Around the Table: Events

This month on Around the Table, we will learn about the Folger Shakespeare Library’s tradition of teatime. Since renovations recently began at the Folger, the Library’s afternoon tea has also undergone some changes in order to keep the Folger community together. I had the opportunity to speak to Leah Thomas and Haylie Swenson about the teatime tradition. Leah and Haylie both recently joined the Folger Institute staff and thoroughly enjoy afternoon tea breaks!

Leah completed an MA in Art History at UNC Chapel Hill. She worked for the Smithsonian as an Education Specialist before joining the Folger Institute as a Program Assistant in early 2019. Leah enjoys the constant stream of Ceylon Tea brought by her partner’s family from Sri Lanka; her favorite cookies are ones containing chocolate. Haylie joined the Folger Institute as the Program Assistant for Scholarly Programs in September. She holds a PhD in English from George Washington University and is the author of Wild Things, a series about animals in early modern life and culture for Shakespeare & Beyond. Haylie’s favorite tea is English Breakfast in her Dolly Parton-inspired “Ambition” mug, and her favorite cookies are gingersnaps.  

Could you tell Recipes Project readers about the Folger Shakespeare Library’s tradition of teatime?

Afternoon tea is one of the Folger’s most cherished traditions. The practice of serving tea at the Folger began in 1936, according to the annual report for that year. Director Joseph Quincy Adams’ description of tea at the time is, well, interesting: 

No use has ever been made of the Founders’ Room with its charming atmosphere of Elizabethan times. But this year we started the custom of serving tea there each afternoon (at 3:30 o’clock) in the English manner, with the young ladies of our staff acting in turn as hostess.

Speaking as two of the current “young ladies of our staff,” we are very glad that some things have changed. The main purpose, of tea, however, remains the same: 

To bring together the scholars who come to us from various places, in order that they might meet one another socially and also come personally to know the members of staff. The experiment has proved to be of the greatest value, not only in building up a spirit of friendliness that permeates the entire Library, but also in promoting a free discussion of the research problems under investigation. Those discussions are always stimulating, and often lead to suggestions that are highly profitable.  

Although we’re no longer in the Founders’ Room, tea is at 3:00 (not 3:30), and nearly 100 years have passed, researchers and staff still consider afternoon tea an essential foundation of the Folger scholarly community.

Photo by Elman Studio/Folger Shakespeare Library.
Photo by Elman Studio/Folger Shakespeare Library.

Why is this kind of community-building so important at the Folger? Do scholars and staff find it useful and meaningful?

Folger tea serves two essential purposes. First, it allows researchers to learn from and be inspired by each other’s work. One of our past Folger Fellows, Peter Sherlock, describes how “the simple medium of a table, a hot drink and a biscuit engendered lively discussion … What are you working on? How are you doing your project? Have you thought of this? Do you know that? It was at tea that friendships and research partnerships were forged through that most basic human activity, conversation.”

Photo by Elman Studio/Folger Shakespeare Library.

Second, by providing a space for readers to talk to each other, Folger Tea helps to ease the sense of isolation that can come along with long-form research. Anyone who has ever engaged in scholarship knows that it can be a lonely business. Researchers spend long hours grappling with difficult questions and trying to make complicated arguments clear, and that’s tough to do if your only company consists of voices from the past. It’s nice, towards the end of a day studying, for example, 16th century recipe books, to spend some time having tea and cookies with living humans. 

Because the Folger tea room is now closed, due to renovations, the Folger is hosting a virtual tea. Tell us about it! Who can drop in? (and could you include a little bit of general information here about the renovation, as well?)

We are so excited to introduce a new tradition of #FolgerTea for the Twitter community during our renovation. The Folger’s renovation project, which began in early 2020, will expand public spaces, improve accessibility, and enhance the experience for all who come to the Folger. The researcher experience, in particular, will benefit from new ergonomic furniture, better lighting and internet connectivity, and access to collaborative, multi-purpose study rooms. Not to mention, a communal space for enjoying wine and coffee in the Great Hall!

Photo by Elman Studio/Folger Shakespeare Library.

Until we can gather for that drink and chat in the Great Hall, we invite the scholarly community to gather virtually for #FolgerTea. Every Thursday at 3:00pm EST, @FolgerResearch opens tea with a live thread. Participants reply to the thread using the hashtag, along with a picture of what they’re drinking and an update on what they’re reading, writing, or plotting for their current research project. This is a space for people to make new connections, check in with friends, offer advice, give reference suggestions, and post silly GIFS. At exactly 3:30pm EST, the iconic tea bell rings to signal the close of #FolgerTea. As in life, we encourage everyone to ignore the bell. 

