Recently, I have noticed fewer pigeons at Cardiff station. This probably mean that there has been a cull, which even though I’m no fan of pigeons, made me feel rather melancholy. So, in honour of the humble pigeon, here is, fresh from our archives, a fab post by Caroline Petit on pigeon excrement in Galen’s recipes.
Although Galen is more than reluctant to use disgusting ingredients and remedies wherever possible (De simpl. med. ac fac., X, 1), his catalogue of simple remedies, his recipes and case histories show that animal and even human dung and urine are not absent from his therapeutic arsenal. But this is not as contradictory as it sounds, because Galen uses careful qualifications in his approach to excrements. Why, did you think he was going to spread dog’s feces all over your face? Fear not, Galen uses only non-smelling dung.
Galen reports an interesting case. In the dead of night, Galen was once called to the bedside of a Roman lady (Meth. med. V, 13); she had begun spitting blood and became extremely concerned, as she had heard Galen warn people against this dangerous symptom (Rome was justifiably anxious about the Antonine plague). She believed only prompt treatment would get the better of it, and she called for him. When Galen arrived, she begged him to submit her to whatever treatment he would deem suitable to cure her; the treatment designed by Galen would make any modern patient shiver, as it sounds very drastic indeed:
“I ordered the use of a sharp clyster and rubbing, and binding around of the legs and arms as much as possible, along with a heating medication. Then, having shaved her head, I applied the medication made from the excrement of wild pigeons. After an interval of three hours, I led her to the bath and and washed her without touching her head with any oil. Then I covered her head with a well-fitting felt cloth and, according to the prevailing season, I nourished her with thick gruel alone, afterwards giving her bitter fruits. Then, when she was about to go to sleep, I gave her the medication made from vipers that had been prepared four months before, for such a medication still has the juice of the poppy in strong degree whereas, in medications that have been aged, the strength becomes less. (…) Then, at intervals I repeatedly used on her head the customary salve from thapsia. I provided total care and nourishment for the body with passive exercises, rubbings, perambulations, abstinence from baths and a moderate and succulent diet. This woman became well without the need for milk.”
The poor woman, who was certainly elegant, perhaps fashionable and accustomed to elaborate hair styles (at least this is how we usually picture Roman ladies – Galen doesn’t comment on his patient), had to endure the shaving of her head, then the prolonged application of a paste made with pigeon dung – a well-known ingredient, known for its heating and drying properties, at least since Dioscorides (Mat. med. II, 80). The rest of the treatment is strikingly strong, with several powerful heating remedies (for example thapsia, which could cause burns if used at a high dosage) and must have been difficult to endure, especially as it lasted for a number of days. But the excrement of wild pigeon catches the eye, because it belongs to the much-maligned category of ‘disgusting’ (bdelura) remedies: so why does Galen mention it so casually here, in the case of a woman who must have been more delicate than any other, and for a readership who may have been just as sensitive as this poor woman? Well, Galen explains elsewhere in book X of his treatise on simple drugs that the key thing is to have dung that doesn’t smell, in order to remove the nauseating factor. For dung does have remarkable properties. Thus some forms of dung, especially the one coming from wild pigeons, is absolutely devoid of bad smell and is a powerful, reliable remedy praised by all. For some smelly kinds of dung (as in dog’s dung), it is preferable to let it dry first, before grounding it and thus, again, removing the problem of smell. Dung is disgusting only as long as it smells of dung. But once it is transformed into a powder, a paste, or any other pharmaceutical form you can think of, it is perfectly acceptable and pretty useful, as it is easy to find and inexpensive. What’s not to like?
During the early 1940s when American women were asked to help the war effort by driving ambulances or working in the nation’s shipyards, cookbooks and magazine articles underscored how these same women could serve their country by planting victory gardens, cooking healthy meals with rationed foods, and, in the words of Tekla Barclay writing for American Home in 1943, by becoming the “Pinch-Penny Privates of Uncle Sam’s Army.” Indeed, as literary historian Sherrie Inness points out in her study of periodicals from this era, Dinner Roles: American Women and Culinary Culture, “[s]ome cooking literature suggested feeding family members as though they were soldiers…[,and] women’s cooking responsibilities were, at least rhetorically, raised to the level of military endeavors.”
