Tag Archives: European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food

Reading the London Cries: how to analyse food sellers in art

By Charlie Taverner (Birkbeck, University of London)

This post is part of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) series “Summer University on Food and Drink Studies”

Across early modern Europe, wandering food sellers were a multimedia phenomenon. From the sixteenth century, artists captured street vendors in poems, plays, songs and – most famously – printed pictures. The cries, as the genre of visual art became known, showed hawkers selling everything from artichokes and apples, oranges to oysters, turnips to tripe. For historians, a suite of such images, like Marcellus Laroon’s 1687 ‘The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life’, seems a gift. Its characters open a window on rarely represented parts of everyday life: city streets and food.

Helped by early historians, the cries have been entrenched in urban legend. In Victorian England, Charles Hindley collected hundreds of the ‘ancient and far-famed London Cries’. He saw these traders as timeless symbols of the metropolis, from ‘the days of Queen Elizabeth’ to his own. Just two years ago, The Gentle Author of Spitalfields claimed the cries revealed an essential truth about such sellers: ‘… they do not need your sympathy, they only want your respect – and your money.’

Such romance has risks, as scholars, especially art historians, have warned. Sean Shesgreen, in his comprehensive survey of the English cries tradition, argued the images were not ‘transparent reflections of historical reality’. From the late seventeenth century, he suggested, the cries ‘inexorably evolve in the direction, not of increasing realism, but of increasing idealism’. In her lecture to the IEHCA’s summer school this year, Valérie Boudier proposed a sounder approach for using early modern pictures of food. Breaking down vibrant works, such as Vincenzo Campi’s ‘The Bean Eaters’ and Annibale Carracci’s ‘Butcher’s Shop’, she suggested food historians interrogate not the images’ truthfulness, but the artistic conventions and symbolic meanings they contain.

Marcellus Laroon, ‘Crab Crab any Crab’, 1688. British Museum, London.

This approach can be applied to Laroon’s suite. Take, for example, his crab seller. At first glance, the picture reveals much about the women who peddled seafood in seventeenth-century London, perhaps nearby the artist’s Covent Garden workshop. Looking for information on the food trade, we might draw out the crab seller’s age, clothes, shallow basket, and purposeful stride. Most obviously – as we are interested in food – we could look more closely at the dozens of crustaceans, balanced on her head.

But in several ways the crab seller is not, as the suite’s title claims, ‘Drawn after the Life’. Many of Laroon’s characters have the same face, which makes them more mannequins than people. They are extracted from the street and set against a blank background. Notice too that the crab seller’s cry, printed at the page bottom, is translated into French and Italian. It reminds us these images, priced at half a guinea for the set of up to 74, were destined for an international market, with copies surviving in Paris and Amsterdam. Influences also flowed the other way. Not only was Laroon Dutch-born and –trained, his suite owed a debt, in its structure and the resemblance of its characters, to a Parisian set, drawn a year or two earlier by Jean-Baptiste Bonnart. The briefest scan through a survey of the European cries, such as Karen Beall’s 1975 bibliography, shows that common characters, selling familiar foods, cropped up time and again across the continent.

So, what can such images reveal? If we concentrate on form, it seems that artists and their audiences were interested in order. By arranging the criers in a grid, suite or illustrated book, they were classifying the street life of the city. Boisterous wanderers were dragged into the rigidity of the artist’s system. This tendency is part of a broader interest, across Europe at this time, of representing social groups in quasi-scientific hierarchies. But the structure also hints at a particular urban concern: contemporaries, especially in London and Paris, were grappling with the disorientating complexity of their fast-expanding cities.

With the crab-seller, we could also consider gender. In the cries, many roving vendors were drawn as young, attractive women, even if the actual labour split was more balanced. In an image like the crab-seller, two ideas are in tension. In one view, female hawkers are legitimate business folk, who keep the city fed; in another, they are scorned as temptresses, whose siren-like calls, such as ‘Crab Crab any Crab’, are stuffed with innuendo. On the streets of London, women traders had a similarly ambiguous position, as Eleanor Hubbard has argued. They were watched with suspicion on the margins of official markets, but also feared as food-selling rivals.

