What We’re Reading This Fall

By Jess Clark

The abundance of fantastic historical writing—from insightful social media and blog posts to traditional academic monographs to op eds—means that most of us aren’t lacking interesting things to read. At times, though, I can’t help but feel that I’m missing out on important pieces, new books, or forgetting about germinal texts. This month, I decided to check in with some of the Editors here at the Recipes Project to find out what everyone’s reading in the coming weeks. Here are just a few of their suggestions, from their bookshelves and browsers to you.

 

Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (Basic Books, 1985)

In this classic study, Cowan charts the industrialization of housekeeping through a variety of new technologies designed to improve the experience of female homemakers: “washing machines, white flour, vacuums, commercial cotton.” However, as she masterfully argues, these technologies actually served to replace the labour of other figures, like men and children, rather than lessen the amount of time devoted by women to maintaining the home.


Lisa Fagin Davis, “
Why Do People Keep Convincing themselves they’ve Solved this Medieval Mystery?” at The Washington Post

Davis unpacks the ongoing fascination with the Voynich Manuscript, an early fifteenth-century codex housed at Yale’s Beinecke Library. Written in an “unknown collection of symbols” and featuring illustrations of “realistic plants, circular zodiacal and astronomical diagrams,” the Manuscript has been subject to multiple attempts to decipher its mysterious code. However, “[b]y beginning with their own preconceptions of what they want the Voynich to be,” argues Davis, many would-be interpreters’ “conclusions take them further from the truth.”

 

Rachel Herrmann, No Useless Mouth: Waging War and Fighting Hunger in the American Revolution (Cornell UP, November 2019)

This is a bit of a cheat since the book isn’t out until November, but many RP readers are no doubt looking forward to contributor Rachel Herrmann’s new book on the role of food in Revolutionary America. Focusing on “hunger creation and prevention” as “tools of diplomacy and warfare,” this text will be a must-read for historians of food, recipes, conceptions of dearth and plenty, and the foundations of early America.

 

Michael W. Twitty, “Dear Disgruntled White Plantation Visitors, Sit Down,” on Afroculinaria


Award-winning author, chef, and historical interpreter Michael W. Twitty responds to negative online reviews of southern plantations, which criticize interpreters’ attention to slavery and its legacies. Writing of his own experiences as a historical educator, Twitty emphasizes that, in doing this work, he’s “performing an act of devotion to my Ancestors. This is not about your comfort, it’s about honoring their story on it’s own terms in context.”

 

Michael Walkden, “’Excrements of the Earth’: Mushrooms in Early Modern England,” on Shakespeare & Beyond

Walkden analyzes seventeenth-century English attitudes towards the eating of mushrooms, pointing to the ways fungi could, at various points, signify danger and treachery, continental excess, or filth and debasement. Pointing out their distinctiveness as a food type, he suggests that “[t]he hostility that many writers expressed towards mushrooms is perhaps reflective of the threat they posed to the order of things.”

 

What are you reading this Fall? We want to hear from you! Let us know here what sites, texts, and projects we should be featuring here at the Recipes Project.

On Paratext, Cookbooks, and No Useless Mouth

By Rachel Herrmann

Before I entered the final stages of revising my first book, No Useless Mouth: Waging War and Fighting Hunger in the American Revolution, I had tried for reasons of sanity to compartmentalize the fun food stuff from the work food stuff. And then I came up against my final, self-imposed deadline and decided to blur the line between them. In this post, I want to explain why. During the editing process, I began to think about paratext. Although I don’t discuss the term “paratext” in my book, I think about it a lot when reading cookbooks and food writing. Paratext refers to the pieces of a book that are not part of its main body and can include epigraphs, chapter titles, and prefaces, as well as covers and blurbs. It can also refer to the index, even though Gerard Genette, who I cite here, did not include this in his definition of paratext; I would, especially now during a time when many of us compile our own to save money. This focus on paratext was not just about my manuscript, and linked to when I first started working on food and thinking about how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cookbook authors told readers how to feel about food from the moment they encountered a cookbook’s cover. I read cookbook prefaces to learn about intended audiences and errors in previous editions, and thought about the intentionality of an author’s recipe titles. I wanted a way to use paratext to do something similar for readers of No Useless Mouth.

