A Recipe for Learning Atlantic World History: Student Contributions

By Zara Anishanslin

Student Jose Hernandez summed up initial reaction to finding a “recipe assignment” on an Atlantic World History course syllabus: “when you first assigned the Columbian Exchange assignment, I honestly assumed that you were giving us busy work.” Once students dove into the assignment, reactions changed. As Hernandez went on to say, “once I started researching, I realized that this was a legit assignment.”

Legit indeed. The project enhanced student understanding of the Columbian Exchange as a truly transformative global phenomenon. It also provided them with new—and at times surprising— knowledge about their favorite foods.

Cow
Stefano della Bella, Cow, Diversi animali, plate 7 (Published by Pierre Mariette, ca. 1641), Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1917 (17.50.17-256), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After Europeans introduced them to the Americas, the meat of pigs and cows became staple features of creolized cuisine. Students worked on a number of such recipes. Bryan Howell researched the empanadilla, or little empanada, a pork-based dish created by culinary exchanges among Portuguese, Spanish, Native American, and Caribbean creoles. As he put it, the empanadilla “had to make a lot of trips back and forth across the Atlantic to be what it is. And what it is is freaking delicious.”

Student Cynthia Vera researched another meat-based recipe, one that she termed “a Latin spin on a European croquette.”

Recipe for Rellenos de Papa

2 pounds russet potatoes (Vera prefers the more traditionally used white potato to the sweet potatoes in the linked recipe)

½ cup cooked corn meal, with extra for dusting

1 pound of lean ground beef

¼ cup of sofrito (sauce base)

1 packet of sazon con achote

Canola oil for frying

½ teaspoon of sale

Directions:

Cook ground meat and drain. Add sofrito mixture and packet of sazon con achote. Stir well over low heat to blend flavors and set aside.

Peel and boil potatoes until tender. Mash potatoes with salt and cornmeal, mix well. Place potato mixture in refrigerator to cool.

Once cool, scoop into balls, make pocket in middle of ball with your finger to place meat. Carefully press mixture back into a ball, thoroughly covering meat mixture. Dust in cornmeal, fry.

While the beef was the result of European colonization, corn and potatoes both were essential to American indigenous peoples’ diets. As Vera aptly put it, both were “ingredients of abundance” for Native Americans. And yet, Vera had never thought of the indigenous roots of what was to her a very familiar dish. As she reflected, “Growing up Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian I did not get the sense that my culture was heavily influenced by anything but other Hispanic cultures.” Researching her chosen dish, she found otherwise, and that recipes like rellenos de papa “speak volumes to the original cultures that did not allow themselves to be swallowed up, but instead were reborn into something else that has become a signature for today’s people.”

Students Jose Hernandez and Madeline Mercado also described their recipes—different variations of rice and beans —as edible reminders of how people retained culinary practices in the face of change. West Africans ate rice and beans, enslaved people of African descent were the laborers who tended rice in places like South Carolina, and West African cultivation practices and knowledge were likely integral to the crop’s success in the Americas.

PanDulce
Pan dulce, on display at a Staten Island bakery, Pan con Cafe. Pictured is a type of pan dulce called la concha: “El Borracho,” on the top left and “El Gusano,” top right. Photo by Sonia Martinez, 2015.

Other students found that European traditions were behind what they thought were indigenous recipes. Sonia Martinez researched pan dulce or “Mexican sweet bread,” a treat “sold everywhere, from street food stands to elaborate bakeries in the capital.” Pan dulce is an important part of Mexican holidays like the Day of the Dead, when it is eaten in the form of pan de muerto (pan dulce in the shape of crosses, skulls, angels, or tomb effigies).

Martinez was surprised to find that pan dulce “wasn’t made from native ingredients passed down from generation to generation.” Instead, it relies on wheat, a plant Spanish missionaries insisted on importing to make communion wafers.

Nicolás Enríquez (Mexican, 1704–1790) The Virgin of Guadalupe with the Four Apparitions, 1773 Mexican,  Oil on copper; 22 1/4 × 16 1/2 in. (56.5 × 41.9 cm) Framed: 25 1/4 × 19 7/8 × 1 3/8 in. (64.1 × 50.5 × 3.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, 2014 (2014.173) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/635401
Nicolás Enríquez (Mexican, 1704–1790)
The Virgin of Guadalupe with the Four Apparitions (1773), Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and several members of The Chairman’s Council Gifts, 2014 (2014.173), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg),The Witch, ca. 1500, Engraving, Fletcher Fund, 1919, 19.73.75, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg),The Witch, ca. 1500, Engraving, Fletcher Fund (1919, 19.73.75), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Another group of students focused on recipes that used ingredients that traveled east, from the Americas to Europe and, eventually, India and Asia. Some had legends attached to them. Student Ashley Olivetti delved into her grandmother’s Italian tomato sauce recipe. She found that Europeans at first feared tomatoes in part because they are part of the family Solanaceae, which includes “deadly nightshades” like belladonna, a poisonous plant that, according to Germanic folklore, witches used to summon werewolves.

