Category Archives: Women and Gender

Building Community Through Recipe Sharing

By Sara de Blas Hernández

All of the famous cookbooks emerging in early modern Spain were written by men who worked for the royal court: Libro de guisados (1529) was written by Roberto de Nola, Arte de cocina, pasteleria, vizcocheria, y conserveria (1611) by Francisco Martínez Montiño, and Arte de repostería (1747) by Juan de la Mata. Outside of the palace walls, however, it was generally women —and not men—who were in charge of feeding the family. Even though there is no record of edited cookbooks by female authors during the period, there are some manuscripts authored by nuns and by literate noblewomen that made possible the preservation of knowledge shared through oral traditions. One of these recipe books is Libro de apuntaciones de guisos y dulces written by María Rosa Calvillo de Teruel around 1740.

Original Libro de Apuntaciones de guisos y dulces at the Real Academia Española in Madrid. Image Credit: The author

At first sight, one might consider recipe books to be straightforward texts with instructions, but they can provide the attentive reader with more information than what initially meets the eye. This is the case with Libro de apuntaciones de guisos y dulces. The only biographical information contained in the book is the name of the author, which, interestingly enough, is written by a different hand than the one that writes the recipes in the book. Is María Rosa the author? Was the book passed down to a relative who signed her name to claim it as hers? Even though these questions remain unanswered, a careful reading of this recipe book has allowed me to reconstruct, to a certain extent, the details of María Rosa’s life, the social context in which she lived, and the cooking practices used at the time.

In Libro de apuntaciones, the titles of some recipes —“How to prepare quails as it is done in Seville” or “How to make Utreras’ pastries”[i]— locate the author in Andalusia, the southernmost region of mainland Spain. The ingredients, meanwhile, disclose María Rosa’s social class, or at least the one she interacted with, which was the lower nobility. The book calls for spices such as clove, paprika, cinnamon, and saffron. These are a constant in most of the recipes and were very expensive but essential ingredients in the preparation of most dishes at the time. There is a recipe that even calls for Flemish butter, a special kind of butter mixed with potassium nitrate that kept the product fresh. This butter was imported from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland and was a luxurious and expensive ingredient not available to all.

Map of Spain with the Andalusia region highlighted. Image Credit: Wikicommons

An exploration of the handwritten recipes in Libro de apuntaciones reveals yet another key detail. Out of the 100 recipes contained in the book, six of them are attributed to other women: Antonia, Mari-quita, tía Felipa, doña Joaquina, María Teresa, and María Manuela. These recipes are considerably longer and more accurate than María Rosa’s recipes. By including these recipes in the book, the author recognizes other members of the food-making community and also acknowledges their skills, abilities, and knowledge. This resonates with Janet Theopano’s concept of “cookbook as community,” which understands recipe books as spaces where women created networks of support and spaces that promoted social interaction and exchange of ideas.

In these six recipes, María Rosa’s own voice gets intertwined with the voices of the six other women. She suggests improvements and variations to the original recipes proposed by her peers and evaluates the quality of the food being prepared. This is proof of experimentation. María Rosa tests and tastes the recipes herself, which is the kind of experimental knowledge and sensorial methodology necessary in the kitchen.

Food making relies on what Sutton defines as the “lower senses.” Take as an example the recipe for “Huevos moles” in which the sense of sight — “both things are whisked until they are very white and they make little bubbles”— and the sense of smell— “ cook until it smells done”— are the ones that determine when the eggs and the sugar are done. In “How to make pork blood sausage,” the sense of touch, and more specifically the hand and its parts, become the unit of measurement: “[add] a handful [of aniseed] with the whole hand,” “as much [cumin as] can be fitted in three fingers,” or “as much [ginger as] can be fitted in four fingers”.

The examples above position María Rosa and her peers as a community of practice that boasts a unique set of knowledge and skills rooted in experimental methodologies and the senses. In turn, this is conducive to the validity and recognition of a field —food-making— and a group of people—women— undervalued and undermined by society. My work helps unveil the potential of a text which, although not very promising at first sight, proves to be a rich source of avenues of inquiry and a way to rescue women’s voices and their knowledge from an unrecognizing past.

[i] Utrera is a town south-east of Seville

 

References

Calvillo de Teruel, María Rosa. Libro de apuntaciones de guisos y dulces, 1740.

Sutton, Davis. “Cooking Skill, the Senses, and Memory: The Fate of Practical Knowledge.”  Sensible Objects ed. Elizabeth Edwards, Chris Gosden, and Ruth Phillips, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006.

Theophano, Janet. Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote. Palgrave, 2002.


Sara de Blas Hernández is a Ph.D. student specializing in Spanish Linguistics at UC Davis. Even though her main field of research is Second Language Acquisition, she has a keen interest in Food Studies. She is currently working on creating and testing pedagogical materials that develop students’ communicative competence and critical thinking skills while boosting motivation and engagement through multisensory and experiential learning methodologies.

