Category Archives: Round-up

Vast and Bewildering: Early America at The Recipes Project

By Carla Cevasco

From the outside, the field of early American studies still looks an awful lot like the Founding Fathers. (Even if they have a catchy soundtrack.) But this white, wealthy, male stereotype is no small source of frustration to those of us who study the global connections and collisions that make up #vastearlyAmerica.

As I completed my Ph.D. in May, I’ve been reflecting on graduate (or, for those on the other side of the pond, postgraduate) education. For many people it is an exercise in specialization, a process of narrowing one’s field of expertise. By contrast, I found myself drawn to interdisciplinary research in American Studies precisely because I have too many interests to confine myself to one discipline.

So it was with delight that I discovered The Recipes Project, when my colleague Theresa McCulla wrote about a panel we presented at the American Historical Association annual meeting in 2015. An in-person connection led me to this online community. On this site I’ve found a place to share many odds and ends of my research, blogging about blood pudding, baby food, fermentation, teaching teenagers, and gluttony. My work here has also inspired me to write for other public scholarship outlets, such as Nursing Clio and Common-Place.

But as varied as my own interests are,  I’m forever amazed at The Recipe Project’s reach. Vast early America is here, in enslaved people’s medical knowledge and Algonquian cooking and the foods of the Columbian Exchange. (And yes, the Founding Fathers are here too, but in some surprising ways.)

Corneille Wytfliet, Vtrivsqve hemispherii delineatio, 1597. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Image Credit: New York Public Library.

The variety does not end there. Where else would I find a post on human taxidermy cheek-by-jowl with an analysis of arranging recipes? The chats with libraries and archives, the teaching series, and the updates on digital humanities projects? The many, many posts on booze around the world?

An academic community like The Recipes Project provides a place for the vastness of my own field to meet the vastness of everyone else’s. While blogging about breastfeeding in early America, I discovered other scholars working on breastmilk as medicine in imperial China, and remedies for nursing problems in early modern England and the ancient world.

The online community here has in turn facilitated powerful in-person connections. The first time that someone came up to me at a big conference and told me they’d heard about my work before, it was because of a post on this site. That moment of having my work recognized as a junior scholar, that moment of knowing that someone else had found my research compelling, kept me going through the long solitary months of dissertation-writing. And I will strive not to forget that feeling as I become faculty myself.

One of the speakers at my commencement ceremony described graduate education as a process of “becoming bewildered,” of learning the limits of what you know. I’ve emerged from an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the field of vast early America, utterly bewildered. But thanks to The Recipes Project, I know where to start looking as I continue seeking answers.

Sweet Endings

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Pastern.

The Recipes Project team would like to thank everyone who participated in our month-long Virtual Conversation on ‘What is a Recipe?’ It was a wonderful month in which had a chance to explore a question near and dear to our hearts, as well as to meet (virtually) people working on recipes in a wide-range of ways.

On 10 July 2017, we hosted a two-part discussion on Facebook Live, in which the RP editors (Amanda Herbert, Elaine Leong, Lisa Smith, and Laurence Totelin) joined Elma Brenner at the Wellcome Library, London. The first part is available here, or on Facebook.

In this section, we chatted about some of our favourite recipe books at the Wellcome Library, as well as four themes that came up during the conference: recipe-like things, reconstruction, celebrity, and stories.

Laurence also put together a great Pinterest board on Cleopatra as a celebrity endorsement of products.

In part 2, we opened with a discussion about how different archives–the Wellcome Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library–have collected recipe books, followed by an examination of two sources that Laurence brought in from her own collection: an early twentieth-century advertisement for Allenbury’s food (infant formula) and a 1960s Australian edition of Mrs. Beeton. These sources led us to a conversation on empire, race, and recipes.

We then took questions from our Facebook audience. Unfortunately, Facebook has lost our video! Some questions were quite general (e.g. how can you start researching recipes), while others were much more specific (e.g. why do we assume recipes only mean food today?).

For those of you interested in researching recipes, please take a look through our blog, which is a snapshot of recipes scholarship. Our First Monday Library Chat series also offers a glimpse into various recipe collections around the world. We also have a Zotero bibliography in which several recipe scholars have shared details of  useful primary and secondary sources. And, eventually, we will have an exhibition site of our entire virtual conversation — so please stay tuned!

As to why we think of recipes being food… We considered, in particular, the ways in which the term ‘recipes’ is used in a lot of ways, even today — such as IFTTT ‘recipes’ or recipes for paint. It’s just that these occur within more niche groups. And when it comes to science and medicine, the search for precision has led to the use of the term ‘formula’ rather than ‘recipe’.

A fine place to conclude our many discussions on ‘what is a recipe?’… We still can’t pin down the term, as flexible boundaries are useful when looking at the subject. But the distinction between formula and recipe also links back to our earliest discussions on recipes being alive and in the wild. We can’t detach experience, embodiment, and constant change from the concept of ‘recipe’. Whatever a recipe is, it is NOT precision.

And that is what makes them so much fun.

Thank you once again for your presentations, your chats, and your interest that have made our virtual conversation such a success! Regular blogging resumes next Tuesday. Please don’t be a stranger.

Stories and memories: Day 8 of the Recipes Project

By Tallulah Maait Pepperell

On Day 8 of the Recipes Project, we revisited some themes that had popped up on previous days of our virtual conversation. There were reconstructions, along with discussions of the ‘art’ of a good recipe. And, of course, we came back to the connections between recipes and family history, and the many forms of recipes that appear in our daily lives.

To start with the reconstructions, Maria Galanaki shared her video on constructing a meal that follows the Hippocratic Regimen.  Simon Walker continued his “Feeding under Fire” series with a video on Classic French Soldiers’ Food and a twitter thread on the subject.

There really was no end to the bready delights available yesterday (though specifically absent in Maria’s Hippocratic menu!).  We had @Pamphilia2‘s video on gingerbread recipes, Deborah Lawton writing on gingerbread in historical re-enactment, and Molly-Taylor Polesky’s interview with a master baker.

A lot of the activity of the day was focused around Twitter, with conversations surrounding family medicine recipes. We had chicken soup, hot toddies, mustard plasters, “The Remedy”, onion compresses, honey and salt water, honey-onion syrup, lemons, and Schmaltzwickel… All old family recipes, bringing together themes of family, memory, and personal links to recipes that has permeated this project.

Then I took over the Twitter feed for a few hours to indulge a personal project and explore the subject of fictional foods and recipes. A few suggestions of my own started us off on a journey through Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away” to Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” and then it took on a life of its own. Our wonderful contributors pitched in their own literary recipes, with a number from fairy tales and books from their childhood; we had an overflowing porridge pot, Little Red Riding hood’s picnic, the darker sides of Beatrix Potter, Narnian Turkish Delight, and the wonderful stories of Roald Dahl.

Participants came together around common themes, all  falling under the topic “recipes”.  We all have recipes that hold personal meanings, whether from tradition or memories associated with them. Recipes are just another way that family history is kept alive– like quilts, cookbooks, or photograph albums. This is also the case with the Winslow family in the bread posts today, and with the use of recipes as a wider historical teaching, such as the gingerbread reconstructions.

Similarly, the focus on fictional recipes explored the meanings food and recipes hold in both narrative and real life. Many of the recipes contributed dealt with fairy tales and children’s literature, showing how people can be shaped by what they encounter as a child. For me, the most vivid fictional recipe that sticks in my mind is the hideous roly-poly from Tom Kitten that Michael Rosen reminded me of during the discussion.

If there’s anything that the virtual conversation on ‘What is a Recipe?’ has shown us this last month, it’s that while they may not always be historical, recipes connect people in a multitude of ways.

Reconstructing Recipes? : Day 7 of “What is a Recipe?”

By Amanda Herbert and Elaine Leong

Here at the Recipes Project virtual conversation Day 7, reconstruction has also emerged as a main theme.  What does “reconstruction” entail?  Is it following directions laid out by someone long-dead?  Or is it breaking down a past concept or culture according to our own systems, standards, and logics?  As our participants in Day 7 proved, reconstruction can mean many things.

