Around the Table: Celebrating Our Contributors

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Laura Mitchell, longtime contributor and social media editor for the Recipes Project, recently stepped down after seven years of service. The editorial team will greatly miss her enthusiastic and reliable contributions and insights! While Laura has carefully maintained the Recipes Project’s social media presence for several years, she originally contributed her scholarship on medieval charms (beginning with this post in 2012). You can read some of Laura’s perspectives on the Recipes Project from the blog’s fifth anniversary. We recently chatted a bit more about her time with the Recipes Project.

Laura, you have been a part of the Recipes Project from the beginning. What sort of scope and impact did you hope it would have when it started? Has it met your expectations?

I didn’t really know what to expect with this project. Academic blogs still felt very new to me so I think I would have been happy if the blog had lasted a couple of years, let alone seven! Lisa and Elaine very graciously involved me in some of the earlier meetings of the editors and it was very interesting to see the project emerge from the ground up. I think it’s safe to say that the Recipes Project has far exceeded my expectations!

How have your contributions to the Recipes Project changed over time?

Initially I was just a contributor. I had finished my PhD in 2011 and this was an easy way to share some of the fun bits of my dissertation work that wouldn’t fit in an article. At that time Lisa was covering all the social media for the Recipes Project. After a few years as a contributor, she asked me to take over the social media for her and that’s what I’d been doing ever since. The last post I wrote for the Recipes Project was on animal charms in 2015. I’d started working outside academia in 2014 and I stopped doing academic research around that time too. 

Has anything surprised you while growing the project’s social media presence over the past five years?

Honestly, one thing that has surprised me is the lack of trolls, even when we’ve posted on topics like transgender history, reproductive healthcare, or even labour issues like the 2018 UCU strike. I sort of took it for granted that a social media presence would attract bots and trolls to our accounts, but on the whole our audience is just really great! People tag us for help on Twitter, or just to tell us about something cool they’re doing. Our social media team has had lots of interesting conversations with people responding to our posts or to queries we’ve sent out. 

Do you have any favorite posts or series?

Oh, there are so many! I love the interviews with libraries and museums. There are so many interesting collections out there and so many libraries I was not familiar with. Even the really well-known libraries, like at Cambridge or the British Library, are full of surprising items. 

One thing that the Recipes Project does that I really love is highlight student research. Especially now that the blog has really grown its readership, I think it’s wonderful the way this blog has become a vehicle to share graduate and undergraduate student research. It’s such a great affirmation of the great work that students can do in the classroom and I love seeing how they interact with their sources. Some of my favourite student posts include Alana Martini recreating Egyptian makeup in “What’s In an Ancient Egyptian Makeup Bag?”; Emma Bragdon examining the role of beef in an American Senator’s political career in “Smothered Beef: The Role of Meat in Margaret Chase Smith’s Foodways”; and Molly Taylor-Poleskey recreating beer soup in “Beer soup: The Breakfast of Early Modern Rulers”.

Finally, I think one of the most interesting series we’ve done was the virtual conference on “What is a Recipe?” in 2017. I want to commend the editors for coming up with some really neat and innovative formats for hosting a virtual conference including blog posts, Facebook Live video discussions, Pinterest boards, Twitter, and Instagram and involving all our readers, not just the academics. The care and consideration that the team put into it was really clear throughout the conference. 

What projects and opportunities await you now?

Just over a year ago I moved back to my hometown of Saskatoon and started working at St. Thomas More College. My new job is a bit of a switch for me from project management on a multi-year grant to research facilitation and grant administration for the college. I really love working with the faculty here and helping them develop their research programs. I’m really excited to develop in this field and see where it takes me.

Finally, I just wanted to say thank you to the editors of the Recipes Project for all their hard work over the years, thank you for inviting me to participate! I’d also like to thank the rest of the social media team, Melissa Reynolds and Clare Gordon for being a dream team to work with since they joined last year. They have done a fabulous job so far and I’ll be eagerly following them!

Thanks, Laura! We all wish you the best in your future endeavors!

