On Paratext, Cookbooks, and No Useless Mouth

By Rachel Herrmann

Before I entered the final stages of revising my first book, No Useless Mouth: Waging War and Fighting Hunger in the American Revolution, I had tried for reasons of sanity to compartmentalize the fun food stuff from the work food stuff. And then I came up against my final, self-imposed deadline and decided to blur the line between them. In this post, I want to explain why. During the editing process, I began to think about paratext. Although I don’t discuss the term “paratext” in my book, I think about it a lot when reading cookbooks and food writing. Paratext refers to the pieces of a book that are not part of its main body and can include epigraphs, chapter titles, and prefaces, as well as covers and blurbs. It can also refer to the index, even though Gerard Genette, who I cite here, did not include this in his definition of paratext; I would, especially now during a time when many of us compile our own to save money. This focus on paratext was not just about my manuscript, and linked to when I first started working on food and thinking about how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cookbook authors told readers how to feel about food from the moment they encountered a cookbook’s cover. I read cookbook prefaces to learn about intended audiences and errors in previous editions, and thought about the intentionality of an author’s recipe titles. I wanted a way to use paratext to do something similar for readers of No Useless Mouth.

Fig. 1. Rachel Herrmann, No Useless Mouth, courtesy of Cornell University Press
Fig. 1. Rachel Herrmann, No Useless Mouth, courtesy of Cornell University Press

A good cookbook teaches you a technique, uses it to make something delicious that works on the first attempt, and then uses that technique recipe as a base ingredient for other recipes in the book. A cookbook with excellent paratext tells you how to read the author’s recipes. Its preface tells the reader where to find specialty ingredients, instructs her to read the recipe once through before beginning to prep and cook, and explains how the author has indicated components that can be made ahead of time. For example, my most recent revelation is Andrea Nguyen’s caramel sauce in Vietnamese Food Any Day. This sauce becomes an ingredient that gets added by the teaspoon to subsequent recipes, like her (delicious) Coconut-Kissed Chicken and Chile. Let me just say: the caramel sauce recipe is a scary recipe on the first read. You’re instructed to cook caramel until it’s almost burned. As any amateur pastry or baking enthusiast will tell you, burnt caramel is nearly never the explicit goal of a recipe. But Nguyen makes you feel confident by showing you pictures of the beginning, middle, and end stages of the process. She also includes a genius hack to slow down the cooking process faster than I’ve ever been able to do: she has you fill your sink with an inch or two of ice water. And then when you start to panic that the caramel really is going to burn, you gently plonk the bottom of your saucepan in the sink! GENIUS! Nguyen writes recipes this way because she wants to teach you as you cook.

I wanted No Useless Mouth’s paratext to do similar work: to show readers how I undertook my research, to explain how they could replicate it, to provide signposts about navigating my ideas, and to suggest how some of the ideas I developed in the book could be used for other work on food history. I used the acknowledgements section of the book to tell readers a little bit about me as a cook and an eater. Sometimes when I meet people, they express reservations about going out to eat with me because they worry that I will dislike the food where we have gone. In my acknowledgments, I tried to make clear that although the food I eat with people at conferences and during non-work get-togethers matters to me, the company often matters more. I recall how conversations shaped my ideas and how the meal made me feel about them more than I remember the taste of what we ate.

Later in the process, when I was finishing the last round of edits on No Useless Mouth, my editor, Michael McGandy, asked me to write a bibliographic note—I suspect because I’d wanted a full bibliography and he wanted to keep the cost low by saving pages. I used the note to tell readers where I had traveled to do research, what travel current researchers could avoid, given the outpouring of digital databases with relevant primary source material, and what researchers should eat near the archives I visited if I thought travelling to them remained imperative. I suppose that the implicit argument in this part of my paratext is that research can be isolating, lonely, and all-consuming, but that using food to break up the monotony keeps it from being so.

The last piece of paratext I worked on was my index. This was the second index I’d compiled, and I took the advice of Sara Georgini, who has had lots of experience working on indexes for the Adams Papers: she described an index as an “on ramp to readers.” A good index allows you to enter a book slowly, get a sense of the subjects that inform and surround it, choose where you want to visit inside of it and then decide where to go next. The number of subheadings for a subject might suggest that these moments in the book are moments to get “stuck in.”[1] “See” informs readers that there’s a different term they should be using to search the index, and reveals the author’s opinions on navigating the subject. Cross-references (“See also”) provide another way to slow down and explore the backroads. This approach extends to cookbooks; Andrea Nguyen’s index is a great example of paratext that is informed by her overarching goal to teach. She seems to know intuitively that readers may remember a key ingredient in one of her recipes, but not necessarily the name of the recipe itself. Thus her Coconut-Kissed Chicken and Chile is indexed under “Chicken,” “Chile,” and “Coconut Water.”