The virtual #FolgerTea is open to anyone who wants to drop in for a bit of scholarly discussion. We would love to hear from scholars, researchers, grad students, artists, theatre professionals, educators, Folger staff, museum workers, librarians, etc. The interdisciplinary nature of Folger Tea is a huge part of what makes it so special! We’re also delighted when we hear from “official” Twitter handles such as other institutions and university departments, or from groups of people who are gathering for things like transcribathons, conferences, or scholarly programs. For people in other time zones who want to participate–feel free to chime in later! 

What kinds of interesting things have been Tweeted so far?

So far, we’ve learned that the James Joyce community has a fussy citation style, the Smithsonian has a useful collections resource called “Learning Lab,” and a researcher wrote a poem about Folger Tea in 1945. We have heard from scholars who are writing conference papers, dissertation chapters, novels, fellowship applications, course syllabi, and essays. It is especially exciting to see photos of the rare materials scholars are working on elsewhere (minus the tea, of course!). #FolgerTea is also a great place to hear news and updates about #FolgerOnTheRoad offsite programs, dispatches from #FolgerFellows, and opportunities for scholars to gather.

Is there anything else we should know about #FolgerTea?

We routinely award #FolgerTeaBonusPoints for photos that include cute animals alongside your beverage of choice. Fun mugs also receive honorable mentions. In fact, Haylie tracked down and bought her current mug after someone tweeted a photo of it during #FolgerTea!

“Staff Tea at the Folger Library,” a poem by Friend of the Folger, Jessica Kerr, published in 1945.

Thanks, Leah and Haylie, for chatting with me about #FolgerTea! If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Brewing up some history: recreating historical beer recipes

By Tiah Edmunson-Morton

At the expense of sounding cliché, historic recipe recreations are a way to taste the past. Figuring out proper ingredients, considering environmental conditions, and using appropriate equipment all bring you closer to what people ate and drank in “days of yore.”

Barclay and Perkins brewery, Southwark: visitors watching beer fermenting in a large brewhouse, 1847. Image Credit: Wellcome Images, London.

Home brewer forums are full of threads on authenticity, and a Google search for “home brewing ancient recipes” nets millions of pages with ideas and results. Commercial breweries are also in on this, researching and experimenting for single brews or regular releases. In 1989, Anchor Brewing made a Sumerian beer for the Institute of Brewing Studies’ Micro Brewery Conference based on the “Hymn to Ninkasi,” an 1800 BCE song that praises the Sumerian goddess of beer and an ancient beer recipe. Even grander in terms of production and promotion is Dogfish Head Brewery’s series of beers “Ancient Ales,” which they’ve recreated with molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern. The company reports that Midas Touch, Theobroma, and Chateau Jiahu are “truly liquid time capsules.” Brewing scientists from Oregon State University collaborated with the Heurich House museum to recreate a batch of Christian Heurich Brewing Company’s “Senate Lager” after a researcher discovered the recipe in the National Archives. A final example comes from Dupont Brewery in Belgium. The recipe for “Cervesia Archeosite” came from a beer made a thousand years ago in their region; they drew on traditional styles and ingredients as a point of pride.

I knew about projects like these when I started the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives in 2013 and could see the outreach potential immediately. Oregon became a state in 1859, and much of its nineteenth-century beer history lore details a brewery on every corner. The story goes that wherever a community formed around an industry (farming, mining, logging), businesses to make and serve alcohol were among the first essential services. While I don’t doubt that plenty of alcohol was consumed, and probably made at home, the census records show that a brewery on every corner is an exaggeration at best and a myth at worst.

When I started to look for nineteenth-century brewery records, I was surprised to find so little. While the majority of Oregon’s earliest breweries were small and short-lived, if local breweries were omnipresent in the nineteenth century, I assumed there would be a treasure trove of information in libraries or archives.

Initially, I reached for the sources in my library, which included state history books with information on “prominent people,” laboratory publications that focused on the technical aspects of the brewing process, manuals on facilities management, and books on beer gardens. For historic recipes, I had the most luck in household management books; not only were there recipes for brewing beer, but also instructions for making bread and keeping bees. The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps were quite helpful in determining the size, layout, and location of breweries. Once I looked outside my building, I found probate records in county and state records, census records with biographical information about individual brewers, and mortgages and lawsuits that listed brewery assets.