However, once the war was over and it was time for women to return fully to the home, Rosie the Riveter transformed into June Cleaver, that apotheosis of the happy housewife historian Joanne Meyerowitz has called the quintessential white, middle-class woman “who stayed at home to rear children, clean house, and bake cookies.” Within this historical context, Dorothea “Zack” Hanle and Martin Herz’s children’s book from 1945, The Golden Ladle, becomes a potent example of how the culinary discourse of the postwar period circulated images of white, middle-class womanhood as both idealized and sophisticated home cooks rather than members of the kitchen infantry.
Even more, though, Hanle and Herz’s book demonstrates how dominant culture appropriated the image of the enslaved mammy to invest middle-class white women with the same “magical” powers attributed to black cooks from the antebellum period onwards. In this way, The Golden Ladle remakes household cookery into a new kind of empowerment: not the double-duty of domestic and industrial work done on behalf of Uncle Sam but, rather, the work of a professional-amateur cook who combines the homespun wisdom of the mammy with a burgeoning culinary cosmopolitanism—one that presages Julia Child and the Americanization of continental cuisine in the early 1960s. And the fact that this white, middle-class woman’s empowerment narrative comes out of a written text is what intellectualizes and professionalizes the new white mammy, thereby distinguishing her from her black female predecessor, who was of either the enslaved or working classes and mostly educated through oral traditions.
The main characters of The Golden Ladle are Jo-Anne, a little girl with “long, beautiful curls,” and Mrs. Pinafore, a “plump, pink-cheeked” apparition who materializes in Jo-Anne’s bedroom the night before her birthday party. The book’s premise is simple: Jo-Anne would like to bake something for her party, but she doesn’t know how. As the narrator explains, “How happy she would be if she could say, as her mother often said to her friends, ‘Oh, it’s really nothing at all. I just whipped it up in my spare time!’” As Jo-Anne lies in bed, wishing this wish and unable to sleep, Mrs. Pinafore arrives on a soft, pink cloud of light, wielding a giant golden spoon and introducing herself as “THE MISTRESS OF ALL KITCHENS IN THE WORLD.”
The remainder of Hanle and Herz’s book shows Mrs. Pinafore teaching Jo-Anne how to make “dozens of pretty things” for her party, either by whisking her across the Atlantic to visit little European girls cooking up delicacies in their own kitchens or by conjuring the ingredients for easy recipes while the two of them float above the clouds—Mrs. Pinafore’s preferred method of travel. And while such a plot may seem like nothing more than a fluffy mix of food and fairytale, in fact the cultural work that’s being performed in The Golden Ladle is profound, especially in terms of constructions of femininity, class, and whiteness in postwar America.
scholars have discussed the problematic popularity of the mammy figure in American culture, beginning before
the Civil War and extending to the present moment. To offer one example, the
mammy is still used to sell Aunt
pancake mix, a product and a persona created in 1893 by the R. T. Davis Company
for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As Toni Timpton-Martin explains
in her wide-ranging study of African-American cookbooks, The Jemima Code, this trademarked mammy provides “a shorthand
translation for a subtle message that went something like this…: ‘Buy this
flour and you’ll cook with the same black magic that Jemima put into her
pancakes.’” As represented in this advertisement from 1923, the mammy’s perpetual
happiness and culinary intuition—the codes of her mythology—are appropriated by
white women who wish to harness her abilities for their own domestic proficiency.
body and behavior, Mrs. Pinafore is just such an appropriator—even though she
doesn’t keep a mammy on a box in her cupboard. Rather, Mrs. Pinafore is a new kind of mammy. Wearing a
self-referential pinafore and waving her magic ladle, she’s described as the
“roundest, fattest lady” Jo-Anne has ever seen, with “twinkling” eyes and a big
laugh. Her cooking is innovative, charming, and foolproof. And while her magical
powers are intuitive—seemingly innate, beyond explanation—Mrs. Pinafore is also
a writer, which professionalizes her wondrous abilities.
by broadening Jo-Anne’s palate and cooking skills in taking her to allied
countries—they visit England to make a Tiffin of crumpets and marmalade,
Holland to learn Dutch Cheese Snacks, France to create Fruit Candies, and neutral
Switzerland to cook Apple Delight—Mrs. Pinafore both demonstrates her own cultivated
tastes and also instills them in Jo-Anne. In this postwar environment, Mrs.
Pinafore is a worldly woman, which strengthens her bid as a kind of
amateur-professional: exactly the ethos that Julia
would adopt fifteen years later in Mastering
the Art of French Cooking.
