Category Archives: Early Modern

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 Puppy Water and Other Early Modern Canine Recipes

By Lisa Smith

At first I thought it was a joke when I read a recipe for “The Puppy Water” in a recipe collection compiled by one Mary Doggett in 1682. “Take one Young fatt puppy and put him into a flatt Still Quartered Gutts and all ye Skin upon him”, then distill it along with buttermilk, white wine, pared lemons, herbs, camphire, venus turpentine, red rosewater, fasting spittle, and eighteen pippins.

Mary Doggett, Book of Receipts, British Library MS Add 27466, f. 24r.

Although Mary Doggett’s recipe does not specify purpose, puppy water was a facial treatment – as immortalized by Jonathan Swift in his poem, “The Lady’s Dressing Room” (1732):

There Night-gloves made of Tripsy’s Hide,
Bequeath’d by Tripsy when she dy’d,
With Puppy Water, Beauty’s Help
Distill’d from Tripsy‘s darling Whelp.

Swift also, however, refers to another canine usage: gloves made from dog’s hide. As noted in Nicholas Culpeper’s Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (1718), “little puppy dogs” (and various other animals, such as hedge-hogs, snails, foxes, moles, frogs, or earthworms) “may be made beneficial to your sick bodies”. Robert James’s entry for “Canis” in his Medicinal Dictionary (1743-5) explained that Europeans “generally abstain from Dogs Flesh, till Necessity… obliges them to use it.” But use it they did: the flesh, fat, skin and excrement could all be incorporated into medicines recommended even by renowned medical practitioners.

These remedies ranged from the foul: Culpeper’s Oleum Catellorum (Oil of Whelps) “to bath the Limbs and Muscles that have been weakened by wounds or bruises” or George Bate’s gargle for mouth ulcers and thrush that included a white dog turd (Pharmacopoeia Bateana, 1706). To the cruel: Philip Woodman suggested cutting a live puppy lengthwise through the middle and applying it hot to the head to treat a frenzy (Medicus Novissimus, 1712). To the comforting: for iliac passion (intestinal obstruction), Thomas Sydenham instructed that a live puppy should be laid to the patient’s naked belly for two or three days (Praxis Medica, 1707).

Etched image of a dog nursing three pups.
Nursing dog. Etching by C. Lewis after E. H. Landseer. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

James’ dictionary entry explained the rationale for these treatments. For example, keeping a warm puppy next to one’s colicky belly or gouty leg provided “kindly and cherishing Heat”, but it also worked sympathetically by transferring the disease into the animal instead.[1] Having a dog lick one’s wounds and ulcers could cure them more quickly. The fat of the dog was thought to be better externally than any other animal fat, owing to its penetrating quality, and the drippings could be eaten to treat lung problems or epilepsy. Turned into gloves, the skin of the dog would reflect summer sun; as a piece of leather, it could protect gouty or arthritic legs from cold. Dog dung, being hot and acrid, might treat internal bleeding or toothache.

James did not mention “The Puppy Water” itself. However, for that we might look to the ancient Greeks whom he did discuss. According to Hippocrates, “the Flesh of Dogs is of a heating, drying, and corroborating Nature… whereas that of whelps is of a moistening, lubricating Quality.” The other ingredients in the recipe point to a similar use as the puppy: pippins were moistening and good against inflammation; fumitory and agrimony treated diseases of Saturn (such as old age) and were strengthening and cleansing; plantain firmed the sinews and helped skin problems. Just the thing for a face wash!


[1] The evidence for this is dubious. James recounted the case of a patient in 1742 being salivated (by mercury). When a visitor arrived, the patient put aside his basin filled with his saliva, which his dog proceeded to drink. Within ten hours, the dog suffered from convulsions and died.

This post first appeared at the now-defunct, but much missed, Wonders and Marvels blog in May 2012.

The Crown and the Chrism: The Recipe of the Coronation Oil

By Colleen Kennedy

This post will turn to the television show The Crown to focus on the English coronation process, attending specifically to the most sacred aspect of the ceremony, the anointing of the monarch, and the ingredients of the holy anointing oil.

Queen Elizabeth II (played by Claire Foy) is anointed. Image Credit: The Crown (episode: “Smoke and Mirrors”, Netflix) 2016. Screenshot.

