January 2020: a Taste of “Before ‘Farm to Table'” Part IV

Dear Recipes Project community,

Happy 2020! This month we’ll mark the new year by highlighting some discoveries from the Before “Farm to Table”: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures project, a Mellon initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Several of this month’s posts feature products from the BFT team, all of which were featured on the Folger’s Shakespeare & Beyond blog. Produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library, Shakespeare & Beyond covers a wide range of Shakespeare-related topics: the early modern period in which he lived, the ways his plays have been interpreted and staged over the past four centuries, the enduring power of his characters and language, and more. The Recipes Project is delighted to partner with Shakespeare & Beyond as we explore recipes in Shakespeare’s world.

What can you expect to learn? In this post, Michael Walkden discusses early modern European ideas about mushrooms: edible or poisonous? Nutritive and tasty, or actually…the “excrements of the earth?”  

-The RP Editors
*****
“Excrements of the earth”: Mushrooms in early modern England

By 

Edmund Gayton, The art of longevity, or, A diæteticall instition (1659, call number: 156- 338q), Folger Shakespeare Library.
Edmund Gayton, The art of longevity, or, A diæteticall instition (1659, call number: 156- 338q), Folger Shakespeare Library.

From the full English breakfast to the chicken and mushroom pasty, the mushroom is a staple of modern British cuisine. In Shakespeare’s England, however, the edibility of mushrooms was considered by many to be an open question. Writing in the 1630s, the Bath physician Tobias Venner declared that:

“Many phantasticall people doe greatly delight to eat of the earthly excrescences called Mushrums; whereof some are venemous, and the best of them vnwholsome for meat: for they corrupt the humors, and giue to the bodie a phlegmaticke, earthie, and windie nourishment … Wherefore they are conuenient for no season, age, or temperature.”

Venner’s view of mushrooms represented the dietetic standard in early seventeenth-century England. The London doctor Stephen Bradwell likewise observed that “Some have (from strangers) taken up a foolish tricke of eating Mushroms or Toadstooles.” Bradwell’s advice to mushroom-eaters was unequivocal: “let them now be warned to cast them away; for the best Authors hold the best of them at all times in a degree venomous.”

This is not to say that no one in seventeenth-century England cooked or ate mushrooms. Manuscript recipe collections from the second half of the seventeenth century contain numerous recipes for pickling and preserving mushrooms. The printed cookbook of Sir Kenelm Digby, published after the Restoration, contains a recipe for “pickled champignons,” perhaps inspired by his time in Paris during the English Civil War. The recipe collection of Lady Grace Castleton, held in the Folger Shakespeare Library, includes a receipt “To dress mushrooms my Lord Digby’s way,” which, since it didn’t appear in the published edition, may have been communicated in person.

But Digby, a Catholic and royalist who had spent years in exile in Paris, was viewed by many English Protestants as a figurehead of foreign decadence and effete continental pretensions. The Anglican clergyman Alexander Ross even described the difference between himself and Digby as analogous to that “between solid wholesome meats, and a dish of frogs or mushrooms made savoury with French sauce.”

One obvious explanation for these hostile attitudes is that fungi can be notoriously treacherous as a source of food. Although most fruiting fungi are considered safe to eat, consuming the wrong kind can cause illness or even death – a fact that Shakespeare’s contemporaries knew all too well. “Who then that is wise,” asked Dr James Hart in 1633, “will venter on a doubtfull dish, when God of his infinite goodnesse hath affoorded us such plentie of profitable and pleasant food?”

The fear of accidental poisoning appears to have cast doubt over the nutritional value of mushrooms in general. The language used around mushrooms was often viscerally hostile, drawing upon images of filth and waste – several writers referred to them as “excrements of the earth.” Much was made of the fact that they grew in dark, moist places, and they were thought to be engendered by decaying vegetable matter: Bradwell viewed them as “a bundle of putrefaction, arising of a cold, moist, viscous matter of the Earth.”

Want to learn more about mushrooms in Shakespeare’s world? Read the rest of Michael’s post at Shakespeare & Beyond: https://shakespeareandbeyond.folger.edu/2019/08/20/mushrooms-in-early-modern-england-excrements-of-the-earth/#fungi

Visualizing the Plate: Reading Modernist Mexican Cuisine Through Colonial Botany

Lesley A. Wolff

Fig. 1: José Jernónimo Triana, Zamia muricate Willd, from J.C. Mutis, Drawings of the Royal Botanical Expedition to the New Kingdom of Granada (1783-1816), Royal Botanical Garden, Madrid.

