What We’re Reading This Fall

By Jess Clark

The abundance of fantastic historical writing—from insightful social media and blog posts to traditional academic monographs to op eds—means that most of us aren’t lacking interesting things to read. At times, though, I can’t help but feel that I’m missing out on important pieces, new books, or forgetting about germinal texts. This month, I decided to check in with some of the Editors here at the Recipes Project to find out what everyone’s reading in the coming weeks. Here are just a few of their suggestions, from their bookshelves and browsers to you.

 

Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (Basic Books, 1985)

In this classic study, Cowan charts the industrialization of housekeeping through a variety of new technologies designed to improve the experience of female homemakers: “washing machines, white flour, vacuums, commercial cotton.” However, as she masterfully argues, these technologies actually served to replace the labour of other figures, like men and children, rather than lessen the amount of time devoted by women to maintaining the home.


Lisa Fagin Davis, “
Why Do People Keep Convincing themselves they’ve Solved this Medieval Mystery?” at The Washington Post

Davis unpacks the ongoing fascination with the Voynich Manuscript, an early fifteenth-century codex housed at Yale’s Beinecke Library. Written in an “unknown collection of symbols” and featuring illustrations of “realistic plants, circular zodiacal and astronomical diagrams,” the Manuscript has been subject to multiple attempts to decipher its mysterious code. However, “[b]y beginning with their own preconceptions of what they want the Voynich to be,” argues Davis, many would-be interpreters’ “conclusions take them further from the truth.”

 

Rachel Herrmann, No Useless Mouth: Waging War and Fighting Hunger in the American Revolution (Cornell UP, November 2019)

This is a bit of a cheat since the book isn’t out until November, but many RP readers are no doubt looking forward to contributor Rachel Herrmann’s new book on the role of food in Revolutionary America. Focusing on “hunger creation and prevention” as “tools of diplomacy and warfare,” this text will be a must-read for historians of food, recipes, conceptions of dearth and plenty, and the foundations of early America.

 

Michael W. Twitty, “Dear Disgruntled White Plantation Visitors, Sit Down,” on Afroculinaria


Award-winning author, chef, and historical interpreter Michael W. Twitty responds to negative online reviews of southern plantations, which criticize interpreters’ attention to slavery and its legacies. Writing of his own experiences as a historical educator, Twitty emphasizes that, in doing this work, he’s “performing an act of devotion to my Ancestors. This is not about your comfort, it’s about honoring their story on it’s own terms in context.”

 

Michael Walkden, “’Excrements of the Earth’: Mushrooms in Early Modern England,” on Shakespeare & Beyond

Walkden analyzes seventeenth-century English attitudes towards the eating of mushrooms, pointing to the ways fungi could, at various points, signify danger and treachery, continental excess, or filth and debasement. Pointing out their distinctiveness as a food type, he suggests that “[t]he hostility that many writers expressed towards mushrooms is perhaps reflective of the threat they posed to the order of things.”

 

What are you reading this Fall? We want to hear from you! Let us know here what sites, texts, and projects we should be featuring here at the Recipes Project.

Restorative Jelly and Strengthening Soup

By James Stark and Richard Bellis

Victorians were obsessed with diet and appetite. Discussions about how to provide adequate nutrition to different human bodies spanned specialized scientific practice, domestic cookery, and manufacturers of new food products, not to mention popular culture and discourse.

Fig. 1. Recipes Books courtesy of The Cookery Collection at the University of Leeds

As part of a British Academy Digital Humanities project – Eating Yourself Young – we have been exploring the relationship between theories and practices of nutrition and health. Beyond scientific papers and newspaper articles on the subject, manuscript recipes from the period reveal how food and health were intimately intertwined in everyday cookery habits. The Cookery Collection at the University of Leeds, recognized by Arts Council England as one of its Designated Collections – a programme which ‘identifies and celebrates outstanding collections’ – includes around 50 manuscript recipe books from the eighteenth century to the twentieth, with a particular concentration in the early-to-mid-Victorian period. Striking in many of these are the claims made about the health benefits of various foodstuffs.

Fig. 2. "Mixing a Recipe for Corns." Etching by G. Cruikshank, 1819, after Captain F. Marryat. Courtesy of Wellcome Collection, CC BY
Fig. 2. “Mixing a Recipe for Corns.” Etching by G. Cruikshank, 1819, after Captain F. Marryat. Courtesy of Wellcome Collection, CC BY

In one anonymous collection of recipes, including regional specialities from Surrey and Yorkshire, we can see the integration of foods described as healthful. In this particular manuscript, amongst a list of 111 recipes for a wide variety of foods from sportsman’s beef and twirligigs to endless variants on plum pudding, the author (or, probably more properly, the compositor) included instructions for preparing restorative jelly and strengthening soup. The former consisted of sago, rice, pearl barley and ginger root, boiled in water until the volume was reduced by half. Strengthening soup, by contrast, consisted of stewing very slowly knuckles of lamb and veal with shin of beef, “mixed with sweet herbs,” in water, before adding “best rose water.” In contrast to all other recipes in the manuscript folio, the author also indicated when and how it should be consumed, “a tea cup-full to be taken every Night & Morning warm.”                 

