Originally composed for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Beyond Shakespeare blog, this primary source highlight from Lucy Mookerjee, a Research Fellowat the Folger, invites the reader to think beyond the study the recipe as a set of instructions to be performed, and to consider the recipe itself as a generative composition with much to tell us about origin and loss, remembrance and ignorance, revival and rebirth.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies,
that’s for thoughts.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV Scene 5
On learning of her father’s death, Ophelia, the heartbroken heroine of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, falls into a “weeping brook” and quietly allows herself to drown (4.7). While modern scholarship has tended to construe Ophelia as ‘feminist heroine’; critics in the Victorian period perceived Ophelia as a deranged ‘madwoman’; not only has she losther father and her lover, but she has also lost her mind. In the words of Hamlet’s mother, she is “incapable of her own distress” which is to say: she has forgotten her ‘self’ (4.7). It is curious, then, that the “sweet flowers” – pansies, forget-me-nots, rosemary sprigs –which surround her in the famous Pre-Raphaelite painting, and which are frequently referenced in the play, should have a long history as symbols not of loss, but of memory.
The term pansy comes from the French pensée, meaning “thought” or “remembrance”. Legend has it that forget-me-nots are named after a medieval knight who died while picking the delicate flower for his lover and spent his last breath crying out: “Forget me not!” In Ancient Greece, students wore circlets of rosemary to school to increase their capacity to remember their lessons.
While memory-enhancing herbs have a rich legacy in symbolism, the evidence of herbal consumption – though less studied – is well represented in the historical record. Recipes for memory-boosters surface in early modern manuscripts in the form of charms, spells, and medical treatises. Hundreds of these recipe books — digitized and transcribed into Modern English — can be found here.
The Receipt Book of Margaret Baker (Folger Shakespeare Library, MS V.a.619), compiled in 1675, contains a recipe for a memory-potion called“Confect of Coriander Seed” and provides step-by-step instructions for a brew to “helpe the memorie … by comforting of the braine.”
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.
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.
There was something wrong about the package that was delivered to me at work one early spring morning years ago. It was addressed to me, and the return address also had my surname. But I didn’t recognize the name as a family member, and I didn’t know anyone in the town in Connecticut on the address. So I opened it with some sense that this package wasn’t intended for me, and that sense was amplified when I found inside a pair of house slippers, a zip-top plastic baggie that seemed to hold some dry ingredients, a recipe for Irish soda bread, and a note signed “mom.”
Why did some other Kathleen Lynch’s mom send me her soda bread recipe, never mind the slippers? That was the question I asked when I found a phone number online and called to report that this mom’s package had gone to the wrong Kathleen Lynch. In conversation, the mom assured me that she had addressed the package to her daughter correctly, and that said daughter was in Washington for a congressional internship, staying on East Capitol Street. A closer look at the package’s address confirmed that Kathleen was staying right across the street from my workplace, Folger Shakespeare Library, and that the package had been misdelivered, not misaddressed.
I rewrapped the package, added a note of apology, and left it on the doorstep of a townhouse across the street. I must have asked about her family’s soda bread recipe, noting that mine featured raisins to her caraway seeds. The next day, I had a charming note in return, discussing that Kathleen’s grandmother’s approach to soda bread, “equal parts deference and rebellion towards the old way.” What we shared was an appreciation for a simple bread, easily prepared, best eaten warm out of the oven, and laden with memories of our grandmothers, and for me, a recipe I will always call Aunt Pat’s. But were either of our breads true soda breads? I knew both could be dismissed as “tea cakes,” not soda breads. For some, it is an adamantly held distinction.
Intrigued, I wanted to know more about the history of soda bread in Ireland. In particular, I wanted to know if the oral history was true that I had heard many decades ago when I spent a year at university in Cork: the British government denied yeast to the Irish. In any Irish cookbook I pick up now, I read the headnote to breads to see if they introduce the history. Though Colman Andrews prefaces his Country Cooking of Ireland with “A Note on Geopolitics,” addressing the still contested terminology for national boundaries and county names, it does not address the specific trade regulations or coercive practices that framed rural subsistence diets. In My Irish Table, local chef Cathal Armstrong calls these “quick breads,” and notes that “yeast would have been too expensive for people in the countryside in the time of the British occupation” anyway.
