Tag Archives: Teaching

Teaching Chocolate from the Bean to Drink

By Amy L. Tigner

Making chocolate from bean to bar has become fashionable both in cottage industries, such as the delightful husband and wife shop, El Buen Cacaco, in Idyllwild, California that creates a wickedly hot Ghost Chocolate Bar made with bhut jolokia (aka ghost chili). In 2016, Carol Wiley listed 183 bean to bar chocolatiers on her website, but I would imagine there are even more artisanal chocolate businesses popping up every day.

Making chocolate in the classroom from “bean to drink” also seems to be gaining traction, as least in the early modern recipe world. Amanda Herbert posted her experiments with “teaching with chocolate tasting” which you can read here and John Kuhn and Marissa Nicosia talk about theirs here.

For my own part, I have been interested for several years in the historical aspects of chocolate as it made its way across the Atlantic, and in earlier blog posts, I have written about Hannah Woolley’s mid-seventeenth-century chocolate recipes in her printed cookbooks here and here . The most interesting recipe that I have come across is in the cookbook manuscript by Lady Ann Fanshawe (Wellcome MS 7113), who lived in Madrid in the 1660s as her husband was the English Ambassador to Spain. The recipe, dated 1665, is especially intriguing first because Fanshawe attached a drawing of a “chocelary potte” and a whisk or molinillo and secondly because it is entirely scratched out with large loops. One of my graduate students did quite a bit of transcription magic and was able to recover some of the recipe underneath and ever since that point, I had wanted to try to make the recipe.

Last fall I had the opportunity when I was teaching a senior seminar and graduate seminar on “Early Modern Women’s Writing and Literary Practice.” The class was designed to incorporate as many material practices as possible as we were transcribing women’s letters and recipes from the seventeenth century. Early in the semester we had made ink, as I describe in this blog, but I really wanted to try to make chocolate from the bean, as Fanshawe had done. But because there were still some lacunae in the Fanshawe recipe I thought I had better consult one of her contemporaries, Penelope Jepson, who also has a chocolate recipe in her manuscript cookbook (Folger V.a. 396).

To make chocolato

Take a pound of the cacao nuts finely beaten or searsed, half a pound of hard sugar finely beaten or searsed, an ounce of cynamon, half an ounce of nutmeg, half an ounce aniseede, half a dram of long pepper, as much of Jamaica pepper. Beat and searse all those spices, then put in two stickes of vanillas beaten and searsed (two drachms of Achiote beaten and searsed) with ambergrise as you like to taste. When all those are pounded and well mixt, roast them in an earthen pan till they are as hot as you can endure with finger in it. Keep it well stirred that it burn not then put it into a mortar and beat it very fast till it begin to oile, so as it will work like paste, then make into paste.

As class time was limited, I did most of the preparation beforehand and was struck by how much labor was involved, especially peeling away the outer shell of the cacao after it is roasted. About 2 months in advance, I researched fair trade beans and bought them from Santa Barbara Chocolate.  Jepson’s recipe has quite a few spices, most of which are familiar, except perhaps the achiote and the ambergris. I was able to locate the achiote in a Fiesta Supermercado, which are fairly common in Texas, but I left out the ambergris, which is incredible expensive, since it is used in perfume, and a little bit gross, as it is a secretion from the bile duct of sperm whales. I also bought a traditional Mexican molinillo and chocolate pot, which looked quite amazingly similar to Ann Fanshawe’s drawing.

To facilitate easy recipe assembly, I pre-ground all the spices and the chocolate separately (and I cheated by using a spice grinder). On the day of the class, students combined the various ingredients to make the chocolate mix, and then one student rolled the molinillo in the ceramic chocolate between their hands as another student poured in boiling water.

Though Fanshawe’s recipe specifies china cups, students brought their favorite coffee mug from which to drink their chocolate. Students were surprised by the grainy texture, the bitter taste, and its wateriness, but they tended to like the spicy flavor (perhaps because we are in Texas and Mexican spices are ubiquitous here). We discussed how industrialization and global trade has influenced and changed our taste in the last 400 years. In the words of one student, “I really enjoyed the smell of the cocoa beans and the drink itself, but it was difficult to believe that there was half a pound of sugar in it. Like we mentioned in class, people really like sugar.”

Amy L. Tigner teaches in the English Department at the University of Texas, Arlington.

