Category Archives: Food and Drink

Early Modern Research with Britain’s Favourite Organic Producer

By Grace Palmer

In the spring of 2023, I undertook a deep dive into early modern British (and some European) recipes for a project with Hexhamshire Organics, an organic farm near Newcastle in the North East of England, focused on creating short sentences on the historic uses of herbs, fruit and vegetables, designed to pique their customers’ interests by examining how their favourite produce was consumed in the past. Within this project, I focused on using domestically-produced receipt books – which were often collaborative family books carefully curated by multiple generations to create unique recipe collections – and horticultural texts, produced as instruction manuals for gardeners, providing information on the multitude of plants that were cultivated by early modern Britons. Admittedly these sources were produced by and for the upper- and middle-classes, however they are a fascinating route to understanding how food was enjoyed in the past, and do provide some insights into the culinary habits of ordinary Britons.

Pages exploring ‘mountayne Radish’ and ‘Carrottes’ in Rembert Dodoens (trans. Henry Lyte Esquyer), A Niewe Herball, or Historie of Plantes, (published in England- 1578), pp 600-601


Perhaps especially because our audience for this project was consumers interested in organic, locally-sourced produce, I was struck by the similarities some recipes held to many present-day dishes loved by modern Britons. For example, many recipes including carrots described the vegetable being enjoyed grated and baked with a variety of spices, reminiscent of a modern carrot cake. Similarly, by the 18th century, recipes instructing how tomatoes (a ‘New World’ discovery for many early modern Europeans) could be made into ketchup were more commonplace. It was fascinating to see how some of my favourite and regularly consumed dishes had such long-reaching origins. While early modern recipe books often contained the spectacular, documenting exceptional meals that were not eaten on an everyday basis, I was struck by the variety of herbs, fruits and vegetables that were clearly dietary staples. Explorations into the New World expanded the origins of commonly eaten produce: potatoes, the Jerusalem artichoke (named the “potato of Canada”), and peppers (initially viewed with some suspicion, but were quickly cultivated by poor farmers as a cheap alternative of expensive, imported black pepper) were often included in recipe collections, alongside spices from across South and Eastern Asia. Contemporary cooks displayed a clear interest in the presentation and taste of their dishes. A variety of herbs and spices were used – including dill, savory, chillies and sorrel – to add depth of flavour. Recipes describe the various innovative ways produce was used as a garnish, instructing the reader to pickle red cabbage to enhance its purple-red hue, or to finely chop brussels sprouts, to make dishes more visually appealing. I found that my research challenged pre-existing conceptions I myself had about potentially “backwards” culinary habits from the early modern era as the recipes instead showcased the diverse and rich culinary traditions from the period.

Early modern people assigned a fascinating array of medical uses to almost all plants. While some seem to make logical sense to the modern reader, many seem incredulous. (Giant) mustard leaves were often placed like a plaster on a patient’s head to help prevent vertigo. Spring onions were made into an ointment to cure dandruff, and lettuce was eaten after supper to prevent drunkenness, imagined to stop alcohol vapours (widely believed to cause drunkenness) reaching the brain. One early modern writer even used globe artichokes as a deodorant, believing the vegetable helped reduce the smell of his armpits. The huge variety of medical uses assigned to various herbs, fruits and vegetables is a testament to the ingenuous inventions of contemporaries, showcasing how they innovatively used all aspects of different produce to understand the world around them. Many medicinal recipes for common ailments and diseases were passed between generations, adapted and improved through experimentation over time. Much of the way early modern people understood their diet was influenced by humoral theory, often dictating the imagined medicinal cures behind plants and even the combination of ingredients set out in recipes. For example, sorrel was often paired with meats or eggs for its perceived cooling properties, imagined to aid digestion. Similarly, “hot and dry” horseradish was commonly eaten with fish, believed to counteract the negative associations of the “cold and wet” nature of fish. The humoral properties of produce meant some recipes came with warnings for future readers: cooks were advised against serving raw onions, imagined to induce headaches and dull the senses, and readers were warned about the overconsumption of spinach, believed to cause nausea. While sometimes comedic to the modern reader, early modern cooks used commonly consumed produce in innovative ways to understand the world around them, a testament to their ingenuity and invention.

