Tag Archives: community cookbooks

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.

Favorite Recipes: Social Networks in the Pages of a Regional Community Cookbook

By Rachel A. Snell

Members of the Mount Desert chapter may have attended the ceremonial induction of officers at the neighboring Tremont chapter, as depicted in this undated photograph. Courtesy Southwest Harbor Public Library

In the late 1920s, members of the Mount Desert Chapter No. 20 of the Order of the Eastern Star compiled a cookbook of favorite recipes. During the peak of associational life, from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, the Order of the Eastern Star was one of a number of social organizations that shaped civic life and sociability on Mount Desert Island.[i]The recipes collected by the members of this chapter provide windows into the lives of early-twentieth-century women, both within and outside of domestic spaces. A previous post explored the representation of globalized food systems within the compiled recipes, this post will examine social networks within Mount Desert. The Order of the Eastern Star, like other women’s organizations of the early twentieth century, strengthened the social bonds between rural Maine women. The recipes for salads and cakes, which would be appropriate for an informal ladies’ luncheon or tea, suggest the significance of social gatherings to the members of the Mount Desert Chapter and complement the histories we have of this chapter. Additionally, the text of the cookbook can be used as a map and as a spatial analysis of the collected recipes, which reveal the continued importance of familial ties and residential proximity in the lives of rural women of the early twentieth century.

This map, created using census and directory data, provides a spatial analysis of the compilers of Favorite Recipes. A full map of the Island can be viewed here.

Cookbook collections such as Favorite Recipes shift our focus from considering women’s experiences in time, to considering their experiences across physical space. Research into historical and genealogical records permit this cookbook to be mapped, allowing women’s networks to be presented visually, and thereby provide an image of social culture on Mount Desert Island during the period in which these recipes were collected. Of the forty-one women and two men who submitted recipes to the cookbook, thirty-three individuals can be definitively identified and mapped through Census Records and local directories. The map reveals that the majority of the recipe compilers, and likely the majority of the members of the Mount Desert Chapter, resided in Somesville. A few lived further afield in Pretty Marsh, Sound, and Northeast Harbor, but the majority appear to have resided within easy commuting distance to the Masonic Lodge.

This undated photograph shows the two and one-half story Somesville Masonic Hall built in the early 1890s. Courtesy of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society

The clustering of recipe contributors in Somesville affirms the intentions of the founders of the Mount Desert Chapter. According to an undated “Brief History” of the chapter from 1894-1920, “the ladies of Somesville, desirous of enjoying more frequent opportunities of meeting together, held a number of meetings during the fall and winter of 1894, taking preliminary action toward the organization of a chapter of the Order of Eastern Star.”[ii]The creation of the Mount Desert Chapter provided the women of Somesville and surrounding villages with an opportunity to meet regularly at the Masonic Lodge and to attend to chapter business, as well as a chance to socialize outside of domestic spaces and obligations.

Recipes for cake frostings and fillings from Favorite Recipe with a splatter suggesting these recipes were used by the cookbook owner. Courtesy of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society

The recipes themselves also suggest the importance of this social function. While there is no lack of substantial family fare, recipes for cakes, cookies, salads, and other delicacies that may have formed the menu for a ladies’ luncheon or an afternoon tea are well represented in Favorite Recipes. It is quite possible that these recipes provided the foundation for the menus of suppers served at officer appointments and at regular chapter meetings. Newspaper accounts of the Mount Desert Chapter’s activities frequently note the quality of the spread, such as the comment that “delicious refreshments were served at the close of the chapter” meeting in January of 1932.[iii]In this sense, it is a recipe book perfectly suited to the women of the chapter and their increasingly organized network of friends, family, and neighbors. Recipes suitable for quick, hearty, and wholesome family meals and for impressing guests, or fellow attendees of a neighborhood potluck, comingle within the cookbook.

This post is excerpted from “Favorite Recipes: Relationships Past and Present in the Pages of a Regional Cookbook” published in Chebacco, the magazine of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society. The full article is available here.

[i]William J. Skocpol, “Fraternal Organization on Mount Desert Island,” Chebacco 9 (2008), 36-59.

[ii]A Brief History of Mount Desert Chapter #20, O.E.S., 1894-1920, 1, Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

[iii]“Somesville,” Bar Harbor Record(Jan. 27, 1932): 7.

