Around the Table: Celebrating Our Contributors

By Sarah Peters Kernan

As the new academic year begins, the Recipes Project would like to celebrate the accomplishments of our contributors from this most unusual past year. Our community has been busy completing PhDs, publishing, securing new fellowships, enjoying promotions, and more. We heartily congratulate all of you for your successes! We also wish to congratulate and encourage the many contributors who are teaching, researching, and writing in extraordinary circumstances, often at home while negotiating the schedules and needs of several others in the household. This, too, is noble work worthy of much acknowledgement and praise. We invite contributors to share your news anytime with the Recipes Project community on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Agnese Benzonelli completed a PhD in Archaeological science at the UCL Institute of Archaeology in February 2020. Her thesis, “Technological traditions and trajectories in the production of black bronze alloys,” was competed under the supervision of Ian Freestone and Marcos Martinón-Torres. Agnese continues to work at the same institution as Technician in Archaeomaterials Preparation and Analysis, a position she has held since 2015.

Clare Gordon Bettencourt has served as Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Asian Studies since summer 2019 while continuing her role as a Social Media Editor for the Recipes Project. She co-authored an article with Yong Chen on the effects of COVID-19 on dining in the U.S. and China (forthcoming in the Journal of Asian Studies). Clare also recently completed drafts of all her dissertation chapters.

Claire Burridge recently completed her PhD, “An interdisciplinary investigation into Carolingian medical knowledge and practice,” at the University of Cambridge. She began a postdoctoral fellowship at the British School at Rome (BSR) in 2019 on the project “The Movement of Early Medieval Medical Knowledge: Exchange in the Italian Peninsula.” Although the fellowship has been temporarily paused due to the pandemic, Claire will be returning to the BSR this fall to complete it. She was also recently awarded a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship for my project “Crossroads: The Evolution of Early Medieval Medicine in Global & Local Contexts” at the University of Sheffield. She will begin in spring 2021 after completing her time in Rome. Finally, Claire published her first article this year: “Incense in medicine: An early medieval perspective,” Early Medieval Europe 28, no. 2 (May 2020): 219–255.

Nadja Durbach published a book, Many Mouths: The Politics of Food in Britain From the Workhouse to the Welfare State (Cambridge University Press, 2020). She also published several articles: “Keeping Kosher in the Camp: Feeding Interned British Jews During the First World War,” Immigrants & Minorities, (published online August 2020); “Dead or Alive?: Stillbirth Registration, Premature Babies, and the Definition of Life in England and Wales, 1836-1960,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 94(1) 2020; “Atypical Bodies: The Cultural Work of the Victorian Freak Show,” in Joyce Huff and Martha Stoddard Holmes (eds.), A Cultural History of Disability in the Long Nineteenth Century (Bloomsbury Press, 2020); “Comforts, Clubs, and the Casino: Food and the Perpetuation of the British Class System in First World War Civilian Internment Camps,” Journal of Social History, 52(3) (2019).

Sietske Fransen started a research group at the Bibliotheca Hertziana-Max Planck Institute for Art History in Rome in 2019. The group is on “Visualizing Science in Media Revolutions.”

Thijs Hagendijk successfully defended his dissertation in 2020. “Reworking Recipes. Reading and Writing Practical Texts in the Early Modern Arts” is about reading and writing practices in the early modern arts, with a specific focus on text usage in historical glassmaking, painting, and metalworking. He also co-authored an article with Márcia Vilarigues and Sven Dupré: “Materials, Furnaces, and Texts. How to Write about Making Glass Colours in the Seventeenth Century,” Ambix 67 (forthcoming fall 2020). Thijs is a lecturer at Utrecht University and member of the ERC-funded ARTECHNE project “Technique in the Arts: Concepts, Practices, Expertise, 1500–1950.”

Sarah Peters Kernan is a 2020–2021 Scholar-in-Residence at the Newberry Library. She wrote “Recent Trends in Food History Research in the United States: 2017–2020,” Food & History 18:1–2 (forthcoming 2020). Sarah has also been co-organizing a virtual conference on Food and the Book: 1300–1800 with David Goldstein and Allen Grieco to take place in October 2020. The conference is co-sponsored by the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library and the Folger Institute’s collaborative research project, Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Diana Luft published Medieval Welsh Medical Texts Volume 1: The Recipes (University of Wales Press, 2020). The book is an edition and translation of the Welsh-language medical recipe collections in four late fourteenth-century manuscripts, the earliest medical texts to appear in the language. The research work for the book was funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship which Diana held from 2015–2019. The book is available in an open access format, funded by the Wellcome Trust, and can also be purchased.

Eveline Szarka received her PhD in July 2020 from the University of Zurich. In her dissertation, she analyzed the impact of the Swiss Protestant Reformation on the belief in ghosts and spirits from 1570–1730. In 2020, she was granted a scholarship from the Swiss National Science Foundation to visit Harvard University and University College London from 2021–2022 as a postdoctoral fellow. Her current project focuses on handbooks about magic tricks and life hacks as related to the history of knowledge and science (1650–1850).

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

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.