If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Tales from the Archives: To Make a Fine Apple Pye

It’s cold, wet and rather miserable in the UK at the moment. Fortunately, the Christmas lights bring some good cheer, as does lovely late-autumn food. My favourite autumnal dish is the apple-crumble, with its perfect balance of sweetness and tartness. Our wonderful Recipes Project archives include some lovely apple-based posts, and today I bring you these musings by our Sarah Peters Kernan. Enjoy!


By Sarah Peters Kernan

Forget cold weather and the first frosts of winter; I am already thinking about my spring garden! For years I have been yearning for space to plant a large vegetable garden and fruit trees. Now I can finally begin seriously planning such an endeavor since I recently moved into a new home with a large yard. Despite the approaching winter, I am constantly daydreaming about apples, beets, carrots, and tomatoes. The apple trees, in particular, have piqued my curiosity. There are hundreds of heirloom varietals, many of which will flourish in my planting zone. More than the standard fruits available at local markets, these heirloom ones attract me. I thought that I would use this opportunity to try growing some varietals that may have been available in late medieval or early modern England so that I can not only cook my many favorite modern apple dishes and preserves, but also prepare apple recipes from my research with period-appropriate fruit.

The art of grafting and cultivating fruit trees was acknowledged and recorded in Antiquity. Many treatises on the topic exist from the Middle Ages, such as those by Nicholas Bollard and Godfrey’s translation of a fourth-century work by Palladius. Similarly, early modern cookbooks and books of household management, like Charles Estienne’s L’agriculture et maison rustique (1564) and its English translation Maison Rustique, or the countrie farme (1600), devote sections to the topic. In late medieval and early modern England, apples were an accessible fruit for peasants and commoners. Each autumn apples ripened on trees that flourished across the English countryside. And despite the popularity of the apple, recipes rarely distinguished specific types of apples to use; in most instances, the selection of fruit was left to local availability and personal preference.

Elizabeth Blackwell, "The apple tree or pearmain," 1739, Science, Industry and Business Library: General Collection , The New York Public Library. Source: The New York Public Library
Elizabeth Blackwell, “The apple tree or pearmain,” 1739, Science, Industry and Business Library: General Collection , The New York Public Library. Source: The New York Public Library

Recipes sometimes distinguish between apples, pippins, pearmains, codlings, and others, but none of these terms refer to specific varietals. These terms do, however, tend to highlight certain flavor, texture, or keeping characteristics. Pippins, for example, are typically sweeter apples. Codlings refer to harder apples not intended to be eaten raw. Sometimes this hardness is a feature of the varietal, while other times this term refers to unripe apples. This lack of specificity in recipes is not to say that we have no record of medieval or early modern varietals. Medieval legal, religious, and household records, for example, describe specific apples.[1] It is the recipes that remain vague.

Nicolaes Maes, “Young Woman Peeling Apples,” ca. 1655, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913, http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436934. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Nicolaes Maes, “Young Woman Peeling Apples,” ca. 1655, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913, http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436934.
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Most early modern recipes similarly exclude mention of apple varieties. However, a very rare instance of a recipe identifying a specific varietal occurs in a recipe book in the New York Public Library, Whitney Cookery Collection MS 2. This recipe book belonging to Lady Anne Percy in the mid-seventeenth century contains instructions for a perfume which requires the “skinn of an apple called Camveza.”[2] It is notable that this recipe is for a non-edible luxury item containing expensive ingredients such as ambergris and civet. Camuesa was a Spanish apple varietal, and while it eventually came to refer more generally to pippins, the recipe seems to refer to the more luxurious and specific fruit. The majority of recipes do not specify a variety, though details are sometimes noted. In Mrs. Murrey’s Jelly of Pippins recipe in Lady Percy’s book, the reader is instructed to “take the best white pippins.”[3] Another recipe designates the best time of year to preserve green, or unripened, pippins is “about bartholme tide,” or late August. [4] Since pippins, like apples in general, ripen at varying points throughout the late summer and fall, the date in this recipe is probably specific to Mrs. Murrey’s source of pippins. Earlier recipes for apple fritters, tarts, and sauce (applemoys) appearing in manuscripts prior to 1500 exclude any mention of varietals, or even the adjectives which color early modern apple recipes.