Siobhan Carlson (@Spuddenly_Farm) continues to monitor her potatoes (see here and here). Working in parallel, Hillary Nunn (@HillaryNunn )  and Whitney Thompson (@klahom) explored eggs and the making of orange pudding. Prompting them to ask “What is an egg?” and “What is pudding?”. Elsewhere, Katherine Allen (@KAllen622 ) tried her hand at making lip salve and seed cake from an 18th century recipe book now in the Warwickshire Record Office. Katherine’s blog post highlights the difficulty and ease (via Amazon) of sourcing ingredients. Though we might be talking about potatoes, eggs or beeswax, one clear theme emerges from these #recipesconf about reconstruction – the difficulty in identifying precisely what our historical actors mean when they name an ingredient and in pinpointing their modern equivalents. Hillary and Whitney’s parallel experiment was particularly enlightening as the two versions of the pudding look somewhat different but still pretty appealing! 

#recipesconf aside, twitter has been filled with recipe reconstructions lately. The @makingknowing and @artechne projects have both taken advantage of the summer breaks to reconstruct recipes for all kinds of art processes from casting, soldering, melting to the production of colours like azurite. So, if you’re interested in reconstructing historical recipes, you’re in good company and there are plenty of resources out there!

Approaching “reconstruction” from a slightly different angle, Mark Sundaram (@alliterative) and Aven McMaster (@avensarah) reconstruct the history and etymology of the word “recipe” in their podcast, The Endless Knot.  If you’ve ever wondered how “recipe” was used in the ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern worlds — or even where we get the “Rx” symbol used for prescriptions, chemists, and drug stores! — then Mark and Aven’s exploration of words, history, and meaning offers some revealing insights.

The Instagram photo essay produced by Paveen Puneet and Priyanki S. Bishnoi explored “reconstruction” in the sense of breaking down and documenting the architecture, scaffolding, and framing of space and place.  Puneet and Bishnoi’s gorgeous images of cooking sites – both indoors and outdoors – in rural north India reveal that it is critical to explore the constructions which surround recipe activities.  You can find their essay, “A Pinch of This and a Handful of That: Food and Recipes in Kitchens of Rural North India” on Instagram @ppp_cookingchronicles

Courtesy of Paveen Puneet and Priyanki S. Bishnoi, on Instagram @ppp_cookingchronicles.
Courtesy of Paveen Puneet and Priyanki S. Bishnoi, on Instagram @ppp_cookingchronicles.

A more metaphorical reconstruction involves delving deep into one’s own family recipe collection to examine themes of cultural exchange of foodways, commercial functions of recipes, and memes, cliche, and memory. Will Burdette launched his new project, Food Moves, in which he’ll be exploring and reconstructing the family rolodex of recipes digitally! His video discussion is an intriguing counterpoint to Puneet and Bishnoi’s project. Where their interviewees dismissed the importance of written recipes as fuel for the fire, Burdette considers commercial recipes written on the side of boxes–as decoration, marketing… and family tradition. As @AvenSarah responded on Twitter:

Finally, we “reconstructed” the archives of several libraries and special collections with a series of tweets from The College of Physicians in Philadelphia (@CPPHistMedLib), the Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives (@CUSpecialColls), the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections (@UofGlasgowASC) and the Thomas Fisher Library (@FisherLibrary).  All four institutions offered images and descriptions of images from their collections, focusing particularly on medical recipes, scientific recipes, and recipes revealing the cultures of composition and writing–specifically, of ink.

Of course, reconstruction has been a strong theme throughout the virtual conversation and indeed on our blog (and elsewhere–the researchers at The Chymistry of Isaac Newton, for example, have been doing replications for years now, see videos here). All this talk about reconstruction reminded us of our conversations on Day 1 of the virtual conversation (Storify here), where Thijs Hagendijk’s tweeted on how to make pearls from fish eyes and @rare_cooking‘s  discussed her work on Cooking the Archive, comparing the blog to a laboratory notebook open to public. We encourage you to start your own notebook on reconstructing historical recipes and share it with us on twitter, blogs, instagram and more.

It’s been a great day at #recipesconf. Please join us again on July 3 for Day 8 of “What is a recipe?”  The Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and  Medicine at the University of Minnesota (@umnbiomedliband the Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives  (@CUSpecialColls ) will continue to bring us gems in their collections. See you very soon!