Because The Golden Ladle is intended for young girls and includes a recipe in every chapter, this narrative is didactic as well as empowering, meant to raise up white, cosmopolitan mammies for a new generation. In fact, it’s clear that Jo-Anne is a white-mammy-in-training. When she overeats Apple Delight, she says to her new Swiss friend named Clara, “Oh, my…, I have been a little pig. But it was so good. I hope you can excuse me.” And, of course, she is excused by both Clara and Mrs. Pinafore. Being “piggy”—having enough heft to throw her weight around—is vital to Jo-Anne’s training.
In the end, Mrs. Pinafore’s legacy as a
white mammy is handed down by the book itself, so that Jo-Anne—as well as the
flesh-and-blood girls reading along—can “grow,” both literally and
figuratively, cooking and (over)eating these stylish dainties. Thus, although the
white, American female cook of the 1940s does not have the masculine autonomy
of her predecessor, Rosie the Riveter, she can still lay claim to a domestic
literacy largely withheld from the black mammy—and, thus, to the dual authority
of kitchen prowess and culinary authorship as proof of her expertise.
“Pinch-Penny Privates.” American Home
(June 1943): 68.
Deck, Alice A. “‘Now
Then—Who Said Biscuits?’ The Black Woman Cook as Fetish in American
Advertising, 1905-1953.” Kitchen Culture
in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race, edited by
Sherrie Inness. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001: 69–93.
Hanle, Zack and
Martin Herz. The Golden Ladle: How to Be a Cook Without Using Fire. Chicago and New York: Ziff-Davis Publishing
Inness, Sherrie. Dinner Roles: American Women and
Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.
“Introduction: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960.” Not June Cleaver, edited by Joanne
Meyerowitz. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994: 1–16.
Tipton-Martin, Toni. The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African
American Cookbooks. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.
“Marketing the Mammy: Revisions of Labor and Middle-Class Identity in Southern
Cookbooks, 1880-1930.” Writing in the
Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways, edited by David A.
Davis and Tara Powell. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014: 50-68.
“They [the Italians] seem to commence everything with spirit to get tired of it before it is finished.” Mary Marrifield’s letters from Italy to her husband are full of charming–and if you are Italian sometimes engaging–reflections. The importance of the publication of Mary P. Merrifield’s (1804-1899) letters for the history of recipes will not pass unnoticed to the reader of this blog as well as to those interested in the transmission of the art techniques. Merrifield published the first English translation of Cennini’s Libro dell’Arte (1844),and a few years later, following her journey in Italy, The Art of Fresco Painting (1846), and the Original Treatises on the Arts of Painting (1849), works that have made the history of modern artistic techniques.
found in Brighton by Zahira Véliz Bomford, Merrifield’s letters have never been
published in English. Sent by the English Royal Fine Arts Commission, Merrifield
travelled in Italy for several months between 1845 and 1846 to collect as many historical
manuscripts on painting techniques as possible. The objective of the search was
to enhance the English arts, which were called to glorify the British Empire at
its acme. The letters are a refreshing, revealing, and entertaining look of
northern Italy in the years before the political turmoil of 1848, as well as a
dive into Merrifield’s world and vision. Giovanni Mazzaferro now publishes the
full text of the correspondence in an enjoyable Italian translation, La donna che amava i colori: Lettere
dall’Italia 1845-1846 (Milano: Officina Libraria, 2018. 192 pp. ISBN:
An independent scholar at his second publication –the first being Le Belle Arti a Venezia nei manoscritti di Pietro e Giovanni Edwards (2015)–Giovanni Mazzaferro keeps a renowned blog, Letteratura Artistica, which started around his rich collection of published sources for art history. Mazzaferro thorough apparatus of footnotes will be of use to the growing number of scholars interested in Merrifield as it spans from the identification of manuscripts and paintings, to individuating the people Merrifield met during her quest, and to secondary literature. In the substantial introduction, Mazzaferro insists that studying Merrifield under a single perspective, such as the artistic or the scientific one, deprives us of a full understanding of the complexity of her character. Merrifield was a multifaceted intellectual, almost the nineteenth-century woman version of a Renaissance virtuoso. A swift but careful overview of her life and works shows this vast breath: she published in the field of artistic techniques and colors, of maritime biology, and, toward the end of her life, for the advancement of women in society.