The Roadshow, 2015

While these physical print sources are lovely for browsing, locating recipes from specific breweries or that used specific ingredients was really difficult. Both Google Books and the Hathi Trust are invaluable because they are both keyword searchable. In 2015, I worked with a brewery to make a beer for a public archaeology event; they wanted to make a lager with rice, and I found a short recipe in an 1883 brewing book published in England.

Roadshow 2015: The Recipe.

For the same event the following year I worked with a home brewer. I sent her links to several books and she chose one she found in a home management published in New York in 1872; the recipe was 10 pages long and the product was delightfully hoppy. Some of my favorite books are:

Choosing a recipe for the 2016 event.

In six years, I still haven’t found a recipe for an Oregon pre-Prohibition beer; however, I have gathered clues about nineteenth-century Oregon beer styles. Probably the most valuable source are the advertisements found in digitized newspapers. Breweries of all sizes made a range of styles, though they all regularly advertised a traditional German-style lager or steam beer, which uses a lager yeast but is fermented at ale temperatures to compensate for the lack of refrigeration. Oregon brewers also sold less familiar styles such as Philadelphia XXX Ale, XX Cream, and Flat. Those county probate records I mentioned sometimes included receipts, which meant I knew details about hops or barley orders, as well as bottling equipment and supplies. Those census records give clues about a brewer’s country of origin and the brewery income.

My most recent research has focused on the women involved in Oregon’s pre-Prohibition breweries, with an eye towards redirecting the need we have for women to be brewers. Since the records don’t indicate that they were, I am working with three female brewers to design a recipe based on the biographies of wives of brewers. Our goal will be to share the brewers’ creations, but also to engage consumers with the stories of nineteenth-century women in Oregon.

I still have hope that I’ll uncover a recipe gem, but I am also a realist. In the meantime, I know that my work in the twenty-first century to collect records will help the next generation recreate our present.

Tales from the Archives: Community Conversations

The theme for this month is community, inspired by the UK university strikes in February and March.  Community is at the heart of the dispute: what do we want universities to look like? The wonderful sense of community that emerges on picket lines (whether in-person or virtual) during strikes can be a positive force for changing our university culture. 

This month, we have our monthly Around the Table (with a bonus one, too!), as well as an update on a survey about food scholarship networks, some post-Brexit food reflections, and an announcement about a new food studies journal.  There is also a piece of quite wonderful  bit of news about one of our regular RP contributors, Jennifer Sherman  Roberts… She just celebrated the end of her cancer treatment last week! 

Postcard, made in Germany (1910). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

With ‘community’ in mind, I wanted to revisit one of the projects that has intrigued me since I first read about it. ‘Stone Soup’, led by Jennifer Sherman Roberts in 2016-7, aimed to foster local community through talking about recipes. 

“Stone Soup”: Reflections on Community Conversations

By Jennifer Sherman Roberts

Recipes form communities.

Readers of The Recipes Project know this to be true. Scholars from diverse backgrounds meet in this forum to exchange ideas, thoughts, insights, experiments, and discoveries, brought together by a shared fascination with this amorphous form of record-keeping, receipt-making, and instruction.

Contributing to The Recipes Project has provided me with a rare chance to explore connections between historical recipes, to chart and analyze—and frequently delight in—what to modern eyes might seem bizarre and outlandish (pigeon blood eye wash, anyone?).

But the examination of the recipe’s central role in our lives and histories can also be expanded and enriched beyond the academic through public history and storytelling. There’s a special magic in talking about recipes, a visceral emotional reaction and an almost immediate connection to the past, to personal heritage and individual history.

It’s that sort of alchemy that I wanted to explore further when I applied to be a conversation project facilitator with Oregon Humanities, proposing a topic called “Stone Soup: How Recipes Can Preserve History and Nurture Community.” 

miltonfreewaterrecipes
Recipes gathered for the Oregon Humanities conversation project “Stone Soup” at the Frazier Farmstead Museum in Milton-Freewater, Oregon (author’s photo)

Since the fall of 2016, I have facilitated conversations all over the state, in venues ranging from quiet libraries to bustling restaurants, from coastal towns to urban centers. And while the people and the recipes and the insights are always different (intriguingly and marvelously so), there are a few consistent threads.

Heritage

Before the event, participants are invited to bring recipes from their past—from a beloved family member, friend, or neighbor—and a story to accompany them. (My favorite: the woman in Grants Pass who brought a recipe for the cake her mother had burnt to a crisp–her husband had written “I love you” in the soot left on the walls.)