Whatever the longer history of Irish hearth-based home cooking of breads in ‘bastibles’ or cast-iron, three-legged pots, the soda bread recipe took its recognizable shape in the mid-nineteenth century with the introduction of baking soda into Ireland. Combined with sour milk or buttermilk, this agent worked to create “a very light and palatable leavened wheat bread that can easily be produced at home,” as Regina Sexton reported in A Little History of Irish Food. And as Armstrong adds, “most households in Ireland have their own recipe for quick breads passed down through the generations.” In stressing ease and simple ingredients and tools, these authors all lightly skirt the question of impoverishment in old Ireland. For the spread of this breadmaking through Ireland also tracks the years of famine, death, sporadic relief efforts (including by English Quakers), the introduction of maize meal by the British government to offset the failing potato crops, and mass emigration.
I still don’t know the documented history of yeast in Irish baked goods. None of Sexton’s historical recipes in her “Cereals” section include it. I do understand how the oral history holds open the wounds of oppression. At the same time, I see welcome new cooking traditions taking hold in Ireland. They are based on the riches of land and seas, and often influenced by the work of the Allen family at Ballymaloe House and Cookery School in County Cork. Each of the authors above gives credit and expresses gratitude to that family. These new traditions speak powerfully to the work of nourishment and healing that food can do.
Memories are slippery things, formed and reformed over time and across experiences. In looking for a printed copy of “Aunt Pat’s” soda bread, I had to consider if I shouldn’t start calling this “Aunt Maureen’s” recipe, given that Aunt Pat—my mother’s sister—told me once that she adopted her recipe from Aunt Maureen—my father’s sister. So maybe it’s a Lynch recipe rather than a Gibbons one. On finding multiple printed copies of a recipe I haven’t consulted in years, I was also taken aback that Aunt Pat listed shortening as the fattening agent. That doesn’t make the bread any more satisfying to a purist, but it holds the memories of poverty closer. Or does it only speak to its time? Kathleen wrote to me that her mother made so many substitutions in the name of a healthier loaf that the “result was a dry, unpredictable rock.”
If in its purest form, soda bread does without even sugar and butter, is that not also a reminder of resourcefulness of the subsistence farmer? If Kathleen and I and all the sisters and daughters of our economically-deprived foremothers add those embellishments for a richer loaf, don’t we do it to carry forward traditions rather than be bound by them? In sitting down to a cup of tea and a slice of steaming hot soda bread with generous dabs of butter, don’t we keep their memories alive?
Irish Soda Bread
4 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
½ cup butter
2 cups seedless raisins
1 ½ cup buttermilk (or substitute whole milk with 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar per cup milk)
½ tsp. baking soda
Simmer raisins in pan of hot water. Mix and sift flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Work in butter with fingertips until it resembles coarse corn meal. Stir in drained raisins. Combine buttermilk, egg, baking soda. Stir buttermilk mixture into flour mixture until just moistened. Do not overmix. Bake in greased medium baking dish at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.
I think of this as my Grandma Gibbons’ soda bread recipe, and I’ve adapted it from the recipe my Aunt Pat contributed to her garden club cookbook years ago. But Aunt Pat tells me she took it from my Aunt Maureen on the Lynch side of the family. So I pass it along from both the Gibbonses and the Lynches of County Mayo.
Kathleen Lynch researches and writes about the Protestant spiritual autobiography and the communities of devotion that gave rise to them. She is the executive director of the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She tweets @thatklynch. Her only regret about a year spent in Cork, Ireland as an undergraduate is that it predated the opening of the butter museum there.
One of the early indicators that Christmas is just around the corner in Germany is the publication of Christmas cookies recipe booklets. Once it gets cold outside, readers are invited to heat up their ovens and ring in the holiday season by baking sweets. Many families have established traditions around annual Christmas baking – starting baking on a certain day, insisting on particular kinds of cookies, and even on the strict adherence to tried and tested recipes. The annual publication of special recipe booklets has become a tradition itself.
