Category Archives: Teaching Resources

The Rebirth of Embodiment: Hand-Compiling an Early Modern Recipe Book

By Mackie Black

The early modern family participated in manuscript culture through the collection and trading of recipes among family, friends, and political connections. In this post, I describe how modern scholars can participate in a new manuscript culture through transcription. While digital transcriptions are valuable for accessibility, these projects hide thephysical experience that went into the creation of these texts. Though digital transcription does include physicality, with typing and coding and especially in an emotional sense with the frustration at a difficult word or phrase and the ultimate joy that comes with figuring it out, this is a different embodied experience than that of recreation through rewriting. Hand-writing recreation provides a more in-depth understanding of the messy physical processes of the past, those that leave the writer with ink-stained hands and the paper with scratched out mistakes, rather than the clean processes of the present. The cleanliness of today’s digital interaction with manuscripts removes not only the physical mess of writing with ink but also streamlines our encounters with these manuscripts to the point that their mistakes and quirks can be ignored in favor of analyzing the clean, edited text. My experience reconstructing the compilation of an early modern recipe book by hand-copying recipes using writing technology that closely approximates those of the time, became an act of recovering this messy embodiment. The physical act of transcription raises new questions that can allow us to more fully understand the processes behind the creation of these manuscripts. 

Photo of two sheets of paper with handwriting.
Attempts to copy recipes with a quill (left) and an ink-dipped pen (right).

My project adds to work by scholars including Marissa Nicosia at Cooking the Archives and Margaret Simon by stepping away from the kitchen and into the processes of recipe collection and copying. For this project, I created my own recipe book using manuscripts held by the Folger Shakespeare Library LUNA: Manuscript Transcriptions Collection and the Wellcome Collection as a final project for a graduate seminar. I skimmed through 8 manuscripts and selected 67 recipes that I could see myself making, focusing on those with vegetarian ingredients to fit my own diet, before hand-copying them in a notebook using either a quill or an ink dip pen. I also used cutting to remove unwanted ingredients and paste in recipes, mirroring this tool as it was used in recipe books, commonplace books, and in the literature of George Herbert and the Ferrar family in their Little Gidding Harmonies

Photo of open notebook with sections of handwriting and sections of cut-and-pasted excerpts from other notebooks.
Pages 88 and 89 of the completed recipe book showing two examples of cutting in order to remove non-vegetarian ingredients from recipes.

I experienced a difficult and messy process, one that left me with hand cramps and ink stains. Moving from the keyboard to the quill reconnected me to the methods of the past. While I was unable to fully leave the 21st Century behind thanks to my reliance on digitized manuscripts, I was able to experience the physical processes of writing down a recipe using an inkwell and quill. Digital transcription work is not messy, but this hand-copying was, engaging senses such as smell that get lost in the digital world. At the end of the day, there will be no ink stains left on the hands of the digital transcriber, no ink splotches to frantically clean off the manuscript or the table. It is this messy physical experience that I aimed to explore and through which new questions and avenues for further research arose.

Close-up photo of ink-stained fingers with laptop in the background.
My ink-stained hands.

Through this project, I experienced transcription in a new way that gave me an experiential understanding of the shapes of letters in various hands. As soon as I began copying and writing the letter “w”, for example, I understood it and grew better at recognizing it. It took the experience of hand-copying these recipes to understand that the unique shape of the “w” is a function of the difficulty of doing upstrokes with a quill or ink dip pen. This helped me better understand the rationale for certain writing conventions of the past as more than mere quirks but as features necessitated by technology. This process of realization, this rebirth of knowledge, occurred frequently during this project and improved my transcription abilities, as I had a better understanding of the embodied experience of writing with the technology available in the 17th Century than I had when I had been only transcribing digitally.

Photo of desktop with open recipe notebook, open laptop, ink pen and inkwell, and paper for blotting ink.
My desk as I copied out recipes. Shown are the book in progress, my laptop which I used to pull up the recipes I was copying from, my ink well, my glass dip pen, and my scratch paper used to restart the flow of ink on the pen if it dried out.

This experience also had me asking new questions. Unlike with digital transcription, when hand-writing, I was focused on the processes of copying. I asked myself, what types of editing were the authors using when they copied these recipes? Were they editing as they wrote by removing ingredients like I was? Were they adding ingredients that they thought would work better based on their own experience? Were they fixing mistakes such as removing repeated words and scratched out phrases like I was or were they at times introducing new mistakes? Does this editing count as unique knowledge creation?

