In recent years the home has come to be the focus of multidisciplinary and cross-period inquiry, yet the kitchen, although seen as the ‘heart’ of the home in some places and periods, is still a relatively under-explored space. Studies of material culture, technology and domestic work all point to the kitchen’s wider social and cultural importance. Since the early modern period, kitchens have been a nexus of class interaction, and the place of domestic food production. Subsequently, studies of the kitchen have the potential to contribute to social and cultural histories of everyday life. This workshop brings together scholars researching the histories of the kitchen from a range of geographical and chronological perspectives.
The deadline for registration is Wednesday 11th January. For more details, including the programme and how to register please see:
What spaces do recipes occupy? They occupy a distinctive place on the page and might take up a few inches of shelf-space, when bound together. But these textual traces are only the runes of practice; as such, while they survive in one textual dimension for us to recover as historians, they occupied space and travelled through it in being transmitted, written out or printed, and of course, made.
In two recent posts, the spaces in which recipes might have materialized have been touched upon. Rachel Rich reported on how dishes realized from recipe books might have sat on imaginary and real Victorian dining tables, in dining rooms that were the recommended place for eating, where domestic space afforded such luxuries. William Cavert took us into seventeenth-century London commercial breweries, to think about the consumption of coal as a hidden ingredient in recipes for beer production.
But the kitchen, the space which one might associate most with recipes and their creation/recreation, is surprisingly absent from the majority of blogposts here. The ‘kitchens’ tag is applied to only three other posts – including one on the technology transformations of the mid-Victorian kitchen; and one on twentieth-century Louisiana creole cuisine. The word ‘kitchen’ crops up in other blogs, but mainly as an unexplored descriptor: ‘kitchen workers’, or as a caption to an image, ‘a kitchen interior’. Recipes have come to embody, but as importantly hide, the physical space of the kitchen. Indeed some authors use ‘kitchen’ to mean cuisine, as in the food culture of a period or place, rather than primarily thinking of it as a space and material assembly.
Serious histories of the kitchen as a domestic space are thin on the ground, at least for Britain before 1800, which may explain in part why recipes have so often been decoupled from where they might be made. In my new book, The Birth of the English Kitchen, 1600-1850 (Bloomsbury, 2016) I’ve reunited recipes, food processing and ‘kitchen physic’–as well as childcare, leisure and domestic religion–with the room which we so glibly call today ‘the heart of the home’. In this way, my book is less about food than it is the spatial stories of the kitchen and how these discourses developed circa 1600 to 1850. Many do involve food and eating, especially in non-elite households without dining rooms, but there are also architectural, technological and cultural strands to unpick.
The distinctions we can make between types of recipe–distilling and brewing, veterinary, dyeing, cosmetic and medical, conserving and preserving–are as much about spaces as processes. Householders’ social status and geography, as well as the ends of production (for home or for commerce?), profoundly influenced where a recipe might be realized: kitchens of different sizes and sophistication, stillrooms, closets and larders, apothecary shops and cookshops, dye houses and breweries…
Even within domestic households, different types of recipes were practised in different spaces. What came out of a kitchen in an aristocratic house like Ham House (Surrey, National Trust) was not the same as what issued from its purpose-built stillroom (still in existence), or its meat larder, as surviving seventeenth-century inventories of equipment kept in these rooms document. (2) And these spaces tell very different stories about the environmental conditions and technological requirements of production: the stillroom on the ground floor, light but north-facing, well-ventilated to take off the fumes from the charcoal stoves (listed in the inventories); the kitchen at basement level, possibly located there not only as a nod to continental architectural aesthetics, but also to aid delivery of water from the local spring.
The energy transition to coal that William Cavert discusses, was also a domestic revolution. Cooking hearths were transformed by burning coal instead of wood, peat or other fuels. What did this then mean for adapting early modern recipes? Coal ranges meant different hearth arrangements and the potential for new cooking kit, too. Mechanical roasting jacks and flat-bottomed sauce- and stewpans were not just harbingers of culinary shifts, but of technological reorganization. What was elaborate and aspirational for the seventeenth-century well-to-do classes (e.g. instructions for pastryworks or other baked confections), became commonplace by the late-eighteenth century. The later print and manuscript recipes for biscuits and cakes signaled the renaissance of home-baking–fuelled (literally) by the incorporation of ovens into ranges or as separate features in middling kitchens.
Illustrated frontispieces in printed English recipe books from the late seventeenth century onwards fed readers ideas about ‘dream’ kitchens. Few illustrations represented real kitchens–although there is one honourable exception in the mid-nineteenth century , just as few menus in the same books necessarily recorded what was actually eaten at elite or middling tables. But the frontispieces themselves are a recipe for the reader: they propose what spatial and equipment ingredients made ‘the compleat housewife’ of the early eighteenth century and the modern systematic housekeeper of the early nineteenth century.
As with all recipes, the reader had to contribute something to the creation of these spaces in real life. Alongside the food preparation and other work that occurred in the kitchen, the aspiring housewife needed to accommodate architectural constraints, technological challenges, domestic service (where it could be afforded) and other household occupants–lodgers, children, dogs and even the odd parrot! The kitchen may have been the cookery book’s idealized home, but in this crowded space, recipes and their realization were (and are) only one of the ingredients in its spatial story.
To understand recipes as practical texts, therefore, we need to think not only about the words on the page, but also about the spaces and materials that enabled (or no less importantly, inhibited) their making.
 E.g. Hannele Klemettilä, The Medieval Kitchen: a Social History with Recipes (Reaktion, 2012).
 These are fully transcribed in Christopher Rowell, ed., Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage (Yale, 2013).
When I was growing up, my mother would bake Angel Food Cake as a special summertime dessert. I remember the anticipation of seeing the freshly baked cake in its distinctive pan, precariously balanced upside down on an old bottle on the kitchen counter. Served with fresh raspberries and my great-grandmother’s lemon pudding frosting, there was something delightfully old-fashioned and elegant about Angel Food Cake. But in the late-nineteenth century, Angel Food Cake represented the latest in culinary innovation.
My previous two posts for the Recipes Project examined how changing technology and ingredients influenced women’s recipe collecting. Those transformations fostered the development of new recipes, like Angel Food Cake.
Angel Food Cake or Angel Cake is a sponge cake developed in the United States, likely in the 1860s and 1870s. The recipe first appeared in print in the 1880s and was included in both Lincoln and Farmer’s editions of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook. Angel Food Cake was an elegant means of using up surplus egg whites.Beaten egg whites gave the cake “a texture so airy that the confection supposedly has the sublimity of angels.” With its name, Angel Food Cake joined a long tradition of bestowing celestial or religious names on baked goods and sweetmeats. Angel Food Cake remained a classic and popular dessert throughout the twentieth century–Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, served it at the White House–but its popularity was truly cemented by the introduction of a reliable prepackaged baking mix in the 1940s.
The introduction of Angel Food Cake and its opposite, Devil’s Food Cake, followed earlier trends of highlighting the contrasting appearance of cakes for dramatic effect on the dessert table. At mid-century, Lady Cake (a delicate white cake made with egg whites and flavored with bitter almonds or peach kernels) and Gold Cake (a deep yellow cake made with egg yolks and flavored with citrus) were popular pairings for dessert tables where the contrast in their coloring was on display. Caroline B. King in her cake-based memoirs remembered her sister’s Angel Food Cake as “snowy white and airy” and her sister’s explanation that her new recipe for Devil’s Food Cake would look “lovely in a cake basket with Angel Cake; first a slice of the chocolate, then one of the white.”
These new-fashioned recipes also revealed the technological advancements of the last century. While Angel Food Cake relied mainly on whipped egg whites as a leavening agent, like early sponge cakes, this cake owed its existence to technological advancements of the nineteenth century.
Women eagerly embraced laborsaving devices in the kitchen, the popularity of the eggbeater is no surprise considering that early nineteenth century cake recipes require hours of beating. Many would have agreed with Marion Harland’s assertion in Common Sense in the Household (1872) that “a good egg-beater [was] a treasure.” For Angel Food Cake, eggbeaters eased the labor of whipping egg whites to stiff peaks and the addition of cream of tartar stabilized the whipped whites and prevented darkening.
The cake’s airy texture is achieved not only through the whipped egg whites, but also through the availability of commercially ground flour. The softer, refined wheat flour available at the end of the nineteenth century contributed to the cake’s light texture and cloudlike appearance; flour manufacturing techniques could produce a lighter colored flour. The cake’s white appearance was also dependent upon the availability of pure white granulated sugar, which was available thanks to advancements in the refining process and saved women the labor of grinding loaf sugar.
The mass production of cooking implements after the Civil War provided the Angel Food Cake Pan, necessary for producing such a tall cake. The batter could slowly climb up the cake pan during the cooking process. It’s no coincidence that recipes for Angel Food Cake became popular once the pan necessary for its shape and texture was being mass produced.
And so by the end of the nineteenth century, the combined forces of technological innovation and improved ingredients resulted in a remarkable variety of cakes that were easier to produce at home, including Angel Food Cake. While the ease of prepackaged cake mixes was still several decades away, cake baking remained a difficult and time-consuming task–but significantly less so than even twenty-five years previously.
The increased accessibility of cake baking, both in terms of affordability and labor, resulted in the creation of elaborate new recipes. During this period, baker ingenuity resulted in an explosion of new confections such as White Mountain Cake, Devil’s Food, Moonshine Cake, Chocolate Marshmallow Cake, Boston Cream Pie, Mocha Cake, and, of course, Angel Food Cake. Thus, women not only collected cake recipes for the practical reason that technology and ingredients had changed, but also because they were so many new and exciting options for cake baking.
 John F. Mariani, Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 35.