Fig. 1. Rachel Herrmann, No Useless Mouth, courtesy of Cornell University Press
Fig. 1. Rachel Herrmann, No Useless Mouth, courtesy of Cornell University Press

A good cookbook teaches you a technique, uses it to make something delicious that works on the first attempt, and then uses that technique recipe as a base ingredient for other recipes in the book. A cookbook with excellent paratext tells you how to read the author’s recipes. Its preface tells the reader where to find specialty ingredients, instructs her to read the recipe once through before beginning to prep and cook, and explains how the author has indicated components that can be made ahead of time. For example, my most recent revelation is Andrea Nguyen’s caramel sauce in Vietnamese Food Any Day. This sauce becomes an ingredient that gets added by the teaspoon to subsequent recipes, like her (delicious) Coconut-Kissed Chicken and Chile. Let me just say: the caramel sauce recipe is a scary recipe on the first read. You’re instructed to cook caramel until it’s almost burned. As any amateur pastry or baking enthusiast will tell you, burnt caramel is nearly never the explicit goal of a recipe. But Nguyen makes you feel confident by showing you pictures of the beginning, middle, and end stages of the process. She also includes a genius hack to slow down the cooking process faster than I’ve ever been able to do: she has you fill your sink with an inch or two of ice water. And then when you start to panic that the caramel really is going to burn, you gently plonk the bottom of your saucepan in the sink! GENIUS! Nguyen writes recipes this way because she wants to teach you as you cook.

I wanted No Useless Mouth’s paratext to do similar work: to show readers how I undertook my research, to explain how they could replicate it, to provide signposts about navigating my ideas, and to suggest how some of the ideas I developed in the book could be used for other work on food history. I used the acknowledgements section of the book to tell readers a little bit about me as a cook and an eater. Sometimes when I meet people, they express reservations about going out to eat with me because they worry that I will dislike the food where we have gone. In my acknowledgments, I tried to make clear that although the food I eat with people at conferences and during non-work get-togethers matters to me, the company often matters more. I recall how conversations shaped my ideas and how the meal made me feel about them more than I remember the taste of what we ate.

Later in the process, when I was finishing the last round of edits on No Useless Mouth, my editor, Michael McGandy, asked me to write a bibliographic note—I suspect because I’d wanted a full bibliography and he wanted to keep the cost low by saving pages. I used the note to tell readers where I had traveled to do research, what travel current researchers could avoid, given the outpouring of digital databases with relevant primary source material, and what researchers should eat near the archives I visited if I thought travelling to them remained imperative. I suppose that the implicit argument in this part of my paratext is that research can be isolating, lonely, and all-consuming, but that using food to break up the monotony keeps it from being so.

The last piece of paratext I worked on was my index. This was the second index I’d compiled, and I took the advice of Sara Georgini, who has had lots of experience working on indexes for the Adams Papers: she described an index as an “on ramp to readers.” A good index allows you to enter a book slowly, get a sense of the subjects that inform and surround it, choose where you want to visit inside of it and then decide where to go next. The number of subheadings for a subject might suggest that these moments in the book are moments to get “stuck in.”[1] “See” informs readers that there’s a different term they should be using to search the index, and reveals the author’s opinions on navigating the subject. Cross-references (“See also”) provide another way to slow down and explore the backroads. This approach extends to cookbooks; Andrea Nguyen’s index is a great example of paratext that is informed by her overarching goal to teach. She seems to know intuitively that readers may remember a key ingredient in one of her recipes, but not necessarily the name of the recipe itself. Thus her Coconut-Kissed Chicken and Chile is indexed under “Chicken,” “Chile,” and “Coconut Water.”

More than anything, I wanted my index to teach readers that food and hunger are giant categories that require specificity. My food-related terms consequently include words like “animals” (which include edible animals like cattle and fish, but also crop-destroying animals like the Hessian fly). My entry for “food” includes verbs and nouns like butchering, gifts, marketing, markets, meals, preservation, rationing, spoilage, storage, and transportation, but readers will find “food diplomacy,” “food laws,” “food riots,” “food sovereignty,” and “foodstuffs” indexed, too. Among the foodstuffs you can read about you’ll find bacon (of course!), boiled bones, buttermilk, corn, mussels, purslane, spikenard root (said to prevent huger), and wild rice. My hunger-related terms include “appetite,” “eating,” “environmental problems” (including drought and crop failure), and “famine,” among others.

I have come to think of my paratext as adding an additional double layer of rigor and fun to the book. If you want to know how I became interested in food history, you can read my acknowledgments. If you’re wondering where I think there’s room for the field to grow, I’ve written about this in my conclusion. If you’re a student who wants to write an essay about food but is struggling to break “food” into more manageable themes, my index will help you to do so. If you’re a food studies scholar who, like me, is trying to pin down the distinction and overlap between food studies and food history, well, I can’t promise that my paratext will provide a single answer to this question, but I hope it will help to continue that conversation.

