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Shopping for Recipes in Early Modern London… Virtually

By Melissa Reynolds

Within just a few decades after William Caxton brought the printing press to England in 1476, Londoners had their choice of printed collections of medical recipes, herbal lore, instructions for distillation, and surgical instruction. Most of these editions were printed versions of texts that had been popular in Middle English manuscript collections, and printers did their best to choose from among these handwritten collections to produce printed editions that were better organized or more comprehensive.

Between 1525 and 1526 the printer Richard Banckes produced a suite of medical books, each of them sourced from Middle English manuscripts. Banckes’s medical books were the first of their kind printed in English: a medical recipe collection, known as The Treasure of Pore Men, with remedies collected from a number of manuscript collections; an herbal, known as The virtues & properties of herbs, based on the Middle English Agnus castus; and a uroscopy treatise known as The seynge of urynes, which was probably based on British Library MS Sloane 382, a manuscript created around 1450. In other words, the volumes that Banckes printed in the mid-1520s contained medical knowledge that had been widely read in England for a century or more.

But in print, century-old remedies were hugely popular. Banckes’s herbal and remedy collection were best-sellers among English readers. After Banckes left the printing trade in the late 1520s, rival printers began printing their own editions of his medical texts. By 1550, thirteen different editions of Banckes’s herbal had been issued by nine different printers. The same was true of a most printed medical collections.  By 1550, the London book market was glutted with reprints of the same remedy collections and herbal treatises, most of them sourced from manuscripts that were also still in circulation. 

So how did early modern readers decide on which recipes to read?

As scholars of recipe knowledge, we presume that our historical subjects were interested readers—that is, that they had a vested interest in assessing the value of the recipes or remedies that passed through their hands. Given the sheer number of recipe collections, herbals, and surgical collections on offer in what was a largely unregulated market, I imagined sixteenth-century London as the perfect environment for English consumers to begin honing their critical faculties, selecting from among dozens of inexpensive printed remedy books. For a few pennies, these readers could access a wealth of knowledge that had previously only circulated in manuscript. But for them to become discerning readers, they would need to be aware that choices could be made.

Though in the later sixteenth century, London’s booksellers would crowd the alleys around St. Paul’s Cathedral, this was not yet the case in the first half of the sixteenth century. With bookshops scattered throughout the old city, were sixteenth-century consumers really able to compare editions or locate the best prices? Could they hope to visit more than one or two shops in a single outing? 

The GoogleMyMaps above developed as an answer to those questions. It features the locations of English bookshops in London between 1525 and 1555, divided up by decade. In what follows, I’ll briefly describe the process of creating it, not because I think others will have the same questions about recipe shopping in London, but because creating a historical map to understand the circulation of recipe knowledge or material texts could be useful in a variety of classroom settings.

GoogleMyMaps is a totally free platform that will work for anyone with a Google account. Get started by visiting mymaps.google.com and clicking “Create A New Map.” Creating a personalized map is as easy as clicking the map to plot a location and then labeling it—at least, it’s that easy if you’re dealing with locations that actually exist on a contemporary Google map.

To create my map of early sixteenth-century locations, I couldn’t find Wynkyn de Worde’s shop at “the sign of the Sun” in twenty-first century London. Though printers’ colophons do include information on their shops’ locations, those locations are only described in relation to other sixteenth-century landmarks like churches or bridges. To find the print shops, I would need to find those landmarks on a sixteenth-century map. And luckily, I knew of one I could search: the Map of Early Modern London.

A nineteenth-century reproduction of the “Agas Map” of London, a woodcut map created in the 1560s and digitally annotated by the Map of Early Modern Project.

The amazing team at the MoEML project has digitally annotated the “Agas Map,” a woodcut map of London created sometime in the 1560s, so that a user can search for churches, parishes, alehouses, bridges, streets, prisons, playhouses, and almost everything in between. With the help of the Agas Map, I was able to find St. Dunstone’s church, which is where first Robert Redman, then William Middleton, then William Powell had their shops at the “sign of the George.”

For the most part, once I found a church on the Agas Map, I was able to find the same church on the contemporary Google Map. In some instances, I did my best to approximate a print shop’s location using street names on the Agas Map cross-referenced with modern streets in London. Because I had already carefully read the colophons of a number of early printed books and compiled a list of their locations, the production of my personalized Google map only took a few hours, and they were hours well spent. The exercise of searching the Agas Map and plotting early modern locations onto the streets of modern London gave me a much better sense of the early modern city I study, one which I’d never quite been able to visualize without buses or tube lines or high-rises crowding my mental picture. I felt I could really picture my sixteenth-century consumers, walking Fleet Street from one shop to another, looking for an herbal or remedy collection.

