of our surroundings, a seed of change was planted within our family dynamic. The conversations initiated sparked a collective awakening, encouraging each family member to reevaluate their own beliefs and behaviors in the kitchen. We recognized the need to break free from the limitations imposed by tradition and embrace a more inclusive and authentic way of living. Gradually, our kitchen became a space where everyone’s voices were heard, preferences were respected, and contributions were celebrated. It was through this subtle revolution that we cultivated an environment of harmony, equality, and individual empowerment. The change in our kitchen rippled into other aspects of our lives, inspiring us to challenge societal norms, pursue personal growth, and forge deeper connections with one another. In hindsight, I now realize that this seemingly small shift held the power to transform not only our family’s relationship with food but also our overall sense of well-being and fulfillment.

The dining table displays a variety of dishes. In the center, a vibrant pumpkin dish stands out, accompanied by a creamy kadhi bowl.

Niharika Tripathi is a feminist researcher and writer specializing in research and advocacy. With a background in law, she brings a unique perspective to her work, focusing on gender-based violence and social change. Through qualitative research and community engagement, Niharika challenges patriarchal norms, striving for a more inclusive world.

Outside Issues: Tea Gardens in Early Modern London

By James Brown

The HERA-funded research project Intoxicating Spaces (2019–22), on which I was fortunate enough to work and which explored material environments for the production, trafficking, and consumption of new intoxicants in Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and Stockholm 1600–1850, coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant lockdowns. An avid user of bars, cafes, and restaurants in Sheffield in the UK, where I live and where the project was headquartered, I admired and became fascinated by the creative ways in which these hospitality businesses adapted and repurposed outdoor spaces – gardens, pavements, patios, roads, and yards – in response to bans and restrictions on indoor socialising (measures which have a long historical precedent in plague time). These present-day crisis developments inspired me to take my own research on early modern London outside into the open air.

Photo of two shoppers at ordering at the outdoor window of a bar.
Gatsby on Sheffield’s Division Street with its new outdoor serving window – ‘The Great Hatchby’ – in April 2021. Photo: Author.

There were various kinds of al fresco food and drink retailing in the early modern capital, from the street-sellers recently investigated by Charlie Taverner and Freya Purcell, to the temporary (or, in modern parlance, ‘pop-up’) booths that sprouted in the royal parks and during fairs. However, one of the most common was the tea garden, a distinctive species of space that flourished in the metropolis – as in other cities across the continent – between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. The significance of these environments, especially for the enjoyment and assimilation of new intoxicating substances, has yet to receive the historiographical attention it deserves. Environmental and garden historians have tended to focus their energies on large-scale, well-documented pleasure gardens such as Marylebone, Ranelagh, and Vauxhall. Most historians of intoxicants and intoxication, meanwhile, have generally ignored tea gardens in favour of the more familiar indoor locales of alehouse, coffeehouse, household, inn, and tavern; they get only a single passing reference, for example, in this excellent recent monograph on tea. This is possibly because, faced with London’s spiralling population and growing pressure from property developers, most of them disappeared from the urban landscape over the course of the nineteenth century.

Watercolor painting of white building with several people standing in the lawn in front of the building.
An 1853 watercolour by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd depicting Copenhagen House tea garden in Islington. British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The heyday of the metropolitan tea garden was the eighteenth century into the early decades of the 1800s. Estimates of their numbers vary, from c.200 at the top end to the more conservative figure of 65 proposed by Penelope Corfield. I’ve identified around 90, the locations of 81 of which I’ve been able to pinpoint with some accuracy using the visualisation software Tableau. As the interactive map shows, tea gardens were broadly dispersed across the capital and its rural hinterland, although in the terminology of human geography five broad ‘clusters’ can be identified: there was a particularly concentrated central group around Clerkenwell; a Marylebone group; a Chelsea group; a south of the river group; and two outlying Islington and Hampstead groups scattered along the leafy roads and arteries leading out of the city to the north. Within the overarching rubric of tea garden, however, surviving visual evidence indicates there was a huge amount of spatial variety; compare Copenhagen House in Islington, a huge semi-rural tavern with extensive grounds, to the much more bounded setting of the Yorkshire Stingo public house and tea gardens in Paddington.

