If we are what we eat, and the king is the father of the nation, then George III’s menus must have something to tell us about who the British people were at the end of the eighteenth century, as Britain moved from early modernity to modernity. As patriotism in the face of perceived French aggression gave way to a new sense of nationalism and national identity, it is revealing that the British persisted in giving their most elegant menu items French names and even French flavours.
Thanks to a grant from the British Academy (as part of their ‘Tackling the UK’s International Challenges’ scheme), we are–along with Adam Crymble–digitizing and analysing the royal household’s menus for each day when they were in residence at Kew Palace between 1788 and 1801. Doing this allows us to understand what was served each day, how it was served, and what kinds of ingredients were necessary to keep the kitchens going, and to keep the nation’s first family on their feet.
It is quickly apparent that the royal family’s meals were dependent on a number of networks. At Kew, food was prepared in one building, then carried to multiple buildings (the princesses, guests, and King, for example, all resided in different houses) and multiple dining rooms (even the main building had separate tables for the king, queen, equerries, etc.) around Kew. Kinship and friendship networks were at work providing local game and produce through the tradition of giving gifts of food.
Britain’s naval and imperial position in the world is well-documented in the menus, with numerous spices and condiments listed as staples of the grocery and oilery lists that had to be approved by the Board of Green Cloth. Britain’s place in Europe, even while France went through its revolution and war was declared, remained firm with French, German, Dutch and Italian dishes appearing frequently at their majesties’ table. As these overlapping and interlocking networks and trade routes suggest, to understand British identity is also to understand that Britain was a part of Europe, even as the metropole of an Empire that had yet to reach the height of its global power.
Writing about the late nineteenth century, April Bullock has argued that recipes were sources of cosmopolitanism, a way for aspiring middle-class men and women to experience the exoticism of abroad from the comfort of their own table. A century earlier, this kind of dining-chair travel was only available to the elite, and George III’s menus might, indeed, be representative of the ways in which people sought to recreate earlier experiences—of travel and adventure, or of the comfort they had known elsewhere—on a daily basis in the domestic realm. The question, though, is what the elite desire for foreign flavours in the domestic dining room actually meant. Does an ethnically German and proudly British King, for example, eat Dutch ‘Metworst’ and Italian ‘macarony’ because he is British or because he is foreign? And if Kew was the royal family’s retreat from the glare of public life, did the food they eat there reflect their real tastes or the fashion of the moment?
Our diets are one of the areas that most quickly reveal how complex the construction of identity is. What we say about ourselves is one thing, but what we put into our bodies in another; our choices are bound by social and historical forces we seldom consider. It is far easier to assess other people’s choices. In the late eighteenth-century, one’s diet was treated as a symbol for personal qualities and morality. James Gillray, for example, regularly conflated nation, food, and identity in his political cartoons, as in ‘Temperance enjoying a Frugal Meal’ (1792) where the King’s personal stinginess was extrapolated onto the national stage.
The wonderful Georgian Papers Project has just launched an interesting exhibition on The Eighteenth Century’s Most Prominent Mental Health Patient, George III. When we think of the health of Georgian monarchs, George III’s case is often the first thing that comes to mind–and rightly so, given how evocative it is! However, as our project will show, the royal household’s menus and food accounts can offer other insights into the daily lives of the royal household members, particularly in terms of their health, diet, cultural choices, seasonality and supply, and personal relationships.
Although sources such as the ordinary royal menus have often been overlooked, whether owing to the difficulty of interpreting them or to their ordinary domestic nature, they are–quite literally–accounts of national importance. After all, what the king chose to eat (or not) shaped the culture and politics of the emerging British nation.
This month on Around the
Table, I have the pleasure of sharing a conversation with architectural
Milne. She was introduced to an early modern English manuscript in the
archives while researching another project. That text, the Dinner Book of the London
Drapers’ Company, grew into a project of its own, and her newly-published edition
is sure to be of great interest to historians of architecture, civic life, and
food. In April, her research came full circle as she publicly launched her book
at the site of the dining in the manuscript: Drapers’
Hall in London. Following my conversation below, Recipes Project editor Lisa Smith, who was able to
attend the book launch, shares some comments about the presentation.
