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.