Tag Archives: reconstruction

The Rebirth of Embodiment: Hand-Compiling an Early Modern Recipe Book

By Mackie Black

The early modern family participated in manuscript culture through the collection and trading of recipes among family, friends, and political connections. In this post, I describe how modern scholars can participate in a new manuscript culture through transcription. While digital transcriptions are valuable for accessibility, these projects hide thephysical experience that went into the creation of these texts. Though digital transcription does include physicality, with typing and coding and especially in an emotional sense with the frustration at a difficult word or phrase and the ultimate joy that comes with figuring it out, this is a different embodied experience than that of recreation through rewriting. Hand-writing recreation provides a more in-depth understanding of the messy physical processes of the past, those that leave the writer with ink-stained hands and the paper with scratched out mistakes, rather than the clean processes of the present. The cleanliness of today’s digital interaction with manuscripts removes not only the physical mess of writing with ink but also streamlines our encounters with these manuscripts to the point that their mistakes and quirks can be ignored in favor of analyzing the clean, edited text. My experience reconstructing the compilation of an early modern recipe book by hand-copying recipes using writing technology that closely approximates those of the time, became an act of recovering this messy embodiment. The physical act of transcription raises new questions that can allow us to more fully understand the processes behind the creation of these manuscripts. 

Photo of two sheets of paper with handwriting.
Attempts to copy recipes with a quill (left) and an ink-dipped pen (right).

My project adds to work by scholars including Marissa Nicosia at Cooking the Archives and Margaret Simon by stepping away from the kitchen and into the processes of recipe collection and copying. For this project, I created my own recipe book using manuscripts held by the Folger Shakespeare Library LUNA: Manuscript Transcriptions Collection and the Wellcome Collection as a final project for a graduate seminar. I skimmed through 8 manuscripts and selected 67 recipes that I could see myself making, focusing on those with vegetarian ingredients to fit my own diet, before hand-copying them in a notebook using either a quill or an ink dip pen. I also used cutting to remove unwanted ingredients and paste in recipes, mirroring this tool as it was used in recipe books, commonplace books, and in the literature of George Herbert and the Ferrar family in their Little Gidding Harmonies

Photo of open notebook with sections of handwriting and sections of cut-and-pasted excerpts from other notebooks.
Pages 88 and 89 of the completed recipe book showing two examples of cutting in order to remove non-vegetarian ingredients from recipes.

I experienced a difficult and messy process, one that left me with hand cramps and ink stains. Moving from the keyboard to the quill reconnected me to the methods of the past. While I was unable to fully leave the 21st Century behind thanks to my reliance on digitized manuscripts, I was able to experience the physical processes of writing down a recipe using an inkwell and quill. Digital transcription work is not messy, but this hand-copying was, engaging senses such as smell that get lost in the digital world. At the end of the day, there will be no ink stains left on the hands of the digital transcriber, no ink splotches to frantically clean off the manuscript or the table. It is this messy physical experience that I aimed to explore and through which new questions and avenues for further research arose.

Close-up photo of ink-stained fingers with laptop in the background.
My ink-stained hands.

Through this project, I experienced transcription in a new way that gave me an experiential understanding of the shapes of letters in various hands. As soon as I began copying and writing the letter “w”, for example, I understood it and grew better at recognizing it. It took the experience of hand-copying these recipes to understand that the unique shape of the “w” is a function of the difficulty of doing upstrokes with a quill or ink dip pen. This helped me better understand the rationale for certain writing conventions of the past as more than mere quirks but as features necessitated by technology. This process of realization, this rebirth of knowledge, occurred frequently during this project and improved my transcription abilities, as I had a better understanding of the embodied experience of writing with the technology available in the 17th Century than I had when I had been only transcribing digitally.

Photo of desktop with open recipe notebook, open laptop, ink pen and inkwell, and paper for blotting ink.
My desk as I copied out recipes. Shown are the book in progress, my laptop which I used to pull up the recipes I was copying from, my ink well, my glass dip pen, and my scratch paper used to restart the flow of ink on the pen if it dried out.

This experience also had me asking new questions. Unlike with digital transcription, when hand-writing, I was focused on the processes of copying. I asked myself, what types of editing were the authors using when they copied these recipes? Were they editing as they wrote by removing ingredients like I was? Were they adding ingredients that they thought would work better based on their own experience? Were they fixing mistakes such as removing repeated words and scratched out phrases like I was or were they at times introducing new mistakes? Does this editing count as unique knowledge creation?