Depictions of those that sold food are deep, valuable sources, if they are used carefully. Bound up in artistic traditions, they cannot tell us what and how people ate, in the manner of a photograph. But, by concentrating on the symbols used and the way these images were produced, we can unpick past attitudes to not just food – but nascent metropolitan life.


Beall, Karen. Kaufrufe und Straßenhändler: Eine Bibliographie / Cries and Itinerant Trades: A Bibliography. Hamburg: Hauswedell, 1975.

Hindley, Charles. A History of the Cries of London (Ancient & Modern). London, 1884.

Hubbard, Eleanor. City Women: Money, Sex and the Social Order in Early Modern London. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Shesgreen, Sean. Images of the outcast: The urban poor in the Cries of London. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Charlie Taverner is a PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London. His project examines the experience of selling food in the street in early modern London, with particular focus on urban space and informality. Trained as a journalist, he has covered business, food and agriculture for British magazines and newspapers. He blogs at http://moveablefeasts.tumblr.com/ and tweets @charlietaverner.

Cookbooks, nationalism and gastronationalism

By Venetia Congdon, Astra Spalvena, Dominika Zagrodzka

This post is part of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) series “Summer University on Food and Drink Studies”

Few of us anticipated the extraordinary week we spent in Tours for the IEHCA’s Summer School on Food and Drink. It broadened our minds and made us aware of the many subjects of research in food studies today. Here, the authors would like to discuss a common theme of their research: the relationship between cookbooks and nationalism. Venetia Congdon researches the role of food in the contemporary Catalan nationalist and secessionist movement. Astra Spalvena studies Latvian cookbooks; from the first compilations of translated recipes published in 1795 to the coffee-table books of 2012. Dominika Zagrodzka researches Polish culinary tourism and food as cultural heritage.

Nationalism has once again come to the forefront of world politics, demonstrating its enduring power as an ideology. Cultural manifestations of the nation, including food and drink, take on new and increasingly important meanings. As everyday objects, they are tools through which to express and channel complex ideas about nationhood in a simple, relatable way.

La Cuynera Catalana

Since the inception of contemporary Catalan nationalism in the nineteenth century, cookbooks have played a role in the movement. The first explicitly Catalan cookbook was La Cuynera Catalana (Anonymous, 1833-35), contemporaneous with the beginnings of the Catalan literary resurgence. The next significant cookbook was La Cuyna Catalana, in 1907, by Josep Conill de Bosch. Its introduction makes it clear that the premise for the cookbook was world domination. Good food eaten with pleasure, leads to better digestion, and stronger people. In 1928, an even more obviously nationalist cookbook appeared, the Llibre de Cuina Catalana, by Ferran Agulló. Agulló was a politician and journalist, who made a still-famous statement in this work: “Catalonia, just as it has a language, a right, customs, its own history and a political ideal, so it has a cuisine”. So, by the 1930s, cuisine (and cookbooks) were clear standard-bearers of Catalanism, though the hardships of Civil War, and Franco’s anti-Catalan policies affected Catalan cuisine. However, Franco-era cookbooks were places where sentiments of Catalan difference could be covertly expressed. Today, cookbooks are part of a large market of books on Catalan culture, which has grown in the last few years in response to the pro-independence movement.

The Kaucminde School, from “The Work of Kaucminde Alumnae 1925 – 1938”

