Category Archives: Tools and Techniques

Constance Hall’s ‘Carrott Pudding:’ A Rendition

The following post is by an undergraduate student, Jessie Foreman, who worked with me on a research placement this summer, as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme at the University of Essex. She spent part of her time transcribing early modern recipe books for the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective, along the way discovering interesting old recipes and even trying her hand at them. What I appreciate most about her following post is the way in which she highlights the assumed knowledge behind cooking, now as well as then.

By Jessie Foreman

From the Cookbook of Constance Hall, 1672, Folger Shakespeare Library, V.a.20.
From the Cookbook of Constance Hall, 1672, Folger Shakespeare Library, V.a.20.


A carrot pudding, how hard could it be?

Being a total beginner to early modern recipes, it was only logical that I should find a very simple recipe–not necessarily all that easy to do… I finally found a recipe that wasn’t cut off at the sides, used sixteen eggs and could feed the whole street… or require any ingredients that I couldn’t get from the local Co-op. In fact, I thought I was one step ahead of the recipe, since I had a fan-assisted oven and an actual Early Modern Assistant (thanks Nan!). How naïve I was!

As instructed in the recipe, we started by boiling three large carrots in a saucepan to fulfil the order of ‘4 spoonfulls of Carrotts.’ My Nan did start to scrape them before they were boiled, noting that it would be easier to do while they were still raw and not boiling hot, but we stuck to the recipe and scraped them after they were boiled. Beating the carrots in a mortar also proved to be very ineffective when it came to taking the pudding out of the oven, as you could see that they hadn’t distributed very well. I’m not trying to give baking advice to Constance Hall, but maybe she should think of grating in a few more things for a more even flavour.

Next were the eggs. I should’ve known that with ten eggs (two of which had the yolks removed) and a pint of cream, that I’d have needed something else substantial so it doesn’t come out as a runny mess. We whisked them up, but only to a normal whisked egg consistency – ‘beat them well’ leaves a lot to the imagination.

After that we added a generous amount of Aldi’s Own Brandy (in place of sac)k and softened butter, along with cream, salt and nutmeg. We used a spring whisk in lieu of not being able to use an electric mixer, and came out with a butter lump mix and cramp in one hand. It was hard to get rid of the lumps of butter in the mix, which had started clumping together and kept getting harder to remove. With the help of a spoon we did manage to squish all of them, but I wonder if the smaller remaining lumps can be blamed for the wobble on top of the pudding when it was in the oven. At ten minute intervals while the pudding was in the oven, I had to drain a growing lake of butter from the top of the pudding.

Image Credit: Jessie Foreman.
Image Credit: Jessie Foreman.

Grating the breadcrumbs was a nightmare: I’d bought fresh bread that morning, so it was very fresh and doughy. We should’ve used day-old bread, but by the time my Nan flagged that up, the carrots were already boiling, and the batter, already made. The recipe did not specify how much bread we should put in, only just enough to make it into a batter. As the mix was already sort of looking like a batter, we added in enough so that the grated bread was distributed evenly and went all the way through.

This was one of the main challenges we encountered while trying to follow this recipe: in any recipes, both old and new, there is a substantial amount of implied knowledge in the recipes. Given that fewer people would have read Hall’s manuscript recipe than modern printed recipe collections, there is even more implied knowledge; her audience was much more selective to begin with.

This wasn’t to last, though, as when we were pouring it into the baking tin, all of the mashed carrot and bread immediately sunk to the bottom. It was at this point that I started to think that the pudding might not quite turn out as planned… but there was nothing to do about it now, so I put it in the preheated oven for half an hour, draining Lake Butter every ten minutes. When the timer started beeping, I stuck in a knife to see if it was baked through. The knife was covered in grease, so we turned up the oven a little and left it again for ten minutes.

Image credit: Jessie Foreman.
Image Credit: Jessie Foreman.

By the time the timer rang again, the top of the pudding was very brown, so there was no way that it could last any longer in the oven without getting burned. Whatever was inside of the tin now – whether cooked or sludge – was the finished product. I left it on the side to cool for about twenty minutes before turning it out onto a plate. The good: it solidified and kept its shape! The bad: just as predicted, everything had sunk to the bottom, so there was a very uneven distribution.

The pudding had mixed reactions from the official taste testers. My Mum said that the top of it, where there were no breadcrumbs, tasted like an egg custard. She quite enjoyed it. My Dad? He spat his into the bin.

Trying out this recipe wasn’t exactly a resounding success, but I thoroughly enjoyed a somewhat blind cooking experience and it felt like I was doing Constance Hall’s version of the technical challenge on The Great British Bake Off. If you’re not sure what this is, you should definitely check it out, where you’ll see baking disasters even worse than mine!