Overall, this was a fascinating project, which taught me a huge amount about early modern recipes, diets, and consumption habits more broadly. While this project focused on highlighting the spectacular and sometimes comedic aspects of early modern food habits, I was struck by the many similarities to modern recipes and gained a deeper understanding of the rich history behind British cuisine. I hope this project will help inform Hexhamshire Organics’ customers on the fascinating interplay between early modern and present-day uses of their favourite produce, and perhaps even provide historic inspiration for unconventional and thrifty ways to make the most of locally grown fruit and vegetables.

Grace Palmer is currently studying for her MA in history at Durham University, having recently completed her undergraduate studies there. She is writing her dissertation on poisoning as a method for resistance by enslaved men and women and white fear of poisoning conspiracies in plantation era America. Outside of academia, Grace is a keen foodie and enjoys experimenting with new vegetarian recipes. She is also an avid sports fan and shares a season ticket to her local football club with her brother. 

Orality and Multi-Sensoriality: the Secret Ingredients of Food’s Longevity and the Power of Memory

By Elisa Pastorelli

The uninterrupted transmission of knowledge of oral traditions, of gestures, of words, of the practices that characterize and give significance to food and eating culture has enabled its deepest tangible and intangible foundations. By taking part in practices and knowledges related to food, people recover from the complexity of contemporary times, reconnecting with the past and collective memory[i] of their community. In the following, I aim to highlight how this has been made possible by two interconnected factors that characterize the memory power of food and food practices: multi-sensoriality and orality.

As readers of the Recipes Project will know, cookbooks — the most ancient of which is De re coquinaria, allegedly written by Apicius in the 1st century AD — primarily spread, especially during the early modern period, in noble and bourgeois contexts. In other environments, recipes were part of an oral tradition of words and gestures that reiterated and ritualised the knowledge shared by a community. Even during and after the rise in literacy through the modern era, knowledge and practices connected to food continued to be handed down orally — and refunctionalized and re-signified — especially in “lateral areas.”[ii]

The preference for orality as a means of spreading and passing on to future generations is due not only to sacred, social values but also the sensory skills involved in preparing and consuming foods, which are sometimes simplified and ignored in writing. Le Breton defines eating as a “total sensory act,”[iii] but he refers to the consumer product, which is seen, smelled, touched, and, in the end, tasted. Heldke highlights how the senses are also central to the procurement and preparation of food, skills  that are “‘contained’ not simply ‘in my head’ but in my hands, my wrists, my eyes and nose as well.”[iv]  Cooking is thus a bodily practice that, as pointed out by Bourdieu, is the result of the way bodies are informed by a series of habits instilled in a shared environment and articulated in movements and gestures that are part of that culture.[v] We must also consider how cultural factors—along with biological, psychological, and social ones—are central in processes defined by Fischler as “formation du gout,” whose phases largely involve and depend on the senses.[vi] As cultural and social environments change or evolve, so too does the interactions between the senses — sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell — and the food world. Nevertheless, while cultural and social environments change or evolve, the senses still remain etched in the memory of those who move or survive against changes. As Le Breton notes, “The best taste is a cultural prism projected onto food, a filiation of childhood or special moments.”[vii]

 
The preparation of a particular arbëreshë fresh pasta (fuzjiet) represents the bodily knowledge and practice used for preparing food. In particular, the iron spindle used to prepare it must not only moving but also making a precise sound. Image credit: Elisa Pastorelli

 

When a sociocultural environment varies, this “best taste” is assessed through the involuntary memory of the senses. In his Remembrance of Repasts, for example, Sutton focuses his fieldwork on the Greek island of Kalymnos on the reasons why and how food triggers the memory in powerful and effective ways. Food experience mostly evokes memories that concern not the action of eating itself, but the emotions and the relationships related to a past moment.[viii] Since these experiences are not just cognitive but also emotional and physical, food builds “embodied”[ix] memories that preserve past moments which can be lived again through senses. Aromas and flavors, and especially the senses that characterize them, generate nostalgia and activate involuntary memories that bring the taster back to previous times and places.

