Teaching Recipes: A September Series (Vol. III)

Detail from “Testimonial of Merit,” Public Education, Grammar School for Girls, Burnton Brothers, lithographers (New York: 1863) Lithf Burn Melv Publ 148821, American Antiquarian Society. Image courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society’s Digital Assets Archive Portal.
Detail from “Testimonial of Merit,” Public Education, Grammar School for Girls, Burnton Brothers, lithographers (New York: 1863) Lithf Burn Melv Publ 148821, American Antiquarian Society. Image courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society’s Digital Assets Archive Portal.

Amanda E. Herbert

Welcome back to the Recipes Project’s annual Teaching Series, where we explore the ways that educators from both “inside” and “outside” of the academy use recipes to help people learn about the past.  This series has proven to be enormously popular: during our Teaching Series last year, the Recipes Project received almost 38,000 visits (representing about 15,000 “unique visitors”) which demonstrates not only the global impact of the series, but how enduring and useful these posts can be, as scholars and educators from around the world come back over and over again to learn more about bringing recipes into their own museums, classrooms, seminars, and lecture halls.  This year, the series puts particular emphasis upon the work done by people who use recipes as tools to involve, inform, and engage members of the general public.

Our Teaching Series opens with a post by Ian Mosby, whose course at the University of Guelph – with a unit on Canadian food during the Second World War – was profiled by ActiveHistory.ca, a website that connects the work of historians with the wider public.  We’ll also hear from Molly Taylor-Poleskey, who will share how her efforts to share medieval blancmange with non-traditional students took her to grocers, spice-mongers, and butchers all around Somerville MA.  During the second week of the series, we’ll learn how a university educator, Dr. Jennifer Munroe, brought recipe transcription and translation into her curriculum; this will be followed by a post written by three of her students, Nadia Clifton, Kailan Sindelar, and Breanne Weber, who were so inspired by their recipe assignments that they founded their own student-run Early Modern Paleography Society.  The third week of the series will be devoted to alcohol: we’ll hear from Angela McShane and James Brown at the Intoxicants Project: Angela and James will describe their “Jolly Good Ale and Old” events, where they invite members of the general public to share information about brewing, music, and history over pints at local pubs; then Gabe Klehr encourages us to think more deeply about teaching “drunkenness” in his post about introducing his students to the drinking behaviors of early Americans .  We’ll round out the series with a post by Rob Davies from the Museum of English Rural Life, who will contribute a post on a soap-making event co-sponsored with the Elizabeth Fry Charity and the University of Reading’s Special Collections, and will draw to a close with Carrie Helms Tippen of Chatham University, who speaks eloquently about food-writing, food-reading, food-teaching, and the future of the culinary literary imagination.

This year’s Teaching Series posts are as rich and varied as are recipes themselves, and we hope that educators of all kinds – from primary school teachers to museum professionals – can use them as they design their curricula, outreach efforts, public programming, and syllabi.

Teaching Recipes: A September Series

By Amanda E. Herbert

Classrooms in 1897 at the Francis M. Drexel School.
Classrooms in 1897 at the Francis M. Drexel School. Courtesy of Wikipedia Images.

In January of 2014, I wrote a post called “Chocolate in the Classroom,” which described a special lesson that I’d designed for my undergraduate Tudor and Stuart Britain course: to learn about the aesthetic and cultural changes accompanying the “Consumer Revolution” of the seventeenth century, students taste-tested chocolate that had been made according to an early modern recipe.  Most of the students really disliked the flavor of the chocolate – which featured spices such as chili, cinnamon, and nutmeg – but the response to my post on The Recipes Project was enthusiastic, with teachers from around the world writing in to talk about the ways that they used recipes in their own classes, seminars, and tutorials.

Recipes are wonderful pedagogical tools.  Deceptively simple, they encourage students to dig beneath and around a seemingly straightforward list of ingredients and directions, provoking conversations about historic foodways, linguistics, conceptions of race, socioeconomics, praxis, and religious and cultural prohibitions.  They require students to become close readers and sensitive, careful thinkers.  And they enliven discussion, as students and teachers alike imagine how a food or medicine might smell, look, taste, or feel.

During the month of September, The Recipes Project will feature a special series of posts on teaching recipes.  Our contributors will demonstrate the many excellent ways that recipes can be used in a variety of classrooms – from university lectures to elementary school classrooms – and in a range of disciplines, including classical studies, composition, history, literature, and the histories of medicine and science.  A particular strength of the series will be the use of recipes in the digital humanities, as several of our contributors are teaching students about web-based transcription via manuscript recipe collections and household account books.  Look for posts by Rebecca Laroche, Jennifer Munroe, Amy Tigner, and Hillary Nunn on the many exciting ways that students are digitizing and analyzing recipes for the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC).  But the series will also feature the work of those who have taken a more “practical” approach to teaching recipes, as Amanda Moniz, Valerie Korinek, Laurence Totelin, and Tovah Bender talk about their efforts to recreate and remake historic foods, medicines, and supplies, and how modern students experience the sensory worlds of the past.

We hope that our readers will be both impressed by the work of this group of scholar-teachers, and inspired to incorporate recipes into their own syllabi and lesson plans.  Please let us know how you’re using recipes in the classroom!  To contribute to the discussion, just hit the “comments” button below.  We look forward to hearing from you.