 

No Useless Mouth is available from Cornell University Press in November, 2019.

[1] I mean this phrase to include here both the British and the American possibilities. To get “stuck in” to something in Britain is to slow down, savor, and spend time.” To get “stuck in traffic” in American English is a less pleasant experience, but nevertheless encapsulates the possibility that readers will need to work slowly to wrap their heads around this subject.

Around the Table: Library Chat

Welcome to the latest Around the Table and return to the Recipes Project Library Chat! Today we travel to the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal. I am delighted to speak with Dr. Mary Yearl, Head Librarian at Osler Library. Please note that you will soon find a version of this post on the McGill University Library News Blog, Library Matters.

1. The McGill Library has many items of interest to our readership, particularly in the Osler Library of the History of Medicine and the Cookbook and Menu Collection housed in Rare Books and Special Collections. Could you provide a brief overview of the library’s holdings and research strengths?

The Osler Library was designed by Percy Nobbs to house Sir William Osler’s books and his remains. Here one sees the library in the Strathcona Medical Building, where it opened in 1929. This room was reassembled in its current location in the McIntyre Medical Building in the mid-1960s.

The nucleus of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine is the collection of nearly 8,000 titles left to the McGill Medical Faculty by Sir William Osler when he died in December 1919. The holdings are mainly, but not exclusively, medical. The library is also home to editions of foundational works in the history of science and to a number of literary and theological books collected by Osler. The majority of our items are printed, but we also have sizeable collections of archival materials, artifacts, and some pieces of artwork.

B.O. 53, Assyrian Medical Tablet. Containing such advice as, “‘the emerald plant’ in best beer thou shalt give him to drink,” This Assyrian medical tablet from ca. 700 BCE provides recipes to treat an unnamed eye disease.

Osler’s own collecting with respect to recipes favoured works from England written or published in the 16th and 17th centuries. That said, there are also works in French, German, and Latin, and the earliest item is an 8th-century BCE Assyrian tablet on various treatments for an unspecified eye disease. Of the items that have been added more recently, the 19th and 20th centuries are well represented.

The real wealth of recipe-related items at McGill can be found outside of the Osler, within the Library’s division of Rare Books and Special Collections. The Cookbook and Menu Collection was established in the late 1960s and consists of over 3,800 titles. It is composed primarily of Canadian, American and British material. The bulk of the collection is from the twentieth century, though there are significant nineteenth-century holdings including a long run of editions and revisions of Mrs. Beaton’s Book of Household Management. In addition, there are some eighteenth-century books.

The collection includes a considerable number of ephemeral items containing recipes and produced by flourmills, sugar refiners and other food manufacturers. Cookbooks created by church organizations, women’s clubs, and other community groups form another significant part of the collection. In addition, there are a number of books devoted to home economics. Also within the Rare Books and Special Collections division is the recently-acquired Doncaster Recipes Collection, consisting of culinary and medicinal recipes mainly from the late-eighteenth through the first half of the nineteenth century.

2. Can you highlight a few of your favorite recipes-related items?

François II de Rohan. Medical Recipes and Health Regimens Including Receptes De Plusieurs Expers Medecins Consernantes Diverse Malladies and Other Texts. ca. 1515. Several of the recipes in this manuscript refer to a “Master Bernard,” whose identity is but one of many questions we hope to answer through scholarly research. Note the combination of fine artistic detail and practical medical information.

Without hesitation, our current favourite item is manuscript of medicinal recipes from ca. 1515, recently acquired with an eye towards honouring Sir William Osler as we commemorate the centenary of his death. We are in the early stages of planning a scholarly edition and are truly enthusiastic about the many directions we can go with this work. The work is marvellous aesthetically: it is a deluxe presentation copy with a velvet cover and fine illuminations, given by the Archbishop of Lyons François II de Rohan to his brother, Charles de Rohan-Gié. The manuscript bears clear signs of having been read, with marginal “nota” and the occasional “nota secretum” indicating that this work was not merely admired for its beauty, but was also appreciated for its contents.

Another interesting one is B.O. (Bibliotheca Osleriana) 7591, which in many ways is a standard late medieval recipe manuscript, a copy of John of Burgundy’s Practica phisicalia. This in itself is not remarkable, but in a blog post that appeared in the Osler Library’s former platform, De re medica, Patrick Outhwaite observed that B.O. 7591 had in common with Wellcome MS. 406 the removal of information about male sexuality.