During my fieldwork in the Arbëreshë communities of Molise, for example, my older interlocutors always connected the bitter taste of chicory, dill, and wild turnip—which are still jarred in oil—with nostalgic moments of the past, when the great majority of people were poor but happy to stay alive together, eating these wild herbs and corn every day. Similarly, when talking about homemade sweets featuring almonds, honey, figs, and cooked wine that are still prepared during celebrations, they nostalgically told me about how and when, as children, they received those treats during past feasts.

Rooted in cultural memory, food is particularly useful for migrants to return home—at least for a while. Mankekar highlights how Indian-Californian customers go to Indian grocery stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, not only to shop but also to engage, through smells and aromas, with representations of their homeland.[x] Food often returns people to an imagined homeland, shaped by the “armchair or imagined nostalgia” as defined by Appadurai.[xi] Another example is offered by the Sicilian community of Silkwood—which migrated to North Queensland starting in the late 1880s—that makes, eats, and shares Sicilian food during the Feast of The Three Saints to feel connected to Sicily, even if younger generations had never been to Italy.[xii]

Multi-sensoriality and orality sustain knowledge and practices connected to eating culture, allowing them to endure over centuries. In this way, food is a means of self-representation and self-celebration, which is profoundly connected to processes of identification and construction of extensive “imagined communities.”[xiii]

 

 

[i] See Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).

[ii] I’m referring to Bartoli’s Law of Lateral Areas, according which innovation spreads from a center to peripheral areas. See Giulio Bartoli, Saggi di linguistica spaziale (Torino: Vincenzo Bona, 1945).

[iii] David Le Breton [1953], Sensing the World. An Anthropology of the Senses (New York: Bloomsbury Academy, 2017), 185.

[iv] Lisa Heldke, Foodmaking as a Toughtful Practice, in Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food, eds. D.W. Curtin and L.M. Heldke (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 218.

[v] Pierre Bourdieu, La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement (Paris: Les éditions de minuit, 1979).

[vi] Claude Fischler [1990], L’Homnivore. Le goût, la cuisine et le corps (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2001).

[vii] Le Breton, 198.

[viii] David E. Sutton, Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory (London: Bloomsbury, 2001).

[ix] Jon Holtzman, “Food and Memory,” The Annual Review of Anthropology, 35 (2006): 365.

[x] Purnima Mankekar, “‘India Shopping’: Indian Grocery Stores and Transnational Configurations of Belonging,” Ethnos 67.1 (2002):75-97.

[xi] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 76-78.

[xii] Franca Tamisari, “Working for the Saints. Food, Memory and the Senses in the North Queensland,” Queensland Review 2 (2023): 70-83.

[xiii] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (Londra: Verso, 1983).


Elisa Pastorelli completed her joint bachelor’s degree in European Literary Cultures at the University of Bologna and Strasbourg in 2020 and recently received her Master of Science in Cultural Anthropology, Ethnology, and Anthropological Linguistics from the University of Venice. Her thesis, which investigates heritage and reinvention between feasts, senses, and gastronomic lexicon from past to present in the arbëreshë communities of Molise, will be published as a monograph in the Il Mondo in Tavola Series. Combining an ethnographic method with the heterogeneous collection of studies offered by the anthropological but also sociological, linguistic, and semiotic perspectives, Elisa uses food as a lens to investigate how particular forms of food production, distribution, and consumption are culturally and socially framed and valued through discourses of ‘heritage,’ ‘tradition,’ and ‘identity,’ especially in contexts of migration and multiculturalism. She collaborates with the scientific Journal of Agriculture and Gastronomy edited by the International Library “La Vigna” (Vicenza, IT).