A photo of a notebook with writing in black ink.
Pages 57 and 58 of the completed recipe book.

These new questions and this new experience allowed me to better understand why early modern writing looks the way it does. It opened a door for the recovery and rebirth of the physical knowledge hidden behind digital archives and digital transcription. Projects like this one that force modern scholars to rediscover this embodiment for themselves allow us to uncover this hidden knowledge, leading to a better understanding not only of the processes that resulted in the manuscripts we study but also of the people that created them. 

Playful Learning with Food: Historical Recipe Assignments in the Classroom

By Amy M. Froide

Recipes are powerful tools to teach about the past and the present. I like to experiment with assignments that mix a dash of fun with a quantity of learning in my courses on early modern British and European history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. These courses are upper-level surveys that do not require extensive background and content knowledge. Because not all students are history majors, I incorporate both multi-modal content and applied or experiential learning assignments. Students engage with historical sources and materials in different modalities; they will read scholarly articles along with a website, a blogpost, or a podcast on the same subject. And instead of assigning a paper, I structure assignments that require students to read, analyze, synthesize, and write, but the final product might be in a less textual format. Students respond well to this kind of hands-on and experiential teaching of history and the most successful examples have involved the history of food.

Utilizing some of the exceptional resources assembled by scholars and libraries, I have honed an assignment with the following constituent parts: 1) research and choose a historical recipe, 2) recreate the recipe,  3) present your results in class, and 4) write up a reflection on the experience and what food can teach us about history. Students consider various issues familiar to food historians, including the origins of foodstuffs and ingredients; histories of food production, labor, and gender; social status and class’s connection to foodstuffs; and food’s relationship to social settings, holidays, and religious events.

I ran this assignment for the third time in Spring 2022 in a course on Pre-Modern European Women’s History. I thought I had it down, but my 30 students staged a rebellion. Their act of charivari made a good assignment even better. Because I am a historian of Britain, I often do not assume my undergraduates can read non-English languages. In this course, I curated a set of digitally available recipes from early modern England. After perusing these recipes, however, my students balked. They did not feel attached to these recipes. They were distant and foreign. Diversity is a hallmark of my institution, and over a third of my students were Muslim with families from the Middle East and North Africa. A smaller percentage were Hispanic or from the Caribbean, many were African American, and several were Jewish. Given the breadth of backgrounds, I allowed these students to find a recipe that reflected their own past, with the caveat that it still had to be a documented early modern recipe.

The mandate for my students was to connect the past and the present through food.  Their background became the foundation for engaged historical learning. Thanks to this change on the last day of class we feasted on Sephardic Jewish recipes from late medieval Spain, agua fresca, and rosewater cakes. One student who is from the Philippines, chose to make adobo and taught about European colonialism in a new way by presenting native vs. Spanish adobe recipes. The main differences were the type of meat used–native Filipinos used goat, but Spanish Conquistadores introduced cattle–and the amount of vinegar to taste as Spanish tastebuds preferred a less tangy sauce (Figure 1).

Fig. 1 – “Potage de adobado de gallina” – a source typical of student online research from  Francisco Martínez Montiño, Arte de cocina, pastelería, vizcochería, y conservería (Madrid: José Fernández de Buendía, 1662).

The part of the assignment that elicits the most discussion and concern is the recreation of the recipe and it often ends up being the most educational moment. I try to assuage their worry by reminding students that the ‘result’ does not have to be pretty or appetizing, it is the process I want them to think about. I must admit in the age of cooking shows, this is a hard habit for the students to break, but I repeatedly announce that results are not graded on taste or appearance. When students are in the act of recreation, they discover different perspectives and different questions to ask. How do I know what measurements to use? How can a modern stove top recreate a pot over a fire? What would pre-modern cooks have used as substitutions? And how long is it until something is ‘done’?

In my women’s history course, students recreated and presented food in ways I did not expect. One student chose to recreate a family pizzelle recipe (figure 2). She brought in heirloom pizzelle irons for her presentation and ran a taste test competition between northern European (made with butter) vs. southern European (made with olive oil) recipes. Spoiler alert: butter won. A few students chose to recreate medicinal rather than culinary recipes. A student compounded a salve used to treat Henry VIII’s leg sores. A key ingredient in the original recipe was turpentine. I had forbidden the use of toxic substances, which led to her regaling us with a comedy of errors tale of substitutions. The recipes that didn’t work out were some of the most fun. A student who produced a very dry and unappetizing seed cake was a good sport and allowed the class to laugh with and not at her. Her misfire introduced a lively discussion about the difficulties of recreating recipes without standard measures and suggested baking temperatures.

