Category Archives: Modern

The CIA’s “Secret” Weapon: Dorothy Pompeo’s Christmas Fudge Recipe

By Jennifer Sherman Roberts

Twitter is a funny, messy place where topics and tropes wantonly mingle and merge. Memes about Tide pods follow presidential proclamations. Rankings of Very Good Dogs scroll alongside obituaries.

And sometimes you can go to Twitter for updates on twenty-first-century American politics and find modern-day illustrations of your-seventeenth-century English research interests. Or at least I did when following a tweet thread from Benjamin Wittes (Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed Lawfare blog): between intergovernmental document requests, I found the kind of cultural exchange of recipes that fascinates me.

In the Lawfare blog post, Wittes explains he had heard rumors that a 2017 holiday message from CIA director Mike Pompeo was divisive, “inappropriately political and exclusionary.” He filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see the message and wrote a post about it (as he does with all FOIA requests he makes).

A month later, before he could hear back about his FOIA request, Wittes received a letter from Pompeo himself. Enclosed was a copy of the holiday message to the CIA and a letter from Pompeo with this closing:

We both agree that our country is facing some of the most complex national security challenges in history and that we all benefit if we work jointly to promote American national security, even if we disagree on the best way forward. It is unfortunate, indeed sad, that you chose to publicly cast doubt on our team without so much as the courtesy of a simple phone call that could well have answered your ‘question.’ You should have been better than that, Ben.

And then, incongruently (as least to me):

I hope, too, that you will try the fudge recipe that I also included in the workforce message. It is my mother’s recipe and she loved that others enjoyed it during the holiday season.

As you can see in the document embedded in the post, the recipe itself is a little ho-hum (apologies to Dorothy Pompeo)—it is almost identical recipe to one found on the back of jars of marshmallow fluff.

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Good Housekeeping, December 1962 – Vol. 155 No. 6 Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/29069717@N02/14805648958

This is not to say, however, that the recipe is presented as generic—it is printed on holiday paper, highlights pictures of the Pompeo family (including the dog) attempting the recipe, and adds a little history of Pompeo’s mother, Dorothy.

Despite its lackluster provenance, the recipe’s title trumpets this recipe as “secret,” a now clichéd way of lending a recipe authenticity and value. The recipe is framed as not just a postscript, but a valuable gift.

Many scholars, notably Amanda Herbert, have pointed out the use of recipes to create alliances and cement bonds of friendship. Herbert discusses women’s social networks in the seventeenth-century, but similar kinds of dynamics seem to be at play in this exchange between twenty-first-century men: the written recipe as means of cultural exchange and the reliance on ethos of the recipe’s author (Mike’s mother, presumably invoking tradition and welcome).

As Amy Tigner and Allison Carruth note in their examination of a recipe by Lady Ann Fanshawe for drinking chocolate and its colonial legacy, “this fundamentally literary act points first to collective memory, and then, to the act of exchange. The receipt/recipe is a medium of transmission that represents a sense of community networked in ever-widening circles.”

Is this recipe for fudge, then, a gift, an olive branch of sorts from Pompeo to Wittes? An attempt to create an alliance across political difference in a fractured and contentious American moment?

Or is this gift of a mother’s fudge recipe a performance, a sort of folksy, downhome counterstrike meant to evoke human exchange over legal maneuvering?

Wittes himself is noncommittal. He grants that the holiday message “contains nothing objectionable,” but says,

As to Pompeo’s accusation about me, I post all of my FOIA requests and will continue to do so. I will also always post all responses I get to them—whether they support, or, as in this case, refute the premises that led me to submit them.

I look forward to trying his mother’s fudge recipe.

Before he could get around to it, however, an associate of his, Shannon Togawa Mercer, managing editor of Lawfare blog, tried the recipe with happy results.

In this one unexpected exchange run many themes familiar to those who study recipes:

  • Recipes as gift exchange
  • Recipes that establish bonds and forge connections
  • Claims of “secret” recipes
  • Documenting the recreation of recipes
  • Recipes as historical/familial archive.

This window into government and intelligence-communities also shows that recipes retain enormous cultural capital and can both convey meaning and actively form bonds.