Another local favourite is manuscript B.O. 7586, best known to us as “The Book of the Head,” which is the subject matter of the text bound with Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla super librum Job. This 15th-century manuscript is part of a larger work that would have offered treatments for all sections of the body, but a deliberate choice was made in this case to include only recipes to treat ailments of the head.

Margaret Parnell, Manuscript commonplace book, rough account book and notebook in pencil and ink, including five pages of home abortion and contraception recipes. Ontario [various places], ca. 1908–1913. The abortifacient and contraceptive recipes recorded in this commonplace book from Ontario, ca. 1908–1913 contain many ingredients that were either identified as poisons (ergot) or which are known as such (sugar of lead), and also includes the curious, “gun powder + whiskey + take freely.”

Many of the less explored recipes come from daybooks, journals, and other sources of vernacular medicine. I was recently reminded of a short section on recipes that appears in a notebook kept by a woman from Ontario in the early years of the 20th century, which we recently acquired but have not yet catalogued. “How to get rid of kids” is the start of a few pages of recipes on abortion and contraception. Fertility recipes are an important part of the history of medicinal recipes, and to see such a stark title is a somewhat ironic reminder of the utter humanity behind the pen. Despite the shock of the initial title, however, the recipes themselves are practical, if poisonous (e.g., a contraceptive douche that contains sugar of lead). Beyond these few pages, the commonplace book is as mundane (and interesting for this) as might be expected, also including household accounts, a list of books, and an inventory that includes a breast pump.

Other items we appreciate because they reflect our attempts to tell the history of medicine as practised locally. Some of our recipes come from patient notes. For instance, in a record book kept by Theodule Nepveu, who practised in a variety of towns around Quebec in the first half of the twentieth century, we find a “regime alimentaire” outlining permitted and prohibited foods for those with colitis. Nepveu’s record book is not spectacular in the way that the François II de Rohan illuminated gift is, but the information it contains is no less important. To start, one might examine a doctor’s comments about diet to draw conclusions about what foods were available, and which his patients were likely to have access to. Or, as with the commonplace book of the woman from Ontario, it is the ordinary practicality that makes the contents extraordinary.

3. What tips can you offer to help users find collection items with recipes via your catalogue or finding aids?

This is not intended to be a trick question, but at the moment it rather feels like one. At McGill, we have had two catalogues for quite some time. The “classic” catalogue is heavily used by those of us who work with rare materials, but it is going away on 1 May 2019 so we are all in the midst of a steep learning curve even as we are still waiting for some advanced features to be made available in the new WorldCat Discovery catalogue. For those who wish to search the original Osler catalogue, the Bibliotheca Osleriana is easily found online. For archival sources, there is now an integrated archival catalogue, through which one can search all archival holdings at McGill. Another place to find recipe-related items is in the McGill Library’s collections within the Internet Archive, discussed below. With regard to searching those resources, though, it is a good idea to click “search text contents” rather than only searching the metadata.

Even though most of our material is catalogued, we would advise anyone with questions to reach out to us (osler_[dot]_library_[at]_mcgill_[dot]_ca) to see if there might be more.

4. Does the McGill Library offer any digital resources to off-site researchers?

MS 251, Practicall Physick of Roger Lickbarrow, mid-18th century, contains medicinal remedies for a wide range of complaints. The contents are ordered by type of ailment. The page shown refers to “diseases of the belly” and has “French pox” as well as “nocturnal pollution” near the end. Other sections are devoted to “womens diseases” and “childrens diseases”.

We have a small number of items that have been digitized, but enough that we have created an Osler Library collection within the Internet Archive.

We are making an effort to increase the digital resources available to off-site researchers. In addition to highlighting items to prioritize for digitization, we are figuring out the best workflow for digitizing items straight from cataloguing where feasible. Finally, we do digitize materials on demand. There will be some delay depending upon the queue in the digitization lab, but we regard user requests as one way of making our materials available to a wider audience.

5. Does McGill offer any fellowships or travel grants for researchers who want to go to Montreal to use your materials?

The Osler Library offers three research grants and one artist residency. For those seeking to use materials within Rare Books and Special Collections, there are three available grants.

Thanks, Mary, for chatting with me! If you’d like to see your library or archive collection featured on the Around the Table Library Chat, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: Publisher Chat

Welcome to the first Publisher Chat as part of our new series, Around the Table, in which I will occasionally be talking to editors and publishers of journals and book series dealing with topics related to historic recipes. Today I am chatting with Allen Grieco, editor-in-chief of the journal Food & History (published by Brepols) and series editor of a new book series on Food Culture, Food History (13th to 19th centuries) published by Amsterdam University Press.