Limited, if any, descriptions of apple varieties appear in other texts concerned with details of fruit like gardening treatises or herbals prior to the seventeenth century. Even the aforementioned Maison Rustique, a detailed manual for growing and grafting all sorts of fruits, mentions only a few varieties, like the globe apple, apple of paradise, and choke apple. However, a concern with growing consistent, identifiable, and enhanced fruit developed throughout Europe during the sixteenth century, so that by the early 1600s, elite gardens likely contained multiple varietals of fruits. This is reflected in contemporary texts: herbalists and botanists listed and described a wealth of varietals (like the sixty apple varieties in John Parkinson’s Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris) and the occasional recipe from an elite household with access to many varietals, like the Percys, actually specified types to incorporate in recipes.[5] Named varietals at this time seem to point toward social status, though the many other recipes which indicate descriptions of texture, firmness, or size, reflect a more general concern with taste.

This apple ambiguity is ultimately a good thing, both for a cook trying to replicate a historic recipe and me, in planning a small, historically-oriented home orchard. For one, the lack of specificity does encourage the modern cook, like the original cooks, to use the apples we have on hand and are pleasing to our taste. Second, while many apple varietals are available today, only a handful available in the United States can be traced back several centuries. One American heirloom fruit tree vendor boasts twelve varietals dated before 1700; this includes fruits originally cultivated in England, France, Switzerland, Denmark, two American colonies, and one more vaguely attributed to “Europe.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to recreate any kind of “authentic” apple experience. While I may not be able to recapture any specific ingredients from historic recipes, I am excited to cultivate some new-to-me varietals in my own garden and experience some flavors from many centuries ago.

In case anyone still has apples in storage from a fall orchard picking, or you just want to plan ahead for next year’s crop, I leave you with a recipe from Lady Morton’s 1693 recipe book. [6]

To Make a Fine Apple Pye

Take 19 or 20 large codlings or pippings. Coddle them very soft over a slow fire. When enough squeeze them through a cullender. Put to it six eggs, half the whites beaten and strain’d, 6 ounces of butter melted, half a pound of fine sugar, the juice & rind but small of 2 lemons, one ounce and half of banded orange peele, half an ounce of banded lemon peel. Cut small, mix all these together, & put in a little orange flower water to your tast. Bake it in puft paste in a dish.


[1] Christopher M. Woolgar, The Culture of Food in England 1200–1500 (Yale University Press, 2016), 106–7.

[2] New York, New York Public Library, Whitney MS 2, 85.

[3] Whitney MS 2, 23.

[4] Whitney MS 2, 39.

[5] John Parkinson, Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (London: Humfrey Lownes and Robert Young, 1629), 587–8.

[6] New York, New York Public Library, Whitney MS 4, 150.

Around the Table: Events

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Two weeks ago the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) hosted their fifth annual Transcribathon. I want to share my Transcribathon experience at the site hosted by the Newberry Library in Chicago, as I learned this event can be a successful community-building exercise in addition to a valuable day for teaching and learning about early modern recipes, manuscript culture, paleography, and digital humanities.

Participants listening to a presentation. Photo by Katie Dyson.

Despite being an avid reader of the EMROC blog and regular transcriber and researcher of recipe books, I had not participated in the Transcribathon prior to this year. Something always seemed to come up on the day, and I was admittedly nervous about using the transcription platform, Dromio (which, as I soon realized, was ridiculous! Dromio is quite user-friendly and intuitive, so don’t be afraid to try it!). This year, however, I was determined to participate in some way.

I figured that tying the Transcribathon into a course was a good first step to get involved, so I incorporated it into a class I was teaching on early modern English cookbooks in the Newberry’s Seminars Program. I also approached the Newberry to propose that they host a site. The Newberry was thrilled to host the Transcribathon, and staff from several centers and departments quickly coalesced to help organize the event including Public Engagement, Digital Initiatives, and the Center for Renaissance Studies.

The Newberry was open as a transcription site for four hours. Approximately sixty participants transcribed and many more people at the library wandered in and out throughout that time. Some participants worked for only thirty minutes, many more for one to two hours, and still others transcribed for over three hours! The library hosted a few speakers: I spoke about early modern English recipe books, Megan Heffernan provided a primer on early modern English manuscript culture and paleography, Jen Wolfe (a former Library Chat guest) highlighted the Newberry’s digital humanities initiatives, and Lia Markey talked about the new Italian Paleography site, a digital project of the Center for Renaissance Studies.

Transcribing and monitoring the Twitter feeds. Photo by Katie Dyson.

I am still overwhelmed by the incredible response to the Newberry’s Transcribathon. The participants had a wide range of backgrounds and interests. Instructors brought their classes, including one from Arrupe College. Several DePaul University undergraduates were also present, per their instructor’s suggestion. Many Chicago residents simply interested in recipes decided to try their hands at transcribing. I loved answering questions from many of these individuals; they wanted to know everything about paleography, ingredients, and coding! Scholars and graduate students were also on hand; they made exciting observations in the recipes, like shifting from English to French when describing reproductive unmentionables and a panoply of odd ingredients. In many instances, participants with diverse backgrounds shared tables while working, and I couldn’t help but notice a lot of conversation about their transcription experiences.

Participants and visitors seemed particularly conversational about one aspect of the event: the refreshments table. To celebrate English culinary recipes from the period, I baked seven different cake and biscuit recipes prepared from early modern recipes.

Early modern recipes prepared by Sarah Kernan. Photo by Megan Heffernan.

Most people who sampled the food wanted to talk about it, either with me or one another. The flavors (like rosewater, orange, and caraway) seemed to make early modern England a little more interesting for the students in attendance, while other participants were far more interested in the recipe sources. Suzanne Karr Schmidt, the George Amos Poole III Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Newberry, even made a surprising connection between the Italian Crusts and a seventeenth-century sonnet series, Enigmes Joyeuses pour les Bons Esprits. It turns out that historic foods can sustain transcribers, create conversation, and forge some curious ties.

After experiencing such a great event and intellectual exercise, I want to encourage other readers to try organizing similar Transcribathon sites at your local libraries and schools in the future. I can’t emphasize enough how exciting it was to meet others who wanted to engage with early modern recipes and begin building that community in Chicago. Additionally, the event was clearly a useful teaching tool for instructors in several disciplines. On the institutional side, I am hopeful the Transcribathon inspired some participants to get involved in other initiatives (digital and otherwise) at the Newberry; several people were eager to learn more about projects specific to the library.

So, readers, I hope to see you at next year’s Transcribathon, whether you are participating from the comfort of your own home or organizing a site for your local recipes community!

Thanks to everyone at the Newberry Library who was a part of the Transcribathon planning, especially Katie Dyson, Lia Markey, Karen Christianson, Alex Teller, Jen Wolfe, Rebecca Fall, Christopher Fletcher, and Elisa Jones! You can follow the Newberry on Twitter @NewberryLibrary and Facebook @NewberryLibrary. If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: Celebrating Our Contributors

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Before the new academic year begins, the Recipes Project would like to celebrate the many accomplishments of our contributors from the past year! Our community has been busy publishing, securing new jobs and fellowships, enjoying promotions, and more. We heartily congratulate all of you for your successes; the breadth of your interests and experiences make the Recipes Project an exciting and enriching endeavor!

We also welcome contributors to share your news with the Recipes Project community throughout the entire year on Twitter or Facebook!

Katherine Allen works as an administrator at the University of Oxford and runs a blog about sustainability, baking, and low waste living (raspberrythriller.wordpress.com). Popular posts include Minimalism – Helpful or Detrimental to Sustainabile Living? and Zero Waste Toiletries, and she has also written collaborative posts with the Recipes Project such as Innovative Ingredients or Old Remedies?.