Merrifield’s familial practices predate her written commitments to the advancement of women. During the journey in Italy, Merrifield travelled accompanied by her son Charles, while her husband stayed in Brighton with their other four children. Husband and sons were all working for Mary, as they were involved in the transcription, translation, and writing of Mary’s books. Such odd family arrangement, at least for the time, presents us with an unconventional nineteenth-century woman. Overall, Merrifield does stand as a complex figure whose progressive private arrangements are parallel to her deep patriotism, her commitments to the English empire, and her Victorian style. Her figure reminds us that intellectual and private identities cannot be easily defined: a progressive stand on the role of women does not necessarily conflict with an imperial vision, the interest in old manuscripts, and color techniques can go hand in hand with a passion for algae.
 Mary Merrifield
to John Merrifield, November 2, 1845.
This month, ThisRecipes Project is six years old. This September also marks our fourth Teaching Series, first launched by co-editor Amanda Herbert in 2014. This post comes from that first series, as Amanda provides some fantastic advice for bringing recipes–and more specifically ink–into the classroom.
I teach an undergraduate seminar on gender in early modern Britain, and throughout the semester, students learn about the ways that people in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries worked to differentiate women from men. We talk about early modern ideas on the human body: Galen’s four humors, the two-seed versus the one-seed model of conception, and “reversible” reproductive systems. We also talk about the ways that early modern people mapped gender onto the workings of the human brain, ascribing mental acuity to men, and emotional intensity to women. All of these lessons help to show students that gender is a social construct, and that it is historically variable. But the exercise that truly brings these concepts home is one on education. After providing an overview of the topics that were taught to early modern children, I divide the classroom: half learn to write like girls, and half learn to write like boys.
I tell the students that they are going to learn about early modern education and material culture by writing with quill and ink. The students think that they are being given identical materials for this “hands-on” exercise. I distribute goose quills and powdered ink packets (both of which are available for sale via the Colonial Williamsburg website), and I pass out model alphabets from the seventeenth century, so that the students can form their letters in the style used by early modern people. But what they don’t realize is that they have received separate models: one alphabet comes from a guidebook for young boys, and another alphabet comes from a guidebook for young girls.
With their alphabets in hand, the students are then set a task: they are asked to copy a recipe for early modern ink. This receipt, which I transcribed from a commonplace book held at the Folger Shakespeare Library, is entitled “To make Inke Verie Good.” It was created by Anne (Granville) Dewes in the seventeenth century:
Take a quart of snow or raine water and a quart of Beere vinegre, a pound of galls bruised halfe a pound of coperis [protosulphates of copper, iron, and zinc], and 4 ounces of gum bruised; first mix your water and vinegre together, and putt itt into an earthen Jug, (then put in the galls) stirring itt 2 or 3 times a day letting it stand 8 or 9 daies and then put in your coperas and Gumme as you use it straine itt. &c.
As the students mix their ink, shape their quills, and start copying their recipes in “early modern style” handwriting, we talk about the ingredients contained in the recipe, as well as their cost and accessibility to people of both high and low status. We talk about the time and labor that must have been involved in the production of ink. We discuss the ways that ink was used in the home, and the gallons of ink that must have been consumed by early modern print shops. We consider who made ink (both women and men) and who used ink (both women and men). Ink was a ubiquitous part of life for early modern Britons, as essential to communication as are our own smartphones and tablets today.
About fifteen minutes before class ends, I ask the students to compare their transcriptions, and they are always surprised at the differences: half the class has written in one style, and half in another. That’s because in early modern Britain, girls were encouraged to learn “Italic hand,” a style of writing with clearly defined, beautifully sculpted, decorative letters. But boys were taught “Secretary hand,” a flowing, connected style intended for those who, it was implied, wrote with urgency, volume, and haste. Realizing the ramifications of this – that although women and men used the same tools and the same recipes to communicate, early modern men’s words were seen as authoritative, while early modern women’s were viewed as window-dressing – brings our lesson on gender and education to a powerful close.
Interested in early modern ink, or early modern education and handwriting? The Folger Shakespeare Library has some excellent resources:
 Anne (Granville) Dewes, Cookery and Medicinal Recipes, ca. 1640-1750, V.a.430 f. 42, Folger Shakespeare Library. You can access Dewes’ ink recipe via the Folger’s Digital Image Collection: http://luna.folger.edu