Student Thomas Finn looked at vichyssoise, or French potato and leek soup, and was surprised to find that the ordinary potato has legends attached to it. When Incas from Cuzco fled before Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1476-1541), they lightened their load to travel faster under threat of puma attacks, throwing supplies into Lake Pumacocha to prevent the Spanish from using them. Among these supplies was the Incan staple ch’unu, a freeze-dried, dehydrated potato easy to carry over the long distances of the far-flung Incan empire. The Inca were allegedly on their way to the legendary city of Paititi, a never found place rumored to contain hordes of gold and silver.

Utagawa (Gountei) Sadahide, Foreigners in the Drawing Room of Foreign Merchant's House in Yokohama (9th month, 1861),  Triptych of polychrome woodblock prints Bequest of William S. Lieberman, 2005 (2007.49.131a–c), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Utagawa (Gountei) Sadahide, Foreigners in the Drawing Room of Foreign Merchant’s House in Yokohama (9th month, 1861), Triptych of polychrome woodblock prints Bequest of William S. Lieberman, 2005 (2007.49.131a–c), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Other students looked at recipes that arose due to another farflung empire: that of the British. Student Remy Rodney researched his grandmother’s “Jamaican soup,” a dish that reflects the global reach of the British in its chicken, pumpkins, yams, and Korean dumplings. Student Harmon Chan looked at Japanese rice and potato curry. First found in Japanese cookbooks in 1872, this now popular standby in Japan had its beginnings not long before, after American Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 visit began a new era of Japanese trade with western nations including Britain.  Among the things the British introduced to Japan were curry from India and potatoes from America.

As one student put it, “food is one way people define their culture.” As students learned by researching recipes of the Columbian Exchange, food is one way people maintain old cultures and create new ones, too.

Contributors’ Bios

Harmon Chan is a History major interested in exploring the history of the United States.

Thomas Finn is a senior History major who is interested in colonial American history. His family has lived in America a long time, and in the same house on Staten Island since 1820.

Jose Hernandez is a senior History major, who is minoring in African American Studies. His interests include the Atlantic World and its importance in world history.

Sonia Martinez, born to immigrant parents, is a first generation Mexican American student. She is a senior majoring in English writing and linguistics, and minors in Spanish.

Madeline Mercado majors in Social Work and minors in Spanish. Her family background is Puerto Rican, and she is interested in the history of rice in the Atlantic World.

Ashley Olivetti is a senior American Studies major. Her family is originally from Italy and now resides in Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. Her interests include researching and writing about history.

Remiah Rodney is a sophomore of Jamaican heritage. Born in London, England, he plays soccer for the College of Staten Island.

Cynthia Vera is a Latin American senior, majoring in Latin American Studies and Psychology.

 

 

 

First Monday Library Chat: The Huntington Library

The Recipes Project heads to San Marino, California this month, to learn about the recipe collections of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  We spoke with Alan Jutzi, Curator of Rare Books, and Shelley Kresan, rare book cataloguer for the Huntington’s new Anne Cranston American Regional and Charitable Cookbook Collection, about the many recipe sources – both early modern and modern – held at the Huntington.

The Huntington Library, San Marino CA.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Huntington Library, San Marino CA. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Huntington is known for the breadth of its collections, which have particular strengths in British and American history as well as the history of the American West. Tell us a bit about the early modern and modern recipes materials held at your institution.

During Henry E. Huntington’s buying splurge between 1910 and 1927, he acquired large English and American libraries and archives that included printed herbals, cookbooks, and works on domestic management as well as manuscripts dealing with medical and food recipes.  Examples of some of our major English holdings include the Bridgewater House Library (16th-19th centuries), which incorporate the Ellesmere papers, and the Stowe House manuscripts (mostly 16th-18th centuries) which entail the Temple, Brydges, and Grenville family papers.  The Robert A. Brock Collection (17th-19th centuries) on Virginia is an example of a large American collection of published works and family and regional archives.

Identifying early modern and modern printed recipes is much easier than locating those in large archival manuscript collections. The Huntington’s holdings in pre-1801 imprints from the British Isles and North America appear in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). All of the catalogued cookery publications appear in the Huntington’s online catalogue. The library has continued to concentrate on English and American cooking and culture by adding new materials, primarily through gifts to the library. In 1983 we acquired the 500-volume California cookbook collection of Helen Evans Brown and Philip S. Brown. A related collection that the Library has recently received is the Jay T. Last Collection of Lithographic and Social History. It includes a huge section of ephemeral printing dealing with American food and beverage promotion.