Many of these recipe booklets, whether distributed as advertising brochures of a particular brand or as removable special issues of a magazine, are designed as collectibles. Some are numbered and thereby marked as a part of a larger series, such as the Rezept-Sammlung of Dr. Oetker, a German brand for baking ingredients. The first issue of that series, which includes Christmas specials as well as brochures with recipes for other occasions, came out in the late 1980s. Other recipe booklets are promoted as annual special issues that readers can expect to be enclosed with the annual Christmas edition of a particular magazine. For example Brigitte, one of the leading women’s magazines in Germany offers just such a booklet every December.
The recipe booklets combine tradition and innovation. They are based on the long-standing practice of Christmas baking with its traditional specialties such as Vanillekipferl, Lebkuchen, or Zimtsterne, and familiar ingredients such as cloves, cinnamon, and gingerbread seasoning. Many booklets seek to continue and inscribe themselves into these traditions, not least by using headlines that looked as if they were written by hand or that quoted famous Christmas stories and poems. At the same time, in order to attract a large readership and be collectible item, each booklet of recipes have to be innovative and different from the previous years.
The booklets are intended to provide readers with much more than just recipes. They are designed to advertise lifestyles and products. Whether complimentary or attached to a commercial magazine, recipe booklets for Christmas cookies are aimed at selling. The free booklets from Dr. Oetker advertise the company’s products such as baking powder, chopped hazelnuts, and vanilla sugar by naming the brand product and by displaying images of the respective sachets on the same page as the recipe. Additionally, the booklets serve as advertising material for the company’s Back-Club (Baking Club). For a fee of then 18 DM, members of the club (est. 1989) received free samples of new Dr. Oetker products and the magazine Gugelhupf which was filled with recipes and other helpful information on cooking and baking.
The special issues attached to Brigitte, on the other hand, are designed to sell the magazine itself. Removable booklets are a relatively new phenomenon in the history of Brigitte. Still in the 1970s, it was rare for the magazine to include any recipes for Christmas cookies, not to mention an entire booklet. At that point, recipes for Christmas cookies were perhaps too common and well-known to be used as a purchasing incentive. Such recipes became a regular feature and a removable collectible only in the 1990s. The first booklets had traditional titles such as “Baking from A-Z” and pictures of familiar cookies such as the Vanillekipferl on the cover (1994).
While initial issues stuck with established recipes and offered few surprises, the Brigitte booklets soon started to present a peculiar mixture of old and new types of cookies, often variations of old and well-known recipes. The issue from 2003, for example, juxtaposed each “classic”, for example Vanillekipferl or Bethmännchen, with a new variation such as “Orangen-Anis-Brezeln” (pretzel-shaped cookies with orange and anise) or “Gefüllte Marzipanmonde” (filled marzipan crescents). International recipes also made their way into the booklets. Furthermore, the booklets of both Dr. Oetker and Brigitte increasingly began to include recipes that required little time and experience, accompanied with additional how-to information for those new to baking.
These different sales strategies explain why advertising brochures in the form of recipe booklets such as Dr. Oetker’s have a longer history than special issues attached to magazines. Brands like Dr. Oetker want to sell their baking products each year anew, regardless of current baking trends, and therefore used brochures as a marketing strategy early on (the company started selling baking powder in 1893). For a magazine like Brigitte, however, special issues on baking only made sense after women were no longer expected to be (only) housewives. The “modern woman” often took on multiple roles and might only bake infrequently. Some did not possess a large collection of traditional recipes and others looked for new inspirations. This explains why it was only in the 1990s that the removable booklets have become an annual feature.
In many ways, the serialized recipe booklets are a substitute for family recipes once passing from generation to generation. It is no longer the mother or grandmother whose experience guarantees success but rather the long-established brand and its test kitchens. The Brigitte booklets, which do not promote ingredients of particular brands, prominently introduce their test kitchen personnel and emphasize that the recipes are well-tried and tested before inclusion in the booklet. Every year, just when it starts to get cold outside, they tap into the longing for tradition and remind their readers that it is finally time to roll up their sleeves and to get ready for the Christmas season.
 The same holds true for the internet presences of both Dr. Oetker and Brigitte which usually mention the test kitchens. See here for Dr Oetker and here for Birgitte, (last accessed on Dec 18, 2018).
All booklets and magazines featured in the photos here are in the collection of Reinhild and her mother. Photos are author’s own.