Around the Table: Publisher Chat

Welcome to the latest Around the Table! I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Karen Merikangas Darling, an Executive Editor in the Books Division at the University of Chicago Press, about the process of publishing recipes-related research.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat! First, could you tell me more about your role at the University of Chicago Press?

Thank you for inviting me! I am one of fourteen acquiring editors at the University of Chicago Press. The Press was one of three original divisions of the University when it was founded in 1890. Although for a year or two it functioned only as a printer, in 1892 the Press began publishing scholarly books and journals, making it one of the oldest continuously operating university presses in the United States. We publish significant scholarly and nonspecialist (trade) books by authors from within and beyond the academy; translations of important foreign-language texts, both historical and contemporary; and essential reference works, such as the Chicago Manual of Style – now in its 17th edition. In all of this, the Press is guided by the judgment of individual editors who work to build a broad but coherent publishing program engaged with authors and readers around the world.

Jennifer Rampling, The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300-1700 (University of Chicago Press, 2020).

Specifically, acquisitions editors are responsible for publishing “lists,” or collections of books in certain areas: my areas include the history of science, medicine, technology, and the environment, as well as philosophy, sociology, and anthropology of science, medicine, and technology. Sometimes we sponsor book series within our areas. For example, in partnership with the Science History Institute and an excellent Series Board, I publish books in our Synthesis series, which focuses on the history of chemistry, broadly construed.

Day-to-day, my role is to shepherd books from idea into print. Acquisitions editors evaluate proposals for books that arrive unsolicited in our inboxes, but we also seek out and invite projects that we think might result in exciting books for the Press. We work closely with authors to develop their manuscripts so that they reach their full potential. As a university press, part of this involves steering promising projects through peer review.

UChicago Press has a reputation in the Recipes Project community for publishing scholarship showcasing very high-quality recipes-related research. Your catalogue includes topics as varied as studies of vaccine and medicine development, modern industrial food systems, early modern household recipe books, and even a study of medieval feasts. Could you describe the types of research and writing the UChicago Press seeks to publish?

Paul Fehribach, The Big Jones Cookbook: Recipes for Savoring the Heritage of Regional Southern Cooking (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

I appreciate how the Recipes Project community is attentive to the many ways recipes feature in our books! Researchers have drawn on and discussed—and on occasion ingeniously recreated—recipes in books on topics as varied as travel and tourism and musicology. But most of our work with recipes is historical, contributing to art history, historical geography, American and environmental history, and the history of science, medicine, and technology. And, of course, gastronomy itself, as in our Big Jones Cookbook!

We do not have a dedicated food studies editor at Chicago, but my colleagues and I are drawn to work that approaches all range of questions from innovative angles, and deep dives into recipes, as your readers know well, is a wonderfully vivid way to recreate everyday experiences. Analyzing recipes and, relatedly, actual experiments and instruments, is also, I believe, an especially fruitful way to get at what was really going on when people practiced alchemy, science, or medicine before our modern times. Recipe research resonates with a general interest in embodiment, and across our acquisitions areas we share an enthusiasm for work that brings to the fore the senses and lenses of gender and sexuality, race, and disability studies.

Could you help our readers navigate the active UChicago series and subjects related to recipes?

Elaine Leong, Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

Yes! The best way to approach this is to think about who your book is for. Aspirational answers like “everyone!” are not going to be of much help, so try to think about the main message of your book and then ask questions of yourself like these: Who cares about this? Who needs to know this? Who would find this interesting? If we look at Elaine Leong’s book Recipes and Everyday Knowledge as an example, we might say “historians of early modern science and medicine,” “family and gender studies scholars,” and “recipe-researchers.” These answers are useful because they locate the book’s specific contribution in ongoing conversations across fields, methodological approaches, and individuals’ interests.

The acquisitions editor who handles the areas that are most squarely represented by your answers is the one to approach with your book proposal. Every press website will have pages that introduce the editors and outline their areas and interests, and from these personal statements or descriptions you can figure out not only who to reach out to but also, and importantly, whether the press has a commitment to and presence in your specific area. It is important to you, your book, and the press that your manuscript have support from the surrounding titles the press publishes, so look around to see who publishes the books most relevant to your own and start there.

How does UChicago Press solicit and review publications for proposals? Is it helpful for scholars interested in publishing with UChicago to first reach out to a specific editor? Are there any aspects of UChicago’s process that are particularly notable or different from other presses?