For information and access to manuscript materials and the Last Collection, researchers should contact the curator – they can find out how to do this via the library staff directory on the Huntington website.

I was especially excited to learn about the Huntington’s Cranston Collection, which includes 4,400 British and American cookbooks from the 19th and 20th centuries. What’s the history behind the Cranston Collection, and how did it come to be a part of the Huntington Library?

The Anne M. Cranston Collection on American Cookery was donated in 2000 by her daughter Elanne Callahan, of San Marino CA. It includes several thousand “trade” cookbooks, printed by major publishers over the last 150 years, and an equal number of “charitable” cookbooks from the same period.

The Cranston Collection consists of four main categories of cookbooks: 1) those written by the forerunners of the home economic movement and the heads of culinary schools in the late 19th century to promote the education of women; 2) 20th-century cookbooks that took cooking to a higher precision, which includes many foreign recipe books published in English; 3) 20th-century ephemeral cookbooks and pamphlets (e.g. Campbell’s Soup and Corn Products Refining Company promotional cookbooks,) 4) charity and fund-raising cookbooks created by churches, schools, hospitals, clubs, philanthropic organizations, etc.

Joseph Campbell Company canned beans advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post, 1921.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Joseph Campbell Company canned beans advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post, 1921. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Huntington’s primary reason for accepting the Cranston Collection was the depth of the regional and charitable sections; indeed all of the research done in this collection since its arrival has been in those areas.  And even in Mrs. Cranston’s home, the collection was organized by region, state, and city.  Anne M. Cranston (1906-1993) was a fascinating figure; she came to Southern California with her husband William E. Cranston in the early 1930s, and he founded the Thermador Company (which specialized in electrical, and especially kitchen, appliances) in Los Angeles.  Mrs. Cranston began to collect cookbooks around this time, and it was a pastime she continued throughout her life. It is obvious that she loved the hunt for the books as much as recipes the books contained. She was a bibliophile.

Shelley has been writing some great posts on the Cranston materials for Verso, the Huntington’s blog – and the public’s response to those posts has been terrific. People love to engage with culinary sources from the past! Does the Huntington have any future plans to make these materials widely accessible?

The Huntington Digital Library, representing only a fraction of our holdings, is an online tool to aid in the dissemination of just some of the library’s rich and unique collections. It is designed to support the research needs of Huntington readers and staff, and to share digitized resources with the broader community. The Huntington would certainly like to do much more with its cookery holdings, but we see our first responsibility to make collections available that will be consulted by our researchers. Eventually we anticipate more blogs, exhibits, conferences, and closer interaction with historical culinary organizations. There is nothing specifically planned for the near future.

Modern recipes were often used to circulate ideas about supposedly “exotic” or “foreign” nations and cultures. In the Cranston materials, do you see evidence of 19th and 20th century Americans experimenting with recipes from different cultures, geographic regions, religions, or ethnic groups?

The evidence for the circulation of ethnic recipes and cultural ideas in modern America comes out foremost in the Cranston Collection’s American charity cookbooks, particularly those from the early to mid 20th century. As immigrant groups settled throughout the United States and came into contact with established communities, local charities published cookbooks which reflected the adaption and adoption of cuisines offered by the newcomers.  The variety of ethnic cookbooks in the Cranston Collection is testimony to the impact of widespread regional ethnic population changes.  One of the Cranston books, Agnes Jekyll’s Kitchen Essays (1922), included a recipe for “Malay Curry of Prawns,” which called for western cooks to use seemingly-exotic ingredients such as coconut, turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon.  (Shelley’s post on Jekyll’s book, including the full recipe for the “Malay Curry” can be found here, at Verso.)

Agnes Jekyll.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Agnes Jekyll. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But modern American cooks also saw European cuisines as “novel” and “sophisticated.” The large selection of books on European cuisines published in English, as well as souvenir cookbooks that were obtained by Americans traveling to Europe, indicates the willingness of both American chefs and home cooks alike to venture into exotic and foreign territory.

Recipes frequently feature notations and marginalia made over the course of many years by the cooks who used them. Can you tell us a bit about the marginalia in the Huntington’s recipe collections (both early modern and modern)?

The Huntington rare book cataloguing descriptions attempt to provide copy-specific information with notes about manuscript notations and inserts; however, not all early modern or modern books have gotten this full treatment. There is no easy access to annotated recipes in early modern printed books.

