Authenticity is a reflexive term, its nature is to be deceptive about its nature.
— Carl Dahlhaus
There is an instance in Intizar Husain’s popular novel, Basti, where, while dining at the Shiraz, a restaurant in the newly created Pakistan, discussion ensues about the authenticity of the identity of the bread seller, Nuru. He boasts of being a ‘pure bred Ambala man’, an assertion that seems out of place to the people in the new land, prodding Karnaliya, a fellow diner to remark that ‘they have added Ambali to their names just for prestige. I’m the only one from Ambala! That’s why they can’t meet my eyes’.
This discussion is particularly relevant in the novel for its layered connotations of identity, nostalgia, and nation/al boundaries in the face of the partition of the British India. And before one is quick to dismiss any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events, as purely coincidental with a click of the tongue, attention must be drawn to the Rupees 50-crore Tunday Kebab Lawsuit. The lawsuit is one glaring example that teases the boundaries of fact and fiction, and one which can be located in the familiar matrix of identity, authenticity and nostalgia as is the instance from the novel.
The bone of contention that resulted in the lawsuit was the use of the gastronomic nomenclature, ‘tunday’. In popular culinary imagination that cuts across the Indian subcontinent, tunday kebab is synonymous with Lucknow, the City of Nawabs. The story of the origin of the kebabs is almost mythic – dating back to 1905. The kebabs were the brainchild of the Bhopali rakabdar (gourmet chef), Haji Murad Ali, whose recipe of delicately minced lamb patties in 160 spices particularly appealed to the decadent palate of the then Nawab, Asaf-ud-Daula. When Haji Murad Ali fell off the roof of his house, he lost an arm. Yet he continued perfecting the mixture of shahi galawat, working expertly with one hand, so much so that the shahi galawat came to be known as tunday (adapted from the Urdu tunday, ‘without an arm’) kebabs.
The lawsuit, filed in 2014, was between Mohammed Usman of Tunday Kababi Pvt. Limited, the grandson of Murad Ali, and Mohammed Muslim, who ran a chain of restaurants under the name, ‘Lucknow Wale Tunday Kababi’. The judgement was declared in favour of Mohammed Usman. The judge noted that Mohammed Usman had maintained the original taste of the kebab for the past 90 years, and that he had the exclusive statutory right to use the Tunday Kababi trademark and logo, and that the use of the said trademark by any other entity without his consent or license would cause confusion as to the source or origin. Mohammed Muslim was found guilty of infringing on the trademark, and had to rename his outlets nationwide.
Postmodern consumer culture has numbed us to the idea of the real, the authentic, with the excess proliferation of imitations. Regina Bendix notes that our quest for authenticity is particularly nostalgic, and is simultaneously modern and anti-modern.(1) It aspires to the ‘recovery of an essence’ in a time that is characteristically demythologized and disenchanted. The Tunday Kebab lawsuit serves as a prime example of this theory articulated in gastronomic anxiety, and the question of the authentic, the ‘recovery of an essence’ underpins it.
In the local memory, Lucknow and Tunday kebabs are inseparable. No mention of the city is possible without the mention of the food. It may be that the two draw authenticity from each other. Moreover, historicizing food by associating it with a particular place or a story aids in lending it a flavour of authenticity. To attempt to duplicate authenticity is nothing less than a gastronomic blasphemy, of which Mohammed Muslim was deemed guilty.
It becomes significant to note that the judge considered historical parameters in his assessment of the case, tracing the genealogy of the kebabs before delivering the final verdict. The desire to maintain the sanctity of the kebabs, for them to remain firmly grounded in the place of their origin, and the home of their creator’s descendants, conveys an attempt to keep memories alive, at least gastronomically.
The lawsuit can be read as a nostalgic gesture for our times, where the spectre of imitations haunts us, and our only recourse is the law. Partaking of the trademarked, authentic kebabs is our restorative attempt to feed our nostalgic souls, an attempt at recovering a feeling of ‘essence’.