Google MyMaps are an easy, free, and accessible way for students to start to think concretely about the circulation of recipe knowledge, whether in early modern printed books, or among a network of friends or family, or as a collection of ingredients sourced from around the world. In my case, creating my personal Google map did help me to better conceive of the choices English consumers made about which books to buy. And for those of you interested in early English print, I hope you’ll find the map useful for research, too, whether inside or outside the classroom.

Teaching Through Virtual Cooking Demonstrations

By Sarah Peters Kernan

As we continue to negotiate the use of virtual, hybrid, and in-person teaching methods, I offer a reflection on my recent experiences teaching through virtual cooking demonstrations and workshops. I began leading live historical cooking workshops at the Newberry Library via Zoom in the summer of 2020 when the pandemic forced my planned in-person demonstration to a virtual one. I have regularly offered workshops and cook-a-longs since then, teaching continuing education students interested in food and history. Cooking is an outstanding way to draw people into new ideas, topics, and areas of study; this is what makes the preparation of food a useful tool to teach and to research. It is also no surprise to the Recipes Project community that this type of activity complements traditional lectures, virtual and in-person transcription activities, classroom website creation, and other in-person modules on recipes.

This year, I have been asked to speak to several academic audiences about my experiences with virtual cooking workshops, discussing the benefits and drawbacks to the exercise, as well as providing step-by-step tutorials for designing workshops. I hope that providing some of this information here will serve as a helpful starting place for anyone interested in using this model as part of their own courses, or for those interested in trying out in-person demonstrations or workshops in a virtual format.

The author teaching in a virtual cooking demonstration.

In my demonstrations, I do not exactly replicate historical recipes. I do not have the kitchen for it and I do not always have the accurate historical ingredients. I do, however, try to make recipes accessible modern home cooks and kitchens. This method of adaptation rather than exact replication in the cooking process is also an incredibly useful way to interest my students in my own area of research: medieval and early modern cookbooks. Together we can discuss and negotiate what are appropriate changes to make to a recipe and why, and how this compares to the adaptations a medieval or early modern cook might make to a recipe.

Additionally, the more I have presented cooking demonstrations, the more I have come to view the exercise of preparing historic recipes as akin to codicology, bibliography, and other hands-on studies of material books, the other methods of research in which I received more formal training. Cooking historical recipes, however imperfect the process is in a modern kitchen, is one way, and an important way, to teach history, buttress other research methods, and unearth new topics of inquiry. For students, learning that cooking can be a research methodology is an empowering realization, as they usually have some kind of background in preparing food, however limited that might be.

Obviously, I’m not the only one interested in this way of incorporating “creation” into teaching and scholarship: several major projects, like EatMediveal and the Making & Knowing Project, have hinged upon the ways in which performative labor and the creative act is important for understanding a recipe or manuscript. By creating, the product of the recipe is no longer ephemeral. It actually exists and can be studied in a different way than just the recipe text or another historical document or object.

I enjoy incorporating cooking in my teaching because performing or cooking a recipe creates another layer of information that you would not otherwise access by reading and imagining a recipe. That is, the physicality, however temporary, of preparing the recipe, of smelling the ingredients and final dish, and of tasting it, provides a different layer of knowledge than considering it intellectually. Additionally, preparing a historic recipe reveals that there is so much more labor at every stage of the cooking process. This helps students envision how much time was spent by a housewife, cook, or entire kitchen staff preparing food. And finally, the sensory experiences, primarily the smells and tastes, not only provide a helpful historical backdrop, but also make points about the tastes and preferences of consumers.

Why does all this information that comes through a cooking demonstration matter? What can this possibly impart for students, particularly those in a general course? First, it can assist in the understanding of motivations for events, like the global medieval spice trade or the rapid establishment of the colonial sugar industry. If such a large number of recipes reflect the same spices or sugar, you can quickly identify broad historical trends. It is easy to grasp this by smelling and tasting, then move onto the critical work of considering texts and data. Second, students quickly understand the desire for technological changes in the kitchen after experiencing the physicality of cooking. My students and I have the luxury of cooking without open flames and with amenities like refrigeration and appliances. Still, it is easy to imagine in the most modern setting how destructive and dangerous an earlier kitchen might be. The fire, smoke, and embers, no matter how careful you are, can be destructive for you, buildings, parchment and paper recipes, especially if you have to stand close to turn a spit or simply stir a pot. Experiencing the cooking of this period will make you understand how much food needed to be cut, chopped, or minced. Trying to complete some of this work with a small mortar and pestle hammers home the physical toll kitchen laborers experienced.

The author teaching in a virtual cooking demonstration. Photo by Thomas Kernan.