A photo of a notebook with writing in black ink.
Pages 57 and 58 of the completed recipe book.

These new questions and this new experience allowed me to better understand why early modern writing looks the way it does. It opened a door for the recovery and rebirth of the physical knowledge hidden behind digital archives and digital transcription. Projects like this one that force modern scholars to rediscover this embodiment for themselves allow us to uncover this hidden knowledge, leading to a better understanding not only of the processes that resulted in the manuscripts we study but also of the people that created them. 

Brewing up some history: recreating historical beer recipes

By Tiah Edmunson-Morton

At the expense of sounding cliché, historic recipe recreations are a way to taste the past. Figuring out proper ingredients, considering environmental conditions, and using appropriate equipment all bring you closer to what people ate and drank in “days of yore.”

Barclay and Perkins brewery, Southwark: visitors watching beer fermenting in a large brewhouse, 1847. Image Credit: Wellcome Images, London.

Home brewer forums are full of threads on authenticity, and a Google search for “home brewing ancient recipes” nets millions of pages with ideas and results. Commercial breweries are also in on this, researching and experimenting for single brews or regular releases. In 1989, Anchor Brewing made a Sumerian beer for the Institute of Brewing Studies’ Micro Brewery Conference based on the “Hymn to Ninkasi,” an 1800 BCE song that praises the Sumerian goddess of beer and an ancient beer recipe. Even grander in terms of production and promotion is Dogfish Head Brewery’s series of beers “Ancient Ales,” which they’ve recreated with molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern. The company reports that Midas Touch, Theobroma, and Chateau Jiahu are “truly liquid time capsules.” Brewing scientists from Oregon State University collaborated with the Heurich House museum to recreate a batch of Christian Heurich Brewing Company’s “Senate Lager” after a researcher discovered the recipe in the National Archives. A final example comes from Dupont Brewery in Belgium. The recipe for “Cervesia Archeosite” came from a beer made a thousand years ago in their region; they drew on traditional styles and ingredients as a point of pride.

I knew about projects like these when I started the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives in 2013 and could see the outreach potential immediately. Oregon became a state in 1859, and much of its nineteenth-century beer history lore details a brewery on every corner. The story goes that wherever a community formed around an industry (farming, mining, logging), businesses to make and serve alcohol were among the first essential services. While I don’t doubt that plenty of alcohol was consumed, and probably made at home, the census records show that a brewery on every corner is an exaggeration at best and a myth at worst.

When I started to look for nineteenth-century brewery records, I was surprised to find so little. While the majority of Oregon’s earliest breweries were small and short-lived, if local breweries were omnipresent in the nineteenth century, I assumed there would be a treasure trove of information in libraries or archives.

Initially, I reached for the sources in my library, which included state history books with information on “prominent people,” laboratory publications that focused on the technical aspects of the brewing process, manuals on facilities management, and books on beer gardens. For historic recipes, I had the most luck in household management books; not only were there recipes for brewing beer, but also instructions for making bread and keeping bees. The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps were quite helpful in determining the size, layout, and location of breweries. Once I looked outside my building, I found probate records in county and state records, census records with biographical information about individual brewers, and mortgages and lawsuits that listed brewery assets.

The Roadshow, 2015

While these physical print sources are lovely for browsing, locating recipes from specific breweries or that used specific ingredients was really difficult. Both Google Books and the Hathi Trust are invaluable because they are both keyword searchable. In 2015, I worked with a brewery to make a beer for a public archaeology event; they wanted to make a lager with rice, and I found a short recipe in an 1883 brewing book published in England.

Roadshow 2015: The Recipe.

For the same event the following year I worked with a home brewer. I sent her links to several books and she chose one she found in a home management published in New York in 1872; the recipe was 10 pages long and the product was delightfully hoppy. Some of my favorite books are:

Choosing a recipe for the 2016 event.

