For the last five years, the Recipes Project has been running an annual September Teaching series. That series has proven extremely successful, and the blog is now a mine of resources for any teacher in search of inspiration. Repeatedly, posts published as part of the series have demonstrated the extraordinary pedagogical power of historical recipes, as texts or as interface between the written and the material.
Parallel to this, fostering the career of younger scholars has always been part of the Recipes Project’s mission. It has published — and continues to publish — the work of MA and PhD students, some of whom have now settled into their careers, academic or otherwise.
Inspired by my own experience as a contributor and editor of the Recipes Project, in the academic year 2015/16, I decided to incorporate blogging into the assessment of my Cardiff University UG module on Greek and Roman Medicine. I was overwhelmed by the quality of the work of my students. Most of them had neither studied ancient medicine nor blogged before, but they took on both challenges! They inspired me to push myself further as a teacher.
We hope that our readers will enjoy their work. We also hope that those readers with teaching responsibilities will consider encouraging their UG students to blog and share their fresh insights into historical recipes.
In 2017, the academic journal Global Food Historypublished a roundtable on “Teaching Food History.” Participants, including one of this month’s contributors Jeffrey Pilcher, described the exciting outcomes and periodic challenges of developing food history courses. This includes the use of recipes in the classrooms as a means to consider silences in the archives; grapple with questions of material history; and to think about (and experience) issues around labor, production, and supply.
All through the month, we’ve had the pleasure of extending these conversations, featuring different approaches to teaching with recipes. As our contributors have shown, recipes represent an exciting and accessible form that encourages students to think in new ways about reading practices, but also histories of class, gender, and global exchange.
This month’s Series means that we now have some 24 posts on teaching available on the site. In this final post of September 2018, we’ve listed these resources for our readers, categorized by approach and topic. Some of them date to 2014, when Amanda Herbert first launched the Series. We hope this makes our teaching resources even more accessible for educators and will encourage the use of recipes in the classroom. And, as always, we want to hear from you about how you use recipes in the classroom! Please join us in the Comments section to continue the conversation.
Recipes provide an endless source of discovery. Although I began my research more than twenty-five years ago, poring over the cookbook collection at the Condumex Archive in Mexico City, I continue to be amazed by the diversity and historical change in Mexican cuisine that are documented in recipe collections. In re-reading the first Mexican cookbook signed by a woman, Vicenta Torres de Rubio, I noticed that for the nineteenth-century elite, guacamole was not a dip of mashed avocado with chile but rather a European-style salad, carefully diced and garnished with oil and vinegar. Likewise, mole poblano, which is now considered Mexico’s national dish because of its mixture of New World chiles and chocolate with Old World spices, was once a colonial concoction made primarily with European ingredients such as lamb, pork, almonds, and sesame seeds, but seldom with the Indigenous turkey, and never, in the eighteenth century at least, with chocolate. Only after the Revolution of 1910 did Mexican elites embrace the Indigenous culinary heritage and its ingredients.
Students in the Food Studies program at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, actively participate in the discovery of historical food and culture. Daniel Bender began teaching a course called “Edible History” a decade ago using a portable heating unit to provide cooking demonstrations. The class came into its own with the construction of the Culinaria Kitchen Laboratory, funded through an Ontario provincial infrastructure grant, which allowed students in lab sections to prepare recipes at their own cooking stations, thereby gaining an experiential understanding of culinary labor. Homework assignments reinforce this process of discovery by asking students to independently reconstruct historical recipes and reflect on what their successes — and failures — in the kitchen reveal about foods from the past. As the highpoint of the class, students run a pop-up curry kitchen in place of a midterm exam, preparing a range of historical recipes for people across the campus, thereby exploring the genealogies of a globe-trotting dish.