Latvian cuisine evolved as an interaction between Latvian peasant food and gastronomic traditions of Baltic German manors. The crucial point in the formation of a national cuisine was the 1930s when endeavours to strengthen Latvian national identity involved also reflection on culinary heritage and its use in modern world. Favourable social and economic conditions encouraged cookbook publishers to focus not only on modernization but also on nationalism. The nationalistic politics of president Karlis Ulmanis’s authoritative regime (1934-1940) was a further spur. In a time of economic growth when the newly-evolved middle-class demanded new living standards, Latvian national cuisine was localised in the renowned school of home economics Kaucminde, whose students continued to educate the nation at large: writing modern cookbooks, publishing recipes in magazines, organizing seminars, travelling across the countryside to popularize contemporary household management, and systematizing culinary knowledge. The cookbooks of the 1930s emphasized the use of local products, the modernization of local culinary habits, and modern nutritional science. Rational and practical approaches to nourishment dominated over the excesses and luxury of the past. This nutritional approach became a good basis on which Soviet ideologists, following Latvia’s occupation after World War II, started to develop Soviet cuisine. However, Latvian national food and cookbooks of the 1930s experienced a renaissance after the state regained independence in 1990. 

Kaucminde Christmas table. Illustration from “The Work of Kaucminde Alumnae 1925 – 1938”

The oldest Polish cookbook is Compendium ferculorum by Stanislav Czerniecki (1682), a book for professionals. The recipes provide a perfect example of how rich Polish people ate in the 17th century, characterised by plenty of spices, sweet and sour flavourings, and attractive presentation. The author was inspired by both French cooks and local ingredients. The next national cookbook to appear was Wojciech Wieladko’s Excellent Cook (1786). The recipes were simpler, based on French La cuisinière bourgeoise by Menon (1746). In 19th century, there were many cooking guides written by women for women. The most popular were by Lucyna Ćwierczakiewicz and Karolina Nakwaska. The  20th century was characterised by eating cheap, quick and healthy food. As in Latvia, Soviet ideologists also encouraged this. After the political and social transformation of 1989, Poles were impressed by food from other cultures, but have since revalued their culinary heritage. Modern chefs are interested in restoring old tastes and reviving culinary heritage, for instance Maciej Nowicki’s work at the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace in Wilanów, involving the reproduction of recipes from Compendium ferculorum and cultivating heritage vegetables.

As anthropologist  Arjun Appadurai has pointed out, cookbooks tell unusual tales in complex civilizations. Cookbooks, and the cuisines they represent, are often means for government actors seeking to assert a particular worldview. Yet they are also the representation of grass roots initiatives, such as the first Catalan cookbook, and the Latvian Kaucminde. They are educational tools, for bettering the health of the nation. And finally, today, they are connections with a national past, and objects of global consumerism.

Venetia Congdon completed her doctorate in Anthropology at the University of Oxford in 2015. For her thesis, she studied how Catalans use food to express national identity. She is currently a post-doctoral research associate with the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include the intersections between national identity and cuisine, and the lived reality of nationalist movements in Europe.

Astra Spalvena is a lecturer at “RISEBA” University of Business, Arts and Technology in Riga, Latvia. She teaches courses on Media Semiotics and Food Advertising among others. She defended her PhD on historical and cultural aspects of Latvian food. Currently Astra studies the history of Latvian cookbooks with a focus on reflections of ideological dimensions and power structures. Another area of her research is Soviet cuisine and especially the role of public catering in imposing soviet ideology on territories incorporated into the Soviet Union after World War II.

Dominika Zagrodzka is a doctoral student in Cultural Science on Faculty of Philology of the Silesian University. She also graduated in Political Science on Faculty of Social Sciences. She is interested in food studies and has attended many conferences on the topic. She conducts researches on Polish contemporary food culture. Her thesis is about food as cultural heritage in Polish culture. She plans to create an academic magazine about anthropology of food.

‘When will France learn…?’: champagne as a dinner wine, 1850-1900

By Graham Harding (Oxford)

This post is part of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) series “Summer University on Food and Drink Studies”

‘When will France […] learn that champagne should be drunk with roast meat and not introduced as an incubus after dinner’ demanded a letter in The Times in September 1860. The writer was reflecting the growing trend amongst middle and upper-class households in Britain to serve champagne not as a sweet wine to start or end the meal but as an increasingly dry wine that was taken either between courses or with the main meat dishes. Advertisements in the British press for ‘dinner champagne’ rose from around twenty in 1850-59 to nearly 400 in the decade 1870-79. By the mid-1880s a French wine merchant was complaining of the ‘tendency of men of the new generation to make champagne […] their sole drink at every meal. Fifteen years later in 1899, the wine writer Louis Feuerheerd reiterated his objections to this ‘fashionable’ practice on the grounds that ‘champagne does not go with everything’.

