Category Archives: Round-up

History Carnival 159: A Question of Scale

By Lisa Smith

Image credit: Wikipedia, Pratheep P S,
Image credit: Wikipedia, Pratheep P S,

Welcome to History Carnival 159! We’re delighted here at The Recipes Project to be hosting the September edition. It’s been a great month for history blogging and I was spoiled for choice. Some months, themes just seem to suggest themselves. What jumped out at me was ‘big’: discoveries, personalities, thinking and questions…

First up, September 2016 was notable for an exciting  discovery in Canada’s north: the HMS Terror. The HMS Terror was one of the lost ships of the Franklin expedition, which had set out in 1845 to explore the Northwest Passage. Out of the ones written this month, my two favourites were by Tina Adcock and Shane McCorristine. The first I like as much for its presentation (a Twitter essay) as for its powerful story in which Adcock looks at the forgetting of indigenous knowledge and the legacies of colonialism. The second is an article by Shane McCorristine rather than a blog post, but I’ve included it for its supernatural twist to the history of the expedition. (And we are heading into the spooky month of October, after all.)

HMS Terror. Image credit: After George Back - National Archives of Canada / C-029929.
Image credit: HMS Terror, After George Back – National Archives of Canada / C-029929.

There were also a lot of big personalities who arrived in my submission pile. Yvonne Seale provides a beginner’s reading list for medieval nuns, which includes some fantastic biographies of interesting women and will appeal to academics and non-academics alike. James Keating introduces us to the iconic Australian feminist, Vida Goldstein, and her contributions to the international suffrage movement. He considers why Australian women like Goldstein remained marginal figures in the transnational campaign, despite their early success back home. (Answer: local context is everything.)

The one woman I really wanted to meet, though, was Mary Scales*, an Australian psychic and ancestor of Samadhi Driscoll. In Driscoll’s words:

A famous clairvoyant, Mary would fall into dramatic psychic trances in which she would foretell the future. She apparently foretold everything from the Boer war to the winners of the Melbourne Cup. Then there were her highly-publicised and victorious court appearances in both criminal and civil trials – one of them at the High Court of England, where Mary’s eccentric antics captured the imaginations of the media worldwide.

Need I say more?

In September, thoughts of historians lightly turn to thoughts of… methodology. There was a lot of big thinking going on this month. As part of a roundtable on LaShawn Harris’ book, Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy, Brian Purnell reflects on ‘The Difficulty of Uncovering Obscure Lives and Hidden Histories’. He wonders: ‘How can a researcher and writer find information and recreate a story about people and practices that, by their very nature, did not want to be found or known?’ The result, he notes, is a complicated methodology and messy categories. Categories were also Brodie Waddell’s inspiration for thinking about early modern society, more specifically terms used to describe people’s social status.   As Waddell puts it, “if we hope to understand past societies, we need to know much more about how people labelled themselves and their neighbours, and how these labels related to the concrete realities of daily life.”

Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1615. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1615. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

For Nadine Weidman and Will Pooley, historical imagination and narrative were at the heart of their musings. Weidman revisits Laurel Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale to think about how ‘Ulrich faces, as all historians must, the fundamental unknowability of the past’—in her case through imagination, close-reading and contextualisation. Pooley wonders how we can find causes for behaviour in the past and the importance of big (issues) and small (individual behaviour) scale in the narratives we find. I also include his post for its reference to cheese and magic and one of the post’s comments, which is a cracking example of cheese-related history.

Historians were also asking some big questions. Some questions were with the intent to explain. Andrea Eidinger attempted to answer her students’ question: how can they identify peer-reviewed articles? Her focus is on Canadian History journals, but she gives useful advice for students more generally! If you’ve ever wondered how Spanish got its ‘n’ with a tilde, there’s a helpful v-log for you. Other questions were broader. David Brydan looks at Franco’s Spain to identify how the Francoists found their way around a tricky situation: “how to talk about international cooperation without adopting the language of liberal or socialist internationalism, particularly without recourse to the familiar internationalist language of peace, freedom, tolerance and equality?” For Migraine Awareness Month, Katherine Foxhall has a thought-provoking post entitled ‘’Migraines were taken more seriously in the past – where did we go wrong?’