In six years, I still haven’t found a recipe for an Oregon pre-Prohibition beer; however, I have gathered clues about nineteenth-century Oregon beer styles. Probably the most valuable source are the advertisements found in digitized newspapers. Breweries of all sizes made a range of styles, though they all regularly advertised a traditional German-style lager or steam beer, which uses a lager yeast but is fermented at ale temperatures to compensate for the lack of refrigeration. Oregon brewers also sold less familiar styles such as Philadelphia XXX Ale, XX Cream, and Flat. Those county probate records I mentioned sometimes included receipts, which meant I knew details about hops or barley orders, as well as bottling equipment and supplies. Those census records give clues about a brewer’s country of origin and the brewery income.

My most recent research has focused on the women involved in Oregon’s pre-Prohibition breweries, with an eye towards redirecting the need we have for women to be brewers. Since the records don’t indicate that they were, I am working with three female brewers to design a recipe based on the biographies of wives of brewers. Our goal will be to share the brewers’ creations, but also to engage consumers with the stories of nineteenth-century women in Oregon.

I still have hope that I’ll uncover a recipe gem, but I am also a realist. In the meantime, I know that my work in the twenty-first century to collect records will help the next generation recreate our present.

True Colors, or the Revelatory Nature of Cold

By Thijs Hagendijk

Heat is transformative, brings about change, separates substances or bring them together. Every student of chemistry knows how to enable or enhance a chemical reaction by applying energy to a system, usually in the form of heat. Early modern practitioners did not think otherwise. Fire was the transformative element and key to the production of all kinds of different materials, ranging from the philosopher’s stone to artisanal products such as glass, porcelain or pigments. Applying heat to bring about change is publicly ingrained thermodynamics, but one thing is even more obvious. Once heated, things have to cool down again.

Figure 1: Eikelenberg’s notes on the art of painting, comprising five different manuscripts. Photograph: Regionaal Archief Alkmaar.

When the request came to write a blogpost on cold and recipes, I was somewhat hesitant. Heat seems to elicit the most interesting stories and anecdotes, but interesting cases with respect to cold failed to come to mind immediately. Hence, I tried a different approach and looked at how cold featured in a collection of overtly practical notes on the preparation of paint materials collected by the Dutch polymath and painter Simon Eikelenberg (1663-1738). Intended for publication, he promised his readers an “accurate descriptions of the origin of making, preparation and general use of paint materials, oils, mix-fluids and varnishes.”[1]  It was within the confines of this manuscript that I began to discern two themes with respect to cold in practices of making.

Figure 2: Reconstruction of one of Eikelenberg’s varnish recipes. The varnish was prepared in a glazed pot, placed in a sand bath and heated on fire. Photograph: Thijs Hagendijk.

It is only when things have cooled down that the transformative work of heat can really be judged. Eikelenberg describes for instance how he experimented with minium, a red lead-based pigment, which he heated in a crucible and placed in a fire. “The more it glowed, the more the minium turned yellow near the sides of the crucible, the lowest parts alike; which, when it was cold, appeared to be nothing else but yellow massicot.” [2] Eikelenberg also describes the preparation of various varnishes. Here too, quality and properties of substances are explicitly observed after the varnishes have cooled down. “When the varnish was cold I found that it was rather thin and that it did not cover well.” [3]  Another varnish was prepared on a hot sand bath, after which Eikelenberg “filtered it through a cloth and let it cool: it appeared then as a thickish and yellowish varnish.” [4]  Pay attention to the word “then”: there is a clear order of things that speaks through Eikelenberg’s notes. Being cold is a condition that precedes testing and Eikelenberg makes that rather explicit.

Figure 3: It is hard to achieve a homogeneous mixture when preparing varnishes. A whitish sediment is developing in this varnish, which is in coherence with Eikelenberg’s notes. Photograph: Thijs Hagendijk.

Whereas heat is transformative, it is only in the absence of heat that things can be trusted to stay the same. Continuing with the varnishes, Eikelenberg was well aware that their preparation does not stop after the ingredients have been heated and combined. As long as it is still hot, the apparently homogeneous concoction can easily coagulate and fall apart. Eikelenberg wrote in his notes: “We can conclude that to prevent curdling it is necessary not to stop stirring before the mixture is cold.” [5] Indeed, each time he made varnishes, Eikelenberg made sure to keep stirring until everything was cooled down: “stirring steadily until all was cold” or “having stirred until it became cold”.[6]

Figure 4: Eikelenberg mentions that: “[w]e can conclude that to prevent curdling it is necessary not to stop stirring before the mixture is cold.” Passage marked in red. Photograph: Regionaal Archief Alkmaar.