Critically Making Games from Historical Cookbooks

By Alessandra Zinicola Lopez

To make something edible is arguably the anticipated end-expectation of the design and use of any food recipe. Making is entwined with cookery, from the writing of its instruction, guided by the experimentation involved in developing a recipe, through the tactile creation process of the consumable result.

As scholars, we can approach the study of recipes from different perspectives. My educational background is in technical communication, but my doctoral work has been done through the University of Central Florida’s innovative digital humanities program, Texts and Technology.

Within this program I typically focus on historical domestic technical communication, the old receipts that instructed Americans for centuries on how to run households. But rather than solely approaching my research from methods historians or technical communicators might default to, I approach my work like a digital humanist, and have found critical making to be useful in exploring my studies.

In this article I aim to introduce the critical making research method to recipes research by showcasing a digital exercise I have completed using it. Through this, I hope to encourage other recipe scholars to experiment with this method.

In Ratto’s 2011 publication of Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life, the author writes about critical making merging concepts of critical thinking and pragmatic physical making together to create a process-focused way of deriving knowledge.

Ratto explains the method includes three stages: a literature review, prototyping, and reconfiguration, discussion, and reflection. The method is performed to bridge gaps between technology and society.

The critical making process can be interactive or collaborative and various digital tools can be used to perform it. In this exercise I used Twine, an open-source hypertext platform that allows for the formation of scholarship through online interactive non-linear narratives. I would describe it as a tool to create a digital choose-your-own-adventure.

Image Credit: Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/poeticalcookbook00moss/page/n8/mode/1up

I worked with Twine to explore a historical cookbook that interested me because of its creative use of poetry to instruct meal preparation. The book is Maria J. Moss’ A Poetical Cook-Book, a community cookbook originally published in 1864 during the American Civil War. An aim of the project was to generate public and scholarly interest in historical recipes through gamification. I thought that perhaps a younger, technologically savvy audience might have their interest in American culinary history piqued through a digitally interactive experience. I used the critical making research process to create a hypertext narrative game based on the cookbook.

The following is an abbreviated example of the show-your-work type of documentation done during the prototyping stage of critical making.

To begin, I consulted Twine’s discussion boards and searched for tutorial videos on using the platform. I wanted to create all the passages and arrange them in the way I felt would make sense to a user. While it was easy to select and place each recipe, it was harder to figure out how to lead up to them, transition between them, and end the journey.

In the next passages, I offered information about the project, and I allowed the recipes to be accessed in the order of what people typically consume during mealtimes, and additionally in any other way they want to access them (i.e., dessert for dinner). After I added all the recipes, I played with how they could link together. It was then that I realized the way to click through them could be a conversation between the user or attendee and the host.

Image Credit: Twine, https://twinery.org/

I eventually ordered the passages and links together as pictured above. I then started to fiddle with color. I used a tutorial to guide me through the tips on how to change the font within the stylesheet. While I was initially successful in finding fonts and colors for the game, I ran into some issues.

I tried to figure out why my colors displayed incorrectly. I had copied and pasted code from a forum discussion response that claimed to be a coding answer. Revisiting it, I realized there was code missing. Once I added it, the issue was solved. This type of refashioning constituted a reconfiguration portion of the project.

Image Credit: Twine, https://twinery.org/

I felt the exercise in gamifying a historical cookbook was successful and well received. Through the process of critical making, I found that it has provided a path to be more creative as a scholar by exemplifying the traditional ways of generating knowledge are not the only ways. Research can be designed in ways that allow for it to be presented in ways that may speak to more people, expanding its reach and impact. Turning historical rhyming recipes into a digital narrative game is just one way to garner more interest from scholars and the public in recipes, history, and literature.

Special thanks to Dr. Anastasia Salter for all the knowledge imparted within their course on Critical Making for Humanist Scholarship.

The published version of the game can be played at https://madeofallwork.itch.io/.

Unlearning Patriarchy: Flavors of Change in the Kitchen

By Niharika Tripathi

In the heart of our family kitchen, where the flavors of tradition and conformity converged, I witnessed a peculiar blend between food and patriarchal influence. As a child, I observed how my father’s preferences dictated our kitchen. His love for pumpkin permeated every dish, while the absence of spices like amchoor reflected in our meals. The very clear patriarchal hierarchy fueled by the society shaped our family dynamics. However, amidst this influence, my mother quietly rebelled by striving to please my brother and me with foods that catered to our tastes. It was a small rebellion, but it stood out as a symbol of individuality in a household that often adhered to traditional norms. Little did I know then that this seemingly mundane aspect of our daily lives held a deeper connection to the journey of unlearning patriarchal codes and the pursuit of personal rejuvenation, reimagination, reconception, and rebirth.