Certain dishes could, of course, restore health. But foodstuffs were often incorporated into medical recipes as well. A collection of culinary and medical recipes – co-existing comfortably in the same volume – included “an excellent recipe for sprains.” This involved mixing “old ale” with turpentine and applying it to the skin. Ingredients for one of many preparations designed to treat a cough included lemon juice, “Spanish juice,” “Sugar Candy,” and a freshly-laid egg. The preparation of this particular cough remedy is particularly intriguing; it involved adding the lemon juice to the egg whilst still in its shell and waiting for the shell to dissolve before introducing the remaining ingredients.

Several medical remedies were also supposed to require other dietary and lifestyle changes to be effective. A “Cure for Influenza” required, for example, that the “patient [should be] … careful to keep the feet warm & dry [and subsist] … on a light diet.” Immediately following these clearly medical preparations were instructions for how to clean silk, devise a French polish, and remove grease from cloth fabric.

As much as these recipes were practical, the presentation of recipes was just as often playful as healthful and helpful. A somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference in a recipe for Paradise Pudding instructed the reader to “take of the same fruit which Eve once did taste, Well pared + well clipped, half a dozen at least.” Remarking on the experience that the diner might expect on eating this divine dish, the author noted that “Adam tasted this Pudding twas wonderous.”

Across all these, we can gain further insight into exactly where the expertise of everyday medicine in Victorian Britain was located. Of the recipes in this collection which were attributed to a particular person, almost all were women. The medical recipes employed much the same modes of preparation as culinary recipes, and many were written in the same hand. This suggests that the intersection of cookery and domestic medical practices were deeply intertwined. Whilst this is scarcely revelatory or unexpected, a more fine-grained analysis of these medical-related recipes in their social, cultural, and scientific context is needed to further highlight the importance and construction of domestic medicine and its practitioners.

A Teaching Round-Up

By Jess Clark

It’s August, which means that some of us are prepping course materials for the coming year (unless you’ve already got your syllabus and teaching plans in order — to you, I tip my hat!).

Here at RP, we believe that recipes can be illuminating and productive sources to mobilize in the classroom. Next month, our co-editor Lisa Smith will feature all new posts in the fifth instalment of our Teaching Recipes: A September Series, including strategies for incorporating recipes into a range of educational settings. But for those of you prepping this month, we’ve put together a round-up of posts from our archives that explore how to make recipes a part of your classroom, for a range of levels and interests. Please join us as we revisit some of the fantastic contributions from previous teaching posts.

A First Aid lesson in a school classroom. Photograph, ca. 1920. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

 

Some of our authors have pointed out the value of recipes in bringing food history into the classroom, offering opportunities for experiential learning. These contributors cooked with their students or designed assignments involving cooking from historical recipes.

 

Recipes also provide opportunities to interrogate practices of reading and writing,  both historically and among our students. These contributors highlight the various skills developed through using recipes as primary sources in the classroom, while thinking about the unique form of recipes.

 

Another key means of using recipes in the classroom is via transcription projects and assignments. This includes participation in Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC)’s annual Transcribathon, which is a fantastic way to get students involved in major online projects. These contributors explain how to incorporate transcriptions into your classroom, offering practical, step-by-step advice.

 

 

As we move into September, we hope that you’ll join us for our teaching series. We’d also love to hear more about how you use recipes in your teaching and public outreach projects, so please join us in the comments or contact us at recipes@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de.  

Thomas Tryon’s Harmless Cocoe-Nut Water

By Andrea Crow

Mouthfeel was only the beginning for the early modern vegetarian author Thomas Tryon. Tryon’s prolific literary output of tracts and guidebooks (complete with hundreds of recipes) advocating meat-free living treats texture as one of the most important properties of food for the thoughtful consumer to consider.

Not just a matter of taste, food texture mattered, according to Tryon, throughout the entire digestive process. Sounding more or less like a twenty-first century juice cleanser, Tryon obsesses over what he calls the “furring” of the body’s “passageways.”[1] His vegetarianism, though in part ethically-motivated, also arose from his revulsion at the image of internal organs coated by “the Fat of Flesh or Fish” in sticky “oyly bodies,” such that they become hairy with strands of partly digested matter that, in turn, coalesce into “crudities” (incompletely-digested lumps of food) and other “obstructions.”[2] He devoted his life to popularizing a diet designed to promote wellness by textually transforming the internal surfaces of the organs, making them smooth, sleek, and uniform of consistency, thereby bringing the body into a state of peace and harmony from the inside out.