Wachter ad and label. The Globe, 5 August 1880, p. 8

So what drove this change and what were the implications for the dinner table? In essence, the pursuit of status drove the change and the consequence was a decided shift in the style of nineteenth-century champagne that was unique to Britain.

The habit of drinking a heavily fortified, dry still white wine from the Champagne region of Sillery was common amongst aristocratic men in the 1820s and 1830s. The new-fangled sparkling champagne was taken up by younger elite men in the 1850s as the fashionable drink in London clubs and military messes. Then middle-class households aspiring to gentility took up the champagne habit to demonstrate their wealth and sophistication. As the gourmandizing barrister A. V. Kirwan observed in 1864, ‘everyone in England tries to ape the class two or three degrees above him in point of rank and fortune, in style of living, and manner of receiving his friends’. Champagne became a dinner table must, even if it meant eking out one bottle round a crowded dinner table. The press publicity given to the Prince of Wales’ taste for dry champagne in the 1860s and his habit of champagne-only dinners in 1886 only strengthened the social value in serving branded dry champagnes.

Champagne’s role at the dinner table was further enhanced with the switch from service à la française to service à la russe that took place between 1850 and 1880. The à la russe style prioritised diners as ‘audience’ for a pre-conceived meal orchestrated by the hostess’ servants, rather than as ‘participants’ (to use Cathy Kaufman’s terminology) who chose their own meal from a range of possible dishes. This shift contributed both to the increasingly ordered matching of wine to food. Sweet champagne simply did not work with meat dishes and ‘sour sauces’. The British taste for champagne moved decisively to drier wines. By the late 1860s, premium brands such as Pol Roger and Pommery were shipping wines with only 2-4 grams of sugar per litre into the British market compared with 20-40 grams in wines for France, Germany and Russia.

Not all hosts succumbed to the allure of champagne. Some continued to match the soup with a glass of sherry and the fish course with German white wine before offering a choice of Burgundy or champagne with the roast dishes. Crucially, of these, champagne was the only wine that was not decanted and thus the only wine whose brand name could be seen by the guests and whose price was therefore generally known.

Champagne proclaimed status and sophistication. The Victorians believed that to like – even to tolerate very dry champagne – demanded that the drinker start young and drink often. That meant those born to wealth and privilege. Merchants, who made their money later in life, were assumed to prefer slightly sweeter wine. But the British taste for very dry wine was vaunted as a rare marker of British culinary superiority. As a contributor to the influential Saturday Review put it in 1879, ‘for once the English have been more intelligent in a matter relating to the table than the French, and […] it is in their appreciation of champagne that they have achieved this solitary triumph’. Not a bad triumph…

Graham Harding returned to the study of history after a career spent in publishing, advertising and marketing. Having completed an M Phil in Cambridge, he is now a final-year D Phil student at St Cross College, Oxford. He has written several books including The Wine Miscellany (2005). More recently he has published on champagne, on the nature of connoisseurship in wine in the nineteenth century and on the nineteenth-century wine trade.

Introducing the Summer University on Food and Drink Studies

Graham Harding (Oxford) and Beat Kümin (Warwick)

Founded in 2001, the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) has become a major research and public engagement hub. It runs an annual open convention, thematic colloquia and numerous outreach and heritage activities. Based at Tours in France, it collaborates with the city, region, François Rabelais University and other partners to raise the profile of food studies world-wide. Resources include meeting / exhibition rooms and a specialized library – at the Villa Rabelais in the town centre – as well as an ever-expanding searchable network of currently over 400 members.