Needhams: Global Connections in a Regional Cookbook

By Rachel Snell

According to an undated history of the Mount Desert Chapter of O.E.S., “a committee consisting of Sisters Helen Fernald, Ada Leland and Lillian Somes” was created in 1930 to “solicit recipes and to compile and publish a cookbook.” Their efforts produced the edition of Favorite Recipes analyzed in this article. This was the chapter’s second attempt at a cookbook. An earlier collection of recipes, also titled Favorite Recipes, appeared in 1903. Both editions and a 1980s reprint of the 1903 cookbook are available in the collections of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

In the late 1920s, members of the Mount Desert Chapter No. 20 of the Order of the Eastern Star compiled a cookbook of favorite recipes. During the peak of associational life (late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century), the Order of the Eastern Star was one of a number of social organizations that shaped civic life and sociability on Mount Desert Island.[i]

The recipes collected preserve the transition to an industrialized food system with ingredients representing local resources, nationally available commercial brands, and global networks comingling within the pages, sometimes even the same recipe. In the eyes of the outside world, Maine food culture revolves around local produce such as lobster, blueberries, or maple syrup. But this collection reveals the importance of global connections in the diets of early-twentieth-century Mainers.

A sense of local foodways emerges from the pages of this collection of recipes. Homey recipes like Brown Bread, Yankee Bean Soup, Halibut Loaf, and Mustard Pickles, provided the foundation for simple family suppers. Recipes for puddings, doughnuts, cookies, cakes, and pies that homemakers baked on Saturdays satisfied sweet tooths and served company throughout the coming week.

Among the staples of nineteenth-century foodways that appear in Favorite Recipes, a new type of cooking is also apparent. The influence of national, commercial brands is unmistakable in the ingredient lists. Approximately forty percent of the recipes contained within the book reference a commercialized name-brand product, such as Dunham’s Coconut, Karo Syrup, Dot Chocolate, or Quaker Oats, or ingredients that were made available by technological advances and national transportation networks. This included various canned products, tropical fruits, marshmallows, puffed rice, and peanut butter.

Among the sweets in the cookbook are Needhams, a chocolate-covered coconut candy. These are an oft-cited example of Maine ingenuity—the recipe calls for three small potatoes—and yet, ironically, their inclusion in the recipe book is perhaps an indication of a growing reliance on mass-produced food and global influences. It is half a package of shredded coconut that provides their iconic taste.

Recipe for Needhams, Favorite Recipes (c. 1930). Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

Despite their association with Maine, few outside the Pine Tree State are familiar with the confection. Yet, Needhams are symbolic of globalized food systems. The sugar, coconut, and chocolate that dominate the taste of a Needham (the potato is a tasteless filler ingredient) are all, of course, imported. Each of these essential baking ingredients became more accessible over the course of the nineteenth-century, even in Downeast Maine, due to advancements in cultivation, processing, transportation–and the exploitation of enslaved laborers. The candy’s namesake, Rev. George C. Needham, further represented the interconnected world of the nineteenth century.

Rev. George C. Needham. New England Historical Society.

Born in Ireland in 1840, at the age of ten Needham joined an English ship bound for South America. In his recounting, he was abused and abandoned by his shipmates he narrowly escaped becoming dinner for a band of cannibal Indians. After his escape, Needham journeyed back to England. As a young man, he was an itinerant evangelical preacher in England and Ireland. Immigrating to the United States in the late 1860s, Needham spent the rest of his life traveling the eastern United States, inclusing Maine, predicting the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. After his sudden death in 1902, his obituary appeared in numerous eastern newspapers evidencing his influence and the extent of his travels.

Needhams, a chocolate-covered coconut candy. New England Historical Society.

The recipe for Needhams is just one example of the global connections in Favorite Recipes. Indeed, the cookbook paints a portrait of a community and its connections to the world by preserving a record of the food items available within a rural municipality along the Maine coast. Favorite Recipes offers a window into the eating habits of the early twentieth-century inhabitants of Mount Desert, Maine at a critical juncture when local and homemade eating habits slowly gave way to nationalized, globalized, and commercialized food choices.

For more information on Favorite Recipes or other materials related to the history of the Mount Desert Island region, visit the Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

[i] William J. Skocpol, “Fraternal Organization on Mount Desert Island,” Chebacco 9 (2008), 36-59.