Teaching through cooking demonstrations is a very different experience than lecturing or leading a seminar. Cooking as teaching, in both a practical and performative way, requires different preparation and instincts. In contrast to my strict outlines and detailed PowerPoints for traditional lectures, I have loose lists of things to discuss while cooking, whenever I have time during the process. I also have to think about what the students can see of me and the food, and I have to describe other sensory aspects they cannot sense through Zoom. I have to elaborate on the process itself, noting the steps students and participants must take to get their oven or stove ready, how to chop ingredients, and in many instances, the differences between what we are doing that day and what would have been done a few hundred years ago.

Virtual cooking demonstrations are not without drawbacks, however. Just as a lecture or seminar on Zoom can be difficult to facilitate, ensuring that students feel welcome and are able to easily ask questions can be challenging. While Zoom can feel like a silent, black hole at times, I have found that the demonstrations come alive in a way that I don’t normally experience in other online meeting settings. For example, when participants have questions and I can hear the clanging of their pots and pans, or they want to check their sensory cues against mine to compare our processes, or verify information about certain ingredients. Using a virtual platform means that I can get right up to the camera and show them something like grains of paradise or blade mace up close, so while they cannot smell or taste it, they are able to see it in a way that might be otherwise difficult. Other logistical hurdles can arise, like ensuring students have access to the right equipment and ingredients, that you have a high-quality audio feed, and you do not let a pot boil over on live video, but those issues can be addressed with thorough planning and practice.

That planning and practice is paramount to a successful cooking demonstration in any teaching setting, whether in-person or virtual. Unfortunately, there is not enough space here to provide a full tutorial for designing a cooking demonstration, but for anyone interested in crafting a demonstration for a preexisting class or as a standalone workshop, I have created an infographic below to help you get started. It provides an overview of the design process, logistical parameters, and the long and short term preparations.

Virtual cooking demonstrations are a useful teaching method that can stand alone as a distinct workshop, or can be integrated into virtual, hybrid, or in-person classes. The setting is an engaging and creative place to teach.

 

 

A ‘recipe’ for chocolate on a 19th-century cup

Porcelain chocolate cup, saucer and lid set created in Paris for the Ottoman market and marked in red overglaze, 19th century, Oriental Museum, Durham University. Image courtesy of the author.

By Frederick Fossey-Warren

This porcelain hot chocolate cup from the early 19th century seems decidedly Ottoman. Gilded with gold and over-glazed with an intricate red pattern, the cup is designed to follow the “Egyptian style” that proved immensely popular with colonial Ottoman officials at the turn of the century. In fact the cup is so extravagant that it’s possible it was never actually intended for use, but purchased as a display piece, a succinct symbol of both status and wealth, by a member of the Ottoman elite.

Given its appearance, one could reasonably expect to trace the cup’s origins to a Turkish city such as Istanbul or Ankara. Upon closer inspection, however, the presence of different languages written onto the cup complicate its provenance. While the cup was bought and sold in the Ottoman Empire, its origins lie elsewhere. In fact, the cup was constructed in none other than…Paris? So, how did we get here?

After its arrival in the so-called “Old World” in the early 16th century, chocolate slowly but surely became a new court favourite across Europe and, by the end of the 17th century, had become a mainstay in aristocratic circles. It wasn’t long before chocolate began to spread into Asia and Africa, truly becoming one of the world’s first global commodities. As in Europe, given its scarcity and price, in the Ottoman Empire chocolate was initially largely restricted to the nobility, as much a status symbol as a foodstuff.

Initially enjoyed primarily as a drink, chocolate was seen as not only a nourishing treat, but a superfood, a sobering source of energy able to cure or prevent most common ailments. Many saw potential in its import as a commodity, and through its arrival it often contributed to the development of industry and revenue. Given its initial scarcity – chocolate had to be harvested in the Americas, loaded onto ships, and sailed across the Atlantic in a journey that routinely lasted three months – chocolate stayed in high demand, and markets soon opened not just for cacao, but for chocolate ‘accessories.’ These included such objects as chocolatera for dissolving together chocolate paste and sugar, molinillo for frothing hot chocolate, and, of course, cups for drinking, which brings us back to our porcelain cup.

When people consider the movement of luxury goods in the long nineteenth century, it is often taken for granted or assumed that goods primarily moved out of the peripheries of Africa, Asia and the Americas, and into the imperial core of Western Europe. This cup, however, challenges this understanding. From the date and manufacturers mark on the underside of the object, we can tell that this cup, saucer and lid collection was constructed in Paris in 1809. Given its design, it was likely always intended for sale within the Ottoman market.