For Eikelenberg, heat was both friend and foe and until his varnishes reached firm, cool ground, they required careful guidance and attention. Cooling down was thus as arduous a process as heating the mixture was in the first place. Yet, once cooled down, true colors are revealed – deprived from heat and stabilized by the cold.

[1] Simon Eikelenberg, “Aantekeningen betreffende schilderen,” MS 391, Collectie Aanwinsten, Regionaal Archief Alkmaar: fol. 1. “Naukeurige beschrijving van de oorsprong of making, bereiding en ’t algemeen gebruik der verfstoffen, olijen, mengvogten en vernissen.”
[2] Simon Eikelenberg, “Aantekeningen betreffende schilderen,” MS 390, Collectie Aanwinsten, Regionaal Archief Alkmaar, fol. 806. Original: “na mate dat het gloejend wierd, veranderde de menij die naast tegen de zijden van de kroes aan-zat en wierd geel, gelyk ook ’t onderdtste; ‘t welk doe ‘t kout was niet anders dan gele masticot geleek”.
[3] Eikelenberg, “Aantekeningen betreffende schilderen,” MS 390, fol. 827. Original: “Doe de vernis koud was bevond ik ze wat dun en datze niet genoeg dekte.” Translation from: A. van Schendel, “Simon Eikelenberg’s Experiments on the Preparation of Varnishes,” Studies in Conservation 3 (1958), 130.
[4] Eikelenberg, “Aantekeningen betreffende schilderen,” MS 390, fol. 802. Original: “Doe ‘t wel vermengt was, kleijnsde ik ‘t door een doek en liet het kout worden, wanneer ‘tzelve een dikagtige en geelagtige vernis vertoonde” Translation from: Schendel, “Simon Eikelenberg’s Experiments,” 128.
[5] Eikelenberg, “Aantekeningen betreffende schilderen,” MS 390, fol. 824. Original: “Hieruijt kan men afnemen dat om ’t schiften voor te komen, men niet moet op-houden met roeren voordat se kout is.” Translation from: Schendel, “Simon Eikelenberg’s Experiments,” 129.
[6] Eikelenberg, “Aantekeningen betreffende schilderen,” MS 390, fol. 827. Original: “gestadig omroerende totdat het gantschelijk koud was.” Translation from: Schendel, “Simon Eikelenberg’s Experiments,” 130. Eikelenberg, “Aantekeningen betreffende schilderen,” MS 390, fol. 832. Original: “tot koutwordens toe geroert te hebben”.


Boiling hot oil: on the assessment of temperature in late medieval processing of linseed oil

By Indra Kneepkens

Indra Kneepkens is a technical art historian, specializing in the materials and techniques of late medieval panel painting. She is currently finalizing her dissertation, which is focused on the use of processed linseed oils and paint additives in the painting practice of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century.

Raw linseed – the basis for linseed oil

From art technological sources, such as recipes and manuals for the preparation of paints, and from the analysis of paint samples, we know that late medieval and early modern craftsmen heated oils for use as a binding medium in paints, as well as for the preparation of varnishes. As a technical art historian, I research and reconstruct these oils and varnishes, to be able to establish the effects they have on paints. My aim is to understand how the development and use of these materials influenced the painting process and the final appearance of art works. Unfortunately, 14th-  to 17th-century art technological sources that include heat-treatment of oil typically do not give absolute temperature indications. This is no surprise, because thermometers were developed in different stages between the late 16th and early 18th century. Therefore, craftsmen had to rely on their senses for the assessment of temperature.

Cennini’s handbook has been transcribed an translated repeatedly, most recently by Lara Broecke in 2015

That controlling temperature was important to late medieval craftsmen is illustrated by a remark in the Libro dell’arte (ca. 1390), that was written by the Italian painter Cennino Cennini. In his recipe for a heat-treated oil the writer almost personifies fire, warning us that it would willingly burn down the house if it got a chance to reach into the pan.[1] And indeed, it seems likely that the temperature of oil was sometimes raised pretty high, to the point where potentially explosive gasses form. So how did pre-thermometer craftsmen determine the temperature of their oils?

