Tag Archives: Ottoman Empire

A ‘recipe’ for chocolate on a 19th-century cup

Porcelain chocolate cup, saucer and lid set created in Paris for the Ottoman market and marked in red overglaze, 19th century, Oriental Museum, Durham University. Image courtesy of the author.

By Frederick Fossey-Warren

This porcelain hot chocolate cup from the early 19th century seems decidedly Ottoman. Gilded with gold and over-glazed with an intricate red pattern, the cup is designed to follow the “Egyptian style” that proved immensely popular with colonial Ottoman officials at the turn of the century. In fact the cup is so extravagant that it’s possible it was never actually intended for use, but purchased as a display piece, a succinct symbol of both status and wealth, by a member of the Ottoman elite.

Given its appearance, one could reasonably expect to trace the cup’s origins to a Turkish city such as Istanbul or Ankara. Upon closer inspection, however, the presence of different languages written onto the cup complicate its provenance. While the cup was bought and sold in the Ottoman Empire, its origins lie elsewhere. In fact, the cup was constructed in none other than…Paris? So, how did we get here?

After its arrival in the so-called “Old World” in the early 16th century, chocolate slowly but surely became a new court favourite across Europe and, by the end of the 17th century, had become a mainstay in aristocratic circles. It wasn’t long before chocolate began to spread into Asia and Africa, truly becoming one of the world’s first global commodities. As in Europe, given its scarcity and price, in the Ottoman Empire chocolate was initially largely restricted to the nobility, as much a status symbol as a foodstuff.

Initially enjoyed primarily as a drink, chocolate was seen as not only a nourishing treat, but a superfood, a sobering source of energy able to cure or prevent most common ailments. Many saw potential in its import as a commodity, and through its arrival it often contributed to the development of industry and revenue. Given its initial scarcity – chocolate had to be harvested in the Americas, loaded onto ships, and sailed across the Atlantic in a journey that routinely lasted three months – chocolate stayed in high demand, and markets soon opened not just for cacao, but for chocolate ‘accessories.’ These included such objects as chocolatera for dissolving together chocolate paste and sugar, molinillo for frothing hot chocolate, and, of course, cups for drinking, which brings us back to our porcelain cup.

When people consider the movement of luxury goods in the long nineteenth century, it is often taken for granted or assumed that goods primarily moved out of the peripheries of Africa, Asia and the Americas, and into the imperial core of Western Europe. This cup, however, challenges this understanding. From the date and manufacturers mark on the underside of the object, we can tell that this cup, saucer and lid collection was constructed in Paris in 1809. Given its design, it was likely always intended for sale within the Ottoman market.

In the early 19th century, the Ottoman Empire remained a powerful and, importantly, wealthy force in Eastern Europe, and an attractive market for many across Europe. When, in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire expanded to encompass much of the Middle East and North Africa, the tastes of Ottoman elites changed, adopting the styles and fashions of many of their newly incorporated colonial subjects. This chocolate cup was ingeniously crafted to capitalise on these trends, part of an aesthetic and cultural movement that historian Ussama Makdisi has called ‘Ottoman Orientalism’.

Inscription detail. Porcelain chocolate cup, saucer and lid set created in Paris for the Ottoman market and marked in red overglaze, 19th century, Oriental Museum, Durham University. Image courtesy of the author.

So what were the design features that made this chocolate cup an example of ‘Ottoman Orientalism’? The underside of the saucer features a series of seemingly random Chinese characters. In relation to the cup’s purpose, these four characters, 李唐宋官, roughly translate to ‘Li Tang, Song dynasty official’. While there was a Li Tang in the Song dynasty, and in fact he was an accomplished landscape painter, he had nonetheless died almost seven hundred years prior to the time of this cup’s creation, and almost six hundred years before chocolate’s arrival in China. So why were these Chinese characters included? Simple: to make the cup seem more appealing to prospective buyers, and hence more likely to sell. The inclusion of these Chinese characters, presumably merely copied wholesale from another source, both fed into the intended exoticism of the piece, and attempted capitalise on a long existing market for Chinese porcelain in the Ottoman Empire.

The story of this cup does not, however, merely end with its creation and sale. Just as with the saucer, on the underside of the cup is another short sentence, this time, however, in Urdu. Unlike the Chinese characters, this writing was added after the cup was purchased and offers us a perplexingly poetic phase. The cryptic writing roughly translates to ‘That same diminished consciousness; This same deep target’ and is attributed to one Jannatī, likely a pen-name, meaning ‘the heavenly’. Whoever this Jannatī was, they clearly had some affection for the cup; not only did they write an inscription on its underside, but there is evidence of attempts at restoration, with the gold on the lid having been re-gilded.