Water color painting of a two-story pub with fenced front yard where several patrons are sitting.
A mid nineteenth-century watercolour by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd showing the Yorkshire Stingo pub and tea garden in Lisson Grove. British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Food and drink was central to the offering, and – as their name denotes – tea gardens were most closely associated with a new generation of New World intoxicants, especially caffeinated beverages, and particularly tea. There were three main ways in which they fostered the incorporation of these novel substances into the diets and habits of Londoners. First, they were highly visual environments, dedicated to spectacle, the gaze, and the pleasures of the eye. Perhaps more so than any other kind of space, this made them ideal viewing platforms for the conspicuous consumption of fashionable new commodities like coffee, sugar, tea, and tobacco, and the cultivation of polite rituals surrounding them (the tea arbour or trellis is a recurring motif within eighteenth- and nineteenth-century century artistic discourses). Second, the availability of new intoxicants at the handful of spa gardens formed around natural springs – like Bermondsey Spa tea gardens, here described by the printer George Smeeton – would have strengthened existing conceptual associations between coffee, tea, tobacco, and good health. Third, while not wishing to labour the obvious, tea gardens were botanical. Their lawns, shrubberies, and trees offered a carefully curated, sometimes exotic rusticity, while those in outlying locations to points north, east, west, and south offered vantage points from which the sprawl of the global imperial city could be appreciated and admired. They were therefore almost archetypal settings for the enjoyment of agricultural derivatives from tropical climes.

Black-and-white water color painting of many patrons enjoying tea in the gardens abutting a large house.
An 1830 watercolour by George Scharf depicting Jack Straw’s Castle in Hampstead, featuring customers taking tea in distinctive arbours or alcoves. British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

However, in characteristic fashion, tea gardens were also hybridised consumption spaces that retained close associations with traditional stimulants and intoxicating spaces. They were not standalone or sui generis ventures emerging from nowhere, but were generally opened by enterprising publicans on sites contiguous with inns, taverns, and alehouses; as well as the example of the Yorkshire Stingo above, see this drawing of the Chalk Farm tea gardens in Camden, where the outdoor space is adjacent to the colonnaded public house. As such, ‘old’ intoxicants in the form of alcohols (beer, wine, and spirits) were just as likely to be served and consumed within them as caffeinated drinks. This satirical etching, for example, depicts Bagnigge Wells, a fashionable spa and resort in Clerkenwell; while a kettle sits abandoned in the distance, a grinning waiter uncorks a bottle of wine or spirits for the three fashionably dressed male customers. This chimes with our findings elsewhere in the project; coffee’s percolation throughout provincial England, for example, was facilitated not by freestanding coffeehouses but by the creation of ‘coffee rooms’ within long-established drinking houses.

Hand-colored etching of four men smoking and drinking alcohol at a table outdoors.
A satirical 1804 etching showing three men consuming alcohol at Bagnigge Wells spa and tea garden. British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

A ‘recipe’ for chocolate on a 19th-century cup

Porcelain chocolate cup, saucer and lid set created in Paris for the Ottoman market and marked in red overglaze, 19th century, Oriental Museum, Durham University. Image courtesy of the author.

By Frederick Fossey-Warren

This porcelain hot chocolate cup from the early 19th century seems decidedly Ottoman. Gilded with gold and over-glazed with an intricate red pattern, the cup is designed to follow the “Egyptian style” that proved immensely popular with colonial Ottoman officials at the turn of the century. In fact the cup is so extravagant that it’s possible it was never actually intended for use, but purchased as a display piece, a succinct symbol of both status and wealth, by a member of the Ottoman elite.

Given its appearance, one could reasonably expect to trace the cup’s origins to a Turkish city such as Istanbul or Ankara. Upon closer inspection, however, the presence of different languages written onto the cup complicate its provenance. While the cup was bought and sold in the Ottoman Empire, its origins lie elsewhere. In fact, the cup was constructed in none other than…Paris? So, how did we get here?

After its arrival in the so-called “Old World” in the early 16th century, chocolate slowly but surely became a new court favourite across Europe and, by the end of the 17th century, had become a mainstay in aristocratic circles. It wasn’t long before chocolate began to spread into Asia and Africa, truly becoming one of the world’s first global commodities. As in Europe, given its scarcity and price, in the Ottoman Empire chocolate was initially largely restricted to the nobility, as much a status symbol as a foodstuff.