Miranda Brown published “Mr. Song’s Cheeses: Southern China, 1368-1644” in Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies 19, no. 2 (2019). The article reconstructs a long forgotten cheesemaking tradition in South China. It represents the first installment of a book-length project on the history of dairy in China.

Anny Gaul defended her dissertation, “Kitchen Histories in Modern North Africa,” at Georgetown University in Washington DC in May 2019. She will be starting a postdoctoral fellowship in Culture, History, and Translation this fall at Tufts University in Boston.

Marieke Hendriksen will soon begin a new position as researcher at the Humanities Cluster of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam. She recently published two articles: “Animal Bodies Between Wonder and Natural History: Taxidermy in the Cabinet and Menagerie of Stadholder Willem V (1748-1806)” in the Journal of Social History 52, no. 4 (2019); and “Casting Life, Casting Death: Connections Between Early Modern Anatomical Corrosive Preparations and Artistic Materials and Techniques” in Notes and Records. The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science (published online 3 April 2019).

Elaine Leong received the History of Science Society’s Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize for her book, Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England (University of Chicago Press, 2018). She also co-edited Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019) with Carla Bittel and Christine von Oertzen.

Jennifer Munroe has recently published several articles. With Rebecca Laroche, she published “Pest Control” in Lesser Living Creatures: Insect Life in the Renaissance, edited by Joseph Campana and Keith Botelho (Penn State University Press, forthcoming). Also with Rebecca Laroche, she published “Teaching Environmental Justice and Early Modern Texts: The ‘Co’ in Collaboration” in Teaching Social Justice Through Shakespeare, edited by Wendy Beth Hyman and Hillary Eklund (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming). Jennifer also published “Women and Gardens” as part of the “30 Years, 30 Ideas” Series in Women Writers in Context and “Digital Studies at the Margins: Manuscript Sources and Inclusivity.” in Shakespeare Newsletter 67, no. 2 (2018).

Melissa Reynolds completed her PhD in history at Rutgers University this year. She has been named a Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in Humanities and a Lecturer in History at Princeton University. Melissa also recently published “‘Here is a Good Boke to Lerne’: Practical Books, the Coming of the Press, and the Search for Knowledge, ca. 1400–1560” in the Journal of British Studies 58, no. 2 (April 2019).

Anne Stobart, a coordinator of the Herbal History Research Network (HHRN), is celebrating the organization’s tenth anniversary this fall. Since 2009, the HHRN has organized seminars and study days on topics ranging from botanical garden history to distillation of herbal medicines and more. Starting in 2017, the HHRN set up a regular online blog for researchers to share best practice in their use of original herbal resources such as medical texts and recipes.

Molly Taylor-Poleskey published “A Baker, the Great Elector and Prussian Statebuilding: Territorial Integration in the Everyday” in German History (February 2019). She also interviewed Jodi Campbell about her new book for New Books in History PodcastAt the First Table: Food and Social Identity in Early Modern Spain (29 January 2019). Molly also contributed a book chapter, “When the Tomato was Purely Ornamental: Considering New World Foods in Seventeenth-Century Berlin” in Transatlantic Trade and Global Cultural Transfers, edited by Martina Kaller and Frank Jacob (Routledge, 2019).

Amy Tigner recently published Literature and Food Studies, co-authored with Allison Carruth (Routledge, 2018). She also published “Trans-border Kitchens: Iberian Recipes in Seventeenth-Century English Manuscripts” in a special issue on “Food Distribution” edited by Vicki Howard and Jon Stobart in the History of Retailing and Consumption 5.1 (2019).

Laurence Totelin was promoted to Reader in Ancient History at Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion.

The Early Modern Recipe Online Collective Steering Committee (and Recipes Project contributors) co-authored a recent article. Rebecca Laroche, Elaine Leong, Jennifer Munroe, Hillary Nunn, Lisa Smith, and Amy Tigner authored “Becoming Visible: Recipes in the Making” in Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal 13, no. 1 (2018).

If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.