Recipes for Mud Pies

By Lisa Smith

Beginning a mud pie.

By the end of February, I had set up nearly all of this month’s posts to publish. But not this one. It’s been less than a month, but it feels like a lifetime ago. Back then, I was preoccupied with the community that came from the UK strike. Since then, though, a pandemic has been declared — and it’s increasingly clear that virtual community is  more important than ever.

Today’s post had not yet been set, as I was planning to cross-publish something.  But things had gotten on top of me before I could do it… like (virtually) coming back from strike to move all of my teaching for the last week online because our university had more-or-less closed.  

I’ve been working from home all week, with a tiny co-worker keeping me company. Being at home with her has meant enforced time out in my day to play and to breathe fresh air. On today’s menu: making mud pies.

My mud pie.

Throughout our playtime, the child narrated how to make a mud pie.

Take some dirt from this pile, then add leaves, twigs, and plant scraps. Tap it into your pail. Turn it upside down for serving.

Another variation included the fancy pies (see below) that could be served in their dishes.

What the child didn’t say, though, is that making mud pies is a fundamentally sociable activity. What is the point of making them if you don’t have someone to share them with?

The Recipes Project  had already been taking stock of our future direction by looking at our blog stats and audience. We had been wondering what they could tell us about our wider community and what you might like to see from us. Over the past week, we’ve also been thinking a lot about the sudden changes in our (and our contributors’) work and personal lives. And virtual communities have become even more important than ever! 

As ever, we’re delighted to hear from you and would love it if you let us know in the comments what you would like to see from us in the future, whether content, community building, or events…  Please join us in making mud pies — or, thinking about what we want to see from our wonderful community of readers and contributors.

A fancy mud pie offering.

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.

Conferencing and Conversing: Summary of Day 9 of “What is a Recipe?”

Amanda Herbert

Crispijn van de Passe, "Tactus" (Cologne, 17th c.) ART Box P281 no.5, Folger Shakespeare Library.
Crispijn van de Passe, “Tactus” (Cologne, 17th c.) ART Box P281 no.5, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Reading over the posts and conversations on Day Nine of our digital conference “What is a Recipe?” I was struck by the many ways that our participants engaged with one another.  When we started this project, we wanted to make sure that we were speaking with, and to, all of our constituents.  The Recipes Project is a blog invented and managed by academics, but our readers and contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds: professional chefs, activists, scientists, medical doctors, linguists, folklorists, and food enthusiasts.  We wanted to talk with, and to, all of the parts of our community.

It should come as no surprise that academics love to talk about their discoveries and ideas.  When academics talk to each other, they use formal, traditional venues and formats (professional conferences/20-minute read-aloud papers) as well as more free-form, new ones (of all the forms of social media, academics seem particularly taken with Facebook & Twitter).  Both offer advantages as well as drawbacks.  But in order to reach new audiences, sometimes you have to move the conversation into different formats and genres.

That’s why we were determined to embrace a wide range of social media outlets and online platforms for the #recipesconf (or, as it’s officially called, our Digital Conversation).  Over the course of this project, we have all “talked” with one another on Instagram and YouTube; on our blog and on guest blogs; in podcasts and in person; via Google Chat, Skype, and Join.me; on Facebook and especially on Twitter.  Each platform had its strengths and weaknesses, and each also engendered different styles and sorts of conversations.

Day Nine of our conference showcased this phenomenon.  There was an Instagram essay by Katherine Cheyenne Hysmith (Twitter: @kchysmith, Instagram: @kchysmith, and blog here).  Emily Contois shared an e-journal and created a Twitter chat (hashtag #teachingcookbooks, Twitter: @emilycontois and website: bit.ly/foodgender).  Rachel Snell blogged about her teaching and shared a website of her students’ work.  The Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine at the University of Minnesota unboxed a new manuscript via Facebook Live (https://www.facebook.com/umnbiomedlib, Twitter: @umnbiomedlib, and Instagram: @umnlib).  Siobhan Carlson continued her Instagram and Twitter essays (@SpuddenlyFarming and Twitter @Spuddenly_Farm).  Harry Hayfield wrote a blog post (on Boeuf Bourginon) and Sietske Fransen talked to us via Twitter and her blog (Twitter @sietske_fransen and her blog post on her archives tweets here).  And last but not least, some of our RP editors and our #recipesconf participants joined together on Twitter for a two-hour open forum on the “recipe” for our program — or, what were our guiding principles, designs, and methods in creating and administering a virtual conference?

