By Elaine Leong
As anyone familiar with early modern recipe collections well knows, recipe compilers liked to cross things out. One compiler, Lady Anne Fanshawe, particularly springs to mind. Her notebook is filled with pages of recipes which she has crossed out with a large ‘X’. Take a look at the following page from her notebook.
Wellcome Library, Western Manuscript MS 71113, p. 10.
Here, it seems out of the four recipes laboriously copied by her scribe Joseph Avery, only one survived the attack of Anne’s pen. Anne Fanshawe was, of course, not the only recipe compiler who had this habit of <ahem> defacing recipe books. Other contemporary recipe book owners also happily crossed away. Elizabeth Okeover, for example, also indulged in the practice. Take a look at this page from her book…
Wellcome Library, Western MS 3712, Recipe Book associated with Elizabeth Okeover, fol. 6v.
Interestingly, while Anne gives us few hints of why she so brutally crossed out all those recipes in her book, Elizabeth was kind enough to let us know why she crosses out recipes. At the bottom of a crossed-out recipe on page 4, Elizabeth writes ‘Right ritt and an approved & good Salve but crost by mistake’.
So, for Elizabeth, the crossing-out of recipes was reserved for information, which was erroneously transcribed, and/or know-how which did not meet her approval. These were not the only reasons that led Elizabeth to scribble out information, she also crossed out duplicate recipes as she explains in this little tidbit on a loose bit of paper: ‘Some Reseits in this Book by mistakes was writ twice over; So one of each is crost But this harder yellow Salve Should not have bine Crost’. With no
rubber/erasers, Tipp-Ex/whiteout or delete buttons to hand, crossing-out, for early modern recipe users, was a way of information management.
For many of you, my mention of Tipp-Ex may bring back school-day memories and that other helpful tool the ink eradicator. I, for one, have not used either deletion/correction tool for at least a decade which brings me to the point of how we as 21st century recipe collectors/users now manage our stores of household information. My mother-in-law, an avid home-cook, manages her cookbooks with a system of external indices (lists of selected recipes awaiting trial), post-its and meticulous annotations. Flipping through her archive of Gourmet or Bon Appetit, one finds little penciled notes in her neat cursive hand next to tried and tested recipes. A diligent and conscientious note-taker, she records not only the date and occasion the dish was served but also whether it garnered the approval of her dinner guests. Disappointing dishes are marked as such or with more descriptive criticisms such as ‘too bland’ or ‘too sweet’. In none of her 30-year run of the main American cooking magazines or her shelves full of cookbooks can one find a completely crossed-out recipe. As a modern reader, trained by public libraries on the evils of book defacement, she simply couldn’t bring herself to reject recipes with the same flourish as Anne Fanshawe and Elizabeth Okeover did hundreds of years ago. How we read and use recipe books is not only intrinsically tied to how we value books as material objects but also to how we were trained to read.
My mother-in-law, if she will forgive me for disclosing this, came of age in the 50s when printed cookbooks, magazines and newspapers served as the main way of circulating recipes publicly. For our generation, dare I say it, paper is slowly giving way to digital media. We now search for, learn about and discuss recipes on blogs, social networking sites and twitter. There is no longer a need to cross-out unwanted information or to wait for the Tipp-Ex to dry, we merely have to press the delete button. It is all so simple for us but if Anne Fanshawe and Elizabeth Okeover left historians a trail of crossings-out to reconstruct their narratives, what are we leaving future historians?