More than anything, I wanted my index to teach readers that food and hunger are giant categories that require specificity. My food-related terms consequently include words like “animals” (which include edible animals like cattle and fish, but also crop-destroying animals like the Hessian fly). My entry for “food” includes verbs and nouns like butchering, gifts, marketing, markets, meals, preservation, rationing, spoilage, storage, and transportation, but readers will find “food diplomacy,” “food laws,” “food riots,” “food sovereignty,” and “foodstuffs” indexed, too. Among the foodstuffs you can read about you’ll find bacon (of course!), boiled bones, buttermilk, corn, mussels, purslane, spikenard root (said to prevent huger), and wild rice. My hunger-related terms include “appetite,” “eating,” “environmental problems” (including drought and crop failure), and “famine,” among others.

I have come to think of my paratext as adding an additional double layer of rigor and fun to the book. If you want to know how I became interested in food history, you can read my acknowledgments. If you’re wondering where I think there’s room for the field to grow, I’ve written about this in my conclusion. If you’re a student who wants to write an essay about food but is struggling to break “food” into more manageable themes, my index will help you to do so. If you’re a food studies scholar who, like me, is trying to pin down the distinction and overlap between food studies and food history, well, I can’t promise that my paratext will provide a single answer to this question, but I hope it will help to continue that conversation.

 

No Useless Mouth is available from Cornell University Press in November, 2019.

[1] I mean this phrase to include here both the British and the American possibilities. To get “stuck in” to something in Britain is to slow down, savor, and spend time.” To get “stuck in traffic” in American English is a less pleasant experience, but nevertheless encapsulates the possibility that readers will need to work slowly to wrap their heads around this subject.

Research from the Kitchen: Emma Schreiber’s “Apple Jelly for a Corner Dish”

By Rachel A. Snell

Author's creation of Emma Schreiber's "Apple Jelly for a Corner Dish" served with custard.
Author’s creation of Emma Schreiber’s “Apple Jelly for a Corner Dish” served with custard.

“Boil 12 good juicy apples or more if not of a large size in a pint of spring water,” Emma Schreiber’s Apple Jelly for a Corner Dish, a recipe for a molded apple jelly served with custard, begins with a curious mix of specificity and ambiguity. This recipe, from a manuscript recipe collection compiled in the Toronto area during the mid-nineteenth century is, seemingly, among the most complex in the collection, requiring a great amount of instruction and filling most of the page. The dish’s name references the growing significance of gentility in previously rural and isolate areas. Labeling it as a “corner dish” signals its placement on the table, balanced by a similar dish at the opposite corner. In the 1830s and 1840s, instructions for creating a pleasing tableau for a dinner or tea table became commonplace in domestic guides, such as the diagram below. The types of dishes and their placement on the table indicated the gentility and status of the hostess.

Bill of Fare: Dinner of 16 Persons, Book of Household Management (1861)
Bill of Fare: Dinner of 16 Persons, Book of Household Management (1861)

Schreiber’s recipe collections and related sources demonstrate the translation of the genteel lifestyle to a rural, agriculture-based transnational region focused on Lake Ontario. Much like the adapted recipe for Snowballs in the Frugal Housewife’s Manual, Schreiber’s recipe demonstrates shift in the types of recipes women collected and the focus of their domestic labor. This change is reflected in the growing emphasis on “fashionable dishes” that ornamented the tea or dinner table and had far reaching consequences for women’s household labor. Among these “fashionable dishes” were recipes like the apple jelly featured on the first page of Emma Schreiber’s recipe book.