An image of kaddu ki sabzi (pumpkin dish), lovingly prepared by my mother.

Thinking back on the food choices that were made, one ingredient stands out in my memory: khatai. This small, pickle-like condiment, with its tangy and savory notes, held a special place in my heart. Growing up, khatai was a rarity in our meals, as my father never allowed its inclusion. I could only indulge in its delightful taste when I visited my grandmother once a year.

The limited access to khatai made it all the more precious to me. It became a symbol of the connections I cherished, the memories I treasured, and the small rebellions that brought me joy. So, as I continue to infuse the flavors of khatai into my meals, I do so with gratitude for the memories it evokes and the personal liberation it represents. It’s a reminder that even the smallest additions to our kitchen can carry profound significance, honoring our past while shaping our future.

A collection of spices, including amchoor, representing the diverse flavors explored in our kitchen.

Thinking back on the food choices that were made, one ingredient stands out in my memory: khatai. This small, pickle-like condiment, with its tangy and savory notes, held a special place in my heart. Growing up, khatai was a rarity in our meals, as my father never allowed its inclusion. I could only indulge in its delightful taste when I visited my grandmother once a year.

The limited access to khatai made it all the more precious to me. It became a symbol of the connections I cherished, the memories I treasured, and the small rebellions that brought me joy. As I continue to infuse the flavors of khatai into my meals, I do so with gratitude for the memories it evokes and the personal liberation it represents. It’s a reminder that even the smallest additions to our kitchen can carry profound significance, honoring our past while shaping our future.

As I grew older, I couldn’t help but notice another aspect of patriarchal codes: the unequal distribution of food. Even as times changed, the practice of serving men first persisted within our extended family. Even now, as my cousins’ wives and my sister-in-law strive for change, my aunts and mother find solace in feeding everyone else before savoring the meals they have lovingly prepared. 

Amidst the flavors that defined our family’s culinary landscape, there was one dish that my mother held close to her heart: kadhi. Its tangy notes and velvety texture had always enticed her taste buds. However, a cloud of restriction hung over this beloved dish. My father, driven by his own preferences, made it very clear that he did not care for kadhi. The mere mention of it seemed to trigger an unspoken restriction. Although my mother had a strong fondness for kadhi, she still adhered to the restriction. It was a silent sacrifice, a relinquishing of her own desires to appease the patriarchal codes that subtly dictated our family’s culinary choices.

Kadhi Recipe

Ingredients:

1 cup yogurt

3 tablespoons gram flour (besan)

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

A pinch of asafoetida (hing)

1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)

Curry leaves 

Salt to taste

Fresh coriander leaves for garnish

My mother would whisk curd with gram flour to form a smooth mixture. In a pan, she would heat ghee and add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and a pinch of asafoetida, sautéing them briefly. Then, she would add the yogurt-gram flour mixture and stir in water, turmeric powder, red chili powder, and salt. The kadhi would simmer on low heat until it thickened and the raw taste of gram flour disappeared. Finally, she would garnish it with fresh coriander leaves. While this process resulted in a delicious dish, its significance has always been beyond its flavour for me. 

Through these experiences of our kitchen, I developed a sense of self awareness of the pervasive influence of patriarchal codes and their impact on individuals and relationships around me. I started questioning the norms and expectations that permeated our family dynamics. Witnessing my mother’s quiet rebellion and the compromises she made to accommodate the preferences of others opened my eyes to the hidden sacrifices and silencing of personal desires that often accompany traditional gender roles. It became clear to my brother and I that unlearning patriarchal codes required a conscious dismantling of ingrained patterns and a reimagining of relationships rooted in equality and individual autonomy.

A bowl of tangy and velvety kadhi, representing a dish restricted by patriarchal preferences.

The change in our kitchen may have seemed subtle at first, but in hindsight, it was a much-needed and transformative shift. As I began questioning the patriarchal nature of our surroundings, a seed of change was planted within our family dynamic. The conversations initiated sparked a collective awakening, encouraging each family member to reevaluate their own beliefs and behaviors in the kitchen. We recognized the need to break free from the limitations imposed by tradition and embrace a more inclusive and authentic way of living. Gradually, our kitchen became a space where everyone’s voices were heard, preferences were respected, and contributions were celebrated. It was through this subtle revolution that we cultivated an environment of harmony, equality, and individual empowerment. The change in our kitchen rippled into other aspects of our lives, inspiring us to challenge societal norms, pursue personal growth, and forge deeper connections with one another. In hindsight, I now realize that this seemingly small shift held the power to transform not only our family’s relationship with food but also our overall sense of well-being and fulfillment.

