Here we are, Day 1 of our Virtual Conversation on “What is a Recipe?” How can you get involved? Read the blog posts, follow contributors on social media, watch the livestream — and comment away. You can always comment directly on a blog post or social media, or even below this post. We’ll find you! If you’re using social media, just remember our hashtags: #recipesconf and #recipesproject.
Over on Twitter and Instagram, Siobhan Carlson will be sharing her adventures over the month as she tries “A reconstruction of Rev. Mr. Cochran’s Potato experiment, 1791”, which took place in the Canadian Maritimes. You can follow her on Instagram as @SpuddenlyFarming and on Twitter as @Spuddenly_Farm.
The Provincial Archives of Alberta (Canada) asks, “What’s a Party without Food?” and celebrates the humble potato. The are also on Twitter as @ProvArchivesAB.
I can’t promise potatoes from the following contributors, but you never know! Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives will be joining in via Twitter: @CUSpecialColls. The University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections will be busy, too. They will have a blog post here for #recipesconf, as well as be participating on Twitter @UofGlasgowASC and Instagram @uofglasgowasc for #foodieFriday.
If potatoes aren’t your thing, maybe mathematics is. (There is no reason not to love both, of course!) Thanks to Thony Christie, who tweets as @rmathematicus, for posing a series of related questions when he promoted our project over at Whewell’s Gazette:
Having defined recipe so broadly, as a mathematician and logician, I then ask myself how does a recipe differ from an algorithm if at all? Personally I think the two words are in their essence synonyms and there isn’t really a difference. What do you think? How do you define the term recipe? Do recipes and algorithms differ? If so, how?
Answers on a card, please… Or, rather, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or below.
For further details on the projects discussed above (apart from Thony’s), please see our post from earlier this week here.
Student Jose Hernandez summed up initial reaction to finding a “recipe assignment” on an Atlantic World History course syllabus: “when you first assigned the Columbian Exchange assignment, I honestly assumed that you were giving us busy work.” Once students dove into the assignment, reactions changed. As Hernandez went on to say, “once I started researching, I realized that this was a legit assignment.”
Legit indeed. The project enhanced student understanding of the Columbian Exchange as a truly transformative global phenomenon. It also provided them with new—and at times surprising— knowledge about their favorite foods.
After Europeans introduced them to the Americas, the meat of pigs and cows became staple features of creolized cuisine. Students worked on a number of such recipes. Bryan Howell researched the empanadilla, or little empanada, a pork-based dish created by culinary exchanges among Portuguese, Spanish, Native American, and Caribbean creoles. As he put it, the empanadilla “had to make a lot of trips back and forth across the Atlantic to be what it is. And what it is is freaking delicious.”
Student Cynthia Vera researched another meat-based recipe, one that she termed “a Latin spin on a European croquette.”
Cook ground meat and drain. Add sofrito mixture and packet of sazon con achote. Stir well over low heat to blend flavors and set aside.
Peel and boil potatoes until tender. Mash potatoes with salt and cornmeal, mix well. Place potato mixture in refrigerator to cool.
Once cool, scoop into balls, make pocket in middle of ball with your finger to place meat. Carefully press mixture back into a ball, thoroughly covering meat mixture. Dust in cornmeal, fry.
While the beef was the result of European colonization, corn and potatoes both were essential to American indigenous peoples’ diets. As Vera aptly put it, both were “ingredients of abundance” for Native Americans. And yet, Vera had never thought of the indigenous roots of what was to her a very familiar dish. As she reflected, “Growing up Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian I did not get the sense that my culture was heavily influenced by anything but other Hispanic cultures.” Researching her chosen dish, she found otherwise, and that recipes like rellenos de papa “speak volumes to the original cultures that did not allow themselves to be swallowed up, but instead were reborn into something else that has become a signature for today’s people.”
Students Jose Hernandez and Madeline Mercado also described their recipes—different variations of rice and beans —as edible reminders of how people retained culinary practices in the face of change. West Africans ate rice and beans, enslaved people of African descent were the laborers who tended rice in places like South Carolina, and West African cultivation practices and knowledge were likely integral to the crop’s success in the Americas.