The fantasy that consuming certain foods will purify the finicky, smelly mass of cavities and tubes that make up the human digestive system is persistent in dietary literature from the ancient world to the present day. Plutarch urged his readers to “eat cautiously of such food as is solid and most nourishing” in favor of “those things which are thin and light,” being particularly sparing in the consumption of flesh which “very much clogs us and leaves ill relics behind it.”[3] The Yogi-brand “Roasted Dandelion Spice DeTox” tea I’m drinking as I write this promises to cleanse my liver and make my skin even and smooth. For Tryon, this dream of textureless organs was becoming more possible than ever thanks to an influx of the early modern equivalent of superfoods: the fruits, vegetables, and roots of the Caribbean.

Tryon’s eager account of these new imports, “A Brief Treatise of the Principal Fruits and Herbs that Grow in Barbadoes, Jamaica, and other Plantations in the West-Indies”—the first portion of his three-volume collection Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies (1684)—is an interesting case study in the history of thought on food texture because of how significant this factor was to the arguments Tryon made for consuming this new fare. The most beneficial textural properties of Caribbean produce, he argued, could be found at the microscopic level. The “delicate cooling Breezes and refreshing Gales of Wind,” combined with the “Sun’s more near and direct Beams,” infused the vegetation with an invisible motion that  “digest[ed] their Rawness.”[4] While the bulk of Tryon’s writing encouraged his readers to subsist primarily on a relatively flavorless diet of plain gruel and bread, he was ecstatic about tropical fruits and vegetables because of his belief that climate conditions had pre-digested them into an internal state of refined homogeneity.

The pineapple’s visible “delicacy” and “curious Shape” is, according to Tryon’s treatise, complemented by its ability, when consumed, to “moderate, cool, comfort and refresh the Spirits, cleanse the Passages, remove Obstructions that fur the Pipes, and also purge away and help to digest all slimy and sharp Juices that offend Nature.”[5] Plaintains’ inner “brisk spiritous parts”  will “gently open obstructions”;[6] the “Cocoe-Nut’s” “think or milky Substance” contains “pure fine brisk Spirits” that “breeds good Blood”;[7] underneath the seemingly forbidding appearance of “pinpillow-pears” (apparently a type of prickly pear) with their “Martial Weapons or Prickles” run “Juices quick and penetrating” that “cut Phlegm … and help Concoction.”[8] In short, the foods of the West Indies promise dramatic advances in the study of the fluid mechanics of the body that so interests Tryon.

The motivations shaping Tryon’s particular vision of an idealized digestive system—clean, free of conflict, and so smooth that nothing offensive can stick to it—though theoretically a simple matter of health, becomes more sociopolitically complex when considered in the context of the subsequent two sections that follow the “Brief Treatise” in the Friendly Advice to the Gentleman-Planters volume. The subsequent texts, “The Complaints of the Negro-Slaves against the Hard Usages and Barbarous Cruelties Inflicted Upon Them” and “A Discourse in Way of Dialogue, between an Ethiopean or Negro-Slave, and a Christian that was his Master in America,” delineate the cruel, dehumanizing conditions and racist atrocities that bring the very health foods Tryon promotes to English tables.[9] Like Whole Foods’s infamous 2014 campaign featuring posters of a smiling child that read “Grow Up Strong and Harmless,” or the bizarrely-titled beverage “Harmless Harvest Coconut Water,” Tryon’s desire for a textureless and therefore harmonious and virtuous inner state reads like a case of protesting too much: displacing anxiety over one’s involvement in violent and destructive global food infrastructures by becoming a metaphorical embodiment of harmlessness through achieving conflict-free digestion.

[1] Thomas Tryon, Monthly Observations for the Preserving of Health with a Long and Comfortable Life, in this our Pilgrimage on Earth, but more particularly for the spring and summer seasons (London, 1688), 14.

[2] Ibid, 14-15.

[3] Plutarch, Plutarch’s Morals, Vol. 1, ed. William W. Goodwin (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1871), 268.

[4] Tryon, A Brief Treatise of the Principal Fruits and Herbs that Grow in Barbadoes, Jamaica, and other Plantations in the West-Indies (1684), 2-3.

[5] Ibid, 4-7.

[6] Ibid, 9.

[7] Ibid, 13.

[8] Ibid, 37.

[9] Kim F. Hall offers a trenchant analysis of these treatises in the context of the xenophobia expressed in Tryon’s writings in‘Extravagant Viciousness’: Slavery and Gluttony in the Works of Thomas Tryon,” in Writing Race across the Atlantic World: Medieval to Modern, eds. Phillip Beidler and Gary Taylor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 93-111.

Andrea Crow is an assistant professor in the English department at Boston College where she specializes in early modern poetry and drama. She is currently completing a monograph exploring the relationship between poetics and food scarcity in seventeenth-century Anglophone literature. Her work has appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Christianity and Literature, and Early Modern Women.