Please reach out to us! We welcome it. Along with information about who to contact, every press will provide guidance online about how to do it in “information for prospective authors” or “submission guidelines.” Generally, what we would like to see is a letter of introduction, CV, and book prospectus. The latter includes a general project overview, annotated table of contents, description of audience and related work, and particulars about time to completion, production needs, and any other special circumstances. This is standard across presses, because these documents give us what we need to evaluate how well your work might fit on our lists. In short, they tell us what your book is about and how it is structured, who you aim to reach with it, and why you are well positioned to write it.

(As a tip: because recipe work can be quite interdisciplinary, I should reiterate that at any one press, please send your work to only one editor. It is perfectly fine to say, “my book might also be of interest to your colleague who works with reference books,” but please, in the interest of efficiency (and our sanity!), please do not write to both of us at once.)

We also are happy to begin discussions with authors early in the process—we may even contact you if we see a news piece, article, blog, review, poster, talk, or hear about your work from a trusted colleague or advisor—so don’t be afraid to approach us at conferences or reach out for a quick chat. We may do the same!

The Recipes Project community includes many graduate students and early career researchers. Do you have any general advice for these scholars as they plan and try to publish their first books, whether it is with UChicago or another press?

Good question. My main advice is to think of your book apart from your other writing. Figure out what your institution needs from your thesis or dissertation and work with your advisor or committee to provide that. A dissertation is not a book. So I recommend keeping a separate folder of ideas for the book. If your dissertation focuses on one archive, begin to think about how the book might fold in research from others to stretch its scope, geographically or temporally, or both. If your thesis revises previous work by making a careful case against another scholar’s reading of sources, this is likely something to excise from the book and publish as an article.

The idea is to think big about the book, and when you’re early in your career, an easy way to make headway on this is to listen. Listen to what others say when you talk about your work. How do they connect it to their own interests? What do they pick out as being most interesting or significant in what you are up to? Listening to their answers can help you plan your next steps. And so can talking with an editor!

Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you today.

Thank you, Karen, for chatting about publishing practices at University of Chicago Press! If you would like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Observing Textures in Recipes

By Elaine Leong

I have held a long fascination with how textures are represented in recipes. As we all know, then as now, producing medicines and food often involves a multi-step process, and careful observation of changes in textures is often the key to success.

Classic White Sauce

Take, for example, the classic white sauce. It all seems simple enough – we mix and heat together butter and flour and then add milk (hot or cold, depending on where you stand on this issue), simmer and whisk away and, voilà, we should have a silky-smooth sauce, ready for some posh mac and cheese, or baked endive, and much more. Now readers, I know what you’re thinking. It sounds so easy on paper but, if we were honest, we all have stories of failed batches of béchamel. The sauce can taste raw (classic mistake of not cooking the flour enough) or be lumpy (the blender trick never works for me) or end up too thin or thick.

Mixing Flour and Butter

A few years ago, I finally found the perfect recipe for me from Annie Bell’s In my Kitchen. However, though Annie provides the perfect ingredient proportions for my family’s taste of white sauce, for the crucial step – cooking the butter and flour together – I rely on Martha Schulman’s description. The mixture needs to be heat for around 5 minutes until it looks like ‘wet sand.’ The monitoring and observing of textures, particularly any changes, is key to making the perfect white sauce and many other dishes besides.

The early modern recipe archive is also filled with similar sets of instructions where changes in texture were used as markers for the completion of a particular step in production. In my recent book Recipes and Everyday Knowledge, I discuss some of these examples in a chapter on “Recipes Trials.” Due to the generosity of friends and colleagues and the enthusiasm of groups such as the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) and Before Farm to Table, new examples emerge all the time. Today, I wanted to share a particularly intriguing recipe, which came to light at the EMROC transcribathon last fall.

Dawson’s Recipe for Lemon Wafers

The recipe is for making lemon wafers and is part of the recipe collection of a seventeenth-century English gentlewoman named Jane Dawson. The instructions are brief but detailed. We are told to dry, sift and beat double-refined sugar and mix with the juice of a lemon until it becomes the consistency of honey.[1] Then, scooping some of the mixture in a spoon, we should heat the spoon over a chafing dish of hot coals until the surface of the mixture touching the spoon is “crisp” – that is (according to the OED) rippling, folding or wrinkling. Taking care that the mixture does not boil, we should then spread the melted mixture onto a square piece of paper, pinning the two corners of the paper together in order to curl or bend the wafer and let it dry in this configuration. When we are ready to eat or serve the lemon wafer, we should wet the “wrong” side of the paper with water to release the candy.

As with making béchamel, key to this recipe are the practices of observing and interpreting changes in texture. Two points are of particular importance here – ensuring that the sugar and lemon juice mix achieves the ‘consistency of honey’ and that the mixture heats until it crisps or ripples on the hot spoon.