Building Community Through Recipe Sharing

By Sara de Blas Hernández

All of the famous cookbooks emerging in early modern Spain were written by men who worked for the royal court: Libro de guisados (1529) was written by Roberto de Nola, Arte de cocina, pasteleria, vizcocheria, y conserveria (1611) by Francisco Martínez Montiño, and Arte de repostería (1747) by Juan de la Mata. Outside of the palace walls, however, it was generally women —and not men—who were in charge of feeding the family. Even though there is no record of edited cookbooks by female authors during the period, there are some manuscripts authored by nuns and by literate noblewomen that made possible the preservation of knowledge shared through oral traditions. One of these recipe books is Libro de apuntaciones de guisos y dulces written by María Rosa Calvillo de Teruel around 1740.

Original Libro de Apuntaciones de guisos y dulces at the Real Academia Española in Madrid. Image Credit: The author

At first sight, one might consider recipe books to be straightforward texts with instructions, but they can provide the attentive reader with more information than what initially meets the eye. This is the case with Libro de apuntaciones de guisos y dulces. The only biographical information contained in the book is the name of the author, which, interestingly enough, is written by a different hand than the one that writes the recipes in the book. Is María Rosa the author? Was the book passed down to a relative who signed her name to claim it as hers? Even though these questions remain unanswered, a careful reading of this recipe book has allowed me to reconstruct, to a certain extent, the details of María Rosa’s life, the social context in which she lived, and the cooking practices used at the time.

In Libro de apuntaciones, the titles of some recipes —“How to prepare quails as it is done in Seville” or “How to make Utreras’ pastries”[i]— locate the author in Andalusia, the southernmost region of mainland Spain. The ingredients, meanwhile, disclose María Rosa’s social class, or at least the one she interacted with, which was the lower nobility. The book calls for spices such as clove, paprika, cinnamon, and saffron. These are a constant in most of the recipes and were very expensive but essential ingredients in the preparation of most dishes at the time. There is a recipe that even calls for Flemish butter, a special kind of butter mixed with potassium nitrate that kept the product fresh. This butter was imported from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland and was a luxurious and expensive ingredient not available to all.

Map of Spain with the Andalusia region highlighted. Image Credit: Wikicommons

An exploration of the handwritten recipes in Libro de apuntaciones reveals yet another key detail. Out of the 100 recipes contained in the book, six of them are attributed to other women: Antonia, Mari-quita, tía Felipa, doña Joaquina, María Teresa, and María Manuela. These recipes are considerably longer and more accurate than María Rosa’s recipes. By including these recipes in the book, the author recognizes other members of the food-making community and also acknowledges their skills, abilities, and knowledge. This resonates with Janet Theopano’s concept of “cookbook as community,” which understands recipe books as spaces where women created networks of support and spaces that promoted social interaction and exchange of ideas.

In these six recipes, María Rosa’s own voice gets intertwined with the voices of the six other women. She suggests improvements and variations to the original recipes proposed by her peers and evaluates the quality of the food being prepared. This is proof of experimentation. María Rosa tests and tastes the recipes herself, which is the kind of experimental knowledge and sensorial methodology necessary in the kitchen.

Food making relies on what Sutton defines as the “lower senses.” Take as an example the recipe for “Huevos moles” in which the sense of sight — “both things are whisked until they are very white and they make little bubbles”— and the sense of smell— “ cook until it smells done”— are the ones that determine when the eggs and the sugar are done. In “How to make pork blood sausage,” the sense of touch, and more specifically the hand and its parts, become the unit of measurement: “[add] a handful [of aniseed] with the whole hand,” “as much [cumin as] can be fitted in three fingers,” or “as much [ginger as] can be fitted in four fingers”.

The examples above position María Rosa and her peers as a community of practice that boasts a unique set of knowledge and skills rooted in experimental methodologies and the senses. In turn, this is conducive to the validity and recognition of a field —food-making— and a group of people—women— undervalued and undermined by society. My work helps unveil the potential of a text which, although not very promising at first sight, proves to be a rich source of avenues of inquiry and a way to rescue women’s voices and their knowledge from an unrecognizing past.

[i] Utrera is a town south-east of Seville

 

References

Calvillo de Teruel, María Rosa. Libro de apuntaciones de guisos y dulces, 1740.