Often, the recipe is on a tattered index card, spattered and stained by years of use. Sometimes it’s in a small binder or book held together with rubber bands. Always it’s presented with memories.

(There’s a look people get when they talk about these recipes and stories, a faraway gleam, a small smile.

I love those moments.)

Often these recipes will spark conversation between participants as one memory is ignited by another, one culture compared with another, one history explained by another.

“What is a recipe?”

To begin the conversation, I ask participants to spend a minute or two thinking of the words they associate with recipes. Evocative words like “memories,” “grandma,” and “holidays” often make an appearance. We consider the figurative language surrounding recipes, a genre so unique the word itself has become a central metaphor (“recipe for disaster,” for example).

I then ask the participants to partner with one or two others to discuss the genre of the recipe: how is it different from a shopping list, or a narrative, or even a poem? We talk about ingredients and measurements, instructions and oven temperatures. We think about ways a recipe is like a chemical experiment–scientific and reproducible.

I’ll often use that distinction as a springboard to talk about some historical recipes and ways the form changes or stays the same. We look at a copy of Lady Ann Fanshawe’s recipe “Against the biting of a Mad Dogge taught by Sir Kenelm Digby.”

fanshawe
Lady Ann Fanshawe, 1625-1680, Wellcome Library, MS 7113

People often notice that recipe books from the 16th and 17th centuries are visually compact and uniform, and that the basic elements of the recipe—ingredients, instructions, measurements—are familiar. One difference we have made note of, however, is the occasional focus on seasons in the harvesting of ingredients, as can be seen in Lady Fanshawe’s direction that crabapple flowers should be picked in June or July.  For those of us used to ingredients available at all times (even if shrunk-wrapped or frozen), this can be a revelation.

This discussion also led to one of my favorite stories from these conversations, shared by a woman in Beaverton who said her grandfather always knew to plant his corn “when the leaves of the white oak tree were the size of a grey squirrel’s ears.”

Recipes and community

We then, together, read aloud a short version of the folk tale that serves as the springboard for the project, “Stone Soup,” and talk about the story itself as a kind of recipe and about the metaphorical underpinning of community. We focus on the end of the story, where in some versions the villagers not only share the soup but dance and sing together, opening their homes and offering their beds with the strangers in their midst.

At this point, I introduce the participants to three examples of people who used recipes to create community and preserve history: Freda DeKnightMina Pachter, and (closer to home for Oregonians) Ing “Doc” Hay.

This particular version of public history, these conversations that evoke memories and elicit stories, have been a wonderful way for me to explore the more human, face-to-face side of recipe exchange that can sometimes get lost in manuscripts and archives.

20171116_140530
“Stone Soup” participants at conversation project sponsored by Washington County Museum (author’s photo)

 

 

Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

The Christian liturgical season of Lent is upon us. Centuries ago, this was a long and difficult period of fasting in Europe. Some Christians still abstained from all meat and animal products for the forty days of Lent, others undertook a less rigorous abstention of foods. It was an austere time with regards to food. It is fitting, and quite purposeful timing for the curators, that this year’s Lent marks the final weeks of the exhibition Feast & Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800 at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK. This exhibition explores food in early modern Europe including periods of excess and feasting as well as fasting and hunger. There is much to be found online about this exhibition, from the detailed website, related programming (including a recent conference about pineapples in the early modern world), a myriad of reviews and essays, an episode of The Feast featuring Laura Carlson’s interview with the curators, and a beautifully photographed exhibition catalogue. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Melissa Calaresu, co-curator of the exhibition with Victoria (Vicky) Avery, about some other aspects of the exhibition you may not find in these other resources, such as the process of mounting such an undertaking and her excitement about bringing new audiences into the Fitzwilliam.

Still life with a lobster, Joris van Son (1623–67), Antwerp, Belgium, 1660. Oil on canvas. 64.1 x 89.2 cm. C.B. Marlay Bequest, 1912 (M.76). Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Melissa and Vicky began thinking about an exhibition featuring food when they partnered on the acclaimed 2015 Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment exhibition at the Fitzwilliam. Treasured Possessions featured beautifully crafted and engaging objects that were once treasured by their owners, included a number of food-related items. Melissa, especially, became intrigued with the idea of focusing on the range of artwork and material objects for depicting, storing, preparing, and serving foodstuffs. Melissa credits Vicky for allowing her the freedom to search through the Fitzwilliam collections to find art and artifacts to relay a cohesive narrative about food and eating practices over time.

