Spring 2023



By Melissa Reynolds, Editor

With spring in the air and nature coming back to life in the northern hemisphere, this month’s issue of the Recipes Project takes up the theme of “rebirth.” Recipe collections abound with recipes for cosmetics, medicines, and agricultural techniques to restore life to aging skin, withering plants, and even, occasionally, to bring bodies back from near death. In our primary source highlight this issue, Lucy Mookerjee writes about the power of herbal ingredients to bring memories back to life, shedding light on a seventeenth-century recipe for “Confect of Coriander Seed” in a manuscript in the Folger Library. Later this issue, Sonakshi Srivastava shares her grandmother’s nuskhe, recipes for time-tested techniques to regenerate and enliven everything from skin to books to furniture. Srivastava’s reflections on how her grandmother’s recipes interweave oral and textual traditions remind us that whether recipes for renewal are mystical, medical, or just wishful thinking, all of them reflect the enduring human desire for renewal.

Indeed, the genre of the recipe itself is a kind of promise of renewal. When we follow a recipe to the letter, we reenact a set of practices first performed by others, and in doing so, something of their knowledge is renewed in us. We may try a new ingredient, alter a technique just slightly. This, too, is a kind of rebirth: new knowledge coming to life through the performance of the old. As Mackie Black argues in her post, new knowledge can emerge from the act of hand-transcribing recipe collections using historically accurate techniques.

And then, there’s the renaissance (that’s French for rebirth, you know) of recipe studies, much of it captured on this blog over the last decade or so. Much of that work has centered on bringing recipes back to life through new media: the annual EMROC transcribeathons, digital projects documenting recipe reconstructions, libraries digitizing entire collections of recipe books. This month’s Around the Table podcast by Sarah Peters Kernan features Elaine Harrington, who describes how librarians at University College Cork brought their recipe collections back to life during the pandemic through digitization.

Finally, as readers, researchers, and reenactors of recipes, we know that we bring our experiences in the present to bear on our encounters with recipes from the past. We give new life to artifacts and texts from the past because we encounter them in contexts beyond what their original authors, compilers, or users could have imagined. When James Brown, our first contributor this month, started researching outdoor tea gardens in nineteenth-century Britain, he couldn’t have imagined that his experiences with outdoor dining during the pandemic would breathe new life into those old sources. Nor did Rebecca Whiteley, whose wonderful book Birth Figures will be featured in this issue’s Publication Highlight, have imagined that research into obstetrical illustrations would be given new life in the post-Roe context of twenty-first century America.

Whatever your reasons for reading this issue—whether to breathe new life your own research, to revive yourself with stories about the past, or to renew your interest in recipes of all kinds—we hope you’ll come back every Thursday from now until the end of June to read all about…

Recipes for rebirth

Outside Issues: Tea Gardens in Early Modern London

By James Brown

The HERA-funded research project Intoxicating Spaces (2019–22), on which I was fortunate enough to work and which explored material environments for the production, trafficking, and consumption of new intoxicants in Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and Stockholm 1600–1850, coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant lockdowns. An avid user of bars, cafes, and restaurants in Sheffield in the UK, where I live and where the project was headquartered, I admired and became fascinated by the creative ways in which these hospitality businesses adapted and repurposed outdoor spaces – gardens, pavements, patios, roads, and yards – in response to bans and restrictions on indoor socialising (measures which have a long historical precedent in plague time). These present-day crisis developments inspired me to take my own research on early modern London outside into the open air.

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Rejuvenated Memories: Rebirth and Reliving through Nani Maa ke Nuskhe

By Sonakshi Srivastava

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.

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The Rebirth of Embodiment: Hand-Compiling an Early Modern Recipe Book

By Mackie Black

The early modern family participated in manuscript culture through the collection and trading of recipes among family, friends, and political connections. In this post, I describe how modern scholars can participate in a new manuscript culture through transcription. While digital transcriptions are valuable for accessibility, these projects hide the physical experience that went into the creation of these texts. Though digital transcription does include physicality, with typing and coding and especially in an emotional sense with the frustration at a difficult word or phrase and the ultimate joy that comes with figuring it out, this is a different embodied experience than that of recreation through rewriting. Hand-writing recreation provides a more in-depth understanding of the messy physical processes of the past, those that leave the writer with ink-stained hands and the paper with scratched out mistakes, rather than the clean processes of the present.

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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 the traditional. 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.