But historical recipes, in particular, highlighted the way in which fragments of information can be used to answer big questions.  RP editor, Amanda Herbert, has the chance to use a test kitchen to try out old recipes. She concludes that ‘through careful study and experimentation, our community of scholars uncovered important, large-scale concepts: questions of authorship and identity, experiences of material culture, evidence of labor patterns, constructions of gender and social status, and examples of the cultivation, dissemination, and sharing of early modern knowledge.’

An episode in Tristram Shandy: Doctor Slop, having fallen off his horse, is greeted by Obadiah. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.
An episode in Tristram Shandy: Doctor Slop, having fallen off his horse, is greeted by Obadiah. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

With all of the ‘big’ themes going on this month, it is important not to forget the opposite—those small stories, those fragments. September certainly offered up some tasty crumbs of history. Hels offered a few thoughts on Shakespeare’s schooling. Rebecca Johnston looked at one fascinating letter, which was written to the Cheka in 1921 to request the release of an art historian and critic, Nikolai Punin. And last, but certainly not least, Sharon Howard offers a tale of a strange horse-related accident in eighteenth-century Denbigh.

Take care and travel safe, everyone. See you at History Carnival 160, which will be hosted by Frog in a Well on 1 November!

*Could Mary Scales’ name be any more appropriate for this month?

Coming Soon… History Carnival 159!

Two boys tease a carnival reveller wearing a grotesque mask, while a third boy blows a horn. Colour lithograph after L. Boilly, 1824. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Taunts by creepy kids not included in our carnival! Two boys tease a carnival reveller wearing a grotesque mask, while a third boy blows a horn. Colour lithograph after L. Boilly, 1824. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

On October 1, I’ll be pleased to host History Carnival 159 at The Recipes Project. A History Carnival is a round-up of the best of the history blogging in the last month. History here is widely defined to include academic or popular history and could include discussions of teaching, research, sources, debates… Really, anything but fiction!

If you’ve never seen a Carnival before (or just missed the most recent one), you can check out the September Carnival, which was hosted by Ana Stevenson.

So, have you read any great history blogging this month… or want to share your own posts? Please send in your nominations here before September 30.

Recipes Round-up: Research Presented at Scientiae and SSHM 2016

by Katherine Allen

In early July I attended two conferences: Scientiae (on early modern science), and the Society for the Social History of Medicine (SSHM) conference. Both had an impressive range of scholarship, and it was exciting to see recipes featured so prominently. Included here are some of my thoughts on the research, sources, and challenges currently being tackled by recipe historians.


Scientiae was held at St. Anne’s College (Univ. Oxford) and the theme was disciplines of knowing in the early modern world. This conference was interdisciplinary, and brought together scholars working on more traditional aspects of the history of science, alongside those exploring the histories of magic, alchemy, medicine, music, and religion.

In the panel on medicine in early modern Europe, Tillmann Taape’s presentation on alchemical medical guides in early modern Germany reinforced the idea that printed distillation guides were used by ‘the common man’, and his texts included herbal sections with registers of diseases and medical recipes. I discovered that waters had ‘bad attitudes’, and that distilling was seen as a way of making the water ‘obey’ the craftsman.

I spoke on the continued practice of distilling household medicine in early eighteenth-century England. I stressed the continued importance of printed distillation guides as sources of technical instruction for domestic practitioners, and that distilling medicine was done primarily as a leisure activity with the products used to supplement a family’s medical care.