Recreation of an English confectioner’s work space, c.1790, conceived and made by Ivan Day. Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Gradually, Melissa and Vicky curated an enviable exhibition collection from Fitzwilliam items, items on loan from other private and institutional collections, and food recreations crafted specifically for Feast & Fast by Ivan Day. Melissa wanted to include Ivan, a longtime friend, in the exhibition planning. Ivan developed ideas for food sculptures and recreations to compliment the artwork and objects planned for display. Inspired by paintings, culinary tools, recipes, and more, Ivan created three large installations. A few elements were initially created as part of installations at other museums, such as The Edible Monument exhibition at the Getty Research Institute, but a vast majority of the elements are completely new and breathtaking. There are few, if any, places one can see a table set with lavish pies made of exotic birds like swan and peacock, or a mock confectioner’s shop window display. And importantly, all of the exotic birds used in the displays were ethically sourced. The swan, for example, was retrieved upon its death in an overhead electrical line.

Recreation of a Baroque feasting table, c.1650, conceived and made by Ivan Day with taxidermy by David Astley and seafood and fruit models by Tony Barton. Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Several works on display in the exhibition first underwent conservation, some of which was extensive. The Hamilton Kerr Institute in Whittlesford, the art conservation department at the Fitzwilliam Museum, undertook the conservation. The cleaning of several paintings revealed more vibrancy and detail than the curators had hoped. Melissa described her excitement when she learned that after a thorough cleaning, a painting of Dives and Lazarus revealed a pertinent bit of information: forks were discovered in the image! This was a major departure from earlier versions of the image in which diners ate with their hands and knives. Deep cleaning of other paintings like the seventeenth-century kitchen still life by Floris Gerritsz van Schooten and contemporaneous still life with a lobster by Joris van Son revealed significantly brighter, richer, and intense color palates.

Dives and Lazarus, Flemish School, Antwerp, Belgium, adapted from a 1554 engraving by Heinrich Aldegrever (c.1502–1555/61), early 17th century. Oil on panel. 17.8 x 23.2 cm. Daniel Mesman Bequest, 1834 (274). Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Melissa enthusiastically spoke to me about how she wanted the exhibition to be useful for educators and the broader public, not just regular museum-goers and academics. The exhibition is signaled, for example, by a giant pineapple sculpture designed by Bompas & Parr on the grounds of the Fitzwilliam. This hard-to-miss fruit is showy enough to attract attention from passersbys with no intention of visiting the museum and entice them to enter. Melissa also noted that the Fitzwilliam, especially the Education Department, has been doing an outstanding job of drawing in new audiences to Feast & Fast. Several community groups, like the North Cambridge Academy Museum Ambassadors, the Rowan Art Centre, and Dancing with the Museum, had the opportunity to interact with exhibition objects in truly unique ways (a video about this initiative is available here). Participants who had the opportunity to touch and work with select objects made some moving connections to the pieces and related to these early modern objects in a very personal way. The museum has worked to incorporate Feast & Fast into major event planning, like the most recent “Twilight at the Museums,” aimed at children, and “Love Art after Dark,” an annual event for University of Cambridge students. Local businesses have also partnered with the Fitzwilliam and the exhibition: the Cambridge restaurant Vanderlyle created a five-course tasting menu inspired by the exhibit, artwork, and early modern philosophies about food.

One-handled pipkin with pouring lip, unidentified Harlow pottery, Essex, England, 1650 Lead-glazed red earthenware with cream slip-trailed decoration, inscribed: ‘FAST AND PRAY 1650 W’ Dr J.W.L. Glaisher Bequest (GL.C.35-1928). Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

A few of the Feast & Fast objects will be familiar to those who previously visited the Treasured Possessions exhibition, like the pineapple teapot and the honeypot. Items like these were crowd favorites and have been pleasing visitors again. Melissa has many other favorite objects on display. While she was hard pressed to select a favorite, her love of ceramics shines through as she mentions the exhibit’s seventeenth-century pomegranate charger and a seventeenth-century burnished pipkin declaring “Fast and Pray.” Beyond what visitors might first see in these and other exhibition objects, Melissa encourages all to consider the anonymous consumption, labor, and stories behind each object, like the women who created sugared confections, men who collected shells, and slaves toiling in the Caribbean.

Feast & Fast is sure to delight and inspire contemplation of the origins of many modern food concerns. The objects and installations of this exhibition invite visitors to consider premodern fasting, vegetarianism, the conspicuous consumption of exotic victuals, and the labors of all who grow, sell, cook, and create our food.

Feast & Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800 is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, until 26 April 2020.

If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.