Could you describe the Dinner Book and how you
found it? On what type of project were you working?
unusually, I first came across the Dinner Book as a postgraduate architecture
student trying to get to grips with the City of London as a place, so that I
could design for it effectively. Walking around its streets, I identified the
livery company (guild) halls as important footholds, entry points into the
guilds themselves, and I set myself the task of designing a new livery hall for
recently formed guilds. It did not take me long to figure out that one of the
focal-points of company life was the annual ‘Election Dinner’, when new leaders
of the companies were invested in their new roles at grand dinners held in the
halls. For me, in representing guild hierarchies structured within the hall, this
was a critical moment to design for, and I was keen to research the history of
dinners as much as I could in order to uncover the meaning and cultural context
of these long-standing events. To be honest, my design project was over and
done with far too quickly, but I was able to develop my interest through a
written dissertation. Influenced by Carolyn Steele’s writing on how food shapes
cities, I wrote to a number of guild archivists enquiring records which would
give me insight into the sorts of foods presented at the dining tables of the
Election Dinners. I was intrigued by the mercantile guilds’ attitudes to ‘new
world’ products, and the extent to which dinners were experimental or
conservative. Penny Fussell at the Drapers’ Company invited me to visit
Drapers’ Hall to see a document she thought I might be interested in. That was
the Dinner Book.
At the time
I encountered it, I didn’t really have the skillset to deal with it
effectively, I was not trained in palaeography for a start, but I knew that
this account book seemed rare and important. Spanning from 1564–1602, though
mostly weighted towards the 1560s and 1570s, it listed the foods, drinks,
suppliers, servants, attendees and their positions within Drapers’ Hall at a
series of Election Dinners. For me at that time, the potential of the document was
to ground City sociability in a place, a space and a time, allowing for
present-day dinners to be read through the lens of the past. Slowly but surely
I made progress in making sense of the document.
It was only
many years afterwards during my PhD, and several drafts of transcriptions of
the Dinner Book later, that I was able to say with more certainty why this book
was important for early modern historians, and suggest its significance for
food historians. The period covered by the Dinner Book was one of particular
instability and change in the City. The Drapers’ dinner records for the closing
decades of the sixteenth century indicate that livery companies recognised the
potential of their annual Election Dinners to reinforce the antiquity of
corporate authority, inferring a mythical past as a means of legitimizing their
stake in the future. Naturally, the food presented was implicated in this
endeavour, and mostly tended towards traditionally high-status meats such as
It is interesting how such a beautiful space
(Drapers’ Hall) has such a rich accompanying textual history; that is not
always the case! Is this kind of menu book unique to the Drapers? Do you know
of other examples of similar guild records (in London or elsewhere),
particularly ones accompanying an existing architectural space?
Great Twelve Companies shared a common culture of dining and a concern for
their orchestration, it does appear that The Dinner Book is the only coherently
detailed document which accounts for a series of these sorts of dinners. It seems
to have been produced as a sort of aide memoire to inform the planning of
future dinners as well as giving an account of what was spent year by year. There
may well have been other Dinner Books, but they have not survived, excepting
one very partial record from the late seventeenth century. In individual guild
archives and at the Guildhall, the odd account of comparable Election Dinners
of other companies can be found, but nothing quite matches the Dinner Book.
I am very
thankful for the ways in which the Drapers’ Company accommodated me in their
Hall over many years. To be able to research the Dinner Book in near enough the
same location as it was produced, and the kitchens where the dinners actually
prepared, was quite special. Indeed, though Drapers’ Hall has been rebuilt many
times, the memory of the sixteenth-century Hall persists in the arrangement of
interior spaces, so that the present-day main hall where the dinners were eaten
is effectively in the same location, and of a similar scale, as it was at the
time the Dinner Book was written-up. Other companies too retain Halls, though
none survive from the sixteenth century (excepting the fifteenth-century kitchens
of the Merchant Taylors’
Has working with the Dinner Book influenced your
other research interests and recent projects?
encounter with the Dinner Book affected the trajectory of my working life quite
significantly. From a focus on architectural design, I shifted to focus on
architectural history, understanding that the two need to be held in tension,
especially when the complexity of a city like London is in view. If it is not
already apparent, I should clarify that I take architecture to be a broad
discipline concerned with how space is produced by many hands over time. Architecture
is always relational, contingent, and, at its heart, it is really about people.
In this way, the study of food exchanges and dining practices can be very
relevant to urban and architectural historians interested in working from the
inside out of buildings, or thinking about flows of traded goods in the city
more generally. Indeed, I feel strongly that the link between designers,
urbanists and architects on the one hand, and historians on the other, needs to
be cultivated so that cities can be acted within and planned for with
sensitivity and wisdom. Spatial ‘micro-histories’ can be very effective in
engaging a broad-range of people in deep conversations about the way cities
change over the long-term.