In the early 19th century, the Ottoman Empire remained a powerful and, importantly, wealthy force in Eastern Europe, and an attractive market for many across Europe. When, in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire expanded to encompass much of the Middle East and North Africa, the tastes of Ottoman elites changed, adopting the styles and fashions of many of their newly incorporated colonial subjects. This chocolate cup was ingeniously crafted to capitalise on these trends, part of an aesthetic and cultural movement that historian Ussama Makdisi has called ‘Ottoman Orientalism’.

Inscription detail. Porcelain chocolate cup, saucer and lid set created in Paris for the Ottoman market and marked in red overglaze, 19th century, Oriental Museum, Durham University. Image courtesy of the author.

So what were the design features that made this chocolate cup an example of ‘Ottoman Orientalism’? The underside of the saucer features a series of seemingly random Chinese characters. In relation to the cup’s purpose, these four characters, 李唐宋官, roughly translate to ‘Li Tang, Song dynasty official’. While there was a Li Tang in the Song dynasty, and in fact he was an accomplished landscape painter, he had nonetheless died almost seven hundred years prior to the time of this cup’s creation, and almost six hundred years before chocolate’s arrival in China. So why were these Chinese characters included? Simple: to make the cup seem more appealing to prospective buyers, and hence more likely to sell. The inclusion of these Chinese characters, presumably merely copied wholesale from another source, both fed into the intended exoticism of the piece, and attempted capitalise on a long existing market for Chinese porcelain in the Ottoman Empire.

The story of this cup does not, however, merely end with its creation and sale. Just as with the saucer, on the underside of the cup is another short sentence, this time, however, in Urdu. Unlike the Chinese characters, this writing was added after the cup was purchased and offers us a perplexingly poetic phase. The cryptic writing roughly translates to ‘That same diminished consciousness; This same deep target’ and is attributed to one Jannatī, likely a pen-name, meaning ‘the heavenly’. Whoever this Jannatī was, they clearly had some affection for the cup; not only did they write an inscription on its underside, but there is evidence of attempts at restoration, with the gold on the lid having been re-gilded.

Inscription detail. Porcelain chocolate cup, saucer and lid set created in Paris for the Ottoman market and marked in red overglaze, 19th century, Oriental Museum, Durham University. Image courtesy of the author.

When taken together, the elaborate and varied inscriptions on this cup act, in some sense, as a recipe. If a recipe is a set of instructions allowing you to, hopefully, produce something far greater than the sum of its parts, then, for a historian, the cup’s inscriptions act as an invaluable recipe in allowing us to gain a far deeper understanding not only commerce in the early 19th century, but also of chocolate, and its role as one of the world’s first truly global commodities. From South America to France, Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, the Mughal Empire and even China, this porcelain cup combines facets of many different cultures and civilisations in both its purpose and construction. While both the maker of this cup and its first owners are by now long dead, this object they left behind lives on, and continues to tell us much about the world in which they lived.

Frederick Fossey-Warren is a scholar interested in the role of race and ethnicity in modern East African politics. He participated in Durham’s Undergraduate Research Internship (UGRI) programme to conduct research on chocolate in the Durham University collections. He currently studying towards a Master’s in History at Durham.

Around the Table: Re-Introductions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Nearly four years ago, the Recipes Project introduced Around the Table, a monthly series intended to highlight the blog’s community of scholars, writers, and readers. I proposed the series in order to further promote a sense of community among Recipes Project readers; while I had long turned to the blog as a source of new ideas and information and as a resource for identifying scholars with related interests, I hoped to formalize this role for others.

Happily, Around the Table has been a success! The series has allowed readers to connect with recipes scholarship and learn about a variety of related professional activities, such as publishing, bookselling, and curatorial work; library and museum collections; and research methodologies. The series, already well-established by the time the Covid-19 pandemic began, provided the Recipes Project community with a platform for sharing information about our shared virtual reality, like online conferences and presentations, digitized teaching resources, and eventually hybrid and in-person museum exhibitions and programming.

In the editors’ recent introductory post to the new Recipes Project format, we mentioned a change in the format of Around the Table. We are trying out the series as a podcast! You can expect an episode at least once a quarter. We will be offering the same exciting interviews and community-building for the Recipes Project you have come to expect, just in an audio format.

As we pivot to a new delivery method for community information, the editors wish to again remind you that we want and value your suggestions! Please reach out to pitch any ideas for Around the Table or the Recipes Project. You can find us on social media (we are active on Twitter and Facebook) or email the Recipes Project.

I look forward to sharing our new Around the Table format with you soon!

Thomas Rowlandson, “Here’s Your Potatoes, Four Full Pounds for Two Pence from the Cries of London” 1811, The Metropolitan of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.