The eighteenth century’s Age of Enlightenment signaled an era of standardization for the visual and textual colonial taxonomies of resources in the Americas. These illustrations were intended for export to European elites, many of whom would never touch foot in the Western hemisphere. In his late eighteenth century illustration of the species zamia, for example, José Jernónimo Triana showcased the rows of fleshy seeds hidden below leaves on the cusp of unraveling from the core (Fig. 1). Created for José Celestino Mutis’s Royal Botanical Expedition to the New Kingdom of Granada (1783-1816), this image and others like it (Figs. 2-3) appears at once orderly and geometric, a generalization of the species, with only minor imperfections providing specificity.

Fig. 2: José María Carbonell, Heliconia latispatha Benth, from J.C. Mutis, Drawings of the Royal Botanical Expedition to the New Kingdom of Granada (1783-1816), Royal Botanical Garden, Madrid.

These Enlightenment era illustrations, intended to train the European eye to “assess, possess, and order” the natural world of the Americas (Bleichmar 2009, 449), quietly espouse the slippery power of “visuality” (Mirzoeff 2011), in which the gaze is harnessed as a vehicle to control historical and social imaginaries. By demonstrating what we “know,” these illustrations also promote an amnesia of that which the Spanish empire does not want to remember. What at first glance appears to be an objective rendering of an indigenous cycad is instead a subjective, highly editorialized image that conflates stages of floral maturation and form (Bleichmar 2017, 146). Further, by extracting the species from its ecological context and setting it upon a bare, white background, Triana depicts the flora as nomadic, readily removed from its natural landscape and ripe for intellectual export to Spanish imperial stewardship. I suggest that the manner in which these imperial spectacles supplanted the realities of colonized lands and peoples have again today resurged in the zeitgeist by way of the scientific and objective knowledges that underscore global Modernist Cuisine.

Fig. 3: Francisco Javier Matis Mahecha, Brownea Rosa de Monte, from J.C. Mutis, Drawings of the Royal Botanical Expedition to the New Kingdom of Granada (1783-1816), Royal Botanical Garden, Madrid.

From the colonial era onward, Mexican cuisine has held a privileged place in the global and national imagination as a material signifier of the nation’s layered cultural past. In 2010, the nation’s foodways were declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Simultaneously, the new gastronomic guard of Modernist Cuisine took hold over restaurants across Mexico City. Most notably, chef Enrique Olvera’s modernist Mexican restaurant, Pujol, has been a consistent occupant on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants since its opening in 2000 and has launched Olvera into global fame as the ambassador of Mexican cuisine to the Western gastronomic consumer.

This modernist attention to the innovation and intellectualization of cuisine has led the popular media to ask, “Is food art?” This question signals a curiosity about the chef-artist as facilitator of emotive and intellectual experiences rather than, or in addition to, gustatory ones. We see Olvera couched within this discourse in television shows like Chef’s Table (Netflix 2016), which depicts Olvera crafting dishes to the tune of classical music, like a sculptor modeling a Neoclassical figure. This grappling with the “genius” of the chef, however, masks complex relationships between the plated dishes and the cuisine’s perceived value. Much like colonial botany, modern gastronomy is not only about the pleasures of the palate, but also about the production of cultural knowledge rooted in extraction and re-contextualization.

As defined by Nathan Myhrvold, Modernist Cuisine emerged out of the striving toward innovation, discovery, and revelation of the original modernist restaurant, elBulli, in Catalonia, Spain, where chef Ferran Adriá became known for translating cookery into “concepts” (Myhrvold 2011, 39). Myhrvold invokes the term “Modernist” to equate this cuisine with the avant-garde artists of 19th century Europe. This is an approach to foodways that purports to be about newness and “discovery.” Yet, these notions are as old and fraught as “modernity” itself and the violent power structures upon which today’s globalized world was built (see Mignolo 2011).