1. Regina Bendix, In Search of Authenticity (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), 319.
In 1573, at the height of the Wars of Religion in France, Catholic forces besieged the Protestant town of Sancerre. The author Jean de Léry found himself caught there, watching as supplies dwindled and the populace grew increasingly desperate. He published a first-hand account of life inside the besieged city the next year. In this text, L’Histoire mémorable de la ville de Sancerre (The Memorable History of the Town of Sancerre, 1574), Léry does not spare his readers the horrific details of what he saw.(1) At one point, he encounters a couple who, ostensibly at the urging of an old woman, proceed to eat the body of their two-year-old daughter who had died of starvation:
And certainly, having passed near where they lived, and having seen the skull and the scalp of this poor girl, cleaned, and nibbled, and the ears eaten, having also seen the cooked tongue, as thick as a finger, that they were ready to eat, when they were surprised: the two thighs, legs and feet in a cauldron with vinegar, spices and salt, ready to be cooked and placed on the fire: the two shoulders, arms and hands put together, with the chest split and open, seasoned also to eat, I was so frightened and appalled that it moved all of my entrails.
–291, my translation
The way that the Potards have dressed their daughter’s body in this account recalls other common forms of meat preparation at the time. A recipe for roast kid from a fifteenth-century cookbook says to “fle him, And larde him, And trusse his legges in the sides, and roste him, And reyse the shuldres and legges, and sauce hit with vinegre and salte.” The family has prepared the young girl’s body in the way that one might dress a baby goat. Why did Léry feel the need to share the cannibal recipe with his readers?
Léry’s work judges cannibalism differently based on who is committing the act. In this case, Léry places the blame for the Potards’ cannibalism squarely on an elderly woman living with them at the time. He recounts that, after the girl had died of starvation, the old woman told the girl’s father that “it would be a shame to let this flesh rot in the ground: and besides, liver was good for curing her inflammation” (292).
Several scholars have pointed out Léry’s association of cannibalism with femininity. Frank Lestringant sees Léry as retelling the story of Adam and Eve, with the old woman playing the role of Satan.(2) Starvation does not excuse their behavior, as Léry writes: “In short, not only famine, but also a disordered appetite made them commit this barbaric and more than bestial cruelty” (292, my translation). By invoking the art of cooking along with cannibalism, Léry locates the latter in the feminine sphere, portraying the Potards’ cannibalistic domesticity as an outgrowth of the demonic nature of women.
Jean de Léry, L’histoire mémorable du siège et de la famine de Sancerre (1573): Au lendemain de la Saint-Barthélemy, Géralde Nakam, ed. (Geneva: Slatkine, 2000), 291.
Frank Lestringant, Le cannibale: grandeur et décadence (Genève: Droz, 2016), 140.
Stephanie Shiflett earned her PhD in French at Boston University, where she now teaches. Her current book project explores the spiritual and occult motivations behind cordiform, or heart-shaped, maps of the sixteenth century. She maintains a research blog atwww.mapsandmuscle.wordpress.com.
Welcome to the latest Around the Table! Today we have a chat about the recipes-related collections at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., especially the National Museum of American History (NMAH)! I am delighted to speak with Ashley Rose Young, Historian in the NMAH Division of Work and Industry, and Paula Johnson, Curator in the NMAH Division of Work and Industry.
The Smithsonian has many items of interest to our readership, particularly in the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), National Museum of American History (NMAH), and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Within the collections at all three museums are impressive holdings of items related to recipes research. Could you provide a brief overview of the Smithsonian’s collections related to recipes?
Paula Johnson: Researching recipes at the Smithsonian Institution is a complex endeavor, but one that has the potential for great rewards. With nineteen museums and research bureaus, plus pan-institutional libraries and archives, a veritable trove of material covering an astonishing array of culinary-related subjects awaits the intrepid researcher. While each museum has its own physical branch library, the consolidated digital catalog contains records for all Smithsonian holdings. A useful overview of the institution’s libraries and archives can be found here.
My long experience with Smithsonian collections is based almost entirely on the holdings of the National Museum of American History (NMAH), which houses significant collections of artifacts, documents, books, ephemera, and digital material reflecting many broad areas of culinary history. Among the diverse food-related collections are many that contain recipes, although that may not be apparent at a glance. Due to different cataloging protocols for objects, archives, and libraries over the institution’s 175-year-history, researchers need to think broadly about search terms and pack some patience when accessing the collections. While catalogs and finding aids are key to a researcher’s success, there’s always the possibility of serendipity, as in this item we located in the Smithsonian Archives, a “Receipt Book” for medicinal and dietary uses, kept by James Smithson, the British scientist whose bequest established the Smithsonian Institution in 1846. The handwritten receipts are mostly for simple candies and spirits, including “Pate de Jujubes,” “Usquebaugh,” and various cordials.
