Category Archives: Lisa Smith

To dine at Kew: The meals of George III and his household

By Rachel Rich

Lately I’ve been thinking about whether the kitchen at Kew, c. 1789, should be considered as a domestic space or a public one. The reason this has been on my mind is because I’ve been working with Lisa Smith and Adam Crymble on a project we’ve provisionally called ‘The King’s Dinner.’ Thanks to the Steward at Kew, who kept a detailed ledger of all the meals served during the King’s time in residence there between 1789 and 1797, we know everything that made it to the twelve separate tables in the Palace, every day at dinner time. This rich source may not exactly tell us what each person ate or how much, and it doesn’t say much about how the meals were ordered and selected. But it is the closest I feel I’ve ever come to being able to witness a household’s eating from the past.

James Gillray, Anti-saccharites, -or- John Bull and his family leaving off the use of sugar (1792). Depicts the royal family at a frugal tea-table. Source: British Museum, London.

I’m thinking about whether to consider these meals as public or private because of what other questions that might lead me to ask. Should I be considering what the George III menus tell us about domestic eating habits in the late eighteenth century? I can see that the names of the dishes are in the fashionable style of contemporary English cooking which gave French names to reliably familiar English meals.

And I can see that there was a version here of the upstairs/downstairs dichotomy, even if it was on a much grander scale. It makes sense to me to think about how food was used to encode social relations within homes where master and servant ate food produced in the same kitchens, and from the same supply chains, while marking our hierarchy through the relative degree of elaboration that went into the dishes served at the different tables.

Anonymous, Farmer G-e, studying the wind and weather (1771). Source: British Museum, London.

If, however, I start to think of the Palace less as a private home and more as a public—or at least semi-public—institution, then I think about the scale on which things were done, and what that meant about labour, organization, and time management. Food is very time sensitive in many ways. There is the question of seasons, and of eating the right produce when it is at its best. This may have mattered to King George, whose keen interest in agriculture had gained him the nickname Farmer George. In the coming months I am hoping to look carefully at the vegetables that were served in each month, and about how important seasonality was at the Royal table.

Food is also time sensitive because of the time it takes to cook each dish. All foods can be ruined through over cooking, while some foods are also dangerous if undercooked. Kitchen staff needed to know about timing, and given the difficulty of calculating cooking times with their contemporary cooking technologies, I assume they employed a combination of modern time management with more traditional sense-time for measuring the readiness of dishes.

Finally, food is time bound in that meals eaten communally need to be ready at the appointed time, and everyone who is sharing a table needs to know at what time they ought to make an appearance, if they are to share the meal. With twelve tables to serve, how did each dish reach the right table at the right time? Thinking about the management of the ‘home’ that was Kew Palace seems to offer a wonderful opportunity for thinking about how food timing shaped the operation of a semi-public institution with many inhabitants from across the social spectrum.

There were twelve daily dinners served at Kew each day including their Majesties’ Dinner, the Equerries dinner, dinner for various pages, grooms, and kitchen staff. Social hierarchy marked out who could share a table, but also the amount of food that was served, and the diversity of dishes. For their majesties, an elaborate meal was always prepared.  On 6 December 1789, the dinner was comprised of:

Soupe Sante, 4 chickens, tendrons of lamb; mutton cotellets; Emince of Pullets; 71/2 Veal Collops; a haunch of venison; 2 large soles; a leg of Portland mutton; 83/4 muttons; Richmond duck; Capon; 3 pigs trotters; asparagus; potted meat; Genoise; ¾ prawns; celery and pomme de terre.

It was a lot of food—but I don’t exactly know who was sitting at the table, so I don’t know how much of it was specifically designated as surplus food. This is one of many questions I have been considering over the last few days.

This is the first in a series of posts in which Lisa, Adam and I are planning to explore this amazing source from a range of different angles. In this way we hope to develop ideas about national identity, class, and domestic labour, health, and nutrition, in relation to a unique household which was at once completely different from, but also emblematic of, all the other household in Britain.

This Month’s Banner: Sin Eating

From: John Frederic Bernard and Bernard Picart, The ceremonies and religious customs of the known world (1737), p. 83. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

As you may have noticed, we (try to) change the blog banner once a month — sometimes thematically, sometimes just because the editor that month likes the picture.