Fig. 2 – Student-made, historically-inspired pizzelles!

Between the research, recreation, presentation, and write up, I think this recipe assignment is more involved and productive than a standard paper. And yet, the successful work is ‘hidden’ in several ways. One, the multiple steps automatically break down the assignment into chunks. Two, because there are several elements of choice in the assignment students do not mind spending time on it. Three, because there are elements of play involved it doesn’t seem like ‘work’ or ‘study’ to them. I will admit, not every single student enjoys a recipe recreation assignment. A handful of shy students, or those who think cooking and food are insignificant to historical inquiry, are not won over. One option is to allow students to choose between this assignment and a traditional research paper. Overall, I have found that most students devote more time and thought to an experiential learning experience and enjoy the process much more.  Having fun while learning, mixing work and play, is a recipe for student engagement.

If you are interested in creating your own recipe recreation project, there is a bit of upfront work to creating the assignment. I suggest doing this part during a summer or winter break. If you trial the assignment, you might find you lose total control (like I did) or that you did not envision everything ahead of time, so you must be willing to do some improvisation. Making student reflection part of the assignment will help you figure out what worked and what did not. By your second or third iteration, your assignment will be much refined–much like any recipe!

Teaching Through Virtual Cooking Demonstrations

By Sarah Peters Kernan

As we continue to negotiate the use of virtual, hybrid, and in-person teaching methods, I offer a reflection on my recent experiences teaching through virtual cooking demonstrations and workshops. I began leading live historical cooking workshops at the Newberry Library via Zoom in the summer of 2020 when the pandemic forced my planned in-person demonstration to a virtual one. I have regularly offered workshops and cook-a-longs since then, teaching continuing education students interested in food and history. Cooking is an outstanding way to draw people into new ideas, topics, and areas of study; this is what makes the preparation of food a useful tool to teach and to research. It is also no surprise to the Recipes Project community that this type of activity complements traditional lectures, virtual and in-person transcription activities, classroom website creation, and other in-person modules on recipes.

This year, I have been asked to speak to several academic audiences about my experiences with virtual cooking workshops, discussing the benefits and drawbacks to the exercise, as well as providing step-by-step tutorials for designing workshops. I hope that providing some of this information here will serve as a helpful starting place for anyone interested in using this model as part of their own courses, or for those interested in trying out in-person demonstrations or workshops in a virtual format.

The author teaching in a virtual cooking demonstration.

In my demonstrations, I do not exactly replicate historical recipes. I do not have the kitchen for it and I do not always have the accurate historical ingredients. I do, however, try to make recipes accessible modern home cooks and kitchens. This method of adaptation rather than exact replication in the cooking process is also an incredibly useful way to interest my students in my own area of research: medieval and early modern cookbooks. Together we can discuss and negotiate what are appropriate changes to make to a recipe and why, and how this compares to the adaptations a medieval or early modern cook might make to a recipe.

Additionally, the more I have presented cooking demonstrations, the more I have come to view the exercise of preparing historic recipes as akin to codicology, bibliography, and other hands-on studies of material books, the other methods of research in which I received more formal training. Cooking historical recipes, however imperfect the process is in a modern kitchen, is one way, and an important way, to teach history, buttress other research methods, and unearth new topics of inquiry. For students, learning that cooking can be a research methodology is an empowering realization, as they usually have some kind of background in preparing food, however limited that might be.

Obviously, I’m not the only one interested in this way of incorporating “creation” into teaching and scholarship: several major projects, like EatMediveal and the Making & Knowing Project, have hinged upon the ways in which performative labor and the creative act is important for understanding a recipe or manuscript. By creating, the product of the recipe is no longer ephemeral. It actually exists and can be studied in a different way than just the recipe text or another historical document or object.

I enjoy incorporating cooking in my teaching because performing or cooking a recipe creates another layer of information that you would not otherwise access by reading and imagining a recipe. That is, the physicality, however temporary, of preparing the recipe, of smelling the ingredients and final dish, and of tasting it, provides a different layer of knowledge than considering it intellectually. Additionally, preparing a historic recipe reveals that there is so much more labor at every stage of the cooking process. This helps students envision how much time was spent by a housewife, cook, or entire kitchen staff preparing food. And finally, the sensory experiences, primarily the smells and tastes, not only provide a helpful historical backdrop, but also make points about the tastes and preferences of consumers.