After the transcribathon, some EMROC members were so intrigued by this recipe that they tried their hands at re-creating it. Lisa Smith, Maggie Simon, and their various assistants spent afternoons mixing and tasting lemony sugar syrup and heating it using a variety of methods from plate warmers to electric hobs. I’ll leave you to read about their adventures here and here, but it is telling that both ended their posts with a reflection about the assumed knowledge required for this recipe. One particular texture was picked up for comment – the consistency of honey. Both Lisa and Maggie were stymied by the instructions to mix fine sugar and lemon juice to the “right” consistency of honey. After all, as a natural product, honey can come in many guises. Our intrepid makers tried to reproduce the thickness of raw honey, runny honey, and crystalized honey and each resulted in a different product with varying degrees of success.

Maggie’s Sugar and Lemon Juice Mixture (Photo taken by Maggie Simon)

Observing textures or changes in textures is clearly a key part of following recipes. Yet, it turns out that it is hard to convey hands-on experiential knowledge on paper, particularly across time and space. Often times, descriptions of textures are made using analogies (e.g. consistency of honey) or metaphors (e.g. wet sand) requiring the recipe writer and reader to work within a similar frame of reference. Further focus on reading or interpreting representations of “textures” in past and present thus seems a fruitful way to shed light on histories of observation, sensorial and experiential knowledge.


[1] Folger v.b. 14, p. 47.

Recipes and the Senses: An Introduction

By Hannah Newton

Lubin Baugin, Still-life with Chessboard (The Five Senses) (1630). Wikimedia.

 

Our enjoyment of food depends not just on how it tastes and smells, but also on what it looks, feels, and sounds like. Crispness, for instance, is perceived when we hear a ‘snap’ as the food breaks between our teeth. This relatively new understanding of gastronomic experience explains the recent explosion of recipe books designed to entice all five senses. In fact, a ‘sensorial revolution’ is taking place across most fields of history. This month’s thematic series, edited by Hannah Newton and Elaine Leong, gives a flavour of what might be gained by applying such an approach to the history of recipes; there are 7 contributions, spanning several disciplines, chronologies, and regions, from ancient Rome to eighteenth-century England. To put the posts in context, this introduction provides some background on sensory history.

Approaches

There are many ways to do sensory history. Perhaps the most influential has been the ‘grand narrative’ approach: scholars such as Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong claimed that a ‘major sensory transition’ took place between medieval and modern times in the way the senses were ranked. In medieval Europe, societies privileged the ‘lower senses’ of touch and taste, but with the march of modernity the ‘nobler’ senses of sight and hearing came to the fore. Although this scholarship has been heavily criticised – not least for its disparaging attitude towards medieval people – the question of change over time rightly remains fundamental to sensory history. Yan Liu’s post in this series is a good example: he shows how the use of the spice saffron in China has been transformed since medieval times, from an antidote against evil powers to a flavour enhancer in cooking.

Another approach to sensory history involves focusing on a particular sensory organ, or a context directly linked to that sense. Examples include Stuart Clark’s Vanities of the Eye (2007), which explores anatomical and philosophical understandings of vision, and Holly Duggan’s Ephemeral History of Perfume, which uses scent as a window into cultural attitudes to smell.  One downside to the single-sense approach is that in daily life we perceive the world through all our senses, not just one, and the senses themselves influence one another. Several of the contributions to this series demonstrate these interactions nicely: Barbara Di Gennaro Splendore  reveals that the 17th-century apothecary ‘knew substances through “his whole person”’, and William Tullett makes similar observations about 18th-century perfumers.

A third way to study the senses is the ‘sensescape’ approach. This is where scholars take a particular environment or activity, and analyse the multiple sensations that were perceived within it. Bloomsbury’s six-volume series, Cultural History of the Senses, showcases some of the most popular sensescapes, which include the marketplace, street, and church. Donna Bilak’s post is an example of this approach: she uncovers the intriguing sensations reported in the iatrochemical laboratory of the 17th century New England puritan Gershom Bulkeley, which included ‘urinous’ flavours. What Bilak, and many of our other contributors reveal, is that people from the past consciously mobilised their senses when going about their everyday work, whether as a medical practitioner, perfumer, or chef.

Challenges

One of the biggest obstacles to doing sensory history relates to evidence: most sensory stimuli are ephemeral, leaving no direct historical trace, which means we have to rely on written descriptions or images to access past sensory experience. Unfortunately, this is far from straightforward, due to the difficulties people encountered when putting sensory experiences into words. Peter Charles Hoffer labels this the lemon problem: ‘I can taste a lemon and savour the immediate experience, but can I find words to convey to another person exactly what that sensation was?’