Although Pujol resides in Polanco, the most exclusive neighborhood in all of Mexico City, the chef roots his gastronomic narrative in the impoverished economy of means out of which Mexican cuisine evolved. In short, the visual program that underscores Olvera’s modernist culinary empire has been built on the idea, the imaginary, of Mexico City’s working class—a community and landscape to which Olvera purports to be our guide. In his 2015 cookbook Mexico from the Inside Out, Olvera juxtaposes photographs of his dishes with portrayals of Mexican street vendors and outdoor markets. The viewer oscillates between elegant, closely cropped views of Olvera’s compositions and vibrant scenes of Mexico City’s working-class neighborhoods. These photographs offer up Olvera’s dishes as specimens for study, much like those of Spanish scientific expeditions three hundred years earlier.

Fig. 4: Green Salsa Salad. From Enrique Olvera, Mexico From the Inside Out (London: Phaidon, 2015), page 44.

The Green Salsa Salad shows the plate from above, such that the composition appears to be an ecology, a world unto itself (Fig. 4). The individual ingredients that comprise the dish, such as cilantro, fried scallions, and purslane sprouts, make themselves known, but the internal cohesion among the items also exhibits careful, deliberate composure. Nothing appears too heavily manipulated—even the small dices of serrano chiles and onions can see be discerned cube by cube, and individual flakes of kosher salt sparkle atop the white plate—such that the viewer can recognize the dish as an amalgam of its discrete parts, parts that harken back to the foodstuffs sold at the informal, open-air markets sporadically pictured throughout the cookbook. Likewise, the Bass al Pastor (Fig. 5) as well as the Fried Pork Belly (Fig. 6) showcase a taxonomy of ingredients that, rather than being wholly new, actually draw upon the artifice of colonial order seen in the Royal Botanical Expedition’s illustrations with blank backgrounds, overhead vantage points, and recognizable parts that comprise the whole.

Fig. 5: Bass al Pastor. From Enrique Olvera, Mexico From the Inside Out (London: Phaidon, 2015), page 54.

There is a frankness to Olvera’s dishes and the illustrations alike that render them self-evident, as though the images have been presented to us at their most honest, most vulnerable, and therefore most knowable state. We feel a connection to the “discovery” of these specimens as the triumph of human mastery over nature. Thus, societal values and morals reside at the very heart of these seemingly scientific renderings, a testament to the oft-overlooked reality that if food is indeed art, then it, too, is equally as capable of shaping the “visuality” of our socio-historical gaze.  

Fig. 6: Fried Pork Belly, Smoked White Kidney Bean Puree, and Purslane Salad. From Enrique Olvera, Mexico From the Inside Out (London: Phaidon, 2015), page 52.

Soledad Acosta de Samper: Botany, Food, and Gender in 19th Century South America

Vanesa Miseres

Fig. 1. Daguerreotype of Soledad Acosta (1880).
Cultura Banco de la República de Colombia.

Soledad Acosta de Samper (1833-1913) was one of the most renowned South American writers of the 19th century and critical to the construction of gendered notions of national identity in South America.  She worked as a translator, journalist, and author and spent much of her life traveling between Colombia, Peru, and Europe.  What is most notable about her, however, was her work as scientist, historian and novelist, writing more 45 historical and costumbrista novels.  However, her writings on plants, food, and science have largely been underexplored. 

 

Acosta’s father, the historian, scientist, and patriot of independence Joaquín Acosta, influenced her interests in history and science. The two shared deep curiosity in charting a range of scientific and historical topics related to the natural history of Colombia. While serving in the Colombian army, the senior Acosta conducted a scientific, territorial survey of New Granada. In the 1840s, he explored the western regions from Antioquia to Anserma, writing on a wide range of topics that included topography, natural history, and the native peoples. Acosta and the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt maintained a long-term relationship, largely emanating from their mutual interest in mining in the Choco.