Image Credit: Jessie Foreman.
Image Credit: Jessie Foreman.

Jolly Good Ale and Old: Or, Were Early Modern People Perpetually Drunk?

[This post is part of The Recipe Project’s annual Teaching Series.  Here, Drs. James Brown and Angela McShane discuss their work with the Intoxicants Project.]

By Dr James Brown (University of Sheffield) and Dr Angela McShane (V&A/University of Sheffield)

We’re part of a research project exploring the history of intoxicants (alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, and opium) in England in the period 1580 to 1740, based in the UK with generous funding from the ESRC and the AHRC. Like most academic projects these days we’re committed to sharing our work on pre-modern drug cultures with audiences beyond the academy, and one of our most successful and rewarding engagement experiments has been an evening of beer, ballads, and banter that we call ‘Jolly Good Ale and Old’. We’ve now done three instalments of this musical extravaganza, all of which follow the same formula: at a suitable venue – usually a pub – the crowd are equipped with specially created songbooks (pdf), and led in rousing renditions of seventeenth-century drinking songs by early music expert Lucie Skeaping (of BBC3 and The City Waites fame). The historical harmonies are interspersed with roundtable conversations in which a handful of invited scholars informally tackle some hot topics in drinking studies while fielding questions from the barstools.

Special Guest Star: The BBC's Lucie Skeaping teaches a capacity crowd how to sing an early modern drinking ballad at our most recent Jolly Good Ale and Old event, hosted by Being Human Festival in Chancellor’s Hall at Senate House, University of London. Photo Credit: TBC
Special Guest Star: The BBC’s Lucie Skeaping teaches a capacity crowd how to sing an early modern drinking ballad at our most recent Jolly Good Ale and Old event, hosted by Being Human Festival in Chancellor’s Hall at Senate House, University of London. Photo Credit: © Being Human Festival (via Flickr).


The eight ballads and catches we showcase at ‘Jolly Good Ale and Old’ are diverse, ranging from earnest paeans to the humble leather bottle over new-fangled drinking vessels such as tankards and glasses (Joan’s Ale is New), to NSFW ditties featuring heavily euphemised interactions between soldiers and barmaids (The Trooper Watering his Nag). A stalwart of the repertoire is The Black Bowl, a ballad on the unlikely topic of weights and measures composed by Thomas Ravenscroft in 1614. Over twelve verses the audience are introduced to a full range of twelve early modern drink vessels, from the titular black bowl up to the mighty 252 gallon wine tun. The cavalcade of receptacles of ever-increasing capacity ushers in a question that, while often ignored, dodged, or finessed by historians of alcohol, has dominated discussion at every one of these events: were early modern people perpetually drunk?

Tavern Scene Woodcut from J. W. Ebsworth ed. The Roxburgh Ballads: Copyright Free.
Tavern Scene Woodcut from J. W. Ebsworth ed. The Roxburgh Ballads: Copyright Free.


It’s a thorny issue, to which the response is too often a kneejerk cliché about the weakness of early modern ‘small’ beer and its status as a low-alcohol alternative to polluted water supplies (which, we know now, were actually pretty clean). Instead, to address the question properly, one of our expert panel – our own Dr James Brown, Research Associate on the Intoxicants and Early Modernity project – draws on recent work by Professor Craig Muldrew in his book Food, Energy, and the Creation of Industriousness (2011), which tackles the question head-on.

Paraphrasing Craig Muldrew’s findings, James B. argues that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries beer was more important as a source of energy (via calories both from grain and alcohol) than as an alternative to water (p 66). Amounts consumed were thus considerable, especially for men engaged in moderate to heavy labour, where most institutional allowances ranged from four pints to over a gallon of beer a day (p. 70). Most interestingly of all, Craig uses recipes from early modern brewing manuals such as Jeffrey Boys’s Directions for Brewing Malt Liquors (1700) to estimate both ‘the calorific content of beer and its potency as a drug’. The results are startling: while ‘small’ beer would indeed have been very weak (at around 2% alcohol by volume), ‘table’ or ‘middle’ beer was around the 5-7% ABV mark, while ‘strong’ beer (sometimes called ‘October’ or ‘harvest’ beer and generally consumed at alehouses) could easily top 10-12% ABV. (pp. 73-83). Thus, in light of the amounts consumed, especially by labourers, and given that the weakest ‘small’ beer was generally avoided – it was described by many authors as ‘trough beer’ injurious to health, and used primarily for children and in workhouses (p.74) – it seems likely that early modern people were indeed constantly tipsy, if not perpetually drunk. This is to say nothing of the proliferation of exotic wines and spirits in the period!