Sutton, Davis. “Cooking Skill, the Senses, and Memory: The Fate of Practical Knowledge.”  Sensible Objects ed. Elizabeth Edwards, Chris Gosden, and Ruth Phillips, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006.

Theophano, Janet. Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote. Palgrave, 2002.


Sara de Blas Hernández is a Ph.D. student specializing in Spanish Linguistics at UC Davis. Even though her main field of research is Second Language Acquisition, she has a keen interest in Food Studies. She is currently working on creating and testing pedagogical materials that develop students’ communicative competence and critical thinking skills while boosting motivation and engagement through multisensory and experiential learning methodologies.

Transpacific Kitchens: The Makings of the Diasporic Kusinera

By GJ Sevillano

“Through my family’s many moves to many different cities, I began to connect the dots of my life. Every single dot I connected was a pot…that form[s] a picture of my life, my family, my calling, and my home.”

-Malou Perez-Nievera, Connecting the Pots: Charting Stories and Filipino Recipes to Find Home

“This peek into the cooking pots and lifestyle of some families makes one realize how much culinary wealth hides, grows, and brings pleasure in Philippine homes, where in truth our mother cuisine develops.” 

-Doreen G. Fernandez, “Mother Cuisine” in Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture

 

While elusive, the embodied culinary performances of self-actualization—the private moments and movements in which the cook slices, stirs, and spices her meals to her satisfaction—are palimpsestically constructed in recipes. Recipes serve as a key genre in which historical subjects have constructed versions and visions of themselves that have exceeded the bounds of normative archives and their print cultures—the “undigested” figures that symbolize everyday forms of cultural resilience.[i] Thus, it is important as we expand our understanding of recipes beyond a mere set of culinary instructions, we must also expand our understanding of the figures that “dance” alongside us as we cook through the culinary repertoires of past, present, and future.[ii]

A selection of female-authored Filipino and Filipino American cookbooks. Photo taken by author.

 

 In the opening narrative to her co-authored cookbook with Ligaya Mishan titled Filipinx: Heritage Recipes from the Diaspora, Angela Dimayuga states that writing recipes and creating the cookbook was a “form of coming home.”[iii] Rather than a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age narrative, Filipinx perhaps can be more accurately called a coming-of-home narrative. Home not only in the sense of where she resides, but a coming-of-home within the Filipino diaspora in northern California, within the kitchen, within herself. This literary device, of grappling with different senses of home and homeland, is a key genre used by diasporic Asian writers. From the refugee narrative to the transnational adoptee narrative, Asian migrants have dealt with issues of home in their writing for some time. Similarly, Dimayuga uses the cookbook as a literary site to showcase herself “as a complete person.”[iv] For Dimayuga, her recipes inform not only the foodways she inhabits, but also the person she has found home in—a diasporic kusinera (chef).

The figure of the diasporic kusinera represents the ideals of the modern Philippine kitchen. Caught in the double binds of Spanish and American postcolonialism; cultural preservation and culinary innovation; belonging and unbelonging; and subjecthood and abjecthood, the diasporic kusinera represents the complexities in which Filipina womanhood is constructed in and beyond the sites of the culinary. Recipes like Vanessa Lorenzo’s “Navy Beans with Chorizo and Tomato Chutney (Habichuelas),” Nicole Ponseca’s “Banana Ketchup Ribs,” and Abi Balingit’s “Adobo Chocolate Chip Cookies” index the culinary creativity of the diasporic kusinera that takes seriously the everyday realities of postcolonial life.[v]

As Denise Cruz argues, “Figures of transpacific Filipinas are still a means of negotiating shifts produced by geopolitical transitions, now manifested not in formal empire of occupation, but in the dynamics of neocolonialism and the global marketplace.”[vi] Important to expanding Philippines’ foodways are cookbooks that recenter minoritized experiences of the culinary realm.[vii] Leland Tabares notes how “misfit professionals” use the narrative device of “coming-to-career narratives” to underscore the ways in which chefs of color, female chefs, and queer chefs utilize the genre of the cookbook to challenge normative notions of culinary professionalism.[viii] Building from this, I argue that the cooking, feeding, and eating Filipina embodied in these cookbooks and recipes materializes the ontoepistemological tensions of the quotidian Philippine diaspora. In other words, Philippine tastemakers must grapple with the afterlives and aftertastes of colonial histories that continue to stricture contemporary diasporic life.