In the fifth episode “Smoke and Mirrors” of the Netflix series The Crown, Princess Elizabeth, having recently ascended after the death of her father King George VI (r. 1936-1952) and the abdication of her uncle Edward VIII (1936), plans for her coronation televised for the first time and overseen by her husband Prince Phillip.[1] Three times within the episode, the characters discuss the most sacred gesture of the hallowed affair: the anointing of the monarch, a transformative and aromatic event.[2] The episode begins with a flashback to the days before the coronation of Elizabeth’s loving father “Bertie.” He asks his young daughter to play the Archbishop of Canterbury so they may practice the anointing ritual, explaining to her: “When the holy oil touches, I am transformed, brought into direct contact with the divine. Forever changed. Bound to God. It is the most important part of the entire ceremony.”

When four Knights of the Garter carry a golden canopy to cover Elizabeth, the television producer cuts away from the anointing process—showing an image of the stained-glass windows of Westminster Abbey instead. Unlike the rest of the coronation, the anointing was neither photographed nor televised (unlike the rest of the ceremony). Elizabeth’s abdicated uncle, the Duke of Windsor explains to his party of expats and French socialites, “Now we come to the anointing, the single most holy, most solemn, most sacred moment of the whole service.” After a member of his viewing party in Paris asks why they cannot see this moment, Windsor replies, “Because we are mortals.”

But we, the viewers at home, do get to see this dramatized anointing. The Archbishop repeats the lines Elizabeth once practiced with her father as we watch him pour the chrism from the ampulla onto a spoon, and then anoint Elizabeth’s hands, breast, and forehead, and we see Elizabeth’s transformation in a close-up of her face as she listens to his performative utterances, “As kings, priests, and prophets were anointed, and as Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet so be thou, anointed, blessed, and consecrated Queen over the peoples whom the Lord thy God has given thee to rule and govern.” The Archbishop’s words link the young Queen’s body both to former British monarchs as well as Biblical priests and prophets, and the monarch’s temporal kingdom to Christ’s eternal kingdom.

Although the historian Wesley Carr admits that each coronation is altered, adapted, and modified (using Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation as his point of study), “the basic structure of all subsequent coronations can be seen in the original rite,” which dates back to the crowning of the English king Edgar in 973, but also had earlier Christian European antecedents.[3] The chrism was sacred and used repeatedly, with the same recipe used from the coronation of Charles I (1626).

Closeup of the 1953 Coronation Oil. Image Credit: The Coronation (BBC) 2018. Screenshot.

The Current Dean of Westminster, showed off the 1953 chrism in a recent documentary about Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation: “It is kept very safe in the Deanery, in a very hidden place in a little box here, which has in it a flask containing the oil from 1953.  And it is not just olive oil, it’s quite a complex mixture of different things. This is the recipe for the Coronation Oil. The composition of the oil was founded upon that used in the seventeenth century. Then you see what it consists of sesame seed and olive oil, perfume with roses, orange flowers, jasmine, musk, civet and ambergris.”[4]

Closeup of the Coronation Oil recipe. Image Credit: The Coronation (BBC) 2018. Screenshot.

There have been occasional interruptions in reusing the oil. Mary I, as the Catholic successor of her Anglican half-brother Edward VI, refused to use the Protestant chrism and procured oil from the Catholic Bishop of Arras. After Elizabeth I’s long reign, the balm was either exhausted or compromised by time, and James I needed a new batch. The oil intended to anoint Edward VIII (who abdicated) and instead anointed George VI was not used for Elizabeth II, as its container was destroyed during the bombing of London, but Charles I’s recipe was restored and reused for her coronation, nonetheless. We can imagine that when the current Prince of Wales (the future Charles III) succeeds to King, a new batch of anointing balm will be created using the recipe of Charles I, that the anointment will still remain a guarded and sacred affair, and that no bloggers or Twitter accounts will capture this aromatic and ritualistic moment.


Future related posts will further consider the ingredients of the chrism, and the historical and innovative significance of the chrism to Elizabeth I and Charles I.

[1] Hannah Furness. “Secrets of the oil used to anoint the Queen at her Coronation.” The Telegraph. 14 Jan. 2018. See also the documentary “The Coronation,” BBC (2018).
[2] Wesley Carr. “This Intimate Ritual: The Coronation Service.” Political Theology 4.1 (2002): 11-24.
[3] “Smoke and Mirrors,” The Crown, season 1, episode 5, (2016) Netflix.  You can watch the Coronation on YouTube at: The Royal Household, “The Coronation,” The Home of the Royal Family.  https://www.royal.uk/coronation  or “BBC TV Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II: Westminster Abbey 1953 (William McKie),” YouTube, uploaded by Archive of Recorded Church Music, 2 June 2018.
[4] “1953. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II: ‘The Holy Anointing,’” YouTube, uploaded by pedrcymro29, 21 Oct. 2013.