I was struck by the ways that each platform offered its own unique sort of conversation.  Real-time, instant engagement came most readily on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook; in these formats, participants seemed more willing to make comments and ask questions.  Twitter was particularly lively, and it felt like the conference “lived” there, with quick response exchanges and lots of helpful reminders about the content that was being hosted elsewhere.  On the blogs and on YouTube, participants shifted into a more scripted, prepared mode — carefully plotting out their presentations ahead of time, delivering them, and then giving us time to process and think through on our own.  Over the course of the month-and-a-half that we’ve run this virtual conversation, I’ve enjoyed thinking and learning and conversing in all of these different modes, and I hope that you have, too.

Day 9: What is a Recipe?

Ferdinand Wright, Summer Landscape, 1877. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

We hope you’re still enjoying this brilliant weather and are equally as excited for our last big event day of the virtual conversation on ‘What is a Recipe?’. We’ve got some brilliant new topics coming your way and some of our oldies, but goodies, joining us too.

“Teaching Cookbooks: A Twitter Conversation on Food, Gender, History & Writing” from Emily Contois with the hashtag #teachingcookbooks. Twitter: @emilycontois and website: bit.ly/foodgender. Emily will be sharing her reading list, lesson plan, and teaching tips—plus some of her students’ cookbook analysis essays in a 24 hour twitter chat on the topic starting from 8am.

Credit: Katherine Hysmith.

“#FreeFireCider: Folk Herbalists, Feminist Hashtags, and the Instagram Modernity” from Katherine Cheyenne Hysmith. Twitter: @kchysmith, Instagram: @kchysmith and blog post here. Herbalists regard Fire Cider as a community-owned recipe but it has built up a commercial niche. Katherine will be exploring the historic “recipe” and how this community of shared knowledge deals with modern legal issues with a focus on the Instagram accounts of women folk entrepreneurs, how they use the hashtag #freefirecider in the hopes of winning back their recipe, and, in turn, help form a folk narrative within the Instagram modernity.

“Teaching Recipes: Recipes as Sources for Women’s Lives” from Rachel Snell.  Rachel blogs about her module here and shares the website of students’ work from “Food, Femininity, and Feminism in American Culture from Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart”, which looks at the ways in which  the production and consumption of food fundamentally shaped concepts of femininity and feminism in American culture.

“‘Unboxing’ a new acquistion” from Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. We’ll be witness to the ‘unboxing’ of a new French receipt book manuscript! Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/umnbiomedlib, Twitter: @umnbiomedlib, and Instagram: @umnlib.

From the Potato Experiment.

The “Spuddenly Farming: A reconstruction of Rev. Mr. Cochran’s Potato experiment, 1791” from Siobhan Carlson is back again with updates on the experiment! Siobhan will be on Instagram  @SpuddenlyFarming and Twitter @Spuddenly_Farm

“Henri’s Kitchen”, the final installment in which Harry Hayfield looks at Boeuf Bourginon through the eyes of his seventeenth-century musketeer, Henri.

“Recipes in the Early Royal Society Archives” from Sietske Fransen, who has been exploring the visual practice of the early Royal Society will be on twitter as @sietske_fransen and @MVCRASSH and her blog post on her archives tweets here.

Still ongoing we’ve got ‘Cooking With Anger’  where you can join the comments and create your own improvised recipe from a basket of ingredients. If you joined in Day 8’s discussions about fictional foods, you might enjoy taking a crack at ‘Cooking With Anger’.

In any case, make sure to check out Tallulah’s intriguing blog post about ‘Stories and memories: Day 8 of the Recipes Project’ where she explores all of the brilliant things which happened on Monday– including that extended discussion of fictional meals! She also discusses the focus on reconstructions, discussions of the ‘art’ of a good recipe and the connections between recipes and family history, and the many forms of recipes that appear in our daily lives.

It looks like there’s going to be a lot of themes today for our last big event day with focus on gender, community, improvisational cooking, digital recipes, and pedagogy cropping up already. We’ll have to see if we get reconstruction popping up again today…

We’ll see you again on the 10th with a final recording at the Wellcome Library.