Since 2003, the Institute has also run a ‘summer university’ dedicated to food and drink studies. The first eleven editions were led by food history pioneers Allen Grieco (Harvard/Florence) and Peter Scholliers (Brussels), the last four years by Isabelle Bianquis (Tours), Antonella Campanini (Bra Pollenzo) and Beat Kümin (Warwick). On each occasion, fifteen-twenty masters / doctoral students and around ten senior scholars meet at the Croix Montoire residential centre overlooking Tours for an intensive week of student presentations, faculty lectures, inter-disciplinary exchange (the official language is English) and – given the location’s distinction as one of France’s official Cités de la Gastronomie – excellent hospitality. Alongside, participants have the opportunity for independent work in the IEHCA’s collection of over 9,000 books / dedicated periodicals and to gain formal study credits, while also honing their debating, chairing and commenting skills.

Participants of the 2017 Université d’Eté at Villa Rabelais in Tours. Picture: Olivier Rollin.


In 2017, ‘all of us’ meant seventeen students from thirteen different countries ranging in age from 22 to 69 and nine faculty members from Italy, France and the UK. The disciplinary spectrum of the week’s programme included archaeologists and anthropologists, historians, historians of art, sociologists, medical doctors and literary scholars, while the chronological scope ranged from early Bronze Age Europe to modern day Asia. Alongside their academic endeavours, participants attended a cinema evening (watching the 1996 movie Big Night inspired discussions on gastronomic stereotypes and the relationship between food and migration), a trip to a Loire château and two hands-on ateliers: a visit to the buzzing Saturday market and the chance to taste specialities from the Touraine region. Quite a few were also spotted engaging in field studies at the lively guingette on the nearby river shore and the ever-packed cafés lining the central Place Plumereau.

Open-air food and wine-tasting atelier at Croix Montoire in 2014. Picture: Beat Kümin.

The great advantage of food and drinks studies is that – regardless of personal, regional and academic backgrounds – there are always points of common ground and numerous intersections between apparently diverse topics. Our discussions ranged over the nature of evidence, the importance of empathy in interpreting the testimony of our subjects (be they real or imagined, living or dead), the necessity (and risks) of engaging with the wider world / public around us, techniques of ‘close reading’, the utility of ‘big data’ analysis, and the trajectory and future of food studies. In particular we engaged with the challenge of ‘fragmentation’. Informed by a presentation from Professor Jean-Pierre Poulain (author of The Sociology of Food, Bloomsbury 2017), we assessed the approaches and implications of different models for ‘Food Studies’ and how we as individuals could reach out across geographical, personal and disciplinary boundaries. Registrations for the next gathering will open early in the new year, with full details published on the website. The co-directors are always happy to answer any questions and would be delighted to welcome you in 2018.

Our posts to the Recipes Project over the next few weeks draw on the summer university proceedings to highlight the extraordinary variety of work that food and drink scholars are now generating. The series starts with a posting from Graham Harding of the University of Oxford on how champagne shaped and was shaped by its role as the central (even the only) ‘dinner wine’ in at the formal meals of the nineteenth-century British elite. Then, in no particular order (as yet), there will be posts on cookbooks and nationalism in Latvia, Poland and contemporary Catalonia; on the drinking landscape of early modern Britain; on ‘osh palov’, the dish that defines the Uzbek diaspora worldwide; and the food habits of modern Malaysia. Bon appétit!

Graham Harding returned to the study of history after a career spent in publishing, advertising and marketing. Having completed an M Phil in Cambridge, he is now a final-year D Phil student at St Cross College, Oxford. He has written several books including The Wine Miscellany (2005). More recently he has published on champagne, on the nature of connoisseurship in wine in the nineteenth century and on the nineteenth-century wine trade.

Beat Kümin is Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Warwick (U.K.) and co-director of the IEHCA Summer University on Food and Drink Studies in Tours. His research focuses on social exchange in local communities, particularly in parish churches and drinking houses. Publications include the monograph Drinking Matters: Public Houses and Social Exchange in Early Modern Central Europe (2007), the co-edited source collection Public Drinking in the Early Modern World: Voices from the Tavern 1500-1800, vols 2-3: The Holy Roman Empire (2011) and the edited anthology A Cultural History of Food in the Early Modern Age (2012).