Inscription detail. Porcelain chocolate cup, saucer and lid set created in Paris for the Ottoman market and marked in red overglaze, 19th century, Oriental Museum, Durham University. Image courtesy of the author.

When taken together, the elaborate and varied inscriptions on this cup act, in some sense, as a recipe. If a recipe is a set of instructions allowing you to, hopefully, produce something far greater than the sum of its parts, then, for a historian, the cup’s inscriptions act as an invaluable recipe in allowing us to gain a far deeper understanding not only commerce in the early 19th century, but also of chocolate, and its role as one of the world’s first truly global commodities. From South America to France, Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, the Mughal Empire and even China, this porcelain cup combines facets of many different cultures and civilisations in both its purpose and construction. While both the maker of this cup and its first owners are by now long dead, this object they left behind lives on, and continues to tell us much about the world in which they lived.

Frederick Fossey-Warren is a scholar interested in the role of race and ethnicity in modern East African politics. He participated in Durham’s Undergraduate Research Internship (UGRI) programme to conduct research on chocolate in the Durham University collections. He currently studying towards a Master’s in History at Durham.

HEAT! A Recipes Project Thematic Series

Astronomy- the Earth and the sun during summer in the Northern hemisphere. Wellcome Collection.

As humans, we want to control heat. We want to create heat, temper or even extinguish it, depending on context and purpose. We have a very limited temperature range at which we are comfortable (some microbes and bacteria can survive temperatures as low as -20C and as high as 130C), so we spend an incredible amount of time managing heat, whether it is our body temperature or that of our homes, offices, laboratories, cars, or food.

When we started planning this series of blog posts in early May, we could not have suspected how appropriate the theme would feel by now. While much of northwestern Europe has not seen rain in weeks and is sighing under a heatwave with temperatures rising to 37C/98F, we have fled to airconditioned spaces to edit the posts. Climate-wise, heat is seasonal in these regions, but it has always played an important role in recipes year-round, all around the world, from antiquity to the present day, in fields as diverse as alchemy, chemistry, art, cooking, medicine, and personal grooming.

The common denominators of heat in all these realms are that it is either internal – emanating from the human body – or external, naturally occurring from the sun, thunder, or lava, or man-made through friction or fire. In the posts in this series, we will see a wide variety of attempts to control these different kinds of heat through recipes and instructions.

Managing natural heat: Venice turpentine is a thick paste (aka sticky mess) at room temperature, but becomes fluid around 25C, and nicely mixes into the rest of the varnish ingredients when left out in the sun. Photo: Marieke Hendriksen

Some of our authors recreate such attempts by reconstructing experiments outlined in historical art technical and chemical sources. Indra Kneepkens recounts how she discovered through reconstruction research that sometimes for a recipe to make sense, it should not only be followed to the letter, but also be read between the lines. Ruben Verwaal and Marieke Hendriksen use their experiments with two reconstructions of small chemical ovens to reflect on the role of experimental heat in the development of theories on the nature of life in the eighteenth century. Working in a similar vein but with culinary recipes, Marissa Nicosia, from Cooking the Archive, examines the problem of heat control in her recipe recreation adventures, outlining the challenges of translating cooking instructions meant for the early modern hearth to the modern gas stove.

The four elements, four qualities, four humours, four seasons, and four ages of man. Airbrush by Lois Hague, 1991. Wellcome Collection.

Other authors in the series took our invitation as an opportunity to investigate heat in medical theories across time and place. Aileen Das kicks off this series by arguing that heat occupied a central place in ancient Greek, Roman and medieval Islamicate theories about the human body and its care. Taking on the smelly problem of perspiration and body odor, Cari Casteel reminds us that this issue is as old as mankind and offers several remedies from Roman authors.  Catherine Rider, on the other hand, examines notions of heat in fertility remedies in medieval England, noting that, whilst popular, heat-based treatments (to either increase or reduce heat in the body) were not the only kind of fertility aid available to English couples. The series concludes with two posts focused on fever and disease. Fittingly in this current heatwave, Laurence Totelin offers a post on fever and dog days of summer in antiquity. Finally, writing on in Late Imperial China, Marta Hanson introduces us to ideas of fever in Chinese medicine.