To meet these challenges, exciting new techniques have been devised by historians to recreate past sensations, which involve the use of ‘immersive technology’, such as artificial smells and tastes. By activating our own senses, the intention is to ‘replicate sensation in a world we have (almost) lost’. Historians of science and food deploy similar techniques, re-enacting past experiments (e.g. or making foodstuffs (e.g. here and here), to reach a closer understanding of contemporary worldviews. Tillmann Taape and Erica Rowan, two of our contributors, are both engaged in this sort of innovative work. Admittedly such approaches do attract sceptics. For instance, Mark Smith warns that while it is possible to reproduce a particular sensation from history, the way we ‘consume’ that sensation may be different from the way it was experienced at the time. Indeed, an experience of a sensation may even change over a person’s own lifetime, as Hannah Newton’s post reveals: for early modern patients, what they would normally perceive as pleasant tastes – such as sweet cordials – were found during illness to be disgusting, owing to the effects of noxious humours on the taste-buds.

Despite the challenges involved, our contributors are optimistic about applying a sensory approach to the study of recipes. So long as we accept that sensory perceptions are culturally contingent, there is no reason why it is not possible to glimpse how past societies understood and experienced sensations.

 

Exploring CPP 10A214: Enter Lady Honywood, Continued; Getting it on Paper

By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche

Elaine Leong’s posting about paper’s use as a medical tool inspired me to look more carefully at instances of paper in the Layfield manuscript, which Rebecca Laroche and I have been examining in this series. What I found was much more than I expected. It turns out that concentrating on paper highlights some of the embedded puzzles about recipe transmission that have been lurking in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia manuscript, and even in the Recipe Projects blog itself. My exploration also brings us back to Lady Honywood, proving once more Rebecca’s observation that “one just has to take advantage of a name like ‘Lady Honywood’ if it’s given to you.”

Rebecca and Elaine both have written substantially about Lady Honywood (or Honeywood) in Recipe Project posts before. This past March, Elaine pointed out that Joanna St. John’s 1680 recipe book contains a remedy attributed to Lady Honeywood “for a cancer,” where the medicine is spread on paper and then laid on the sore. Not surprisingly, Lady Honeywood’s name rang a bell for me, since almost two years earlier, Rebecca had devoted two posts to Lady Honywood’s presence in the Layfield manuscript. Lady Honywood’s recipe for the gout, Rebecca showed, hinted that the compiler of the CPP manuscript’s second section had a particular need to treat that ailment since seven cures for gout appear there.

But it turns out that Elaine and Rebecca were talking about the same recipe, or so I found out when I searched for mention of paper in the CPP manuscript. While St. John labels the recipe as a cancer treatment, the Layfield manuscript identifies it as “The Lady Honywood: receite for the Goute, running & swellinge.”

Layfielde_MS Honywood
[1]

The Layfield manuscript mentions the concoction’s effectiveness against cancer as an afterthought, but it is nonetheless there – as is paper as mode of administration. The ingredients are identical as well, with two notable variations. First, the Layfield manuscript walks the user through the process of rendering juice from its herbal ingredients, while St. John begins with the juices:

Wellcome4338Honywood

Otherwise, the only difference is that St. John’s version calls for “bean flower” while the Layfield manuscript calls for “wheaten flour.”

The variation in recipe titles is not uncommon, of course, and it certainly highlights Rebecca’s point about the importance of local needs in the organization of these manuscripts. At the same time, it underscores how easily categorization schemes can obscure connections among texts and contributors. Lady Honywood and her recipe, variant title or no, forge a connection between two manuscripts, the St. John and the Layfield, that otherwise show no obvious overlap. And, ironically enough, a search for paper helped bring to light what had been an unidentified link within this very blog. The overlap between manuscripts, and the one between blog entries, hints further at what connections lie just beyond the reach of our current digital tools. Just more evidence that we need a searchable database of these manuscripts!

Notes:

[1] Below is a transcription for the Layfield hand:

Rx. one handfull of Fetherfew, salladine, smalledge, &
Rhew, of each a handfull, pick them cleane, wash them &
drie the water out cleane, & beate them in a mortar very
small, & then straine the Juce of it into a dish, &
thicken it with wheaten-flower; & put into it the
yelke of anew-laid egg, & as much honey as [that] con-
taines too, all beaten together, & spread it vpon capp
paper, or Grossers browne-paper, & apply it to the
place pained; & as the paine remoues, or moues so
follow it with this medicine –
2. this same also will helpe the Ague in a womans breast
or any bruise, the bloode beinge setled, or kill a felon
or the Kings euell, if it be swellinge or runninge.
If it be runninge lay adrie peece of paper vpon the
soare, & the plaister vpon it, by Gods blessinge it will
do all these cures