Early in my research process, I frequently experimented with the recipes I found in archival sources. However, writing deadlines, teaching responsibilities, and life changes left little time for culinary experimentation. Although Schreiber’s recipe for apply jelly figures prominently in a chapter of my dissertation, I had never attempted to produce the recipe. Fortunately, contact with other researchers reminded me of the value of kitchen-oriented research. In Cooking in the Archives, Alyssa Connell and Marissa Nicosia translate early modern recipes for twenty-first century cooks. They argue, “these historical recipes belong in the modern kitchen – that they can and should be read and enacted as instructions, as well as studied as archival texts from a specific historical period. After all, what are recipes if not primarily instructions for cooking?”[1] Inspired by Nicosia’s talk at the Manuscript Cookbook Conference at NYU, after three years of working with Schreiber’s recipe book, I determined to bring my work back into the kitchen. It proved to be transformative.

Recipes for Ratifia Cakes, Damson or Green Gage Jelly, and Apply Jelly for a Corner Dish, “Recipe book of Emma Blomfield Schreiber, 1856-7,” Una Abrahamson Collection, Special Collections, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario.]
Recipes for Ratifia Cakes, Damson or Green Gage Jelly, and Apply Jelly for a Corner Dish, “Recipe book of Emma Blomfield Schreiber, 1856-7,” Una Abrahamson Collection, Special Collections, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario.]

Reading a recipe and following a recipe are, of course, two completely different acts. At my desk, I read recipes to uncover insights into women’s daily lives. I compared recipes from different sources, mapped women’s recipe sources, and tabulated the types of recipes in a collection. In the kitchen, I confronted new questions. What exactly constituted a juicy apple? How could one determine if an apple was sufficiently large? Should the dozen apples be peeled? Cored? Cut into small pieces? While I consulted more detailed recipes for apple jelly, I frequently had to rely on my best judgement.

First attempt at Schreiber's Apple Jelly.
First attempt at Schreiber’s Apple Jelly.

The results of my first kitchen foray was a very sturdy, apple-cider colored jelly with a subtle apple flavoring. A second attempt with peeled, cored, and sliced the apples produced a more translucent jelly, but far from the translucency described by one cookbook author, “it should be so transparent as to let you see all the flowers of your china dish through it, and quite white.”[2] Even my unskilled efforts revealed the attractive display of the molded apple jelly alongside a creamy custard, the custard serving to offset the translucence and shape of the jelly. The flavor was much nicer than I anticipated and the pairing of the jelly with the vanilla custard was really quite lovely, even elegant. Like any proud chef, I sought an audience for my creation. The students in my third-year Honors tutorial were the lucky taste-testers.  The students overwhelmingly liked it or were very polite. One declared it “the best mid-nineteenth century jelly I’ve ever had!”

Second attempt at Schreiber's Apple Jelly.
Second attempt at Schreiber’s Apple Jelly.

Producing the jelly not only provided me with a new way to connect my students with my research, it also revealed new insights. Prior to my jelly-making efforts, I assumed molded jelly recipes like Schreiber’s were time-consuming and required great skill. In fact, I poured my first jelly into a plastic container rather than a mold because I firmly believed it was a flop. But I was amazed by how easy the jelly was the prepare. I could easily imagine allowing the apple to simmer and the juice, thickener, and sugar to boil while preparing other dishes and pouring the resulting liquid into a mold to sit in a cool place until the next day’s dinner or tea. Schreiber’s recipe made molded jelly, a symbol of gentrified refinement, approachable for women who did their own cooking.

[1] http://www.archivejournal.net/issue/4/notes-queries/cooking-in-the-archives-bringing-early-modern-manuscript-recipes-into-a-twenty-first-century-kitchen/

[2] The Lady’s Own Cookery Book, and New Dinner-Table Directory (London: Published for Henry Colburn, 1844), 221.

Recipe [book] studies: an editor’s postscript

By Sara Pennell

As some of you may already be aware, I and another contributor to this blog, Michelle DiMeo, have finally seen the publication of the volume Reading and Writing Recipe Books, 1550-1800 (MUP) in August 2013, almost five years to the day that the inspiring conference on which it is based (and which some of you also attended), took place at the University of Warwick.

Our intention in putting together a collection of essays about the nature of research into early modern, English-language recipe writing, collecting and publishing, was always about enabling a survey of approaches, rather than seeking to co-edit the dernier cri in ‘recipe book studies’ (of which more below).  That is why we have contributions from fields as different as historical linguistics, historical and experiential archaeology and lived religion, as well as from historians of natural philosophy, medicine and health, food and cuisine, and literary history.

Hannah Woolley, The Queen Like Closet (London, 1679), title page.