Fig. 2. Note where Humboldt includes Joaquín Acosta as one of his sources to create the “Carte hydrographique de la Province du Chocó […]” (Leitner, no pagination)

 

In Conversaciones y lecturas familiares of 1896, Soledad Acosta demonstrated her passion for and knowledge of botany by detailing the medical and alimentary uses of plants and exploring the native and imported flora of Colombia. As an adaptation of the Victorian educational Self Help genre, Acosta’s text is intended for women and it makes use of fiction to present readings and lessons in a rural setting. It is rooted in Colombia’s countryside. Acosta’s story takes place on a plantation where the landowning family entertains visits from a botanist and a priest who give lessons to the family’s children about science and religion. Some of the apprentices were young women who, under the tutelage of the male expert, engage in direct contact with scientific knowledge. During their walks on Sunday afternoons, they opened books from which they quote, and they repeat lessons from previous days. They also listened to and interact with topics such as the routes of tea from Asia to Europe, the origin of spices like pepper, vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg, the importance of climate in the Andes for the cultivation of potato and maize, and the life and contributions of Carl Linnaeus and his Systema Naturae. Moreover, their “conversations and readings” feature female scientists in Great Britain and the United States– Mariana North and Febe Lankester, among others–as sources of inspiration for young Colombian women (Briggs 140). Many of these passages were previously published in her journal El domingo de la familia Cristiana as articles under a section titled “Botanical Notions.”  

Fig. 3. Charles Linnè, A General System of Nature. Vol. V. London: Printed for Lackington, Allen & Co., 1806. DeB Eb 1806 L.

 

Fig. 4. Priscilla Wakefield. An Introduction to Botany, in a Series of Familiar Letters, with Illustrative Engravings. London, Printed by and for Darton and Harvey, 1807. Michigan State University Libraries.

Acosta’s exploration of botany can be seen as a result of a period in the early 19th century when the topic was thought to be a suitable study for young women in the higher social classes.  Across Europe and the United States, botany was taught in schools and it became an amateur avocation. As Ann Shteir has noted: “The simplicity of the Linnaean sexual system for naming and classifying plants” encourage women to collect, draw, study, and teach their children about flowers and vegetables (Shteir 29). British female writers including Elizabeth and Mary Fitton, Maria Elizabeth Jackson, Jane Marcet, and Priscilla Wakefield wrote books to introduce young women to the study of botany (Rudolph 1346). However, unlike Soledad Acosta, few women became professional botanists and institutions, in their attempt to “modernize” botany as a science at the end of the century, started excluding women from the field.

 

Fig. 5. Index of Acosta’s journal El domingo de la familia cristiana (1889) with botany lessons listed. Biblioteca Digital Soledad Acosta de Samper. Many of these passages were previously published in her journal El domingo de la familia Cristiana as articles under a section titled “Botanical Notions.”

Acosta favored women’s connection to science over a more domestic approach to studying foodstuff, unlike her contemporary Argentine writer Juana Manuela Gorriti. In 1890, Gorriti published Cocina ecléctica, a recipe book compiled from contributors—many of them celebrated women writers themselves—across Latin America and overseas. They shared family, regional, and European dishes creating a Pan-American community through food. Although Acosta included recipes in her journal La Familia, her goal was to educate women as housewives beyond the practical understanding of food manipulation, through the principles of science that are not from personal or anecdotal experience. It was, though, a restricted project, since it does not include lower-class women who, in Conversaciones y lecturas, are presented as servants, always preparing ajiaco and other regional plates while the landowners’ daughters immerse in botany.

 

Fig. 6. Soledad Acosta’s Journal La familia’s recipes section.

What is noteworthy is that Acosta’s references to vegetal foods and medicines did not incorporate South American indigenous culinary or healing practices. At a time when the continent was trying to “civilize” itself by following European patterns, her approach to plants through science represented a desired connection with “progress.” Although female cooks and healers were traditionally a mainstay of health in communities around the world, women with such skills, especially healers, were feared and perceived as witches or monsters. Therefore, Acosta’s botanical discourse to refer to natural foodstuff and remedies can be seen as a gendered strategy to write and publish from a safe and acceptable space. Soledad Acosta shows the importance of women’s education in science was a key aspect in the construction of a modern national identity of South American citizens.

Fig. 7. Botany Drawing by Soledad Acosta in El libro de los ensueños de amor, album composed with her husband José María Samper.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Acosta de Samper, Soledad. Complete works available at the recently inaugurated Soledad Acosta de Samper Digital Library (National Library of Colombia and Universidad de los Andes): http://soledadacosta.uniandes.edu.co

Alzate, Carolina. Soledad Acosta de Samper y el discurso letrado de género: 1853-1881. Iberoamericana, 2015.