In the NMAH collections, recipes can be found in historic cookbooks that are held by the main research library as well as the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. A significant number of books and pamphlets was donated to the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) by the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC, and that collection continues to grow, courtesy of CHOW. The library also holds a large collection of trade literature and product cookbooks that contain recipes and can be accessed here.
The NMAH Archives Center houses many food history-related collections, including some that contain recipes. Although the word “recipe” may not appear in the record title or even the description, it is possible to access recipes (and marvelous related material) via creative searching. Some highlights include the Pillsbury Bake-off Collection and the Nordic Ware Papers, which include recipe pamphlets from the “Maid of Scandinavia” line of cookware, the forerunner to the Nordic Ware brand, most famous for its Bundt cake pans.
As a curator, I collect objects and archival documents for the museum, and over the years I have brought several collections into the museum that include recipes. A recent example is the Mollie Katzen collecting documenting the development of her Moosewood Cookbook. In addition to the original artwork and early, spiral-bound edition of the book (1974), the collection includes Katzen’s detailed estimates of the cost of each ingredient in each recipe and other papers containing recipe notes. My favorite part of the collection are the letters written to Katzen by fans, some of whom were enthusiastic converts to vegetarian cooking. These documents provide both context and texture to the recipes.
The Archives Center also houses documents collected from the recipients of the Julia Child Award, presented annually since 2015 by the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. Among them is a journal of field notes kept by Chef Rick Bayless, as he and his wife Deann traveled through Mexico in the early 1980s to research regional ingredients, dishes, and cooking techniques. These field notes became the foundation for Bayless’ first book, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (1987).
Another wonderful and perhaps unexpected document is contained in the Paul Ma Papers, collected from Paul and Linda Ma, a Chinese American couple who operated successful restaurants in the West Chester area of New York, beginning in the 1980s. A well-used, handwritten booklet features recipes for the basic dishes and sauces the Mas remembered from home after migrating to the United States around 1964. With recipes and notes written in both Chinese and English, and with sauce stains identifying the most favored recipes, the booklet also provides insight into the context of Ma’s restaurant menu and cooking.
Occasionally there are recipes filed as “reference material” associated with accessioned objects and these can sometimes be difficult to find without curatorial staff assistance. An example are the thirty-three recipe cards donated by La Deva Davis, an African American teacher whose 1976 television show, “What’s Cooking?” aired on PBS through station WHYY in Wilmington, DE. Donated along with three aprons La Deva Davis wore on the show, the cards provide a record of the dishes she demonstrated (“low cost, high nutrition cooking”), including “Oriental Beef Stew,” “Liptauer Cheese,” and “Think Thin Salad.”
Finally, a note about beer. Our colleague Theresa McCulla, curator of the museum’s American Brewing History Initiative, has collected beer recipes from the individuals who shaped the modern home brewing and craft beer industries. A couple of examples are included in the museum’s exhibition, FOOD: Transforming the American Table Theresa’s work has also inspired a great deal of interest in some of the older brewing history collections at the museum and for one beer historian, the Archives Center yielded recipe gold. As he was researching the Walter H. Voigt Brewing Industry Collection, the researcher found a 1930 recipe for Bock beer that called for corn, rice, and sugar scribbled on a piece of paper. In 2019, brewers at Denizens Brewing Co. in Silver Spring, Maryland, created an American bock from the recipe found in the NMAH Archives Center.
You have been creating a lot of programming around food culture in recent years at the Smithsonian-could you talk about that and how you have adapted during the COVID-19 closures this year?
Ashley Rose Young: The American Food History Project at NMAH hosts a variety of public programs including Cooking Up History, Deep-Dish Dialogues, Roundtables, Conversation Circles, Brewing History After Hours, Ask a Farmer, and more. Additionally, during our annual Food History Weekend, we invite community leaders, food practitioners, activists, academics, policy makers, and the public to come together to discuss a central theme in American history and in our current moment.