They say politics makes strange bedfellows. Apparently, politics also makes strange kitchen-mates.

Nursing and Nutrition: Treating the Influenza in 1918-9

By Ida Milne

Monster representing the influenza virus. E. Noble, c. 1918. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

This season’s higher than normal influenza cases has inevitably drawn comparisons with the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, the worst in modern history.  It killed more than 40 million people, according  to the World Health Organisation.  It punctured medical doctors’ newfound confidence in the power of bacteriology to fight infectious disease. In Ireland, it killed at least 23,000 people (the number of certified deaths from influenza and excess pneumonia) and infected about 800,000 people, one fifth of the population. Entire communities fell silent as it passed through.

Laboratories churned out vaccines, but the general consensus was these vaccines, made from bacteria suspected to cause influenza like illness such as Pfeiffer’s bacillus (haemophilus influenza), were ineffective.   Physicians threw everything in their medical bag at it, trying desperately, and in vain,  to find a cure for a disease they found baffling. Ultimately, doctors came to realise that the most effective treatment was good nursing – which included nutritious food – and strong liquor.

From a school journal The Clongownian, 1919. By kind permission of the editor, Declan O’Keeffe.

There was little consensus amongst the medical profession on what medicine worked best. Some suggested quinine and grains of aspirin to reduce fever and grains of opium for sleeplessness.  Calomel (mercurous chloride)  was liberally prescribed, as doctors then were very keen on keeping the bowels open.  Strychnine, which we tend to view now as the villain’s poison of choice in James Bond movies, was injected as a stimulant.

D.W. McNamara, a young house doctor in Dublin’s Mater Hospital during the crisis, later wrote that one of the popular treatments in the hospital was an injection of camphor in olive oil, which he described as ‘the very nadir of therapeutic bolony’. Instructed by his seniors to use it, he felt guilty that he had inflicted further pain and suffering on the very ill.  Some doctors, especially his older colleagues, favoured brandy or whiskey ‘in heroic doses’.  Alcohol had, he considered, a good deal to recommend it, as it was ‘probably no less worthless than any of the other nostrums, and at least its customers had a merry spin to Paradise’.

The demand for whiskey was so strong that some flu-stricken communities wrote to the Chief Secretary’s office to see what could be done to improve supplies. Non-prescription medicines were in high demand. As well as compounding regular medicines, pharmacists worked long hours to prepare huge quantities of tonics, cough medicines and poultices. The poultices were usually a mixture of boiling water and ground linseed, reputed to aid decongestion, enclosed in cloth and placed on the chest or throat.[1]

Journalists passed on tips on cures to their readership. The Irish Independent related that Major R. T. Herron, Medical Officer, Armagh Union infirmary, had suggested gargling with a solution of permanganate of potash as a useful preventive measure. Sir R. Winfrey, MP, a qualified chemist, recommended a prescription of thirty drops pure creosote, half-ounce rectified spirit, three-quarter ounce liquid extract of liquorice, two drachms salicylate of soda and twelve ounces of water, with the recommended adult dosage of two tablespoonfuls three times daily.[2]

While good nursing with bed rest, plenty of liquids and nourishing food offered a better chance of survival than medication, this was not always possible when every member of the family was sick. In some areas, the Women’s National Health Association, the St Vincent de Paul and neighbours set up community nursing schemes and community kitchens to cook and deliver nourishing soups and stews to those too weak to care for themselves. Local farmers often donated vegetables and meat.

Sinn Féin’s Dr Kathleen Lynn, who opened a hospital to treat influenza sufferers and vaccinate people, suggested that sufferers should be given milk, barley water and egg flip, while those in good health ought to fortify themselves with butter, eggs, fresh meat, vegetables and porridge.

Many newspapers reported that people were carrying handkerchiefs doused in eucalyptus oil in front of their mouths as a preventive measure.  Macnamara considered this practice about as effective against influenza as ‘a black beetle would be to halt a steamroller.’

