Category Archives: Food and Drink

What is your favourite recipe? Reflections on Day 2

Post by Laurence Totelin; Storify by Tallulah Maait Pepperell

The second day of our Virtual Conversation ‘What is a recipe?’ has been very busy indeed, with contributions on Instagram and Twitter. Some clear themes started to emerge, and I take the opportunity of this post to draw them out.

We opened the day by asking people to share photos of their favourite recipe books.

Several of you tweeted pics of treasured family heirlooms: books with pressed flowers, stained recipe cards, well-thumbed volumes. Often these had been passed down the generations, usually from mother to daughter, but we also heard about some father-to-son transmission. There was a sense of nostalgia, but not of sadness, as we recalled past smells, tastes and gestures. Perhaps the written words of the recipe serve as proxy for all those other things that we find so difficult to express? Through short recipes we remember family stories and traditions. Please continue to share your favourites with us over this month!

Perhaps more strictly ‘historical’ was our question about ‘big stories’ in the transmission of recipes. We touched upon issues of class (Mrs Beeton and the rise of the middle classes); nationalism versus internationalism, and the link between recipes and empires; the importance of celebrity culture; and the prevalence of antidotes and panaceas in pharmacological recipe books. Celebrity endorsements, ancient and modern, seemed to strike a particular chord, especially endorsements for cosmetic products (Alfred Curie’s radium cosmetic powder anyone?).

Lisa Smith asked whether the celebrity serves as a guarantor of efficacy or as an ingredient. I need to ponder that question further, but it raises the further question of ‘what counts as an ingredient’? Is skill an ingredient? I mean, without skill and embodied knowledge, a recipe can fall flat like bread without yeast. If so many contributors to the Recipes Project and its Virtual Conversation are able to recreate historical recipes, it is often because they are skilled cooks (and at times gardeners, because they need to grow rare herbs): they can fill in the blanks. And this leads us to the question of secrecy, which fleets in and out of focus in our conversation. What exactly constitutes secrecy in recipe transmission?

We also touched upon literacy and grammar. I have often argued, following the anthropologist Jack Goody, that recipes are intimately linked to literacy and writing. Recipes, to me, are a written genre. Of course, recipes can be read aloud, and oral transmission of knowledge accompanies and complements recipes; but they remain texts. And as texts, they obey to specific grammatical and structural rules. We left the algorithms, knitting patterns, and musical scores a little behind today, but I hope we will get back to them in our future events.

Do join the conversation in the coming weeks. Share photos, reminiscences, and asks questions to our community. You may find someone who knows that treasured recipe book, which you lost in that move years ago, as it happened today to one of our contributors. A lovely moment!

Find out more in the Storify by Tallulah Maait Pepperell



Day 2: What is a Recipe?

Image from

Good morning everyone – got your coffee ready?

Welcome to the second event day of our ‘What is a Recipe?‘ virtual conversation.  Join us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook today to further discuss all things recipes!

We will be hearing from

If you want to pick up any conversation threads from June 2, Lisa Smith has Storified the themes over here.

All of our participants will be using the #recipesconf handle on Twitter – see you there!



What is a Recipe? Week 2

Hi everyone, welcome to week 2 of our virtual conversation. First, thank you all for the interesting and stimulating conversation on Friday. For this recipe enthusiast, there were a large number of high-points. I particularly enjoyed the discussions on recipes and algorithms (thanks in particular to  for getting us started and for his participation via Twitter, see also Paul Engle’s guest blog post here). From watching the live-streamed ‘Repast and Present: Food History Inside and Outside the AcademyBerks 2017 panel (my first Facebook live event!), I also enjoyed learning about the rich and wide-ranging ways colleagues in classrooms, museums and on the internet use recipes as a vehicle for fostering conversations about constructing identities and our relationships with the past. (Lisa Smith has Storified the day over here.) I look forward to continuing these conversations with everyone in the coming week!

We’re delighted to host a rich programme for week 2 of ‘What is a Recipe?’. This week, our main event day is Wednesday June 7. see below for abstracts and summaries. In addition, our friends at the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections (@UofGlasgowASC) and the Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives (@CUSpecialColls) will continue to share their holdings on twitter.

The Recipes Project team all look forward to seeing you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more. Don’t forget to #recipesconf on all Twitter conversations!

Titles and Abstracts:

‘Recipes in the Early Royal Society Archives’, Sietske Fransen (tweets 7 June, 13 June, and 20 June; blog post 5 July.)

The seventeenth-century fellows of the Royal Society were interested in every part of the natural world. They collected and reproduced a large variety of recipes, from the making of pigments to finding the recipe for the best French bread, to a recipe for universal medicine. During my research days in June, investigating the visual practice of the early Royal Society (, I will tweet the various recipes I encounter in the archive of the Royal Society. At the end of those weeks the found recipes will feature in a blogpost on recipes in  the early Royal Society.