Other students found that European traditions were behind what they thought were indigenous recipes. Sonia Martinez researched pan dulce or “Mexican sweet bread,” a treat “sold everywhere, from street food stands to elaborate bakeries in the capital.” Pan dulce is an important part of Mexican holidays like the Day of the Dead, when it is eaten in the form of pan de muerto (pan dulce in the shape of crosses, skulls, angels, or tomb effigies).
Martinez was surprised to find that pan dulce “wasn’t made from native ingredients passed down from generation to generation.” Instead, it relies on wheat, a plant Spanish missionaries insisted on importing to make communion wafers.
Another group of students focused on recipes that used ingredients that traveled east, from the Americas to Europe and, eventually, India and Asia. Some had legends attached to them. Student Ashley Olivetti delved into her grandmother’s Italian tomato sauce recipe. She found that Europeans at first feared tomatoes in part because they are part of the family Solanaceae, which includes “deadly nightshades” like belladonna, a poisonous plant that, according to Germanic folklore, witches used to summon werewolves.
Student Thomas Finn looked at vichyssoise, or French potato and leek soup, and was surprised to find that the ordinary potato has legends attached to it. When Incas from Cuzco fled before Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1476-1541), they lightened their load to travel faster under threat of puma attacks, throwing supplies into Lake Pumacocha to prevent the Spanish from using them. Among these supplies was the Incan staple ch’unu, a freeze-dried, dehydrated potato easy to carry over the long distances of the far-flung Incan empire. The Inca were allegedly on their way to the legendary city of Paititi, a never found place rumored to contain hordes of gold and silver.
Other students looked at recipes that arose due to another farflung empire: that of the British. Student Remy Rodney researched his grandmother’s “Jamaican soup,” a dish that reflects the global reach of the British in its chicken, pumpkins, yams, and Korean dumplings. Student Harmon Chan looked at Japanese rice and potato curry. First found in Japanese cookbooks in 1872, this now popular standby in Japan had its beginnings not long before, after American Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 visit began a new era of Japanese trade with western nations including Britain. Among the things the British introduced to Japan were curry from India and potatoes from America.
As one student put it, “food is one way people define their culture.” As students learned by researching recipes of the Columbian Exchange, food is one way people maintain old cultures and create new ones, too.
Harmon Chan is a History major interested in exploring the history of the United States.
Thomas Finn is a senior History major who is interested in colonial American history. His family has lived in America a long time, and in the same house on Staten Island since 1820.
Jose Hernandez is a senior History major, who is minoring in African American Studies. His interests include the Atlantic World and its importance in world history.
Sonia Martinez, born to immigrant parents, is a first generation Mexican American student. She is a senior majoring in English writing and linguistics, and minors in Spanish.
Madeline Mercado majors in Social Work and minors in Spanish. Her family background is Puerto Rican, and she is interested in the history of rice in the Atlantic World.
Ashley Olivetti is a senior American Studies major. Her family is originally from Italy and now resides in Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. Her interests include researching and writing about history.
Remiah Rodney is a sophomore of Jamaican heritage. Born in London, England, he plays soccer for the College of Staten Island.
Cynthia Vera is a Latin American senior, majoring in Latin American Studies and Psychology.
Mr Joe SPUD, his wife Industry TATER [the word in the original is the dialectal Walloon word ‘crompire’];
Mr ONION, his wife Mrs LEEK and their children shallot and gherkin;
Mr CELERY, his wife Mrs CHERVIL, their child parsley;
Mr SPINACH, his wife Mrs SORREL, their children salt and pepper;
Mr CARROT, his wife Mrs TURNIP, their children green cabbage and cauliflower;
Mr GARDEN PEA, his wife Mrs FRENCH BEAN;
Widow CHICORY, born in Brussels;
have the great pain to inform you of the cruel loss they have suffered in the person of
Born in Canada, piously deceased in Brussels
The funerals will take place every day at one (Central European time) in all homes where bellies go empty and cooking pots are in mourning.