This month’s choice is inspired by the darkness of autumn, and the coming of Halloween. It is an engraving by Bernard Picart that shows English funeral customs (including sin eating). You can read more about this fascinating eighteenth-century book here, which considered religion origins and traditions comparatively. But if it’s the sin-eating that has captured your interest, this Atlas Obscura article by Natalie Zarelli offers an excellent introduction to an intriguing subject!

Editing the Recipes Project — 5 Years On: Teaching with Recipes

Editorial: This is the eighth of a series of reflection posts from Recipe Project contributors and editors.

By Lisa Smith

Classroom kitchen in Norway, undated. Source: National Library of Norway.

A momentous day: on this day, five years ago exactly, we published our first blog post. Feel free to reminisce here with that post by Elaine Leong.

Other blog posts in our Five Year Reflection series have emphasised the role of The Recipes Project in our own research–from the importance of intellectual networks to inspiration. But teaching has been part of this blog’s core identity from the outset. As of writing, there are seventy-eight blog posts labelled ‘teaching’, three teaching series, and multiple presentations during our recent Virtual Conversation.  Recipes are clearly a wonderful pedagogical tool.

In this post, I want to consider the trends in teaching (as revealed on the blog) and reflect briefly on why recipes are so useful in teaching, even for non-recipe specialists. Recipes offer students new ways of  experiencing the past, as well as providing methodological challenges in the classroom.

One of the main themes in recipe pedagogy is sensory engagement. This is well known to those working in the heritage industry, as discussed by Deborah Lawton in her Virtual Conversation contribution on ‘A Recipe is a Tasty History Lesson‘. Tasting food invites reflection on historical issues such as ‘what is a comfort food’ or methods of food preparation.

Academics may not be able to prepare recipes in their classes (alas, few of us have access to the wonderful lab settings enjoyed by the Making and Knowing Project), but there are other ways of experimenting in the classroom. Claiming that ‘history has a distinct taste’ as his starting point, Ian Mosby considers the importance of teaching how similar-tasting recipes take on different meanings depending on their historical context. The products of recipes can always be brought to the students, or prepared by the students outside of class.

Food is not the only recipe, however; other senses can be involved. Jen Munroe has her students take a close look at recipes and consider the practice and experience of reading, while Amanda Herbert has her students write out an early modern ink recipe using the tools and alphabet of the time. What students quickly learn is the gendered experience of engaging with the tools and recipe meaning.  As Tovah Bender explains, ‘sensory expeirence helps students bridge this divide with the past and see history through the eyes of their subjects’.

The digital world also offers exciting new ways of engaging with the past. In my own teaching, for example, I found that doing the online transcription of recipes (and translating between early modern English, extensible mark-up language, and modern English) trained students in close-reading. Frank Klaassen’s fascinating post here on testing out a Holy Almandal suggests the potential of 3D printing for reconstructing sensory experience.  Digital tools, whether transcription or 3D printing, can encourage deeper reflection.

The digital world can also provide a sense of community. Rebecca Laroche, for example, discussed the ways in which online transcription as part of a larger group has reshaped her pedagogy of online teaching. Building links among classrooms and between learners and texts has directly emerged from her digital work on recipes. Some of our Virtual Conversation participants demonstrated their students’ online projects, such as Emily Contois’ class on food and gender and Rachel Snell’s class on food, femininity and feminism. Sharing research online is a form of public engagement (and an employable skill) for our students. Certainly any history class could be doing digital projects, but recipes have a particularly wide appeal beyond the academy! Recipes are, in many ways, naturally suited to a virtual classroom; the long-distance sharing and sense of community mirror the pre-modern transmission of recipe knowledge over long distances and far-flung networks.

The usefulness of recipes for pedagogy, then, is their evocativeness, their familiarity and unfamiliarity for students. They offer opportunities for hands-on learning and public engagement. In short, they are quite wonderful.

But…

Inside Mount Morgan Technical College’s Cooking Class Room, Mt. Morgan, 1909. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Recipes are so much fun–and do provide that sense of community and sensory experience–that it sometimes easy to overlook the methodological problems of using them in the classroom.

In one class, I encountered a series of technological fails that resulted in a constantly shifting learning environment for the students. While I can put a positive gloss on it–that this was showing student-collaborators the real, sometimes dark, underside of research–it also meant that students faced unexpected barriers and uncertainties in their learning. It is also worth noting (as I didn’t at the time) that not all of my students had ready access to technology, either, unless they came to campus.