 Caroline B. King, Victorian Cakes: A Reminiscence with Recipes (Berkeley, CA: Aris Books, 1986), 34.
 Marion Harland, Common Sense in the Household (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1873), 20.
When members of the American Historical Association gathered for their annual meeting in New York City in January, attendees set out to explore disciplines other than history. Or rather, they aimed to understand where and how other disciplines intersect most fruitfully with the practice of history. To our panel of four scholars interested in food, such a perspective felt perfectly apt. The study of food has demanded an interdisciplinary approach since food history’s rise to popular prominence in the 1980s. Our papers sought to illustrate the value of material, visual, spatial, literary, and sensory approaches to answering historical questions.
Spanning the colonial period through the twentieth century, in rural as well as urban sites, we used food as a lens to explore social transformations in North America. United by themes of consumer culture and ethnic encounter, our research showed how food consumption reflected, and was reflective of, notions of nationality, religion, ethnicity, race, gender, and sexuality in distinct historical moments.
Carla Cevasco, a PhD candidate in American Studies at Harvard University, used methods of material culture analysis to compare English Puritan, French Catholic, and Huron communion vessels in colonial America. Cevasco argued that violent imperial conflict troubled the boundaries between spiritual and secular eating, blood and wine, and cannibalism and communion in these three cultures. Protestants were suspicious of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, and yet Protestants and Catholics alike practiced medicinal cannibalism, ingesting substances derived from the human body for medical purposes. In the same era that early Puritan colonists repurposed secular drinking implements as communion vessels, the Huron used French-made copper kettles to practice a ritual called the Feast of the Dead. Cevasco argued that New World combatants were willing to kill and die over perceived differences between what were in fact strikingly similar ideas and practices. Her paper testified to the value of material culture methodologies to the historian seeking to understand the belief systems of marginalized people who left only faint traces on the historical record.
Drawing on techniques of sensory history, Ashley Rose Young, PhD candidate in History at Duke University, listened to the sounds of the late-nineteenth-century French Market in New Orleans to unearth the pivotal role of immigrant vendors in shaping the taste preferences and food culture of the postbellum city. Young argued that sound, more so than sight, touch, taste or smell, informed depictions of late-nineteenth-century ethnic identity in New Orleans. Similar to public markets in many American port cities, the French Market served as a meeting ground for the city’s diverse population—a key space where the daily rituals of consumption bonded together community members from Europe, West Africa, the Caribbean, and North America. Here, African-American calas vendors competed alongside Spanish oystermen and Italian fishermen for customers. Their sonorous efforts to attract the attention of passers-by manifested in a wide variety of witty, salacious, musical, and grating street cries, which writers attempted to capture. To the delight of attendees, Young sang several street vendor cries. Her performance gave shape to compositions that used to be vital economic tools and cannot be fully appreciated as words and notes on a page.
With the paper of Heather Lee, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the panel moved from the market to the restaurant. Lee employed methodologies of visual and spatial studies to understand Chinese restaurants as urban spaces, translating the establishments’ physical layouts into social histories of sexual transgression and exoticism. With the additional input of city anti-vice records, Lee argued that New Yorkers patronized Chinese chop suey joints during the 1920s and 1930s not to sample unfamiliar tastes, but because the restaurant experience allowed patrons to experiment with their sexuality. By staying open to the early morning hours, Chinese restaurants provided a contact zone for people looking to live outside the boundaries of propriety. Young couples could evade their communities’ social conventions of courtship by rendezvousing at Chinese restaurants, because the Chinese staff acted aloof to their clients’ behavior. Female prostitutes solicited johns on the dining floor and men interested in other men met up in secluded corner booths. In her broader work, Lee is developing a historical database of Chinese restaurants, which she will make publicly available through an interactive digital platform on Chinese migration.
My paper shifted the frame back to New Orleans and forward to the mid-twentieth century. I read a set of letters and recipes for Creole gumbo – the signature dish of New Orleans – that Louisiana residents submitted to a 1951 newspaper recipe contest. The recipes functioned as a window onto private conceptions of regional and even racial identities in the final years of de jure segregation. I argued that New Orleans whites tried to use Creole cuisine to claim ownership of an exceptional cultural legacy, exclusive of people of color, during an era when the social and political privileges associated with whiteness were eroding. These gumbo recipes – which arrived from addresses throughout New Orleans, from cooks of varying social and educational classes – showed how the practice of being Creole and making and eating Creole food mattered just as much in home kitchens as it did in public places like restaurants. African Americans resisted such exclusionary efforts, however. Restricted from eating the food that they had cooked in their own restaurants’ dining rooms, both implicitly and explicitly, Creole chefs and cooks of color made the midcentury New Orleans kitchen a political space.
Together, our papers affirmed the inherent interdisciplinarity of food history as a strength. While we each benefitted from scholarship outside of history, our collective goal was to demonstrate the value of food history to the broader study of American history and encourage a similarly expansive, creative approach to investigating all historical questions.