Now I work
for the Survey
of London, a group of historians who write histories of London’s built
environment, paying attention to all sorts of stories of the capital city and
addressing a huge range of buildings past and present. We tend to work parish
by parish, and currently I am working on an especially experimental project
centred on Whitechapel in East London. We have taken a participatory approach
to this project, inviting the public and professionals to enter into dialogue
with us and each other about the area, sharing their research, memories and
archives, as we share our findings, all framed within the context of a
digitally accessible online map.
Speaking to people, it is amazing to see how often food or dining comes up,
especially in relation to migrant experiences of settlement and inter-cultural
exchanges. We have been especially excited to commission a film about the local
South Asian restaurant trade – Changing Tastes.
Thanks, Sarah, for chatting with me about such an interesting project! You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahannmilne.
And now, Lisa Smith’s
comments on the book launch.
On April 8, I had the pleasure visiting the Drapers’ Hall in
London to celebrate a book launch for Sarah Milne’s edited volume of The Dinner Book of the London Drapers’
Company 1564-1602. Although I’ve visited a range of splendid medical
buildings, from the Royal College of Surgeons (London) to the Académie
Nationale de Médecine (Paris), this was my first experience of an actual London
guild hall. To say that the Drapers’ Hall is very grand would be an
understatement; the marks of power, pomp, and ceremony remain visible to
historians, even if the main hall is now bookable for wedding receptions.
In the introduction to The
Dinner Book, Dr Milne describes the ‘theatre of hospitality’; beyond the
grandeur of a hall, the guild displayed its wealth through elaborate feasts. At
the Election Dinner of 1564, for example, the first course included foods like
swans, pikes, venison pasties, and custards; the second course included lighter
foods, from quails to marchipane; and the banquet course was comprised of sweet
items, like spicebread, wafers, fruits, and hippocras. The necessity of luxury
was so important that the guild hall even had a separate space for preparing the
banquet course—the hippocras house, which was staffed by three servants during
the 1564 dinner.
There is no modern-day hippocras house, but the book launch
took place in the same room as the early modern great hall. A modern chef
attempted to recapture some of the early modern flavours for us, too, with
treats such as venison pasties and pottage…
In her talk, Dr Milne discussed the complicated nature of
space and public activities in early modern London; the domestic, social, and
business worlds co-existed behind the guild hall gates. The great hall may have
been used for corporate assemblies, but the courtyard house was the Master’s
residence. The parlour was the site of the guild’s day-to-day business. Corporate
celebrations, such as Election Dinners, included entire families: widows,
wives, and occasionally young children. And the garden provided the fruits,
nuts, and herbs used in creating grand dinners.
The Dinner Book is a wonderful window into the food, people, and activities of an early modern guild hall, listing as it does the foods served, the people paid, and the activities undertaken. In preparation for the feast dinner of 6 August 1571, for example, we learn that Treacle the Cook spent two days preparing the meal; that Mr Crowley preached for two days; that the Master Wardens’ wives sold the hall comfits and biscuits; that the grocer Henry Falks provided a substantial amount of luxury spices and dried fruit; and that the hall bought eighty pounds of butter from the market.
Thanks, Lisa! If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.
As April draws to a close and the temperature is already pushing one hundred degrees here in the desert of Southern Arizona, it is my great pleasure to introduce my fellow new co-editor here at the Recipes Project (not to mention fellow Tucson local) Ryan Kashanipour. Ryan is an ethnohistorian of medicine and science at Northern Arizona University, specializing in Latin American history and the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Lisa Smith recently caught up with Ryan for an interview on his research and his new role here at the Recipes Project:
Welcome to your new role as co-editor of the Recipes Project, Ryan!
What interests you most about recipes?
I love recipes of all sorts: cookery, medicinal, magical, and the like. I see recipes as a unique genre of records, which can simultaneously be deeply personal accounts that can create family connections, local identities, and a sense of belonging, while also being grand references on everything from metaphysics to the environment to the nation. As everyday records, they can offer rare glimpses at personal and family traditions, along with gendered relations that cut across generations. Because many of them deal with food and health, they are often intimate accounts of emotions and the body. All the while, recipes can be regimented and formalized works that are state-level programs that aim to carry nationalist agendas and campaigns. I have to admit that my life is already filled with recipes. In my home, I have a growing collection of modern and historical print cookbooks. My six-year-old daughter, in fact, has been writing and leaving recipes all around our kitchen:
We know that you work on medicine and science in colonial Mexico. How do
recipes feature in your research?