How-To: title page from Jeffrey Boys's Directions for Brewing Malt Liquors (1700).
How-To: title page from Jeffrey Boys’s Directions for Brewing Malt Liquors (1700).


However, nothing in alcohol history is simple, and the audience is plunged into the excitement of live historiographical controversy when another expert panellist, Dr James Sumner, energetically calls the findings into doubt. James S., a historian of science and technology whose book on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century brewing came out in 2013 (and whose practical demonstration of the adulteration of the Victorian pint is a recipe-driven highlight of the ‘Jolly Good Ale and Old’ events), argues that ‘alcohol by volume’ was rarely used as a measure of strength for beers and wines until the work of nineteenth-century French chemists such as Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, and that it’s therefore ahistorical to apply it to earlier cultures and beverages.

Moreover, even if we accept the anachronism, James S. goes on to point out that while you can achieve the percentages suggested by Craig using modern barley, malting techniques, yeast, and equipment, such ‘show-stopping’ figures were unlikely to have been achieved by even the commercial producers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Indeed, even had they had the technical means to achieve such high levels of fermentation, they would probably not have wanted to: in the more expensive beers, using a lot of malt, they were likely to have been pushing for ‘sweetness and body’ rather than maximum alcoholic strength, which could lead to thinness and an astringent taste. According to the modern understanding of nutrition, this would have helped to meet the needs of manual workers: alcohol needs to be broken down by the liver into acetaldehyde before it can be used for energy, so is nowhere near as efficient a source of calories as carbohydrates and sugar.

In every case, our audience for these events has included practicing home-brewers, who have universally agreed with James S. that such high levels of alcohol content are nigh-on impossible to achieve without severely impairing taste. So the nature of historical enquiry means that the question over this recipe and its outcomes must still remain uncertain. Our readers may like to try this one at home (don’t forget to sing an appropriate song while you’re doing it!), but make sure you let us know the results!

Barreling Along: 'The Brewer', designed and engraved by Jost Amman in the sixteenth century. Were early modern beer producers pushing for alcoholic strength or sweetness and body? Wikimedia Commons.
Barreling Along: ‘The Brewer’, designed and engraved by Jost Amman in the sixteenth century. Were early modern beer producers pushing for alcoholic strength or sweetness and body? Wikimedia Commons.


Creating and integrating a database – work in progress

By Marieke Hendriksen

As mentioned in the post introducing the ARTECHNE project at Utrecht University last month, we are in the process of creating a database containing recipes, artist handbooks, and art theoretical texts that can clarify the development of the use of the term ‘technique’, as well as related terms referring to processes of making and doing. The database is linked to Geographical Information Software (GIS), thus creating an online historical semantic map of ‘technique’. Such maps are more than merely nice illustrations; they can reveal connections that remain hidden otherwise.

We are in the fortunate position where we can build the database on an existing one, namely the excellent Colour ConText database. However, we do not simply want to offer a copy of the Colour ConText database, we want to integrate it with other sources on artisanal practices and theories, such as recipes, books of secrets, art theoretical texts, and artist handbooks, from the period 1500-1900, in Latin, Dutch, German, English, French, Italian and Spanish. The entire database has to be searchable with advance searches, allowing users to search full text for occurrences of terms, in particular geographical or linguistic areas and periods, or to trace the changing uses and meanings of particular terms over time, linking various forms of terms and different terms with a similar meaning in relational tables and glossaries.

Sneak preview of the new database website
Preview of the new database website

For example, if we want to know how instructions for making paint have changed in the low countries between 1600 and 1900, we want to be able to select all available sources from that period and area and search them for imperatives, nouns, measurements, and particular ingredients. We also want to be able to distinguish between printed and manuscript sources, artist handbooks and household recipes books, and ideally we want to be able to search annotations and marginalia too, as well as differences between various editions of the same work. That means a lot of different parameters have to be specified for each source, and everything we include must be carefully checked before it is added.

One of the problems we encountered when selecting the first sources we wanted to add was the low reliability of Optical Character Recognition software when used on early modern printed sources – a problem I have written about on my own blog before. We do not just want to combine existing digitized sources in our database, but also to add texts that have not been digitized and made searchable thus far. However, that often involves lengthy correction processes. One of the solutions we are considering is crowd sourcing such corrections. Fortunately, we can also add many digitized sources that are available under Creative Commons licenses (i.e. from the Digital Library of the Netherlands), and various researchers have contacted us to discuss adding their own datasets to the database.

The first edition of the database is now online – have a look at!  Please note that this is a first version, and that the database will be improved and continue to grow for the duration of the project. Over the next few months, we will focus on increasing searchability and adding new sources. If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact us at artechne[at]

Finally, we will also explore the options of maintaining the database after the end of the ARTECHNE project, for example by depositing the datasets or even the entire infrastructure with an archival institution.