Other colleagues at UTSC have used recipes and cooking for community-engaged education. Donna Gabaccia first taught a women’s studies class called “Gender in the Kitchen” while the Culinaria Kitchen Lab was still under construction. Unable to do lab exercises with the students, she sent them out to create a community cookbook called “Scarborough Fare,” named for the suburb of Toronto in which our campus is located. Many collected recipes from their mothers and grandmothers. The cookbook reflects the rich diversity of Scarborough’s immigrant communities and helps to build ties between these groups as people sample their neighbors’ dishes. The innovations that result from these exchanges are creating the future of Canada’s multicultural cuisine. Jayeeta Sharma added yet another dimension to this community engagement in a class called “Cuisine and Culture Across Global Asia” by taking students to the UTSC campus garden together with members of the Access Alliance Rooftop Garden. Students interviewed the community gardeners to learn about the global recipes they prepared from their Toronto garden plants, thereby gaining cross-cultural competencies not only by learning about the foods of other lands but also by interacting in the garden and kitchen with the bearers of these traditions.
The capstone of the Food Studies program is an intensive research seminar such as the “Culinary Ethnography” class that I teach. Each week, we spend the first half of the seminar discussing a reading about some aspect of food and culture, for example, Sidney Mintz’s essay “Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom,” which offers a concise history of Caribbean cuisine while reflecting on the meaning of food choices for enslaved Africans. Afterwards, we prepared a dish of callaloo with plantains to experience and reflect on the tastes of early modern globalization. For their major project, students had to research and write about some element of Toronto’s food system or culinary cultures such as a dish, restaurant, or cook. One student reconstructed the origins of Lanzhou Beef Noodles, a hugely popular hand-pulled noodle dish that originated in the provincial capital of Gansu in northwestern China and has now spread across the country and throughout the Chinese diaspora. Beginning with a legendary recipe attributed to an eighteenth-century scholar, the student looked critically at how the noodles evolved over time and were spread — not by the inhabitants of Lanzhou but rather by migrant cooks from an impoverished nearby town. For the final seminar meeting, students prepared their chosen dish and shared it with the class. Thus, students in UTSC’s Food Studies program not only learn about food through reading recipes but through the embodied, experiential processes of preparing and tasting food from them.
During breakfast at the gas station/restaurant in Shawanaga, the reserve where my mother was born, my family’s conversation revolved around food memories. The soup and skaan special roused a discussion of how our Granny made the best skaan (pronounced “skawn,” also known as bannock or fry bread). That skaan was so good, I almost convinced myself that I would never be able to make it that well. My sister explained that her own skaan always came out hard as a rock. Uncle Sonny piped up, “I know how to make scone,” and started listing off measurements: “three cups of flour, three heaping teaspoons of baking powder, some salt, then you add some water, and don’t mix it too much.” My sister turned to me and responded by asking me to show her how to make it because she needs to do it with someone to get the feel of it. Confirming food’s capacity to connect people with places, history, and a sense of cultural identity, the common understanding of this simple food was enriching.
There is a tension in recipes that written instructions are not enough or that somehow the maker will miss something or not do something integral but omitted from the text. Seeing someone make it carries more nuance and offers reassurance. This simple recipe represents ingredients from mere rations, and the preparation of such ingredients show the resilience of Indigenous people across North America, but also as traces of colonization since there are simple breads like these across the globe.
Beyond personal likes and dislikes, food symbolizes visceral connections to the past and stands in as a cultural affirmation that people need to reclaim as their own. Embedded in even the most simplistic recipes are the tensions between land, food, and culture. Taking a recipe and doing an analysis of one of the ingredients or the context in which it was made reveals so much about power relations and social conditions. This is the assignment I give to a graduate class I teach called Food, Land and Culture in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. As a writing response to the weekly readings I ask students to use the convention of a written recipe as a literary device to respond to the week’s readings. The following are two examples of these brief recipe/responses:
Tzazna Miranda Leal, Masters of Environmental Studies Student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University:
Rabia Ahmed, Masters of Environmental Studies Student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University: