At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations cancelled conferences and events in staggering numbers. As it became clear that events would have to move online in order to continue, our organizations and institutions did so with gusto. While the Recipes Project community may not have had the chance to socialize in person at these events, we are left with a treasure trove of recordings. This is a roundup of free recipes-related recordings from Fall 2020-Fall 2021 conferences, webinars, workshops, and symposia.
The IEHCA – University of Tours (L’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation) hosted the 6th International Conference on Food History and Food Studies (May-June 2021). Recordings of sessions are available through the conference program by clicking on the “Detailed Schedule” link.
Mac and cheese is a well-loved, popular, time-tested dish, one that’s woven into the histories and cultures and memories of people around the world. In America it’s an essential soul food dish. In Canada, Kraft Dinner – mac and cheese with pieces of hot dogs and a squirt of ketchup – is a comfort food staple. Western Europeans claim macaroni and cheese too, tracing its origins to the Swiss Alps, where Älplermagronen was made by French-speaking Swiss people, who believed it was the ideal snack for shepherds.
Macaroni and cheese appears in Anglo-American cookbooks as early as the fourteenth century – its antecedents include a sort of lasagna-like food called “Macrows” in the 1390 Forme of Cury – and by the long eighteenth century, the cheesy noodles were an established dish, garnering frequent mentions in both print and manuscript. Marissa Nicosia and Alyssa Connell chose an eighteenth-century “Maccarony Cheese” for their very first post on Cooking in the Archive, and it was a hit, helping to launch their incredibly successful blog and garnering a host of re-posts, comments, and suggestions. In most Anglo-American recipes for mac and cheese, eighteenth-century authors called for the noodles to be boiled until tender and then mixed with ingredients like butter, eggs, and cheese. The noodles were then either baked or put under a salamander – which in the period was a piece of iron that was heated and passed over a dish – that was supposed to give it a nice brown crust. It’s a wonderful dish to suggest to folks who like to re-create early modern recipes, because most early examples of macaroni and cheese contain familiar, easy-to-obtain ingredients and clear, straightforward instructions.
But there are always exceptions to the rule. Recently I found a recipe for macaroni and cheese in an eighteenth-century letter, and the account was confusing, if not downright disgusting. Philip Thicknesse (1719-1792), an eighteenth-century artist, traveler, and writer, included a recipe for mac and cheese in a letter written to a man named John Cook. Thicknesse spent a lot of time in France and took pride in his knowledge of French cuisine. He wrote to his friend Cook on January 14, 1770 that he had recently “recv’d a very small present from France,” which included foods such as “Olives, a few Anchovies, [and] a pint of Vinegar.” But the crowning glory of this gourmet stash was “some Maccerone.” Thicknesse shared a portion of his dried French noodles with John Cook, bragging that macaroni and cheese was “no bad dish” and including instructions for preparing the food. And this is where things seemed to go wrong.
Thicknesse told Cook to take the packet of noodles and “boil it in water til it is quite tender, on[e] hour and a half at least, then the remaining water is poured off, and some butter and scraped cheese is put to it til both are well melted & dis[s]olved.” [My emphasis.] When I read this in the Huntington’s reading room I had to rub my eyes and take another look. Boiling modern-day macaroni noodles for an hour and a half (at least!) would render them into an unappetizing slush, so far beyond al dente that they’d surely constitute a crime against pasta. Was Thickness a bad cook? Why was his advice so terrible? At first I thought that this was a classic example of mistranslation in the period: the introduction of new foods into Western European diets via the so-called “Consumer Revolution” wasn’t a straightforward or guaranteed process, and British experiments with foods sourced from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean worlds could go wrong as frequently as they went right. Thicknesse didn’t understand how pasta was supposed to be cooked, and as a result he offered bad culinary advice to his friend.
But the more I thought about Thicknesse and his overcooked macaroni, the more I began to wonder if there wasn’t an entirely different process of mistranslation at work: one that was my own, rather than my historical subject’s. What did Thicknesse’s pasta look like? How long would it have taken to cook? It turns out that, in the long eighteenth century, Western European people ate two very different kinds of pasta: soft noodles, made out of a paste of water and dough that was boiled quickly and lightly (akin to “fresh” pasta today) and hard noodles, where the dough was extruded through a machine before being dried (a bit like the crunchy, shelf-stable pastas you can find at modern grocery stores). Soft noodles, like the “Macrows” featured in the Forme of Cury, called for cooks to roll out “a thynne foyle of dowh and kerve it on peces, and cast them on boillying water & see[th] it wele.” Quick-cooking and easy to make, soft noodles were popular in a lot of eighteenth-century dishes.
The pasta Thicknesse was describing, however, would surely have been dried, as it had been transported to Britain from France. Early modern dried pasta was durable and was considered easy to transport, even under very difficult conditions. And it was massive: the earliest surviving example of an eighteenth-century pasta extruder made bigoli (a huge type of spaghetti) which was just over a foot long and 3 inches wide. Even one of these enormous, snake-like pieces of pasta could have constituted a meal. Hugh Plat (c.1552-1608), an English inventor and writer, created a different kind of pasta machine in the late sixteenth century, which produced oval-shaped, wafer-like pieces of pasta. Plat included a diagram of this pasta machine in his Jewell House of Art and Nature (1594); while it’s notoriously difficult to get a sense of scale in early modern schemas such as these, comparing the size of the hand-crank on the right side of the machine with the pieces of pasta coming off of the wheel suggests that each wafer would have been three or four inches across – much larger than a modern orecchiette or conchiglie.
Everything I learned about eighteenth-century dried pasta suggested that it would have taken ages to cook until tender. And although the resulting pasta might well have differed from the way that I expect modern pasta to look and taste, Thicknesse’s estimate of an hour and a half in cooking time perhaps wasn’t so far off after all, and the confusion was on my part rather than his. Historical food recipes are fun and engaging, offering us almost instantaneous senses of familiarity and closeness with the past: food is a great universal. But as we analyze old recipes and work to understand them, we have to fight our assumptions and presuppositions – perhaps especially about ingredients which are the most familiar to us – in order to make sure that we’re translating accurately.
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 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.
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.
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.)
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.
For a while now I’ve been very interested in medieval people’s relationships with magic texts. What drew them to copy down their particular texts? Did they delight in the absurdities of directions to become invisible or to remove women’s clothing or did they truly believe it would work? Was it something ordinary or something to be ashamed of and obscured (as in the fifteenth-century book I discussed previously)? For this post I want to consider one point that I have often wondered about; namely, when were charms used? Were they the first line of defense or a last resort or somewhere in between? Naturally, for the majority of people and cases we will never know. However, I have come across an interesting pair of recipes that shed some light on the place of charms within medical practice.
The recipes in question are a charm to staunch blood and a non-magical recipe to do the same that is to be used only if the charm has failed.
I first ran across this pair of recipes in HM 1336 (folio 30r), a fifteenth-century medical book at the Huntington Library. In this copy the charm is missing and all that has been copied is the non-magical recipe with its injunction to be used only if a charm has failed. I don’t believe this omission is due to a reluctance to include charms since there are charms and natural magic texts elsewhere in the manuscript. More likely there was a corruption in the line of transmission somewhere.
I have since found this charm-recipe combination in two other Huntington manuscripts, also from the fifteenth century: HM 58 (folios 75v-67r) and HM 64 (folio 23r). In these cases the charm and recipe have survived together:
Here is for staunching blood
The soldier Longinus pierced the side of our + Lord Jesus Christ + with a lance and the blood poured out continuously and by means of the water of our redemption I adjure you, blood, through Christ + through his side + through his blood + stay + stay + Christ + and John went into the river Jordan and he struck the water and it stopped. Thus make the blood of this body in the name of Christ + and Saint John the Baptist Amen. Our Father Ave Maria.
To staunch blood when the vein is cut and will not be readily staunched with the aforesaid words.
Take a piece of salt beef, lean and none of the fat, as it may stop the wound and lay it into the embers in the fire and let it roast until it be thoroughly hot and all hot put it onto the wound and bind it fast and it will staunch at once and never stream on [I] guarantee.1
This pairing of a charm and non-magical recipe highlights just how casually the categories of magic and medicine could overlap. For some people, anyway, charms were not only just as valid as non-magical recipes, but they could also be more potentially more effective than non-magical medical recipes.
1.Here is for to staunch blode
Longinus miles latus + dominum nostrum Jhesu christi + lancea perforauit et continuo exiuit sanguis et aqua in redempcionem nostram + Adiuro te sanguis per ipsum + christum per latus eius + per sanguines eius + Sta + sta + christus et Johannes astenderunt in flumen Jordanis, aqua obstiuit et steta Sic faciat sanguis istius corporis .N. In christi nomine et + Sancti Johannis baptiste + Amen pater noster Aue maria.
For to staunch blode when the veyne is corven and wille nott gladli be staunched with the wordis afore rehersed
Take a peice of salt Beff lene and none of the fatt as itt maie stapp the wond and leie itt ynto the emeres in the fyre and lete itt rosti till it be throgh hote and all hote putt it to the wonde and bynd itt fast and itt staunche anon and neuer streme on wrantize
Text is taken from HM 58. Transcription and translation are my own. The differences between the various texts are quite minor.