Advertisement in Abel Heywood and Son’s Influenza: Its cause, cure and prevention, 1902. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Beef extracts Bovril and Oxo were in heavy demand, and production was sometimes halted when they ran out of bottles when sales went up. Beef extract or tea was understood to strengthen the body as a defence against infection. Goodbody’s Flour Mills in Clara, Co Offaly supplied Bovril to their 300-strong workforce  during the pandemic.

Manufacturers changed their regular advertising to offer their product as a useful treatment. Readers of the Enniscorthy Guardian were urged to ‘pour a little Cousin’s lemonade into a saucepan and warm it, to provide the perfect drink for influenza sufferers.’ A pharmacist in Gorey, Co Wexford, advertised his cod liver oil emulsion as offering  protection from influenza.  Purveyors of snake oils – the cure-all nostrums – swiftly added curing influenza to their list. Such claims preyed on the general fears created by an untreatable mass disease.

The use of whiskey as a treatment crops up frequently in written records and oral histories I captured from survivors or families of sufferers. Raphael Sieve, whose family lived in south Dublin at the time, told me that his father kept his teenage brother constantly mildly drunk with whiskey at the time, until he pulled through. When I presented this idea in a paper, a medical doctor suggested that there might be good science behind it.  He said that the reason that young healthy adults may have suffered more than normally in this flu was because of cytokine storms, where the immune system overreacts. He thought that small regular doses of whiskey might help prevent this.

One survivor I interviewed, Tommy Christian, from Boston, Co Kildare, was administered gruel, a type of watery porridge, which he said ‘had an awful lot of responsibilities’, a hint perhaps that it was intended to open his bowels. His family put a poultice made of linseeds and hot water wrapped in cotton on his chest, another common treatment. Tommy had his first taste of whiskey, in a hot toddy – made from sugar, whiskey and hot water – as that five-year old flu sufferer, a taste he said he continued to enjoy for the rest of his life.  Despite being extremely ill in 1919, he lived to his 99th year. Proof that the old remedies can sometimes be best?

Editor’s Note: Ida Milne’s book on the influenza epidemic in Ireland comes out in May 2018 and can be ordered through Manchester University Press.

[1] Telephone communication with a family member of Phillip Brady, who worked as a pharmacist at Kelly’s Corner, Dublin, during the epidemic; further details with author.

[2] Irish Independent, 4 March 1919.

Cookbooks, nationalism and gastronationalism

By Venetia Congdon, Astra Spalvena, Dominika Zagrodzka

This post is part of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) series “Summer University on Food and Drink Studies”

Few of us anticipated the extraordinary week we spent in Tours for the IEHCA’s Summer School on Food and Drink. It broadened our minds and made us aware of the many subjects of research in food studies today. Here, the authors would like to discuss a common theme of their research: the relationship between cookbooks and nationalism. Venetia Congdon researches the role of food in the contemporary Catalan nationalist and secessionist movement. Astra Spalvena studies Latvian cookbooks; from the first compilations of translated recipes published in 1795 to the coffee-table books of 2012. Dominika Zagrodzka researches Polish culinary tourism and food as cultural heritage.

Nationalism has once again come to the forefront of world politics, demonstrating its enduring power as an ideology. Cultural manifestations of the nation, including food and drink, take on new and increasingly important meanings. As everyday objects, they are tools through which to express and channel complex ideas about nationhood in a simple, relatable way.

La Cuynera Catalana

Since the inception of contemporary Catalan nationalism in the nineteenth century, cookbooks have played a role in the movement. The first explicitly Catalan cookbook was La Cuynera Catalana (Anonymous, 1833-35), contemporaneous with the beginnings of the Catalan literary resurgence. The next significant cookbook was La Cuyna Catalana, in 1907, by Josep Conill de Bosch. Its introduction makes it clear that the premise for the cookbook was world domination. Good food eaten with pleasure, leads to better digestion, and stronger people. In 1928, an even more obviously nationalist cookbook appeared, the Llibre de Cuina Catalana, by Ferran Agulló. Agulló was a politician and journalist, who made a still-famous statement in this work: “Catalonia, just as it has a language, a right, customs, its own history and a political ideal, so it has a cuisine”. So, by the 1930s, cuisine (and cookbooks) were clear standard-bearers of Catalanism, though the hardships of Civil War, and Franco’s anti-Catalan policies affected Catalan cuisine. However, Franco-era cookbooks were places where sentiments of Catalan difference could be covertly expressed. Today, cookbooks are part of a large market of books on Catalan culture, which has grown in the last few years in response to the pro-independence movement.