Why does all this information that comes through a cooking demonstration matter? What can this possibly impart for students, particularly those in a general course? First, it can assist in the understanding of motivations for events, like the global medieval spice trade or the rapid establishment of the colonial sugar industry. If such a large number of recipes reflect the same spices or sugar, you can quickly identify broad historical trends. It is easy to grasp this by smelling and tasting, then move onto the critical work of considering texts and data. Second, students quickly understand the desire for technological changes in the kitchen after experiencing the physicality of cooking. My students and I have the luxury of cooking without open flames and with amenities like refrigeration and appliances. Still, it is easy to imagine in the most modern setting how destructive and dangerous an earlier kitchen might be. The fire, smoke, and embers, no matter how careful you are, can be destructive for you, buildings, parchment and paper recipes, especially if you have to stand close to turn a spit or simply stir a pot. Experiencing the cooking of this period will make you understand how much food needed to be cut, chopped, or minced. Trying to complete some of this work with a small mortar and pestle hammers home the physical toll kitchen laborers experienced.

The author teaching in a virtual cooking demonstration. Photo by Thomas Kernan.

Teaching through cooking demonstrations is a very different experience than lecturing or leading a seminar. Cooking as teaching, in both a practical and performative way, requires different preparation and instincts. In contrast to my strict outlines and detailed PowerPoints for traditional lectures, I have loose lists of things to discuss while cooking, whenever I have time during the process. I also have to think about what the students can see of me and the food, and I have to describe other sensory aspects they cannot sense through Zoom. I have to elaborate on the process itself, noting the steps students and participants must take to get their oven or stove ready, how to chop ingredients, and in many instances, the differences between what we are doing that day and what would have been done a few hundred years ago.

Virtual cooking demonstrations are not without drawbacks, however. Just as a lecture or seminar on Zoom can be difficult to facilitate, ensuring that students feel welcome and are able to easily ask questions can be challenging. While Zoom can feel like a silent, black hole at times, I have found that the demonstrations come alive in a way that I don’t normally experience in other online meeting settings. For example, when participants have questions and I can hear the clanging of their pots and pans, or they want to check their sensory cues against mine to compare our processes, or verify information about certain ingredients. Using a virtual platform means that I can get right up to the camera and show them something like grains of paradise or blade mace up close, so while they cannot smell or taste it, they are able to see it in a way that might be otherwise difficult. Other logistical hurdles can arise, like ensuring students have access to the right equipment and ingredients, that you have a high-quality audio feed, and you do not let a pot boil over on live video, but those issues can be addressed with thorough planning and practice.

That planning and practice is paramount to a successful cooking demonstration in any teaching setting, whether in-person or virtual. Unfortunately, there is not enough space here to provide a full tutorial for designing a cooking demonstration, but for anyone interested in crafting a demonstration for a preexisting class or as a standalone workshop, I have created an infographic below to help you get started. It provides an overview of the design process, logistical parameters, and the long and short term preparations.

Virtual cooking demonstrations are a useful teaching method that can stand alone as a distinct workshop, or can be integrated into virtual, hybrid, or in-person classes. The setting is an engaging and creative place to teach.



Drinking the Ink of Prayer

By Genie Yoo  [1]

Sometimes historians dream of moments of recognition in the manuscripts they encounter. The act of reading or reciting, writing or copying, can trigger a distant memory, allowing one to draw a line connecting two seemingly unrelated points on the plane of history. I experienced something of this moment as I sat in the National Library of the Republic of Indonesia, reading an untitled and undated manuscript of Arabic prayers and their Malay prescriptions. That morning, Mas Bambang, a familiar face behind the counter, had handed me a manuscript labelled ML469. It was a prayer book, shorter and thinner than expected, and the first folio, glued tightly to the marbled cover, began with a list of recipes.

“For those who wish to memorize the Qur’an,” I copied into my notebook, “take ambergris, musk, and turmeric.” There was a hint of recognition in the order of these three ingredients, common since antiquity. “The three are to be moistened,” I copied, “to make the ink.” Suddenly, an inkling of recognition blended into memory. Two years prior, I had sat in Prof. Michael Laffan’s office in Princeton, reading out loud my transcription of the same lines from another manuscript, one which he had photographed in Simon’s Town, South Africa. “Write this prayer on a white bowl,” I wrote, “and drink for seven days.” I circled the Malay word for “bowl” (mangkung), a variation of its modern standardized form (mangkuk). Minute differences also beckon the memory. When I had given Michael a puzzled look about another variation of this term (mangku), he had pulled out the Wilkinson dictionary, an invitation to join the exercise of word hunting. Putting my pencil down, I gingerly flipped through the folios of ML469 until I arrived at the Arabic and saw that this copy of the prayer, too, like the one from Simon’s Town, was the prayer of ‘Akasa.