Distillation figures in Ambrose Cooper's 'The Complete Distiller' (1757)
Distillation figures in Ambrose Cooper’s ‘The Complete Distiller’ (1757)

In a session on ‘understanding the vegetable world’ Rachel Koroloff introduced us to the travnik, a challenging term used to simultaneously describe an herbal manuscript, an herbalist, and an herbal collection in 17th C Muscovy. The term originated in the 1630s with the Tsar ordering apothecaries to source plants for the palace’s medical stores. The travniki as texts included recipes, and balanced Russian folklore and supernatural beliefs with a hybrid version of Galenic medicine. Rachel argued that there was an assumed base knowledge of the plants listed in travniki and that this rested on the presumption of the travnik as an individual with expertise in herbal knowledge.

Medicine in its Place: SSHM 2016

The SSHM conference was held at the University of Kent and had well-balanced temporal scope on spaces within medical history. I found the panels on approaches to research (the place of digital history in medicine and one on social media) particularly thought-provoking and inspiring.

I organised a panel on 17th and 18th C domestic medicine. This panel included my research on the evolving material history of 18th C recipe collections with the commercialisation of medicine, and the incorporation of newsprint and proprietary medicine advertisements into these personalised books. One particular challenge of this research is determining from where recipes were sourced, given that citations referencing print/newsprint were not commonplace.

Newsprint in 18th C Manuscript Recipe Books
Newsprint in 18th C Manuscript Recipe Books

Anne Stobart spoke on Margaret Boscawen’s 17th C plant notebook, and the links between the garden and the kitchen in household healthcare. She challenged the historiographical idea that ingredients were readily and freely collected from the garden and countryside and argued that Boscawen was concerned about the availability of plants in her locality. A question I found interesting for Anne was how she (and contemporaries) distinguishes between ‘wild’ and ‘the garden’.

Culpeper Garden. Post-conference visit to Leeds Castle, Kent.
Culpeper Garden. Post-conference visit to Leeds Castle, Kent.

Sally Osborn highlighted the far-reaching networks used by 18th C recipe collectors to share medical knowledge; these included familial, social, and political networks which were used to build social credit. She suggested that tried and trusted recipes acquired from family and other correspondents may have been valued and chosen over other recipes, like those collected from print sources.

In a panel on landscapes, Sophie Greenway examined the post-war shift of the British garden from a place of production to one of leisure. In 1950s magazines, advertisements encouraged women to purchase efficient kitchen appliances so that they could spend recreational time in their gardens. Paradoxically, this ‘aspirational literature’ featured this message alongside recipes for desserts like blancmange and blackcurrant jelly, which suggests that a woman’s time was best spent in the kitchen. I found this paper valuable for thinking about recipes used alongside advertising, as well as the relationship of print with the domestic space.

The Household in 1950s Magazine Advertising
The Household in 1950s Magazine Advertising

In a roundtable discussion on digital history, Lisa Smith represented the collaborative work being done here at The Recipes Project, as well as the transcription efforts over at EMROC and Shakespeare’s World. Lisa emphasised that in the digital projects, the message board is useful for attracting new transcribers, encouraging discussions, and demonstrating the value placed on close reading and deeper engagement with recipes.

I thoroughly enjoyed my ‘conference holiday’ and these papers represent the range of sources, topics, and temporal contexts with which recipe historians are currently engaging. And, it is on digital platforms like this that we can share our research, collaborate, and explore new avenues of inquiry on recipes.

Midsummer Folly

By Lisa Smith

A woman with shears holding a sheep; representing June. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
A woman with shears holding a sheep; representing June. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year–and, this year in a rare event, it coincides with the Strawberry (full) Moon! This gives you a bit of extra light, assuming you’re not out jumping bonfires, to catch up on your internet skiving. To this end, I put out the call on Twitter for posts for a ’roundup’.