The Kaucminde School, from “The Work of Kaucminde Alumnae 1925 – 1938”

Latvian cuisine evolved as an interaction between Latvian peasant food and gastronomic traditions of Baltic German manors. The crucial point in the formation of a national cuisine was the 1930s when endeavours to strengthen Latvian national identity involved also reflection on culinary heritage and its use in modern world. Favourable social and economic conditions encouraged cookbook publishers to focus not only on modernization but also on nationalism. The nationalistic politics of president Karlis Ulmanis’s authoritative regime (1934-1940) was a further spur. In a time of economic growth when the newly-evolved middle-class demanded new living standards, Latvian national cuisine was localised in the renowned school of home economics Kaucminde, whose students continued to educate the nation at large: writing modern cookbooks, publishing recipes in magazines, organizing seminars, travelling across the countryside to popularize contemporary household management, and systematizing culinary knowledge. The cookbooks of the 1930s emphasized the use of local products, the modernization of local culinary habits, and modern nutritional science. Rational and practical approaches to nourishment dominated over the excesses and luxury of the past. This nutritional approach became a good basis on which Soviet ideologists, following Latvia’s occupation after World War II, started to develop Soviet cuisine. However, Latvian national food and cookbooks of the 1930s experienced a renaissance after the state regained independence in 1990. 

Kaucminde Christmas table. Illustration from “The Work of Kaucminde Alumnae 1925 – 1938”

The oldest Polish cookbook is Compendium ferculorum by Stanislav Czerniecki (1682), a book for professionals. The recipes provide a perfect example of how rich Polish people ate in the 17th century, characterised by plenty of spices, sweet and sour flavourings, and attractive presentation. The author was inspired by both French cooks and local ingredients. The next national cookbook to appear was Wojciech Wieladko’s Excellent Cook (1786). The recipes were simpler, based on French La cuisinière bourgeoise by Menon (1746). In 19th century, there were many cooking guides written by women for women. The most popular were by Lucyna Ćwierczakiewicz and Karolina Nakwaska. The  20th century was characterised by eating cheap, quick and healthy food. As in Latvia, Soviet ideologists also encouraged this. After the political and social transformation of 1989, Poles were impressed by food from other cultures, but have since revalued their culinary heritage. Modern chefs are interested in restoring old tastes and reviving culinary heritage, for instance Maciej Nowicki’s work at the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace in Wilanów, involving the reproduction of recipes from Compendium ferculorum and cultivating heritage vegetables.

As anthropologist  Arjun Appadurai has pointed out, cookbooks tell unusual tales in complex civilizations. Cookbooks, and the cuisines they represent, are often means for government actors seeking to assert a particular worldview. Yet they are also the representation of grass roots initiatives, such as the first Catalan cookbook, and the Latvian Kaucminde. They are educational tools, for bettering the health of the nation. And finally, today, they are connections with a national past, and objects of global consumerism.

Venetia Congdon completed her doctorate in Anthropology at the University of Oxford in 2015. For her thesis, she studied how Catalans use food to express national identity. She is currently a post-doctoral research associate with the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include the intersections between national identity and cuisine, and the lived reality of nationalist movements in Europe.

Astra Spalvena is a lecturer at “RISEBA” University of Business, Arts and Technology in Riga, Latvia. She teaches courses on Media Semiotics and Food Advertising among others. She defended her PhD on historical and cultural aspects of Latvian food. Currently Astra studies the history of Latvian cookbooks with a focus on reflections of ideological dimensions and power structures. Another area of her research is Soviet cuisine and especially the role of public catering in imposing soviet ideology on territories incorporated into the Soviet Union after World War II.