The earliest extant copy of Malay-language explications for the prayer of ‘Akasa in Europe is a late 16th c.-early 17th c. manuscript from the Scaliger Collection, initially mislabelled to be in the Turkish language. Or 247, Special Collections at the Leiden University Library.]

So began my fascination with two nearly identical copies of a Malay-language recipe for drinking the ink of prayer, now preserved in two manuscripts on opposite sides of the Indian Ocean: one in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the other in Simon’s Town, South Africa. While the former was a compilation of prayers in the same hand, its provenance an unmarked mystery, the latter was a shorter fragment copied into a communal notebook full of other recipe fragments. Variations between them left doubt as to their direct link in transmission; however, there were too many of the same lines in a string of recipes in the same order for the same prayer, to presume they were merely incidental. The question of a possible “original” seemed less relevant; they were likely copies of similar eighteenth-century copies circulating in the archipelago. What interested me more were the possibilities of bringing the two together into one frame: it allowed me to see that handwritten copies of similar prayer books circulated across vast distances and that prayers and their recipes for ritual use were copied, at times, in selective fragments.

The fragment in Simon’s Town was distinctive. The hand that wrote it, Michael assured me, had belonged to the famous eighteenth-century figure Imam Abdullah ibn Qadi Abd al-Salam, known as Tuan Guru (lit. “Master Teacher”). He was a nobleman from the eastern island of Tidore whom administrators of the Dutch East India Company had exiled to their Cape colony in 1780, just before the beginning of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. As Dr. Saarah Jappie has written, Tuan Guru’s fame is linked to his founding of the first Islamic school or madrasah in Cape Town in 1793.[2] There, he taught a diverse community of Muslim students and championed the rote-learning system in Malay and Arabic, which later madrasah teachers continued in Afrikaans.[3] Memory was essential to practicing the faith of Islam through recitation; and perhaps teaching how to commit something to heart, to preserve it within the body, inspired more than mnemonic instruction.

“For those who wish to memorize the Qur’an,” Tuan Guru had copied into the untitled notebook, “take ambergris, musk, and turmeric.” The handwriting is identical to a Qur’an Tuan Guru had copied from memory on Robben Island, now preserved at the Auwal Mosque (lit. “First Mosque,” est. 1794). “The three are to be mixed,” he wrote, “on a Friday night to make the ink.” The other manuscript had not mentioned the day and time for making the ink. If context can fill the gap, it may be noteworthy that Tuan Guru’s madrasah also functioned as the community’s first mosque, where followers of the faith congregated on Fridays, the sacred day of worship. “Write onto a white bowl this prayer,” he continued to copy, “and drink for seven days.” To write and to drink—the recipe called for a ritual assimilation of two common physical acts of learning in Islamic education.[4] Using the ink and the bowl to write and to drink, one was to absorb into the body the power of prayer, as a supplicatory means to achieve the memorization of the sacred Word.

Did Tuan Guru copy this recipe for his students in the context of the madrasah? He wrote it into a communal book full of other recipe fragments in different hands, for instance, of writing a talisman for healing. Copying it ensured that the prayer would again be copied then imbibed. The book was instructional, and the recipe meant to be used, preserved, and transmitted through the act of copying, not only on paper but also in the body. Can the manuscript in South Africa reveal something about the manuscript in Indonesia and vice versa? While the two raise more questions than answers, they also open up ways to reflect on the link between memory and the physical acts that aid it, whether in the secular context of a library or in the sacred context of a madrasah. They allow us to see the point where the plane of memory intersects with that of history, in the past and in the present.


Genie Yoo is a PhD Candidate in History at Princeton University. She specializes in the early modern and modern history of Southeast Asia and works at the intersection of science, medicine, religion, and empire. This blogpost is based on chapter two of her dissertation-in-progress, titled “Mediating Islands: Ambon Across the Ages.”


[1] My gratitude to Dr. Saarah Jappie and Michael Laffan.

[2] Saarah Jappie, “From the Madrasah to the Museum: the Social Life of the “Kietaabs” of Cape Town,” History in Africa 38 (2011): 375-376.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Prof. Rudolph T. Ware III writes about the epistemology of embodiment in Islamic pedagogy, particularly in the context of West Africa. See Rudolph T. Ware III, The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014).