A Recipe for Music: Notating Domestic Singing in Seventeenth-Century England

By Sarah Koval

Mary Chantrell and others, recipe book, f.92v, 1690, MS 1548. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Mary Chantrell’s book of recipes for food and medicines (1690) is typical of the manuscript recipe genre: a handwritten, bound book full of instructions for making common foods, preserves, and medicinal cures such as “pills to cure a consumption,” (f.63r), “the green oyntment,” (f.30r) and “a purge for sharpe humours” (f.50r). On the last folio, however, we find an unusual entry: written out twice on either side of a recipe “for the chin cough [whooping cough],” is the text to “Madam Roda Cliffords Song,” a metrical verse with four stanzas that lacks any conventional music notation, apparently received from Mary’s personal acquaintance (f.92r92v). What could a single song be doing among such practical household directions? 

Musical entries can be found in several of the hundreds of surviving household recipe books from this period. These musical inscriptions are highly personalized, reflecting the private, domestic context in which they arose and were used. The number of musical entries, their physical placement within the book, and even the presence or absence of a more conventional musical notation—one that indicates at the very least pitch and rhythm—all vary from book to book. At one exciting extreme we find, in the commonplace book of John Ridout ([16–], see the image below), thirty-two pieces for the cittern (a guitar relative), notated with tablature, nestled between hundreds of recipes for food and medicines.(1) However, most of the musical entries in recipe books are not so easily reproduced or heard today due to their lack of notational specificity, forestalling the traditional work of the musicologist. 

John Ridout’s commonplace book, f.79v-80r, [16–], MS Mus 182. Image credit: Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. The top page features a piece called “Orlando,” the bottom a table of note values.

 

Nevertheless, there is a telling parallel between the sparse notations of these songs and the utility-driven written recipes that dominate these manuals. A recipe, writes historian William Eamon, is “a prescription for taking action,” a notion that could apply equally well to a notated piece of music.(2) Indeed, the songs, hymns, psalms, and other musical items found in recipe books form part of a family’s “memorial archive,” gathered alongside other ritualistic instructions as prescriptions for action in a family’s daily routines.(3)

We might call such ambiguous, text-only notations “purposely incomplete,” following musicologist John Butt.(4) Similar to their tandem recipe notations, song texts were likely compiled to be sung by their collectors, their family members, and close friends. While Madam Clifford’s song may have been used for entertainment, titles like those in Martha Hodges’ recipe book (1675-c.1725) show that many pieces were used for private worship at the hearth or in the prayer closet: “Evening song, Vespers” (f.34r); “A Morning Hymn” (f.43v); and “An Hymn in Sickness” (f.43r). Not meant as casual reading material, recipes and musical texts were most likely taken off-page in the daily care of the bodies and souls of the household.

Music notation, as with any form of writing, is a way of extending memory across time. In the case of such household inscriptions—either for food, medicine, or music—writing served as an aid to practice within the memorial micro-archive of the family unit. This archive is the musical and performance knowledge of a single family, a small social network, or a few generations at most. Recipe books show us that the memorial archive of household knowledge not only included concerns of feeding and healing its members, but of creating musical sounds that served the material and sacred needs of the family. Difficult for those outside of the family unit to access, the memorial archive of domestic musical practices remains enigmatic but full of possibility. 

Recipe books containing music, such as those of English householders Mary Chantrell, John Ridout, and Martha Hodges, stand to reveal much about the role of music making and practices of worship in the sometimes inscrutable space of the seventeenth-century English home. Musical, culinary, and medicinal inscriptions have much in common: they present a sparse textual representation of an experiential and dietetic practice that allows for individual expression within a written family archive. Their textual markings tap into an aural, memory-powered tradition of both sacred and secular singing. The parallel gap between written text and off-page outcome in both recipes and music is just one aspect of these two seemingly disparate practices that reveals their interconnectedness in this period, pointing to larger resonances between music and bodily health that emerge in the study of domestic spaces. 


Notes

1. A cittern is a plucked, fretted, wire-string instrument, similar to a mandolin and related to the guitar, that was most popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Its tablature is similar to guitar tab today. Horizontal lines with letters between them representing the various strings of the cittern show where on the fretboard each string is to be held down. Music notes above the fret markings indicate the duration of the pitch. 

2. William Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 131.

3. “Memorial archive” is a term Anna Maria Busse Berger uses to describe all the resources we draw on to understand and utilize the written word on the page. Medieval Music and the Art of Memory (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005), 45.

4. John Butt, Playing with History: The Historical Approach to Musical Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 106.

A Request for Memories or Recipes Related to Beans and Rice

By Heather Ariyeh

Note: If you would rather, we can even set up a Zoom or Skype meeting and you can teach me how you prepare beans and rice!

Background

Do you have a favorite memory or recipe related to beans and rice?

Throughout the world, people have combined beans and rice to form popular dishes. Together, they form a complete protein, but perhaps even more interestingly beans and rice are foods in a relationship that form a grammar expressing both common histories and local specificities.(1) In particular, beans and rice dishes trace the history of the African Diaspora into the Caribbean, the United States South, and beyond. 

Montage of many beans and rice dishes.

Project

I am working on a cookbook of beans and rice dishes, but one that will go a step beyond recipes and offer personal stories related to these dishes.  These memories may be more broad in nature (relating to culture or place), or very specific and unique to individual households or experiences.  What connections do you have to beans and rice?

Instructions

If you would like to take part, please submit any or all of the following:

  • Memories of any length, even a few sentences
  • Photos
  • Recipes or just an interesting twist you’ve added to a classic
  • We can even set up a Zoom or Skype meeting and you can teach me how you prepare beans and rice!

Feel free to be creative, but don’t feel pressure to be creative! It’s just an excuse to share a bit with one another. This cookbook is an art project, and part of my thesis work at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. It is not part of a commercial endeavor.  The final format may exist in print or online.  You will be credited unless you prefer not to be. Please submit contributions or questions to: Heather Ariyeh at hariyeh@sva.edu .

Please ensure all submissions relate to beans and rice together in some way (whether mixed together or separate on a plate).  Sides or main dishes are both fine. Any type of rice or bean is fine (including peas, black-eyed peas or cowpeas). 

Click below for common examples.(2)

Below is an example submission.  I hope you will be inspired, but not limited by it.

Chocolate Beans and Rice: A Recipe from Old and New Dreams

I came to the U.S. illegally, with only my brother at the age of 16.  My brother was 15.  We left our mother, father, and six more brothers and sisters behind in Guatemala.  That was twenty years ago, and we haven’t been able to risk going back home since.  

In the U.S., I work in the restaurant business. I always wanted to cook when I was in Guatemala, but never really had the need or the opportunity.  In my family it was sort of an unwritten rule that the men don’t cook, but every day after working with my dad on our farm, I would sit in the kitchen with my mom while she was cooking.  When I came to the U.S. there was no one to cook for me so I had to learn.  I didn’t speak English yet, so I got a job as a server’s assistant in a Mexican restaurant.  I couldn’t afford to eat there, but I noticed that the customers were paying $3.99 just for a plate of beans and rice, so that was one of my first experiments.  The first few tries did not come out right. I stirred the rice too much and it was almost like a dough, but I realized that I could use this technique to make a certain style of Guatemalan tamale, so all was not lost.  Eventually though I figured out my own version of Guatemalan beans and rice – a recipe made partly from what now seems like a dream of my mom cooking back home and partly from the reality of learning on my own.  Since I came to the U.S., I’ve reached three out of four of my goals. I have worked my way up from server’s assistant, to server, and for the last five years I’ve been a manager.  I’m learning a lot about the restaurant business, but someday I want to have my own place and sell my own food made from my own recipes.

I found family in the U.S… Not the kind you are born into; the kind you make out of the circumstances life gives you.  In this family there is a daughter who is ten years old, but I’ve known her since she was two.  When she was little, I made her my black beans and rice.  In Guatemala, we blend our black beans into more of a paste, but where we live in Oklahoma, whole pinto beans are more common.  She had never had Guatemalan food before, so when she saw the beans she yelled, “chocolate beans!” because they looked like chocolate to her.  We didn’t know if she would like them since they weren’t going to taste like chocolate, but to this day she asks me to make “chocolate beans” for her. 


References

  1. Wilk, Richard and Barbosa, Livia, Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places (London/New York: Berg Publishers, 2013), 304 pages.
  2.  Wikipedia. 2020. “Rice and Beans.” Last modified December 5, 2020 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_and_beans

Memories of Akara and Acaraje

By Ozoz Sokoh

Kitchen Butterfly & Feast Afrique

Taste Memories

To this day, wherever I am, Nigeria or anywhere else in the world, I have a specific Saturday morning taste memory of bread, ogi and Akara lodged in my head, and heart I daresay. I spent many Saturday mornings as a teenager soaking black-eyed beans till the skins softened, then rubbing them between my palms to strip the creamy halves of their cloaks before turning that into a thick enough puree, seasoned with red onions and scotch bonnet peppers, one with enough integrity to hold it together as it ‘fritters’ in hot oil

 

Two hands mixing together black-eyed beans over a steel bowl with liquid in it.
Acara

Comfort Food

Saturday mornings make me think of home more than any other day of the week. And I’ve been away from home a lot. So what do you do when you’re far away and discover the street food delicacy that’s Nigerian Akara is also Brazilian Acarajé? You feel all the emotions – from kinship to homesickness and saudade – and little of the comfort you desire. Instead, you find yourself deep in reflection as you eat an Akara sandwich, thinking about comfort food and what it means. I love the concept as an anchor of the soul but when I think of my Akara – born free, a dish I make to comfort myself – and put that next to Brazilian Acarajé, borne of the transatlantic slave trade, I wonder if comfort fully captures the range. 

Hand holding small colourful sandwich. There are several bowls with appetizing and colouful vegetables underneath.
Acaraje

Memory as Resistance

Across the world from Brazil to New Orleans, Georgia to the Caribbean, there are edible markers of West African culinary heritage, trails of deliciousness that span multiple ingredients and centuries, from farm or plantation – rice, coffee, pecans, vanilla – to table – calas, gumbo, sweetmeats, bean fritters, myriad cassava dishes and more. Enslaved women, men, and children remembered and transplanted knowledge-systems of wetland farming from the Grain Coast to the American South, birthing Carolina Gold. They folded knowledge into fritters and bakes, sweetened the bitter truth of humanity, and seasoned pots of soups and stews with wisdom. There’s something so powerful about leaving your mark, in spite of, despite it all. And there are wars fought and won over bubbling pots and roaring fires – battlefields of the heart and mind. Yes, there are many treasures gifted by enslaved West Africans, but no war leaves its victims unscathed.

Black spoon with small fritter in it.
Calas

Memory as Freedom

It takes might to transform some type of bitter to sweet, and enslaved West African women did it on the streets. They set up stands and stalls, seats by the side of the road paying homage to their homelands, feeding the masses and purchasing freedom. Today, centuries later, Acarajé remains sacred on the streets of Bahia. Its recipes – initially preserved, treasured and sustained by word of mouth – now live in words and taste buds across the world, proof that food and eating create the strongest memory banks which we draw from, time and time and time again. 

And so it is that when yet another Saturday comes by, you might find me, Akara sandwich in hand, fritters deep fried till golden and layered into Canadian Agege bread or challah buns (and on the best days, pieces torn by hand, uncorrupted by the silver of a knife). Is it Agege bread if it isn’t made under the sweltering hot Lagos sun? My taste bank is never confused. My memories draw on snatches of Saturday after Saturday, each contributing to the kaleidoscopic patchwork that’s yet another Saturday: the same yet different, tasting home, old and new. 

Hand holding sandwich made of white bread and fritters.
Akara sandwich

About

Ozoz Sokoh is a food explorer and geologist. A ‘Traveller by plate’, she believes that ‘Food is more than eating’. Central to her work is the celebration and preservation of Nigerian/West African cuisine, challenging myths and assumptions about its culinary legacy over 400+ years old and its impact on the world from the American South, through the Caribbean to Europe and Latin America. 

Her 12-year old blog, Kitchen Butterfly, is her creative space. In 2013, she articulated her  philosophy and practice in The New Nigerian Kitchen, focused on celebration and documentation: like the first-ever seasonal produce guide for Nigeria – only one of a handful on the continent. She recently launched Feast Afrique, a platform celebrating West African culinary heritage. One major aspect is a digital library of 240+ books, more than half of which document West African and Diasporic culinary heritage which she’s created as part of this. 

Her work has been featured on CNN African Voices and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. She makes her home in Ontario, Canada and wakes up to sun-streaked mornings on the couch, good book in hand with a pot of tea. She is a #FutureNewYorker.  