The dining table displays a variety of dishes. In the center, a vibrant pumpkin dish stands out, accompanied by a creamy kadhi bowl.

Niharika Tripathi is a feminist researcher and writer specializing in research and advocacy. With a background in law, she brings a unique perspective to her work, focusing on gender-based violence and social change. Through qualitative research and community engagement, Niharika challenges patriarchal norms, striving for a more inclusive world.

Rejuvenated Memories: Rebirth and Reliving through Nani Maa ke Nuskhe

By Sonakshi Srivastava

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि

तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही

–Baghavad Gita

“Just as a human casts off their old clothes to wear new ones, similarly does the soul or aatman cast off the old, worn-out physical body to assume a new one.”

The above quote from the Bhagavad Gita operates on the premise of “Rebirth” as the law of existence. Here, death is but a rite of passage for the soul to reincarnate in various forms over the many cycles of re-births so as to attain the final salvation or moksha

The analogy, relating the body to a worn out piece of clothing, reminds us that the process of aging is not unlike the wear and tear we see in the household objects and materials we use everyday.  No wonder, then, that we very often try to keep both our bodies and the objects around us “alive” through recipes that purport to rejuvenate our skin or hair or prevent beloved objects from falling into disrepair. In India, these recipes for rejuvenating objects are often collected and shared  under the rubric of nani maa ke nuskhe or dadi maa ke nuskhe. These terms roughly translate to “the formula/recipe of maternal grandmother” or “the formula/recipe of paternal grandmother.” The terms nani maa and dadi maa ke nuskhe  capture  the love, innate wisdom and warmth that is generally associated with grandmothers.

It is a truth universally acknowledged (at least in my household) that the wisdom in the form of nuskhe passed down by my set of maternal and paternal grandmothers, and the generation of grandmothers before them, are indispensable, not only to my mother but also to my father and grand-father. And yet, the nuskhe that mean so much to us are not particular to my family. For the most part, it is impossible to trace the genealogy of these recipes or formulas. Nuskhe cannot be dated, and neither can one claim them to be their own. These are universal remedies, pervading every Indian household. They are an intricate thread that stitches together the cultural fabric of the country, regardless of caste, class and religious differences. 

Belonging to the corpus of oral tradition, these nuskhe also assume a particular gendered nomenclature. The nuskhe function on the assumption of women as “kushal grahinis” (astute housewives), the astuteness a sign of their ability to keep things and objects as clean and as new as possible, preventing goods from being damaged as well as the ability to breathe a new lease of life into household paraphernalia. But besides rejuvenating and reviving objects, nuskhe also revive the generational vocabulary of memory, keeping wisdom alive through generations. They follow a matrilineal legacy, renewing themselves every generation. 

A few of the my grandmother’s nuskhe that I place trust in include:

A photo of a book with neem leaves to keep silverfish away.

A time-tested remedy, my nani used to keep neem leaves between the pages of books and among books to prevent silverfish from eating away at the pages. This nuskha promises to rescue books from the clutches of age.

Uncooked rice with dried red chilies and a knot of turmeric to keep weevils out.

Another nuskha that continues to find a nurturing ground at home is the use of dried red chillies and turmeric knots in rice jars. The use of chillies and turmeric allows the rice to stay fresh, away from the onslaught of weevils.

Nuskhe not only restore gaiety to books and food items. Some also promise to extend their restoring properties to the body and hair. Here is one such nuskha that finds a ready resonance in most Indian households, albeit with a few modifications.

Nani Maa ka Nuskha for Rejuvenating Hair

A clip from a 1991 issue of the Hindi magazine Manorama that carried a column on nuskhe with a particular focus on rejuvenating skin and hair health.

4 tablespoons amla (Indian gooseberry) powder

1 tablespoon hibiscus powder

1 teaspoon grounded fenugreek 

3 tablespoon coconut oil

1 egg/2 tablespoons curd (optional)

Mix all the ingredients, ensuring that there are no bubbles or lumps. Part hair and apply the paste on the scalp. Leave for 10-15 minutes. Wash away with a mild shampoo. The hair mask recipe lends luminosity and volume to hair, giving new life to it.

The popularity of these nuskhe is such that popular Indian magazines, particularly with a good base of women readers have a specific column titled nani maa ke nuskhe or dadi maa ke nuskhe, thereby allowing these to be in perpetual circulation.

The ancestral wisdom, in the form of these nuskhe attest only to the power of renewal and rebirth but are also a lesson in sustainability, a vision foreseen to be economic with resources!


Sonakshi Srivastava is a writing tutor at Ashoka University. She is a translation fellow at South Asia Speaks where she is translating a provincial novel by Jaishankar Prasad into English under the mentorship of Arunava Sinha. Her areas of interest include food studies, posthumanism, and ecocriticism. She actively retweets @SonakshiS11.