You serve both as editor-in-chief of the journal Food & History and series editor of a new book series on Food Culture, Food History (13th to 19th centuries). Could you describe the types of research and writing being published in this journal and series? 

Anybody working in this field knows to what extent the subject matter we deal with needs to be approached in a resolutely interdisciplinary way. While both the journal and the book series have at their core an historian’s approach to the subject, as is highlighted by the presence of the word “history” in both titles, it is readily apparent that the life blood of the discipline in the last three or four decades has seen a high degree of methodologically innovative work. The breakdown of barriers that used to separate disciplinary fields, a process that characterized the development of cultural history in general, has been particularly pronounced in food history. Our field has also witnessed the emergence of a pointed interest in previously neglected sources that have since shown their hidden potential. One of the many examples of this is the “discovery” of cookbooks a type of document that was considered nothing more than a curiosity and has now produced nothing less than a stream of publications. Much the same might be said of the imaginative use iconographic sources are put to by both historians and art historians or, for that matter, the serial use of literary texts used by  historians and literary historians to flesh out the cultural context of food consumption.

Both the book series and the journal publish the work of scholars working in this direction even though we are also open to more traditional approaches such as work exploring the economic history of food, philological work on important texts, etc. The differences, apart from the length of the texts, are that the book series ranges from the thirteenth century to the early nineteenth while the journal has a much larger chronological range from prehistory to the present.

What is your role as journal editor versus series editor?

In many ways they are very similar. As an editor (actually a co-editor in chief along with my colleague Peter Scholliers) working in close collaboration with two first class production editors (Lucinda Byatt and Olivier de Maret) of a journal that has reached sixteen years of age, the task is to ensure the quality of the articles and dossiers but also that what we publish fits the very open editorial line we have followed from the very beginning. Since this is the journal published by the IEHCA (Institut Européen d’Histoire et Culture de l’Alimentation) it needs to reflect the varied membership of this institution both in terms of chronological focus and the fields of research that cohabit under that label. 

The yearly meetings held in Paris bring together the editorial board, composed by a varied, highly international group of specialists, that reflect not only what food history looks like at present but also the range of topics published by the journal. Choosing the members of the board is one of the tasks that Peter Scholliers and I undertake after consultation with the sitting members. 

As a series editor (but that has only just begun) I have more freedom to choose though here too there is a small board that I can turn to both for suggesting interesting manuscripts and for expert opinions. They then go to Amsterdam University Press where, ultimately, the publisher approves the recommendations Erika Gaffney and I have passed on to them.

Food & History 14.1 (2016)

Could you tell us how to go about getting published in Food & History and Food Culture and Food History? What is the process? Are scholars of all career stages welcomed to try publishing?

For Food & History all you have to do is to send your article to Lucinda Byatt and Olivier de Maret. If you want to propose a more ambitious dossier, usually no less than four articles by different authors with an introduction, then you should send a one page proposal and a table of contents that will be evaluated before we come to some kind of decision. 

As for the book series the procedure is to begin by getting in touch with me and/or with the commissioning editor Erika Gaffney. Send us an informal proposal on the basis of which we will send you a more complete Publication Proposal Form to get the kind of information that is required by AUP to move forward with your project. It is important to say that scholars at all career stages are published and that the only proviso is that it be new, quality work. I should add that publications are exclusively in English and that the series also plans to publish essay collections.  

Do you have any general advice for scholars trying to publish historical research on food topics?

The advice here might sound a little obvious but food history is a relatively new field, you might even say a fashionable one. While that means more opportunities to publish (the amount of publishers who have entered their hat in the arena over the past ten years is quite remarkable) this has also a corollary which is that standards are not always maintained. The journal and the book series I am involved with are both resolutely bent on quality scholarship but that does not mean dry and long winded, quite to the contrary. Good scholarship and a lively approach to a subject are of course possible, even though they come at some cost. While Food & History has more latitude for contributions that are aimed at a very small group of specialists, the book series has to be aimed at a broader readership. So, for example, a book should strive to go beyond our specialized field and speak to historians in general. This is very important since many a main stream historian still thinks that food history has nothing to do with them. Our field needs to break out of what threatens to be a ghetto but to do this I am looking for new ideas and rigorous scholarship communicated in an accessible, lively manner.  

Thanks, Allen, for chatting with me! If you’d like to feature an editor or publisher on the Around the Table Publisher Chat, please email Sarah Kernan.