Recently, while planning for the all-virtual 2020 Food History Weekend, “Food Futures: Striving for Justice,” we took inspiration from what we saw in our research and collecting around COVID-19: that people are looking ahead with energy and hope for creating better systems and more innovative and humane solutions that will address long-term needs when we emerge from these unprecedented conditions. That weekend, our Cooking Up History programs featured chefs who each shared and prepared a recipe and spoke about its traditional and contemporary significance to food justice. Chef Nico Albert of the Cherokee Nation, for example, prepared Sumac-Crusted Trout with Sauteed Mushrooms and Greens, and guided audiences through foraging for sumac and greens, while also speaking about the culinary heritage of the Cherokee people. She emphasized that retaining and celebrating traditional foodways was a means of securing food sovereignty for indigenous communities across the U.S.
As with Chef Nico’s demonstration, all of our Cooking Up History programs are centered around recipes, the history and traditions behind their ingredients, culinary techniques, and enjoyment. The recipes and descriptions of each event can be found on our website under “Past Demos and Recipes.”
For 2021, we are currently developing new models to bring Cooking Up History and other food history programs to digital audiences throughout the year. Please visit our website this spring for updates.
What tips can you offer to help users find collection items? Is it possible to search all of the Smithsonian’s holdings at once, or do researchers need to look at the individual museums?
Ashley Rose Young: I had a chance to reach out to Alison Oswald, an archivist at the Archives Center at NMAH, for tips on how to navigate the vast collections of the Smithsonian, which, admittedly, can be somewhat daunting given the volume of material available. Alison noted that the data related to our collections are exported into the Collections Search Center (CSC), and the CSC is a good place for researchers to start when they want to search across the Smithsonian including all museums, archives, libraries, and research units.
Researchers can also search finding aids in Smithsonian archives by visiting the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives(SOVA). Some finding aids include digitized content linked at collection, series, and folder level.
Alison also provided a few tips on how to make the best of your searches on CSC and SOVA:
It can help to use quotes (“ ”) around the key word/search term and to make use of the facets, which allow you to limit a search. For example, “recipes” in SOVA yields 214 collection level records, but if you wanted to know what kind of recipes the National Museum of Air and Space has, you can limit it by selecting archival repository and you get 4 collections.
Researchers should also try a variety of terms when searching. Recipes is a pretty specific term so starting broader with cookbooks, cookery, cooking, baking, etc. can be useful. Most catalogs do something called “stemming” which is when the catalog searches for the “root” of a word and displays all words with that stem. For example, the word “searching” or “search” or “searches” all stem to “search”.
Last but not least, Alison noted that catalogs are works in progress that are constantly evolving, and that the Smithsonian welcomes feedback from researchers to make our catalogs better.
For researchers who have projects and interests spanning multiple museums within the Smithsonian, how do you recommend they go about searching for pertinent materials?
Paula Johnson: This is such an important issue and one we have explored recently through a special collaboration with colleagues in the UK and the US, with support from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. While this initiative has been the subject of previous posts, I’ll simply share that we worked with graduate student researchers from the Boston University Program in Gastronomy to test the ease and challenges of conducting food-related subject searches across the Smithsonian’s consolidated digital collections catalogs. The resulting white paper, “Looking for Food in the New Smithsonian Institution Catalog,” is under review and will help inform how we can improve cataloging to make materials more accessible across subject areas.
How much of the Smithsonian’s holdings are digitized? What other digital resources and events are available?
Ashley Rose Young: I also had the opportunity to touch base with Sherri Berger, the head of NMAH’s Digital Programs Office, about the Smithsonian’s digital offerings. Sherri noted that as of 2019, the Smithsonian holds 155.4 million museum objects and specimens, about 19 million of which have been digitized; 1.2 million library volumes, about 760,000 of which have been either fully or partially digitized; and 163,000 cubic feet of archival material, with 5.6 million digitized items. For ways to learn about and access these materials, please see our answer to question 3.
In addition to these materials, the Smithsonian hosts numerous virtual events. You can learn about NMAH’s food history offering by signing up to our newsletter and selecting “food history” as a topic of interest.
We also have recordings of past events available online. You can watch our 2020 Food History Weekend programming and other food-related events on our YouTube “food history” playlist.