My work operates at the intersection of magic and medicine in colonial Latin America. In particular, I look at manuscript books of medicine written by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most of the works that I deal with are written in the local language, Yucatec Maya, which is what first attracted me to them as an historical anthropologist. The records deal with everything from common skin ailments to epidemic diseases to afflictions caused by curses and sorcery. There are cures for broken legs and broken hearts. The remedies themselves often appear in recipe format, that is to say, as a fairly orderly set of instructions on how to make or perform the cure. However, because these sorts of practice fell outside of the sanctioned practices of Spanish colonial society, these records were highly protected and secretive. The representatives of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, along with the organization that certified physicians and healers, regularly prosecuted those deemed to be malicious or false healers. Nevertheless, one of the interesting things that I have found is that these recipes circulated among different ethnic and social groups. There was a constant lack of medical professionals within the colonies and, as a result, people developed their own systems of healing that reflected the social make up of local communities. In the case of the Yucatán, this meant that natives, African peoples, and Europeans exchanged ideas and practices. As such, I treat these remedies as democratic records that show everyday exchanges and encounters.
We’re excited about new developments here at the Recipes Project. What kinds of posts are you hoping to commission for the RP?
As a longtime collaborator (and fan) of the Recipes Project, I am very excited by this new role. Having written for and occasionally edited for the site in the past, I am really thrilled to have the opportunity to actively shape its future directions. As a Latin Americanist interested in everything from ancient practices to modern traditions, I hope to continue to highlight the breadth and depth of work being done on the Spanish and Portuguese worlds. My aim, at some core level, is to bring together scholars regardless of the geographic divisions that are often ingrained in our professional and academic training. For me, the Recipes Project is a venue to create connections and foster collaborations about scholarship and teaching through the hybrid of traditional and digital mediums. I have to say, though, that I am really just excited to try to bring people together from diverse backgrounds and approaches.
Robert Burns was inspired to write an ode “To a Louse” (1786) when he observed a cheeky louse running over a woman’s bonnet during a church service.
Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie? Your impudence protects you sairly.
The ode reflects on the social meanings of lice, a great leveler that might affect beggars and beauties alike. And once those “ugly, creepin, blastit wonners” arrive, they are dashed difficult to destroy–as Laurence Totelin made clear earlier this month. Like Laurence, I was inspired to investigate the treatment of early modern lice after the crowlin ferlies dared to take up residence on my family. The lived experience of suffering from lice today has many parallels with our early modern counterparts: the social stigma of living with vermin, the desperate methods of trying to kill them, and the physical intimacy of catching and removing them.
After catching lice, my little one described feeling ashamed and dirty, despite the lice spreading like wildfire through the entire class and our reassurances that it was normal. An internalised message of dirtiness is potent indeed—and it is an old message, as Lisa Sarasohn discusses. The Bible, for example, indicates that lice were among the ten plagues sent by God to punish the Egyptians for not letting the Israelites go. The metaphor of lice was also often used in early modern society to describe any group that threatened the social order or to represent internal moral degeneration. Lousy people were akin to the vermin who inhabited their bodies.
Of course, as Karen Raber points out, lice sometimes had positive meanings. In the Renaissance, suffering from lice could be an aid to religious contemplation, offering a chance to reflect on social status and vanity, or a form of penance. By the seventeenth century, however, lice were associated with a moral failing. If cleanliness was next to godliness, the presence of lice suggested that one was neither clean nor godly.
Medical explanations for lice also emphasised a connection with dirt. Lice, which could infest the head or the pubic region, were seen as transmissable through sexual intimacy (Sarasohn); they were filthy critters in more ways than one! Early modern medicine drew on ideas from Antiquity (Fornociari et al.). Aristotle, for example, considered lice to be creatures spontaneously generated from decaying matter on animals, while Galen explained that lice were created through warmth and excess humidity below the skin. By the late eighteenth century, moreover, army physicians increasingly understood that there was a connection between typhus and lice (Willingham).