A Missing Link for New College Puddings

By Helga Müllneritsch

Figure 1: Cover Inside and Page 1, The Begbrook MS, AC 1420 / © Downside Abbey General Trust

Almost nothing is known about the creators of the Begbrook Manuscript (AC 1420). It was purchased in the nineteenth century by the collector Daniel Parsons (1811-1887), and his collection was probably given to the Downside Abbey Archives and Library in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Somerset in the first quarter of the twentieth century. The manuscript was found by fortunate coincidence in the course of major renovation work in 2015 and published as facsimile edition in 2017, titled Downside Abbey Discovers: Bristol Georgian Cookbook. It is bound in leather, presumably cheap sheepskin, and consists of 140 pages of handmade paper. The first handwriting in the book, which may also be the oldest hand and dates to 1793, reflects the use of a goose quill, while the later hands wrote with a steel pen. Although it claims to be part of the ‘Begbrook Kitchen Library’ on the inside cover, no further volumes have been found.

The collaborative aspect of the manuscript cookery book can be seen through the various hands penning the recipes as well as the names of individuals provided. Despite this, it was planned rather than ‘grown’: it is a clearly structured memory aid for the cook, created to facilitate the use of the recipes. A more in depth discussion of the manuscript can be found here.

The Begbrook MS offers a number of insights into the manuscript practices of the time, and one recipe in particular seems to be a ‘missing link’ to the origins of ‘New College Puddings.’ This traditional dish named for the Oxford college appears in the 1901 book New College by Hastings Rashdall and Robert Sangster Rait, among other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century printed sources. On her blog The Old Foodie, Janet Clarkson raises the question of whether the recipe given in New College might actually be “the real original from the college kitchen archives,” given that the wording suggests a “significantly earlier” version. To do so, she compares Rashdall and Rait’s recipe with the recipes ‘College Puddings’ from William Kitchener’s The Cook’s Oracle (1830, page 395) and ‘To make New-College Puddings’ from Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (1736, 7th edition; the recipe from the 9th edition, page 118 can be found here). Elizabeth Moxon’s English Housewifry from 1764 gives the recipe almost verbatim. The 1901 version of the recipe reads:

New Colledge Puddings.

For one duzon take a penny halfe penny white bread and grate it an put to that halfe a pound of beefe suett minced small half a pound of curantes one nutmeg and salt and as much creame and eggs as will make it almost as stiffe as past then make you in the fashon of an egg, then lay them into the dish that you bake them in one by one with a quarter of a pound of butter melted in the bottom, then set them over a cleare charcole fire and cover them, when they are browne, turne them till they are browne all over, then dishe them into a cleane dishe, for yr sause take sack, suger, rosewater and butter, pour this over yr puddings and scrape over fine suger and serve them to the table.[i]

While carrying out the initial transcription of the recipes in the Begbrook MS during a summer work placement shortly after its discovery, I noticed that recipe number 123 on pages 121 and 122 reads very similarly to that of Rashdall and Rait:

New College Puddings

For one Dozen Take two penny Loafs grated, 1/2 a lb of Currants, 1/2 a lb of Beef Suet, minced small – half a Nutmeg a little Salt a quarter of a lb of Sugar, 4 Eggs, orange or Rose Water, a little Wine & Cream as much as will make it as stiff as Paste Them then mix it well together and make them up in the Shape of an Egg Then put a 1/4 of a lb of Butter in a Stew Pan and lay Them round The Bottom, cover them and Set them over a moderate fire let them Stew gently or fry Them when brown on one Side turn Them Till they are entirely brown Then Dish Them melt Butter with Wine and Sugar and pour over Them

Figure 2: Pages 121-122, The Begbrook MS, AC 1420 / © Downside Abbey General Trust

Not only do the instructions and ingredients sound very similar (except the sauce, which seems to be rather simple in the manuscript), but the Begbrook MS also bears the note “This receipt from The Cook of New College” at the end of the recipe. Clarkson’s suggestion that the recipe from New College is not only much older than 1901, but also – if not an original from the archives – at least a dish which was prepared the college rather often, seems to be supported by this find. Due to the similarity of the versions from New College and Begbrook MS, we can infer that the recipe in this form was cooked for the residents of the college and not just taken from earlier printed sources.

 

[i] Hastings Rashdall, Robert Sangster Rait, New College (Oxford: Robinson, 1901), p. 244