Dominika Zagrodzka is a doctoral student in Cultural Science on Faculty of Philology of the Silesian University. She also graduated in Political Science on Faculty of Social Sciences. She is interested in food studies and has attended many conferences on the topic. She conducts researches on Polish contemporary food culture. Her thesis is about food as cultural heritage in Polish culture. She plans to create an academic magazine about anthropology of food.

‘When will France learn…?’: champagne as a dinner wine, 1850-1900

By Graham Harding (Oxford)

This post is part of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) series “Summer University on Food and Drink Studies”

‘When will France […] learn that champagne should be drunk with roast meat and not introduced as an incubus after dinner’ demanded a letter in The Times in September 1860. The writer was reflecting the growing trend amongst middle and upper-class households in Britain to serve champagne not as a sweet wine to start or end the meal but as an increasingly dry wine that was taken either between courses or with the main meat dishes. Advertisements in the British press for ‘dinner champagne’ rose from around twenty in 1850-59 to nearly 400 in the decade 1870-79. By the mid-1880s a French wine merchant was complaining of the ‘tendency of men of the new generation to make champagne […] their sole drink at every meal. Fifteen years later in 1899, the wine writer Louis Feuerheerd reiterated his objections to this ‘fashionable’ practice on the grounds that ‘champagne does not go with everything’.

Wachter ad and label. The Globe, 5 August 1880, p. 8

So what drove this change and what were the implications for the dinner table? In essence, the pursuit of status drove the change and the consequence was a decided shift in the style of nineteenth-century champagne that was unique to Britain.

The habit of drinking a heavily fortified, dry still white wine from the Champagne region of Sillery was common amongst aristocratic men in the 1820s and 1830s. The new-fangled sparkling champagne was taken up by younger elite men in the 1850s as the fashionable drink in London clubs and military messes. Then middle-class households aspiring to gentility took up the champagne habit to demonstrate their wealth and sophistication. As the gourmandizing barrister A. V. Kirwan observed in 1864, ‘everyone in England tries to ape the class two or three degrees above him in point of rank and fortune, in style of living, and manner of receiving his friends’. Champagne became a dinner table must, even if it meant eking out one bottle round a crowded dinner table. The press publicity given to the Prince of Wales’ taste for dry champagne in the 1860s and his habit of champagne-only dinners in 1886 only strengthened the social value in serving branded dry champagnes.

Champagne’s role at the dinner table was further enhanced with the switch from service à la française to service à la russe that took place between 1850 and 1880. The à la russe style prioritised diners as ‘audience’ for a pre-conceived meal orchestrated by the hostess’ servants, rather than as ‘participants’ (to use Cathy Kaufman’s terminology) who chose their own meal from a range of possible dishes. This shift contributed both to the increasingly ordered matching of wine to food. Sweet champagne simply did not work with meat dishes and ‘sour sauces’. The British taste for champagne moved decisively to drier wines. By the late 1860s, premium brands such as Pol Roger and Pommery were shipping wines with only 2-4 grams of sugar per litre into the British market compared with 20-40 grams in wines for France, Germany and Russia.

Not all hosts succumbed to the allure of champagne. Some continued to match the soup with a glass of sherry and the fish course with German white wine before offering a choice of Burgundy or champagne with the roast dishes. Crucially, of these, champagne was the only wine that was not decanted and thus the only wine whose brand name could be seen by the guests and whose price was therefore generally known.

Champagne proclaimed status and sophistication. The Victorians believed that to like – even to tolerate very dry champagne – demanded that the drinker start young and drink often. That meant those born to wealth and privilege. Merchants, who made their money later in life, were assumed to prefer slightly sweeter wine. But the British taste for very dry wine was vaunted as a rare marker of British culinary superiority. As a contributor to the influential Saturday Review put it in 1879, ‘for once the English have been more intelligent in a matter relating to the table than the French, and […] it is in their appreciation of champagne that they have achieved this solitary triumph’. Not a bad triumph…

Graham Harding returned to the study of history after a career spent in publishing, advertising and marketing. Having completed an M Phil in Cambridge, he is now a final-year D Phil student at St Cross College, Oxford. He has written several books including The Wine Miscellany (2005). More recently he has published on champagne, on the nature of connoisseurship in wine in the nineteenth century and on the nineteenth-century wine trade.