Thony Christie obligingly pointed out the accidental seasonal nature of my tweet, as Roundup is a weedkiller:

One very diverting read, which I spotted on Twitter, is A Handbook of Weather Folk-Lore (1873). (Alas, I lost the tweet and can’t remember who shared it. Apologies!) From this handbook, we learn that the slightest bit of rain on Midsummer’s Day (June 24) will ruin hazelnuts, walnuts and corn, although apples, pears or plums will not be affected.

Saints John and Paul as protectors against storm, thunder an Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Saints John and Paul as protectors against storm, thunder an
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been noticing an unusual amount of thunder this month. Troubling. For you see:

Thunder in June signifieth that same year that the woods shall be overthrown by winds, and great raging shall be of lions and wolves, and so like of other harmful beasts (101).

I hope that sheep aren’t too harmful, because we’re also at peak sheep-shearing season. Tamsin Lewis sent in this description of a sheep-shearing feast from a seventeenth-century ballad.

C17 Sheep Shearing FestivalFor those of you struggling with the font…

With wild Curds and Custards,/ with Chees-cakes and Pyes,/ With Sider and Sugar,/ Cream and Strawberries,/ Green Tanseys and White-pots,/ with Fish, Fowl, and Beasts,/ Our table is spread at a Sheep-shearing Feast./ And when are filled we laugh and lye down:/ Embrace one another,/ and give a green Gown.

An allegory of plenty: a scene of sheep-shearing with a corn Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
An allegory of plenty: a scene of sheep-shearing with a corn
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Sounds delightful, and most in keeping with the season!

With the long days and summer sun, be sure to treat yourself right. But I’m sure this rather horrible remedy (not suitable for vegetarians) to treat freckles (courtesy of the Royal College of Physicians, London) is not the answer. And if you suffer from hayfever, as this post from our archives shows, there are some other remedies you might want to avoid…

L. Fuchs; De historia stirpivm commentarii insignes (1542). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
L. Fuchs; De historia stirpivm commentarii insignes (1542). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Poppies are out for their brief moment in the sun, looking all blowsy and beautiful. In this post, which is a visual treat, an artist looks at historical depictions of poppies.

Garlic is also coming into season. Editor Amanda Herbert spotted this blog post by Fredrika Jacobs at Pulcinellapasta on a short history of garlic’s uses, with a recipe for garlic soup.

With summer in full bloom, bees are buzzing busily. And, in Grantham, going to the pub. Joanne Major tells us about the history of a pub with an intriguing living pub sign… a beehive!

If the post on garlic hasn’t already given you some ideas for summer cookery, this Metro article about 1970s foods might provide inspiration for your summer dinner parties.  Who wouldn’t want jellied spaghetti loops?

Some good news tweeted by The Casebooks Project: ‘OUR LARGEST RELEASE TO DATE: Napier’s casebooks 1610–1620 and 21 volumes of colour images. 48,000 cases now live.’ It is very easy to while away your time playing with The Casebooks Project, where you can look at the medical cases of two early modern medical astrologers. There are intriguing details about patients, astrological charts, and more.

If you haven’t already discovered the blog #FolkloreThursday: Public Folklore in Action and their Twitter account @FolkloreThurs, you should check them out. They just celebrated their first anniversary last week! There are lots of wonderful folklore posts on their blog and, on Thursdays, you can follow #FolkloreThursday on Twitter for all sorts of folklore tidbits.

Mark your calendar for July 22. Our regular contributor Rachel Rich will be  talking about nineteenth-century cookbooks on British Muslim TV’s ‘Sister’s Hour’. This will be streamed online at and still available on the Sister’s Hour page afterwards for subscribers.

A group of children are stealing food from a picnic they have found under a tree. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
A group of children are stealing food from a picnic they have found under a tree. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Last, but not least, you might fancy checking out our new, slowly growing, YouTube channel, Historical Recipes. We have a few playlists and subscribe to some channels that might interest you. (And RP contributors: if you fancy trying your hand at a video post for us, do let us know!)

Happy summertime playing to you!