What still impresses me about the range of approaches on display in the collection is just that: the range. While one contributor might use a Hannah Woolley text in this way, another gloss a recipe for a glister just so, and a third unpick the poetic resonances of the recipe form, the possibilities of reading recipes differently, so differently, are wholly manifest across the nearly 300 pages. It bears out the suggestive call to arms by Susan Leonardi in 1989, that recipes have an active cultural relationship with the ‘reading, writing mind’ that we cannot leave to one side when we study them, any more than when we use them.

As readers, you will no doubt curse Michelle and I for our omissions, or engage critically with other contributors’ takes on manuscripts and publications upon which you may have very different views. But what we hope you will engage with most in the collection, is the act of collection: our desire to lay out a shop-stall for the validation of these texts as not simply about ‘who ate what when’ (or what might have treated which condition when) or about enlarging the ‘canon’ of women’s literary participation. Recipes as components of aesthetic trends, recipes as poesie, recipes as life-writing, recipes as routes into domestic religiosity, recipes as processual tools in materialising the ephemeral (kitchen or dining) table, recipes as tokens of regional and individual engagement with prevailing therapeutic, nosological and pharmaceutical knowledges – these are just some of the roles of recipes in early modern Anglophone society, but by no means the only ones.

Hannah Glasse, The art of cookery, made plain and easy (London, c. 1770),  Frontispiece. © Wellcome Images
Hannah Glasse, The art of cookery, made plain and easy (London, c. 1770),
Frontispiece. © Wellcome Images

Although the book is entitled Reading and Writing Recipe Books (which is, we admit, an imperfect title to capture what we think the collection covers), does it represent a clarion call to scholars to recognise the field of  ‘recipe book studies’? This co-editor, speaking entirely for herself, is still not convinced that the recipe collection can bear such a weight of genre expectation, and the very process of putting this edited volume together has further cemented that belief. If we go looking for shared characteristics across texts, whether print or manuscript (and surely shared characteristics is what defines a genre), that coherence is difficult to elucidate and illuminate. The recipe collection, as the linguistic contribution to the volume examines, is but a ‘discourse colony’, a gathering of separate recipe text components that can, without disturbing collective meaning or coherence, be rejigged any which way (as many, many instances of borrowings, sharings and outright plagiarism in early modern recipe collections attest).2 If the components that help to produce those shared characteristics can be so comprehensively reshuffled (and indeed removed), aren’t their shared, generic qualities illusory? Dismantling the recipe collection is formally and methodologically easier than we might first think, when faced with the seemingly enduring leather covers, brass clasps and thick leaves of a hefty MS or a cared-for research library copy of Hannah Glasse (recipe plagiariser par excellence, let us not forget). This publishers and printers of recipe collections also knew and exploited, in their reconfigurations and reconstitutions of recipes in new collections, new editions, new formats (a process beautifully examined in a chapter on Hannah Woolley in our collection).3

What then of ‘recipe studies’? This brings us back to the component text as the unit of analysis. As many previous entries in this blog ably demonstrate, the shape, contents and idiosyncracies of the individual recipe – as in Rebecca Laroche’s and Michelle DiMeo’s work on recipes for oil of swallows, or Sally Osborn’s forthcoming research on diet drinks receipts — especially when tracked across time and space, can reveal more about the contexts of knowledge production, use and circulation, than analysis of whole collections, wherein it is the processes of knowledge circulation and use which have perhaps dominated recipe scholarship to date. Even a single recipe text (Ann Fanshawe’s chocolate, for example) can take us far beyond the recipe collection in which it sits, to the royal courts of Madrid and Lisbon.  The recipe text – both as text and as material object — can take us closer, perhaps, to the why of the knowledge formation and circulation that they encode, while the collection is the (documentary and material) tool for understanding the how.

I would like to thank my co-editor, Michelle DiMeo for her infinite patience and support throughout the past five years (and more), from conference inception to dogged pursuit  of the publisher and myself in the final months; and our no less patient contributors (you know who you are!), whose excellent contributions I urge you all to read. The book is now available from Manchester University Press, so please order one for your libraries!

 

1. Susan J. Leonardi, ‘Recipes for reading: summer pasta, lobster a la Riseholme, and Key Lime pie’, Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 104:3 (1989), 340-7.

2. Francisco Alonso-Almeida, ‘Genre conventions in English recipes, 1600-1800’, pp. 68-92

3. Margaret J.M. Ezell, ‘Cooking the books, or, the three faces of Hannah Woolley’, pp. 159-78.