Pray that her soul may rest in peace and that she may resurrect soon.
No flowers or wreaths.
Having never suffered from hunger, this satirical text brought things home for me. How does one cook without the most basic of ingredients? How does one go through their day without one of the cheapest source of carbohydrates? Here is a round-up of sites and blogs that may offer some answers to these questions.
The Telegraph tells us how to prepare a Trench Cake, which included currants, cocoa, ginger and nutmeg, perhaps to hide the fact that it was mostly made of flour and margarine – no eggs or butter in sight. Cookit! for its part gives us the recipe for a Trench Stew based on the recollections of a soldier from the 9th Bedfordshire Regiment. Beth Wilmshurst at greatfood mag reproduces several recipes from the 1918 British Ministry of Food, Win the War Cookery Book. The fish sausages are particularly intriguing – might give them a try myself.
David Setevenson devotes an interesting post to the War effort at home on the British Library website, including information on food supply and rationing. Note at the bottom of the post the photo of the Belgian Cookbook (1915), which includes recipes sent by Belgian refugees. Edible Swansea had written a fascinating post on that same book a couple of years ago.
In the USA, the University of Wisconsin has an amazing collection of North American documents relating to food and cooking during and after World War I: Recipe for Victory: Food and Cooking in Wartime. The following title by the United States Food Administration particularly caught my attention: Food saving and sharing, telling how the older children of America may help save from famine their comrades in allied lands across the sea, prepared under the direction of the United States Food administration in cooperation with the United States Department of agriculture and the Bureau of education (1918). The tract is 102 pages in length, showing that the Food Administration expected quite a lot from its ‘older children’. The National World War Museum at Liberty National in collaboration with American Food Roots has produced a series of videos on food, cooking and rationing. The Doughboy Cookbook, by the Quartermaster Corps Foundation, presents several adapted recipes (with no claim to full authenticity) that soldiers would have used. Note in particular the ‘Mess Sergeant’s Java‘ or ‘Black Jack’ a nauseating recipe for recycling coffee involving egg-shells and salt.
Finally, in Toronto a Symposium ‘Recipe for Victory – Great War Food‘ took place in September. It involved recipe testing and tasting, including a tasting of Canadian butter tarts, on which you will find more information here.
There is of course much more to be found on the web, but no orgy of blog-reading on war recipes will ever give me a full sense of what it really felt to be hungry and scared in a trench or on the home-front. Lest we forget.
NB: many of the links above were suggested by Amanda Herbert, who is currently on leave.
Have you encountered a reference to potatoes from before 1800?
I’m interested in all early modern potatoes and would be delighted if you could alert me to any references, however fragmentary. You can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or use this form.
This Potato Project asks two inter-connected questions.
How, why, and by what routes did the potato spread around the world and into individual diets after Europeans first encountered the tuber in the sixteenth century?
Why did states across eighteenth-century Europe begin to promote the cultivation and consumption of the potato?
The first question builds on the pioneering work of Alfred Crosby. Crosby and other scholars suggested that the spread of new world foods such as potatoes and maize helps explain the dramatic increase in the world’s population over the last five hundred years, and also hinted at the ways in which these foods travelled to Africa, India and elsewhere. At the same time, the details of their dissemination remain in many cases opaque. The Project traces the ways in which potatoes entered the diets of individual eaters around the world.
The second question examines the historical roots of the our conviction that food, agriculture, health and state security are intrinsically linked. The Project investigates the moment, in the late eighteenth century, when European philosophers, political economists, agronomists, doctors, bureaucrats, priests and other historical actors began to insist that strong, secure states were inconceivable without a resilient agricultural programme grounded on significant changes in the dietary practices of the population as a whole. It was in the eighteenth century that the processes connecting individual diets to the wealth and strength of the state began to be theorised in ways that allowed for effective manipulation and state intervention. Many projects and proposals for dietary reform were articulated in the eighteenth century. This Project focuses on the central role the potato played in many of them.