Initially enjoyed primarily as a drink, chocolate was seen as not only a nourishing treat, but a superfood, a sobering source of energy able to cure or prevent most common ailments. Many saw potential in its import as a commodity, and through its arrival it often contributed to the development of industry and revenue. Given its initial scarcity – chocolate had to be harvested in the Americas, loaded onto ships, and sailed across the Atlantic in a journey that routinely lasted three months – chocolate stayed in high demand, and markets soon opened not just for cacao, but for chocolate ‘accessories.’ These included such objects as chocolatera for dissolving together chocolate paste and sugar, molinillo for frothing hot chocolate, and, of course, cups for drinking, which brings us back to our porcelain cup.

When people consider the movement of luxury goods in the long nineteenth century, it is often taken for granted or assumed that goods primarily moved out of the peripheries of Africa, Asia and the Americas, and into the imperial core of Western Europe. This cup, however, challenges this understanding. From the date and manufacturers mark on the underside of the object, we can tell that this cup, saucer and lid collection was constructed in Paris in 1809. Given its design, it was likely always intended for sale within the Ottoman market.

In the early 19th century, the Ottoman Empire remained a powerful and, importantly, wealthy force in Eastern Europe, and an attractive market for many across Europe. When, in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire expanded to encompass much of the Middle East and North Africa, the tastes of Ottoman elites changed, adopting the styles and fashions of many of their newly incorporated colonial subjects. This chocolate cup was ingeniously crafted to capitalise on these trends, part of an aesthetic and cultural movement that historian Ussama Makdisi has called ‘Ottoman Orientalism’.

Inscription detail. Porcelain chocolate cup, saucer and lid set created in Paris for the Ottoman market and marked in red overglaze, 19th century, Oriental Museum, Durham University. Image courtesy of the author.

So what were the design features that made this chocolate cup an example of ‘Ottoman Orientalism’? The underside of the saucer features a series of seemingly random Chinese characters. In relation to the cup’s purpose, these four characters, 李唐宋官, roughly translate to ‘Li Tang, Song dynasty official’. While there was a Li Tang in the Song dynasty, and in fact he was an accomplished landscape painter, he had nonetheless died almost seven hundred years prior to the time of this cup’s creation, and almost six hundred years before chocolate’s arrival in China. So why were these Chinese characters included? Simple: to make the cup seem more appealing to prospective buyers, and hence more likely to sell. The inclusion of these Chinese characters, presumably merely copied wholesale from another source, both fed into the intended exoticism of the piece, and attempted capitalise on a long existing market for Chinese porcelain in the Ottoman Empire.

The story of this cup does not, however, merely end with its creation and sale. Just as with the saucer, on the underside of the cup is another short sentence, this time, however, in Urdu. Unlike the Chinese characters, this writing was added after the cup was purchased and offers us a perplexingly poetic phase. The cryptic writing roughly translates to ‘That same diminished consciousness; This same deep target’ and is attributed to one Jannatī, likely a pen-name, meaning ‘the heavenly’. Whoever this Jannatī was, they clearly had some affection for the cup; not only did they write an inscription on its underside, but there is evidence of attempts at restoration, with the gold on the lid having been re-gilded.

Inscription detail. Porcelain chocolate cup, saucer and lid set created in Paris for the Ottoman market and marked in red overglaze, 19th century, Oriental Museum, Durham University. Image courtesy of the author.

When taken together, the elaborate and varied inscriptions on this cup act, in some sense, as a recipe. If a recipe is a set of instructions allowing you to, hopefully, produce something far greater than the sum of its parts, then, for a historian, the cup’s inscriptions act as an invaluable recipe in allowing us to gain a far deeper understanding not only commerce in the early 19th century, but also of chocolate, and its role as one of the world’s first truly global commodities. From South America to France, Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, the Mughal Empire and even China, this porcelain cup combines facets of many different cultures and civilisations in both its purpose and construction. While both the maker of this cup and its first owners are by now long dead, this object they left behind lives on, and continues to tell us much about the world in which they lived.