Valerie Korinek discussed how the failure of an assignment one year (after previous success) highlighted a basic ethical issue. Teaching recipes in the classroom, particularly as part of family history, can be destabilizing and distressing for students. Food is not fun for everyone, and recipes are not always familiar or comfortable.

Even if recipes aren’t distressing, there is also the danger of slipping into nostalgia, or assuming that reconstruction of a recipe gives a real connection to the past. Nostalgia and family history came up repeatedly in the Virtual Conversation, as did the problems of reconstruction.

The illusion of direct engagement with the past, as well as unequal access to digital learning tools or recipes in the present, are issues we need to keep at the forefront of our teaching. However, awareness of methodological issues as we plan our syllabi or assignments, or discuss them in the classroom, can only improve our teaching…and challenge our students.

And, of course, it will make recipes even more compelling as a teaching tool: they are not for the faint-of-hearted or those interested in the cozy past.

Here’s to a New Year!

By Lisa Smith

A celebration party given in honour of a good harvest. Engraving by B. Picart, 1733, after himself after Vergil's Georgics. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
A celebration party given in honour of a good harvest. Engraving by B. Picart, 1733, after himself after Vergil’s Georgics. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

September 2017 will mark The Recipe Project‘s fifth anniversary: a big one in the blogging world. And on 29 December, we published our 501st post!

We’ve come a long way since Elaine Leong and I had the idea of setting up a blog. One of our goals right from the start (besides sharing our love of recipes) was to build a community of scholars and recipe enthusiasts

In this endeavour, we’ve been successful. Since 2012, we’ve had over 100 wonderful contributors–and two co-editors (Amanda Herbert and Laurence Totelin) and one social media editor (Laura Mitchell) have joined our team. In 2016 alone, we’ve had over 198000 unique readers and over 525000 unique visits.  Our Twitter feed continues to grow (over 6500 followers), as does our Facebook page (over 830 followers). Thank you, dear readers and contributors for making The Recipes Project such a success!

Now, what were our top five posts of 2016? The vast majority of our readers come directly to the home page and browse through the latest posts, which means that actual favourite posts are difficult to measure. But the top five posts that lured in readers directly to the page reveal an intriguing range of interests and reading patterns.

  1.  ‘Palm Trees and Potions: On Portugueuse Pharmacy Signs’, Benjamin Breen (2 August 2016).
  2.  ‘Jolly Good Ale and Old: Or, Were Early Modern People Perpetually Drunk?’ James Brown and Angela McShane (20 September 2016).
  3.  ‘Hans Sloane: Eighteenth Century Mixologist’, Amanda Herbert (12 January 2016).
  4.  ‘Of Dirty Books and Bread’, Anke Timmermann (12 May 2013).
  5.  ‘Transcribing Early Modern Recipes with the Crowd on Shakespeare’s World‘, Victoria Van Hyning an Paul Dingman (2 February 2016).

The New Year brings new opportunities and challenges. As ever, we are always interested in new contributors. If you’ve been thinking that you’d like to contribute to RP or to set up a new themed series, please do send us an email–we’d love to hear from you! With a number of our Ph.D. student contributors graduating this past year, we’re also keen to encourage junior scholars to become a part of our community.

Over the years, we’ve noticed that the blog provides a wonderful snapshot of recipe research, but one topic has repeatedly emerged: the difficulty of pinning down what exactly a recipe is in different regions and different time periods.  With this in mind, the RP editors will be hosting an entirely virtual conference on ‘What is a Recipe?’ in the summer.  We are super excited about this and hope to see many of you involved as participants. Please keep your eyes open for our upcoming Call for Participation!

With the lead up to our fifth anniversary, we will be including a new feature for the year that will add a soupçon of historiography to our monthly mix.  RP editors and invited contributors will reflect on the past, present, and future directions of recipe scholarship, as well as what the blog has meant to us.

Thanks again for your support. We hope that you enjoy our new directions in 2017 as we will!

An obese doctor acknowledging the favours of a French chef in his kitchen; denoting their complicity, the chef's food providing patients. Coloured etching by C. Williams, c. 1815. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
An obese doctor acknowledging the favours of a French chef in his kitchen; denoting their complicity, the chef’s food providing patients. Coloured etching by C. Williams, c. 1815. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.