Early modern remedies were based on humoral theory or methods of suffocation, poisoning, and containment. All six lice treatments in The Vermin Killer (1680) included ingredients such as hog lard, butter, smashed apple, olive oil, or wax; these would have suffocated or immobilised the lice. Vinegar and salt water, with their drying qualities, also appeared, as did the poisonous sandarac (sulphide of arsenic) and quicksilver (29-31). The twelve remedies in The Compleat English and French Vermin-Killer (1710) were similar, but also introduced a common herb for treating lice: stavesacre (also known as lousewort or Delphinium staphisagria). This could be put into hair powder or mixed with other ingredients. The 1710 edition also recommended containment, whether by ensuring that the patient wore a cap during treatment or had a hair cut (20-22). By 1777, the fourteen remedies of The Complete Vermin-Killer (1777) remained the same. But the new presence of a recipe that included oil of mustard suggests that humoral explanations for lice still underpinned treatments (5). Culpeper, for example, indicated that mustard was good for resisting poison and drawing out bad humors.
In looking for early modern remedies, I was surprised to
find so few (digitally searchable) manuscript recipe books in the Wellcome
Library or the Folger Shakespeare Library that had lice treatments. Perhaps
this is explained by the wide range of published remedies, which were included
in books such as Nicholas Culpeper’s The
English Physician or The Vermin
Killer—both reprinted many times in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The manuscript remedies reflect both the familiar, domestic location of treatments and the growing use of global commodities—sometimes in the same book. There are two lice-related recipes in Elizabeth Jacob’s “Physicall and chyrurgicall receipts” (c. 1654-1685). One “To Quite your selfe of Lice” recommends taking a piece of linen cloth, used by a goldsmith to wipe an object during gilding, then placing it under one’s arm pits and neck. Jacob explained the logic: the goldsmiths used quicksilver in the gilding process, which was a very effective lice killer (143). Quite clearly, this was a thrifty remedy that recycled a trade-related material rather than purchasing new ingredients from the apothecary. Significantly, it also suggests that this was an urban household with easy access to the tools of goldsmithing.
The Jacob family must have been well-connected to global trade, too. Another “receipt to kill lice” used “Endicockle berys from the Apothecarys”, which were to be powdered and strewn in the head (fol. 56).
Endicockle berries do not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary or in any books in the Historical Texts database. It was only when I looked up “fish berries,” mentioned in another remedy “For Scabs & lice in ye head” (Wellcome MS 635, 94), that I discovered they also went by the name Cocculus Indicus; endicockle, then, is a phonetic version of India Cockle berries. John Hill described the berry in A History of the Materia Medica (1751) noting that it was highly poisonous and came from Asia. It had been known for anti-lice properties in England since the late seventeenth century (504). The Jacob family benefited from their urban location in another way: an opportunity to learn about newly-imported global remedies.
The most effective remedy, both then and now, however, is the time-consuming process of combing and nitpicking; if catching lice is a mark of intimate relations, so too is this remedy. But it is not one found in a recipe book. The first time I discovered lice in my child’s hair, I combed and searched for over two hours. This was no mean feat with a wriggly small child. Subsequent combings have been shorter, but they take longer than a regular hair-brush. Often, she watches TV, but other times we chat.
Early modern images of nitpicking suggest a similar intimacy—the family grooming each other that Pinelli depicts or Piloty’s old woman examining the child’s head. During a lice infestation, it is, quite literally, all hands on deck (as Pinelli shows). The casual intimacy in the images is striking; the child leans against the woman’s legs, the husband places his head in his wife’s lap. Lice removal might be time-consuming, but the physical intimacy brings a pleasure of its own.
Or is that intimacy animal-like? Dogs often appear in images of delousing, blurring the animal and human worlds; indeed, lice itself blurred the two worlds. The natural rambunctiousness of small children is also, perhaps, animal-like. Piloty’s young boy plays with the puppy and eats a chunk of bread; the smallest child in Pinelli’s picture is chained to the wall, straining against confinement. This reflects a reality: small children have little patience for the process of nitpicking and need to be entertained or constrained. But it also places the children and their families close to the animal world.
The co-existence of lice and humans is intimate indeed—no wonder Burns’ louse was so bold. The experience of lice historically and today has many similarities. Sufferers still feel embarrassed, despite the commonness of the complaint, and we still try a range of remedies to poison or suffocate the vermin. Above all, the most effective method remains the same: physical removal of the crowlin ferlies. Family closeness is nice, but even nicer when the lice are gone.
Raber, Karen. Animal
Bodies, Renaissance Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
Sarasohn, Lisa. “The Microscopist & Voyeur: Margaret
Cavendish’s Critique of Experimental Philosopy,” pp. 77-100 in Sigrun Haude and
Melinda Zook (eds) Challenging
Orthodoxies: The Social and Cultural Worlds of Early Modern Women.
Farnham/Burlington: Ashgate, 2014.