Does the Smithsonian offer any fellowships or grants for researchers?
Ashley Rose Young: The Smithsonian offers research fellowships to graduate students, predoctoral students, and postdoctoral and senior investigators to conduct independent research and to utilize the resources of the Institution with members of the Smithsonian professional research staff serving as advisors and hosts. These fellowships are offered through the Smithsonian’s Office of Fellowships and Internships, and are administered under the charter of the Institution, 20 U.S. Code section 41 et seq. You can learn more about our fellowship program here.
*Several photos in this post were taken by research staff and are not official scans provided by the Smithsonian museums and archives. Because the Smithsonian research facilities have been closed due to the pandemic, we are not able to provide proper scans.
Recipes for food preservation document the fight against oblivion. All recipes are mnemonic: they function both as technical reminders and as records of past practices, passed down as “receipts,” as they were called in early modern England, from one generation to the next. But some early modern recipes proposed a more literal form of re-membering, promising to reverse the process of decay and return organic materials to their previous, livelier states.
Consider a recipe from Hannah Woolley’s evocatively titled The Queen-like Closet, or Rich Cabinet, stored with all manner of rare receipts for preserving, candying, and cookery, first published in 1670. This recipe for “Walnut water, or the Water of Life,” describes how to gather and distill green walnuts and “keep” the resulting liquid before proceeding to catalog its many “virtues,” concluding:
It is good for all infirmities of the Body, and driveth out all Corruption, and inward Bruises … ; whosoever drinketh much of it, shall live so long as Nature shall continue in him.
Finally, if you have any Wine that is turned, put in a little Viol or Glass full of it, and keep it close stopped, and within four days it will come to it self again.
If in a way the walnut water memorializes, in distilled form, the walnuts gathered in the summer for months or years to come, it also “driveth out all Corruption” and so recalls human bodies to healthier versions of themselves. Even soured wine can benefit from this panacea: “within four days it will come to it self again.” Despite a timeline similar to that between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, this is less resurrection than correction, as if the turned wine had merely forgotten itself and needed to be given smelling salts to come back to its senses.
This ordinary miracle of physical remembrance encoded in recipes, the promise that bodies and other matter can overcome the degradation of time and come to themselves again, was also a subject of fascination for poets like Edmund Spenser, whose Faerie Queene (1590–96) frequently depicts characters who forget themselves and can only be brought back to life and cognition through the interventions of something like culinary or medicinal preservation.
In book I, the knight Redcrosse, scorched by a dragon, falls backward into a “well of life” that recalls Woolley’s “water of life”: he marinates there overnight and emerges in the morning as a “new-borne knight,” “drenched” from the thorough steeping, like rehydrated fruit, or like the dried artichokes that one recipe in John Nott’s Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary (1723) promises “will come to themselves, and be as fresh as at first,” when soaked in warm water. Having slept it off, the next day Redcrosse is again knocked out by the dragon, and—rinse and repeat—he again revives, this time thanks to the virtues of a healing “Balme” not unlike those described in contemporary recipe books, except this one trickles down directly from the tree of life.
In book III of Spenser’s poem, at the heart of the Garden of Adonis, we learn that this place is peopled by lovers—Hyacinthus, Narcissus—who have metamorphosed into “fresh” flowers and “to whom sweet Poets verse hath giuen endlesse date”: the memorialization of men being, after all, one of the primary functions of poetry since Homer. But a more mundane and domestic art of memory is also at work here. Adonis, having been impaled by a boar, undergoes a similar reconstitution as Redcrosse when his caregiver Venus thoroughly seasons him with “flowres and pretious spycery,” making his body like the sugared flowers that, in another of Woolley’s recipes, can be carefully arranged so that they “look as though they were new gathered.”
As a result of this spice regimen, Adonis—who corresponds, in Spenser’s allegory, to matter itself—will not altogether die; repeatedly brought back to himself, he will not, the poet assures us, be “forgot.” Like the authors of recipe collections, Spenser reminds us that both culinary techniques and writing have the capacity to recollect what would otherwise be scattered and lost.
Katie Kadue is a Harper-Schmidt Fellow and Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Her book, Domestic Georgic: Labors of Preservation from Rabelais to Milton, is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press in fall 2021.