Even if not in absolute terms, early modern sources do contain clues about the kind of temperatures that were considered useful in oil processing. In most cases, oils were heated over fire, in ceramic, bronze or copper vessels. As wood or peat fires can easily reach temperatures over 500°C, and the vessels were able to withstand these, it was clearly possible to reach the auto-ignition point of linseed oil (ca. 343°C). Most likely, temperature would have varied from case to case, depending on factors like fuel type and the distance between the vessel and the heating source.[2]

Sometimes sources mention a strong reduction of the oil, or they describe the texture of the end result, comparing it to fluid honey for example. In varnish recipes a string-test reoccurs, in which a finger is dipped into, and then lifted from a cooled drop of the mixture of boiled oil and resins, to see if a thread is formed.[3]My own experiments have shown that to reach a sufficient thickening of an oil or varnish, and to dissolve most resins, the materials must be heated for quite some time and at a fairly high temperature. Finally, empirical tests that remind us of everyday cooking may have been used to keep an eye on the temperature of oils. In Arte de la Pintura (1649), Pacheco describes how bread, garlic and feathers were stuck in boiling oil; if they appeared browned or scorched, the cooking process was completed.[4]

During my experiments over the past few years, it has become evident that one can make a reasonably accurate temperature assessment based on how the oil behaves during heat-treatment. A swirling movement for example, was noticed in oils from a temperature of ca. 90°C, while repugnant fumes typically started to develop around 200°C.

Figure 1. Foam developing on oil heated in a ceramic vessel

I also realized that the development of foam, which is commonly mentioned in recipes, may have been a clear indication of temperature. But it is also closely related to the type of cooking vessel that was used. I did not see any foam until I exchanged my glass laboratory beakers for a glazed ceramic pot. Foam appeared when the oil reached a temperature of 100°C. It must have been caused by water evaporating from the clay body, as I had rinsed the vessel before use. Bubbles also formed when garlic and bread were boiled in oil, from ca. 61 and 80°C respectively, with a high point again around 100°C. Although the garlic started to darken earlier, both bread and garlic clearly browned around 180°C, and completely blackened between 230 and 240°C.

In another experiment thirteen feathers, of different size and from various birds, were dipped in hot linseed oil until they started to curl. Surprisingly, all feathers curled within a range of 27°C, between 237 and 264°C. These experiments not only support the relative accuracy of these empirical methods, but also indicates that temperatures of ca. 100 and 200-250°C were meaningful to early practitioners.

Figure 2. Raw linseed oil (far left) heated at 150 (1-4 hours, jars 2-5 from the left), 200 (8 hours, larger jar) and 300 degrees C (1-4 hours, jars 7-10 from the left).

In more systematic tests, linseed oil was heated to 150 and 300°C, for one, two, three, and four hours. Interestingly, the color and thickness of the oils that were heated at 150°C appeared more or less unaltered after the experiment. In tests where these oils were mixed into paints, they behaved very similar to raw linseed oil. At 300°C the oils thickened and darkened considerably. They affected paints in a very significant way, causing them to level, and making it possible to create smooth glossy films without any visible imprint of the brush. Paints with these oils were also less prone to yellowing. An oil that was heated at 200°C for eight hours however, still made paints level perfectly, but it also caused extreme yellowing.

So knowing how to assess temperature and balancing it over time must have been crucial skills for those who prepared heat-treated oils and varnishes. Experiments have shown that knowledgeable individuals would have been able to make a fairly accurate assessment of temperature, using their senses. They could note changes in the appearance and behavior of oil and indicator materials, and manually test its viscosity. Although there are several indications that temperatures of 200°C and higher were preferred, it makes sense that craftspeople would adapt the temperature to the materials at hand and the desired end result. The lack of unambiguous temperature indications in oil processing recipes reflects this adaptive use of temperature and a reliance on the senses that was expected of craftspeople before the invention of thermometers.

[1]Broecke, Lara. Cennino Cennini’s Il Libro dell’ Arte: A new English translation and commentary with Italian transcription.London: Archetype, 2015, 127, chapter 91.

[2]Aldeias, Vera, Harold L. Dibble, Dennis Sandgathe , Paul Goldberg, and Shannon J.P. McPherron . “ How heat alters underlying deposits and implications for archaeological fire features: A controlled experiment” Journal of Archaeological Science67 (2016): 66.

[3]Broecke 2015, 127. Neven, Sylvie. The Strasbourg Manuscript. A Medieval Tradition of Artists’ Recipe Collections (1400-1570). London: Archetype, 2016: 132-135, no. 92-94.