The ERC ARTECHNE project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 648718) and is a cooperation of Utrecht University and University of Amsterdam.

Introducing ARTECHNE – Technique in the Arts, 1500-1950

By Sven Dupré and Marieke Hendriksen

Gerard Dou, Man Writing by an Easel. c. 1631-32. 31.5 x 25 cm, oil on panel. Private collection
Gerard Dou, Man Writing by an Easel. c. 1631-32. 31.5 x 25 cm, oil on panel. Private collection

What is ‘technique’ in the visual and decorative arts? And how is ‘technique’ transmitted? Those are the central questions of ARTECHNE, a five-year project supported by the European Research Council, and led by Sven Dupré, that started at Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam in September 2015. ARTECHNE is the acronym of the project. Its full title is “Technique in the Arts: Concepts, Practices, Expertise, 1500-1950”.

To answer these questions an interdisciplinary team of researchers with backgrounds in history of art, science and technology, based at the Descartes Center for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities in Utrecht umanitiesworks together with conservators and conservation scientists at the Atelier Building / NICAS in Amsterdam.

One aim of the ARTECHNE Project is to write the history of the conservation studios or laboratories and the research uniting conservation, art history and science in the Atelier Building. This field of research (or is it a nascent discipline?) is now often called technical art history.

‘Technique’ is a fundamental concept in technical art history, but its meaning has evolved over time. By providing a history of technique in the arts, the ARTECHNE project will help to reflect on both historical and current knowledge practices in technical art history, conservation and restoration. For example, one of the four sub-projects focuses on the ways in which new visualization technologies and science-based methods (such as X-rays, black-and-white photography and chemical analysis of paint cross sections) shaped art history and conservation practice in the first half of the twentieth century.

Daniel V. Thompson's 1954 translation of Cennino Cennini's Libro dell'Arte.
Daniel V. Thompson’s 1954 translation of Cennino Cennini’s Libro dell’Arte.

The ARTECHNE Project starts from the observation that the transmission of ‘technique’ in the arts has been a conspicuous ‘black box’ resisting analysis. The tools of the humanities used to study the transmission of ideas and concepts are insufficient when it comes to understanding the transmission of something as non-propositional and non-verbal as ‘technique’.

Therefore, one sub-project, in which PhD candidate Thijs Hagendijk works closely together with conservation and restoration specialists at the Atelier Building, undertakes the experimental reconstruction of historical recipes to open the black box of the transmission of technique in the visual and decorative arts. The aim of these reconstructions is understanding the textual culture of the early modern workshop and the role of recipes in practices. Did early modern people learn from texts to do things? And if so, in which ways did they use recipes? We primarily look at artisans, but this was a hybrid identity at the time.

The historical sources of the ARTECHNE project are foremost recipes, or how-to instructions. We should also reflect on why and how these sources have come down to us. Jenny Boulboullé in her sub-project investigates the creation of editions and translations of premodern and early modern texts, such as the editions and translations of Cennino Cennini by Mary Merrifield and Daniel Thompson, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While such editions are still used by conservators and restorers today, one point of attention in ARTECHNE is the role of conservation and restoration projects, painting practice and reconstructions in these editorial projects.

Finally, in response to one of the main questions driving the ARTECHNE Project, Marieke Hendriksen writes a history of the shifting meanings of the term ‘technique’ in the arts and sciences. To support her research and that of the other project members, building on ColourConText hosted at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, she will create a database containing recipes as well as art theoretical texts that can clarify the development of the use of the term ‘technique’ – a neologism in the vernacular in the mid-eighteenth century – as well as related terms referring to processes of making and doing. The database (which will be hosted at the ARTECHNE website) will be linked to GIS software, thus creating an online historical semantic map of ‘technique’.

Marieke Hendriksen and Thijs Hagendijk have taken up their posts in the first months of 2016. We look forward to the arrival of Mariana Pinto (from the conservation and materials science program at UCL Qatar) and Jenny Boulboullé (from the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia University)  over the summer, and to earnestly start with the reconstructions in the fall. Tonny Beentjes, leader of the metal conservation program at the University of Amsterdam, and Maartje Stols-Witlox, lecturer of paintings conservation, have joined the ARTECHNE Project. We are still looking to appoint a glass expert. ARTECHNE is supported by program manager Jill Briggeman, who also maintains the website.

This website,, is now online. Over the next few months, we will add more information about the project in blogs, and we list events, like the monthly Technical Art History Colloquium. Sign up for updates on the website and follow us on Twitter! (@ArtechneProject)

The ERC ARTECHNE project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 648718) and is a cooperation of Utrecht University and University of Amsterdam.