Frederick Fossey-Warren is a scholar interested in the role of race and ethnicity in modern East African politics. He participated in Durham’s Undergraduate Research Internship (UGRI) programme to conduct research on chocolate in the Durham University collections. He currently studying towards a Master’s in History at Durham.

Beating Dough for Sponge Biscuits: a Gendered Skill?

By Marta Manzanares Mileo

In 1611’s Arte de cozina, pastelería, bizcochería y conservería (The Art of Cooking, Pastry Making, Bakery and Preserving), Francisco Martínez Montiño, Philip III’s and Philip IV’s personal cook, provides a series of recipes for bizcochos or long sponge biscuits made of flour, sugar, and eggs, which were one of the favourites desserts in early modern Spain. In one of these recipes, Montiño instructs the reader how to whip the biscuit dough, warning “that you must not whip any biscuits with two hands, as the nuns do, but with one hand as when you beat eggs to make egg omelette.”[i]

 

A painted image shows a basket overflowing with breads and cakes.
Figure 1. Detail of bizcochos and other small cakes in Juan Van der Hamen y León, Still Life with Basket of Sweets. s. XVII. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

Montiño was not the only commentator to criticize nuns’ culinary techniques. In Los quatro libros del arte de la confitería (Four Volumes on the Art of Confectionery), published in 1592, the confectioner Miguel de Baeza asserted that “sponge biscuits were of good quality in Toledo and produced in large quantities in monasteries; although these biscuits were not as good as those made in the confectionery shops”[ii] (I’ve briefly discussed Baeza’s book in an earlier post, in which I examined the circulation of manuscript confectionery books among guild confectioners, some of them based on Baeza’s print work).

As scholars of early modern culinary literature have noted, professional author-cooks added personal comments and recipe corrections to demonstrate their professional expertise via their cookbooks. Baeza and Montiño used their privileged position to claim their culinary authority, in this instance by comparing and diminishing nuns’ baking skills. Their remarks clearly reflect the gendered division of culinary labour in early modern Europe between “male-professional-skilled” and “female-domestic-unskilled.” What is striking about their criticism is that nuns were (and still are) well-known for their prowess in the preparation of sweets.

As part of a larger research project on the gendering of sweet foods in early modern Spain, I examine how cultural associations between women and sugar might have translated into gendered modes of cooking and eating sweet food.[iii] I have shown that women of various social backgrounds, including nuns, played a crucial role in shaping a growing taste for sugary food in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spain.  Indeed, cultural images of industrious nuns making delicious sweet treats in convent kitchens prevailed across the early modern Catholic world. To honour ecclesiastical officials and families, nuns prepared a wealth of fruit preserves, small cakes, and biscuits, including bizcochos.

A written manuscript describes an early modern Spanish recipe.
Figure 2. Recipes for bizcochos by Sister Clara María Suay. Arxiu del Regne de València, Clero, caja 788, nº54. Appearing with permission of Arxiu del Regne de València.

 

Did Spanish nuns have their own technique for making bizcochos? In an attempt to answer this question, I faced a series of methodological problems, partly as a result of the scarcity of surviving manuscript recipes written by women in this period. One exception is a manuscript collection of short recipes scattered through the personal papers of Sister Clara María Suay, a professed nun in the Royal Monastery of La Puridad in Valencia. Although Clara María Suay annotated two different recipes for sponge biscuits, she included only brief notes about ingredients and instructions.

It is unclear whether nuns possessed their own unique techniques to prepare their well-known sponge biscuits. Can we consider it a culinary “secret” kept behind convent walls? In any case, Montiño and Baeza’s recipes offer a compelling example of the gendered dimensions of cooking, which were often distorted and biased, and some of the methodological issues that historians face when seeking to uncover women’s culinary practices in the context of early modern Spain.

 

Acknowledgements

This research has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement Nº 891543.

[i] Francisco Martínez Montiño, Arte de cozina, pastelería, bizcochería y conservería (Madrid: 1611), p.  274.

[ii] Miguel de Baeza, Los quatro libros del arte de la confitería (Alcalá de Henares: 1592), p. 76.

[iii] For a more extensive account on this research, see my forthcoming article “Sweet Femininities: Women and the Confectionery Trade in Eighteenth-Century Barcelona” in Gender & History.