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primary source highlight

Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.a.619 and Recipes to Remember

By Lucy Mookerjee

On learning of her father’s death, Ophelia, the heartbroken heroine of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, falls into a “weeping brook” and quietly allows herself to drown (4.7).  While modern scholarship has tended to construe Ophelia as ‘feminist heroine’; critics in the Victorian period perceived Ophelia as a deranged ‘madwoman’; not only has she lost her father and her lover, but she has also lost her mind. In the words of Hamlet’s mother, she is “incapable of her own distress” which is to say: she has forgotten her ‘self’ (4.7). It is curious, then, that the “sweet flowers” – pansies, forget-me-nots, rosemary sprigs –which surround her in the famous Pre-Raphaelite painting, and which are frequently referenced in the play, should have a long history as symbols not of loss, but of memory.

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Around the table

Reimagining Historical Recipes in the Digital Age at UCC Library, Ireland

In this issue’s episode of Sarah Peters Kernan’s Around the Table Podcast, she interviews Elaine Harrington about her work at the University College Cork Library, reimagining how paper 19th-20th century Irish manuscript recipe books could be accessed in the Fall of 2020, when access to physical spaces was not guaranteed or was restrictive. Special Collections created a new partnership with Digital Learning to reinvigorate student work & internships by creating a Scalar project Historical Recipes in the Digital AgeStudents reconsidered what skills were required to read these local manuscript recipe books and visualized connections that would not be so readily identifiable using the original artifact. 

Click here to listen the episode, and be sure to subscribe!


Interview with Dr. Rebecca Whiteley about Birth Figures: Early Modern Prints and the Pregnant Body (Chicago, 2023)

By Melissa Reynolds

In this issue’s publication highlight, we are delighted to share an interview with Dr. Rebecca Whiteley, whose book, Birth Figures: Early Modern Prints and the Pregnant Body, was just published this spring by the University of Chicago Press. Dr. Whiteley is a British Academy Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. An art historian by training, her research works on the intersections between visual and material culture, medical history and social history. Her current research focusses on the nineteenth century, the material culture of obstetric education, and the entanglements of medicine and sex. Her book, Birth Figures, is the first full-length study of the printed images of the pregnant womb that circulated widely in midwifery manuals and surgical books from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

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Tales from the Archives

  • Word of Mouth: Sharing and Using Recipes in Seventeenth-Century France

    Dr Vallant’s Portefeuilles (Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris) are a hodgepodge of information, with recipes for gateaux, remedies in French and Latin, medical case notes, letters, religious reflections, and poems kept side-by-side. Vallant was the household physician of famed salonnière Mme de Sablé (d. 1678) and, later, Mlle de Guise.  He was also regularly consulted by Madame’s friends and family…

  • Towards an Inclusive Recipe Literature

    By John Broadway Like any other piece of literature, a recipe is an act of translation. As literature takes the complexity of the human experience and translates it into a coherent set of signs and symbols, recipes take nature’s diversity and translate it, through language, into a recognizable semiotics. Yet in this translation process information…

  • To Preserve Quinces, White or Red?

    By Rebecca Laroche Through a current collaboration with Thomas Ward (United States Naval Academy), I have found something of interest in early modern quince preserves.[i] Across the Wellcome Library Digitised Collection, examples of recipes “To preserve quinces” evenly divide between two (or three types), “To preserve quinces red” and “To preserve quinces white” (the third…

  • The Recipe Collection of the Last Medici Princess

    By Ashley Buchanan Two summers ago in the state archive of Florence I discovered, filed under the heading of “miscellaneous Medici,” a simple sleeve which held a collection of over 200 recipes that belonged to the last Medici Princess, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici (1667-1743). Born in 1667 in Florence, Anna Maria Luisa was the…

  • The CIA’s “Secret” Weapon: Dorothy Pompeo’s Christmas Fudge Recipe

    By Jennifer Sherman Roberts Twitter is a funny, messy place where topics and tropes wantonly mingle and merge. Memes about Tide pods follow presidential proclamations. Rankings of Very Good Dogs scroll alongside obituaries. And sometimes you can go to Twitter for updates on twenty-first-century American politics and find modern-day illustrations of your-seventeenth-century English research interests.…

  • Social networks and sharing medical recipes: The receipt book of Amy Rowlands of Henblas

    By Alun Withey Much recent work by historians has highlighted the extent that medical knowledge was part of a ‘knowledge economy’ in the early modern period. Put simply, health and medicine were regular topics of conversation, whether in person or by letter. Just like today people told each other of their symptoms, suggested favourite remedies…

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Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine

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