Austin, Elisabeth. “Reading and Writing Juana Manuela Gorriti’s Cocina ecléctica: Modeling Multiplicity in Nineteenth-Century Domestic Narrative.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies, vol. 12, 2008, pp. 31-44.

Briggs, Ronald. The Moral Electricity Nineteenth-Century Nation Building and the Latin American Intellectual Tradition.

Burke, Janet and Ted Humphrey. “Soledad Acosta de Samper.” Nineteenth-Century Nation Building and the Latin American Intellectual Tradition. pp. 268-74.

Corpas, Isabel. Me he decidido a escribir todos los días: una biografía de Soledad Acosta de Samper, 1833-1913. Instituto Caro y Cuervo, 2018.

Leitner, Ulrike. “Sobre ríos y canales – Aspectos geográficos y cartográficos en el legado de Humboldt.”

http://www.hin-online.de/index.php/hin/rt/printerFriendly/251/466 Accessed on November 23, 2019.

Rudolph, Emanuel D. “Women in Nineteenth Century American Botany; A Generally Unrecognized Constituency.” American Journal of Botany, vol. 69, no. 8, Sep., 1982, pp. 1346-55.

Shteir, Ann B. “Gender and “Modern” Botany in Victorian England.”
 Osiris, vol. 12, Women, Gender, and Science: New Directions, 1997, pp. 29-38.

 

Very Frugal Ways to Cook Rice—Famine Prevention and Common Knowledge in Edo Japan

By Joshua Schlachet

If you’ve browsed The Recipes Project in the past several weeks, you may have raised an eyebrow at the unfamiliar black and white squiggles that decorate the top of our page (written, by the way, in a cursive form of premodern Japanese). As my October editorial duties slowly draw to a close, I couldn’t let the month go by without spoiling the mystery of this little recipe collection…of sorts…as economical in its prose as in its outlook.

Consisting of a single broadsheet (what you see above is the whole thing), Very Frugal Ways to Cook Rice (Daikenyaku meshi no takiyō), was likely produced around the time of Japan’s Great Tenpō Famine in the 1830s as a no-nonsense guide to help households squeeze a little more out of their staple grains. Rice prices could fluctuate wildly from season to season in time of scarcity, and to the extent that ordinary people could afford to eat (usually brown) rice at all, cutting it with cheaper vegetables and coarse grains became a strategy for survival.

Very Frugal Ways of Cooking Rice. Photo courtesy of the Waseda University Library Digital Collection of Historical Japanese Books.

Very Frugal Ways to Cook Rice was one of many vernacular publications—meant to help regular folks combat famine conditions—that circulated through the vibrant marketplace for commercial print during Japan’s Edo period (1600-1868). If it wasn’t given away for free, it was available for cheap, meaning a family could likely recoup what little they spent on the pamphlet itself in as little as a single meal. This was no small claim for those in need, and economizing became both a key premise in enduring food shortages and a central feature of every recipe listed here. 

What are the Very Frugal Ways to Cook Rice? The guide “instructs” readers on how to prepare rice seasoned and combined with a variety of inexpensive beans, roots, grains, and leaves, similar to the contemporary Japanese dish takikomi gohan. Each recipe indicates the proper proportions (five parts rice to four parts barley, for example) and basic directions for foods like barley, sweet potato, tofu lees, fava beans, millet, daikon radish, carrots, cow peas, red beans, as well as two kinds of “very economical” porridge that could stretch rice even further. Based on which ingredient one mixed in, a household could save a hefty thirty to eighty mon (a common denomination of copper coinage) on ten portions, a significant sum worth as much as $10 to $25 in today’s currency.

Contemporary image of Japanese mixed, seasoned rice (takikomi gohan). Photo courtesy of Ajinomoto Park.

Yet one thing continues to bug me about these very frugal recipes: why go through the trouble to teach people what they already knew? The directions themselves are so simple and intuitive as to border on obvious: cook beans, mix with rice; cut potatoes into chunks, mix with rice; boil leaves, season, mix. What’s more, families likely prepared such dishes in their homes already, making Very Frugal Ways redundant knowledge that didn’t bear repeating. Barring anything earth shattering within the recipes themselves, communicating frugality was itself the point. In a society where rice was not only the staple food but the basic unit of taxation and exchange, where running out signaled destitution, economizing as a lesson was worth reproducing the same old recipes, even if everyone already knew what was on the menu.