We’ve had a great time editing this series – hope you enjoy reading the posts wherever you are. Happy summer and stay cool!

Marieke Hendriksen and Elaine Leong

P.s. We were so inspired by our contributors’ posts that we’ve decided to dedicate the December issue to (you guessed it) COLD!. If you’re interested in joining the conversation, send a short pitch to recipes@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de.

Medicine as an Exact Science

By B. Harun Küçük

From Hayatizade Mustafa Feyzi. he Physician’s Handbook regarding the Balance of Composites = The Düsturü'l Tabib fi Mizanü'l-Terkib (172?)
From Hayatizade Mustafa Feyzi. The Physician’s Handbook regarding the Balance of Composites = The Düsturü’l Tabib fi Mizanü’l-Terkib (172?) [Nuruosmaniye MS 3602, Süleymaniye Library]

Translation of the chart above. Please note the change in the direction of the text. Columns that are red on the original recipe are also red in the translation.
Translation of the chart above. Please note the change in the direction of the text. Columns that are red on the original recipe are also red in the translation.

The author, Hayatizade Mustafa Feyzi the Younger (d.1738), was the Chief Physician to the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed III (r.1703). Mustafa Feyzi came from a distinguished family of physicians. His grandfather and namesake, Moshe ben Raphael Abravanel (d.1692) had served as the Chief Physician to  Sultan Mehmed IV (r.1648-1687), and had converted to Islam in the late 1660s and taken on the name Hayatizade Mustafa Feyzi. The Hayatizade family was central to the medical profession of the Ottoman Empire from the late seventeenth century onwards. Hayatizade Mustafa Feyzi the Older’s sons served as court physicians and he had married off one of his daughters to the nephew of Ibn Sallum, who was the patriarch of another powerful family of physicians.The recipe above is for iṭrīfal, a drug that is still popular in Ayurvedic medicine because it purges the excess humidity from the head and cures headaches. This is an exotic recipe that includes only imported ingredients from India.

This recipe is one of the four recipes in Hayatizade Mustafa Feyzi the Younger’s The Physician’s Handbook regarding the Balance of Composites. This manuscript was completed and presented to the sultan shortly after 1724, when Mustafa Feyzi assumed the office of Chief Physician to the Sultan.

In this new role, Mustafa Feyzi played a regulatory role in Ottoman medical practice and joined Sultan Ahmed III’s standardization efforts. Two of Ahmed’s achievements had been to fix the amount of precious metal in the Ottoman coins in 1723 and to establish in 1729 what would be the first Muslim printing press. The book, or rather, the manuscript, is interesting because it argued that medicine was an exact science and aimed to codify recipes on a mathematical basis. The first half of Balance of Composites included a catalog of weights and measures and sought to resolve a contemporary controversy regarding the true weight of the dirham, a unit whose weight varied considerably between regions and professions.

According to Mustafa Feyzi, the Ottoman physicians lacked the kind of precision that the composite recipes required. Consequently, the book showed that the composite effect of ingredients could be quite different from the individual qualities of each ingredient. Iṭrīfal, the first recipe in Balance of Composites was a case in point, as it augmented the dry powers of the ingredients and (almost) cancelled out the cold powers by mixing them in honey. This method of extracting certain qualities from the ingredients was not a secret of nature, Mustafa Feyzi contended, but a calculable effect of mixed drugs.

In order to amplify his claims, Mustafa Feyzi even devised a novel method for writing out recipes. Unlike most of his contemporaries and predecessors, he used numerals instead of words. The table format, which had been transplanted from astronomical texts and was completely novel to the recipe genre, delivered the recipes in a manner that made sense from an arithmetical perspective.

This numerical method made it easy for the physicians to calculate the final effect of a recipe which could be very different from the qualities of any one ingredient. In the final pages of the book, Mustafa Feyzi provided a glossary of herbs and spices and assigned relative ratios of powers for each ingredient. This glossary would help physicians seek out alternatives for and equivalents of ingredients that were not readily available.

The Balance of Composities was a very timely work. As of 1703, the “new physicians”–that is, the physicians who specialized in spagyrics–were banned from practicing medicine in Istanbul. A few years after 1724, Mustafa Feyzi would become instrumental in removing this ban, perhaps because he found the clear science of mathematics to be a better ally for medicine than the secretive art of alchemy.