The most marginalia to be found is in the American charitable cookbooks. These are corrections to the printed text, recipes mostly on the flyleaves, and recipes transcribed on separate sheets. These marginal, handwritten recipes, as one can imagine, are mostly those of the owner or ones received from a relative or friend. From working through the volumes, it appears that the majority are for breads, cakes, puddings, and desserts, but there are plenty of main dishes, appetizers, and side dishes. Some examples of marginal recipes in the Cranston Collection include scrawled recipes for a Lady Baltimore cake, a date pudding, and even a vegetarian meat substitute loaf made from lima beans.

There is much yet to be found in the Huntington’s extensive cookery collections. The search will lead in many directions, and the culinary rewards will be plentiful and rich.

Pilau, eighteenth-century style

To follow Katherine Allen’s post on tobacco: some thoughts on a different colonial import. Researching in recipe books often presents tempting diversions, and this recipe for ‘Pilau after the East Indian manner’ looks pretty tasty.

Sarah Tully [and others], Book of receipts for Cookery and Pastry, eighteenth century. Wellcome Library MS 8687. Image credit: Wellcome Library (author’s own photo).
Boil half a pound of Butter to a pound of Rice & when the Butter is turn’d to Oil put in some Mace Cloves whole pepper & cinnamon together with the Rice and stir it about & let it fry till the Butter is almost dryd & soak’d away, Let a Fowl at the same time be boiling in Mutton Broth till it be enough & then pour as much Broth upon the Rice as will cover it about three Inches & let that boil away without stirring, only raising it now & then from the bottom for fear of its being burnt, then add by degrees a little & little more Broth until the Rice is boiled           th[r]ough and quite Dry, then Dish it, putting the Fowl in the Dish first & pouring the Rice over it with some Salt according to your Taste.

The recipe comes from Sarah Tully’s recipe book which she probably began when she married Sir Richard Hoare, heir to Hoare’s bank and, by 1745, Lord Mayor of London. A portrait of Sarah Tully in the National Trust collection depicts her amid rural scenery, dressed as a shepherdess. Unfortunately, Sarah died only four years after her marriage. She left one son, and other anonymous hands continued her recipe collection.

We have seen in recent posts about chocolate and gingerbread that spices such as cinnamon and cloves were common ingredients in the early modern household, but the Hoare household seemed to have been uncommonly fond of foreign flavours for their time. Recipes include ‘A Loyn of Mutton Kebob’d’, ‘currie powder’ and ‘Indian pickle’, in addition to cosmopolitan European recipes for ‘Parmason cheese’ and ‘Fromage Fondu’. Hoare’s Bank held investments in the South Sea Company, Royal African Company and East India Company. While other investors including Isaac Newton lost a great deal of money when the South Sea bubble burst in 1720, perhaps the fact that Hoare’s Bank made a substantial profit from ‘riding the bubble’, contributed to their culinary as well as financial enthusiasm for the exotic.

Several printed books from the late seventeenth century mention pilau (other spellings include pellow and peelaw). In the 1690s, Simon de La Loubere’s  A New Historical Relation of the Kingdom of Siam explained that ‘the Levantines, or Eastern People, do sometimes boil Rice with Flesh and Pepper, and then put some Saffron thereunto, and this Dish they call Pilau’ while Antoine Galland described ‘a great Dish of pilau’, made of rice, and dressed with butter, fat or gravy.

Other writers were less than complimentary; according to Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s Collections of travels through Turky into Persia (1684) the Turks’ use of three pounds of butter to six of rice (the same ratio as in Sarah Tully’s recipe), made the dish ‘so extraordinary fat, that it disgusts, and is nauseous to those who are not accustom’d thereto, and accordingly would rather have the Rice itself simply boyl’d with Water and Salt’. In 1709, William King dismissed Peter Heylin’s suggestion that the inspiration for European silver forks had originally come from China, scoffing that ‘These sticks are of no use but for their sort of meat, which being Pilau, is all boil’d to Rags’.

It is likely that the pilau recipe in Sarah Tully’s book dates from the middle of the eighteenth century; Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) contained what seems to have been the first published curry recipe in England as well as a very similar recipe to Tully’s for ‘a pellow the Indian way’–though in Glasse’s recipe the fowl is also accompanied by bacon, half a dozen hard eggs and a dozen onions ‘fried whole and very brown’. By the nineteenth century, ‘curry’ was commonplace in English households – even if the pre-mixed powder commonly used bore little relation to its ‘authentic’ Indian roots.

Dating recipes is one thing, but understanding their meaning in households is another. In Nabobs (2010), Tillman W. Nechtman argues that hookah pipes, turbans and curry powder exposed Britain as ‘an irretrievably imperial nation’, but, as Troy Bickham has commented, it is difficult to find evidence of how items such as recipes were used in practice. This early pilau recipe copied into a private book suggests that recipe collections might be a good source for understanding the changing ways in which the empire was incorporated into the daily routines of British homes.

I’ll admit, I’m still tempted to make this pilau, though maybe I will leave out some of the butter.