‘Spuddenly Farming: A reconstruction of Rev. Mr. Cochran’s Potato experiment, 1791’, Siobhan Carlson, 2 June, 7 June, 13 June. 15 June, 20 June, 24 June, 27 June, 3 July, 5 July

Following the American Revolution, the British crown gave Loyalists land to farm throughout the Canadian Maritimes. This migration gave rise to the emergence of an English print culture in the region that included agricultural recipes. Amongst these entries, on the 24th of March, 1792, the Royal Gazette and Miscellany of the Island of Saint John, printed the experiment entitled, ‘To determine whether it is best to plant large or small Cuttings of Potatoes ; in a Letter from the Rev. Mr. Cochran to the Secretary of the Agricultural Society for the County of Hants, dated Winsor, Feb. 1791.’ The experiment outlines the best methods to grow Prince Edward Island’s famous export – the potato. The goal of this project is to reconstruct the experiment, to think about/consider the experience of Maritime Settlers.

‘Gwendolyn Brooks’ Fruit Salad’, Newberry Library podcast (Alex Teller)

We’re releasing a podcast episode about a fruit salad recipe by Gwendolyn Brooks on Wednesday, June 7 (the 100th anniversary of her birth). The audio will appear on Soundcloud and iTunes, but we’ll repurpose it (along with pictures of how the fruit salad came out when we made it) for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well.

‘Historical Recipes + Digital Humanities’, Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and  Medicine at the University of Minnesota (Lois Hendrickson and Emily Beck)

Recipe Workshop digital poster (from Carleton College June 2 Digital Humanities Conference. Our ‘poster’ session on the Historical  Recipes + Digital Humanities symposium, which was held at the Wangensteen.




Day 1: What is a Recipe?

The Potato Eaters, Van Gogh (1885). Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Here we are, Day 1 of our Virtual Conversation on “What is a Recipe?” How can you get involved? Read the blog posts, follow contributors on social media, watch the livestream — and comment away. You can always comment directly on a blog post or social media, or even below this post. We’ll find you! If you’re using social media, just remember our hashtags: #recipesconf and #recipesproject.

Our main event today is a livestreamed panel discussion from the Berkshire conference on the subject of ‘Repast and Present: Food History Inside and Outside the Academy‘, chaired by an RP co-editor, Amanda Herbert.  This will stream on our Facebook page ( from 8:30-10:00 a.m. (EST)/1:30-3:00 p.m. (U.K.). The panel will be taking questions from the virtual audience, so you’re very welcome to ask questions there or on Twitter.

But there are lots of other offerings. In particular, today has several potato-related posts — purely by accident, but serendipity is a wonderful thing.

On our own blog, Harry Hayfield takes us on a culinary time-travel from today to seventeenth-centur France, with “Henri’s kitchen: Cheese and Potato Nests”.

At Les carnets de la phonotheque, the recipe of the month — collected from an old farmer in Provence by Professor Jean-Claude Bouvier in 1976 — is on “Les <<Moines>> ou Quenelles de Pomme de Terre”.

Over on Twitter and Instagram, Siobhan Carlson will be sharing her adventures over the month as she tries A reconstruction of Rev. Mr. Cochran’s Potato experiment, 1791”, which took place in the Canadian Maritimes. You can follow her on Instagram as @SpuddenlyFarming and on Twitter as @Spuddenly_Farm.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta (Canada) asks, “What’s a Party without Food?” and celebrates the humble potato. The are also on Twitter as @ProvArchivesAB.

I can’t promise potatoes from the following contributors, but you never know! Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives will be joining in via Twitter: @CUSpecialColls. The University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections will be busy, too. They will have a blog post here for #recipesconf, as well as be participating on Twitter @UofGlasgowASC and Instagram @uofglasgowasc for #foodieFriday.

If potatoes aren’t your thing, maybe mathematics is. (There is no reason not to love both, of course!) Thanks to Thony Christie, who tweets as @rmathematicus, for posing a series of related questions when he promoted our project over at Whewell’s Gazette:

Having defined recipe so broadly, as a mathematician and logician, I then ask myself how does a recipe differ from an algorithm if at all? Personally I think the two words are in their essence synonyms and there isn’t really a difference. What do you think? How do you define the term recipe? Do recipes and algorithms differ? If so, how?

Answers on a card, please… Or, rather, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or below.

For further details on the projects discussed above (apart from Thony’s), please see our post from earlier this week here.

If you have any questions, @historecipes, @historybeagle, @HistoryElaine and @tallulahmaait will be out and about on Twitter today–or drop us a note on Facebook or below this post.

We can’t wait to hear from you in the Virtual Conversation!