In her genre bending cookbook-cum-autobiography-cum-poetry-collection titled Asian Girl in a Southern World: This is Not Your Mother’s Cookbook, Dalena H. Benavente, narrates the struggles of growing up Filipina in Obion County, Tennessee, one of the least Asian-populated places in the U.S. Benavente states, “It’s not enough to tell the stories. You can’t just read about it, hear about it or imagine it. You can’t because it’s just too much. In order to truly understand these stories that I have to tell, you have to eat them.”[ix] She continues, “I hope my noodles make you laugh, my cake makes you want to hug someone you love, and I hope my sangria makes you want to fight for what you believe in.”[x] For Benavente, the normative literary form of narrative is incomplete without taste. To translate her experience as a diasporic kusinera is incomplete without her recipes and her readers cooking alongside her. The consumption of her autobiography can only be corroborated by the embodied experience of following her recipes, cooking her food, and eating the flavors of her transpacific kitchen.

Benavente ends her cookbook where a lot of other Philippine and Filipino-American cookbooks begin, with a recipe for kinilaw, or as she names her dish, a ceviche of jalapeno peppers, prawn and peach. Kinilaw is a dish “cooked” with acid thought to be one of the longest standing pre-colonization culinary traditions native to the Philippines. Benavente’s version differs slightly in her preference to pre-cook the shrimp before she adds it to the lime juice, onion, jalapeno, and peaches. The blend of these seemingly unrelated surf and turf ingredients formulates the essence of her Filipina-American subjecthood. She states, “It’s the marriage of the prawn and peaches together in one place, much like your feet standing on unfamiliar ground but knowing that there is something about the proximity that seems so right.”[xi]

To cook the recipes and eat the foods of transpacific Philippine kitchens means to directly engage with the kusineras that grapple with the complexities of diasporic life. To taste her cuisine one must simultaneously confront the material realities of postcolonial haunting, global capitalism, and everyday cultural resilience.

 

Notes

[i] Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century (New York: New York University Press, 2012).

[ii] Robin Bernstein, “Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race,” Social Text, Vol. 27, No. 4 (2009): 67-94.

[iii] Angela Dimayuga and Ligaya Mishan, Filipinx: Heritage Recipes from the Diaspora (New York: Abrams, 2021), 10).

[iv] Ibid.

[v] For recipes see: Jacqueline Chio-Lauri, ed., The New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from around the Globe (Chicago: Surrey Books, 2018), 122-129; Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad, I Am Filipino: And This is How We Cook (New York: Artisan, 2018), 316-319; Abi Balingit, Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed (New York: Harvest An Imprint of William Morrow, 2023), 143-145.

[vi] Denise Cruz, Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 234.

[vii] Francheska Go, “The Next Generation of Filipino Food,” Food Philippines, https://foodphilippines.com/story/the-next-generation-of-filipino-food/#:~:text=Making%20waves%20in%20the%20global,dishes%20like%20adobo%20and%20sinigang.

[viii] Leland Tabares, “Misfit Professionals: Asian American Chefs and Restaurateurs in the Twenty-First Century,” Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 77, No. 2 (Summer 2021): 103-132.

[ix] Dalena H. Benavente, Asian Girl in a Southern World: This is Not Your Mother’s Cookbook (Self-Pub., Dalena H. Benavente, 2016), Introduction.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid., 232-233.

 


GJ Sevillano (he/him) is a doctoral candidate in the Department of American Studies at George Washington University. He received his M.A. in American Studies from George Washington University in 2021 and A.B. in Politics and Certificate in American Studies from Princeton University in 2019. He was born and raised in Historic Filipinotown, Los Angeles, CA where his academic curiosity and passion for Filipinx food was cultivated. His writing has been published in Verge: Studies in Global Asias, Ampersand: An American Studies Journal, and Alon: Journal for Filipinx American and Diasporic Studies.