Vicarious of Dishes: Teaching the Question of the Recipe

One peach.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A single peach. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft

Teaching food history via historical recipes initially flummoxed me. Of course I understood some of the cultural-historical lessons they can help us learn: the ways in which historical actors, at a particular point in time, communicated instructions for the preparation of dishes; the units of measurement those actors used; the degree to which a recipe’s author presumes the reader’s knowledge of basic techniques; whether a specific ingredient, such as cardamom, was judged to be readily available or rare; information about which social classes ate which foods. These are all valuable, and perhaps sufficient for teaching a certain kind of food history and for satisfying the specific kind of factual curiosity that often brings students into food history classes. I was nevertheless flummoxed because I still did not understand what a recipe is, and because I suspected that there were very basic – if theoretical – questions about food practice that historical recipes could open up if properly introduced to students. I wanted to find ways of encouraging my students to ask those questions rather than remaining satisfied with the sets of facts that recipes can divulge: moreover, I wanted my students to do more than merely move between two affective responses that I think historical recipes can produce in us: “relating” to the cooks and eaters of the past, and being “estranged” from them because of the alien-ness of their foodways. Perhaps most importantly, I wanted my students to escape the gravity-well of the concept of the “authentic” recipe.

In a recent essay, philosopher Andrea Borghini asks what recipes are, and ultimately argues that we take what he calls a “constructivist” view of the recipe, in which what counts as a recipe is not absolute – for it is very difficult to determine the original or final version of a given recipe – but, rather, performative: we agree with the chef that this should be called a dumpling, but not that, or we do not agree. In other words recipes are the products of a set of social conventions, often the result of myriad past chains of agreement or disagreement about how we do things in the kitchen. Very helpfully, Borghini points out that recipes only seem to have an independent existence, in the form of their textual transmission in cookbooks or on the Internet. In fact they do not exist independently, but are “vicarious of dishes,” where dishes are, simply put, food that has somehow been prepared in a fashion that we might consider worthy of a recipe. Borghini’s essay furthermore proposes a recursive relationship between cooking and recipes: recipes enable us to cook in many cases, but cooking is also (potentially) the process of producing recipes by means of producing dishes.

Obviously what counts as a “dish” is its own question, and one can approach it philosophically, or cultural-historically, or anthropologically, or by all three paths at once – indeed, these kinds of food history questions produce interdisciplinarity like stonefruit produces a dusty white bloom. Reading Borghini, I realized that I had thought similarly when I sat down to develop a question I now ask food history students: what makes a dish “worthy” of a recipe? What is the minimum set of operations we must perform upon a set of ingredients before we produce a dish worthy of (or, that necessitates) a recipe? This exercise was, admittedly, born out of my irritation with one item on the menu at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, namely that the restaurant sometimes offers, when it is seasonally appropriate, to serve us a peach for dessert, usually from Frog Hollow Farms, to which I responded to anyone who would put up with me, “I don’t want to pay $12 (or whatever it was) for Alice Waters’ minions to serve me a f$ck^ng peach.” My grumpiness proved productive, in that it led me to wonder about the ways in which a particular culture thinks about the complexity of dishes, and the level of complexity at which a recipe becomes welcome; in a different vein, I thought about this while perusing some of the Ottolenghi cookbooks, which are beautiful objects and now about as ubiquitous as the Silver Palette cookbooks used to be in the ‘90s. However, Ottolenghi recipes reflect a cuisine that is less technique-oriented than some; said recipes are more like instructions about which ingredients to seek out in (often) “ethnic” supermarkets and then how to assemble them together. In contrast, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking deals in an entirely different level of culinary education. I am not proposing a hierarchy of good and bad cookbooks here, in which the criterion for quality is technical difficulty (i.e., classic French sauces; mille-feuille pastry dough); I am simply pointing out that what counts as a recipe, in each case, is different. I developed my “what is a recipe” question, which I sometimes use with my students, in order to direct them to the juncture of philosophy and cultural history where – at least for me – recipes become interesting.

Andrea Borghini, “What is a Recipe?” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 2015.

Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft lives in Oakland, and currently works at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he writes about laboratory-grown meat and the futures of food. A native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, he studied at Swarthmore College and did his graduate work in European intellectual history at Berkeley. In addition to his scholarly work, he regularly writes on contemporary food culture. His book Thinking in Public: Strauss, Levinas, Arendt will be out from Penn in January 2016. He is @benwurgaft on Twitter.

What Recipes Can Teach Us About Reading

Frances Catchmay, Recipe Book (c. 1625), MS184A/65, Wellcome Library. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London. The digital image of this item is copyrighted work made available under Creative Commons (by-nc 2.0 UK: England & Wales).
Frances Catchmay, Recipe Book (c. 1625), MS184A/65, Wellcome Library. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London. The digital image of this item is copyrighted work made available under Creative Commons (by-nc 2.0 UK: England & Wales).

By Jennifer Munroe

When I teach recipes, I often focus on what they might tell us about women’s domestic work, questions of amateur versus professional labor, and the historical context of early modern science. But recipes have much to teach us about the practice of reading as well. This summer, Rebecca Laroche and I co-lead a workshop at the Attending to Early Modern Women Conference where just such a question emerged.  Attending to Early Modern Women is a unique academic meeting: rather than traditional panels, the conference hosts a series of 90-minute workshops which facilitate active participation and focused discussion.  Workshop organizers circulate readings, questions, and other materials in advance, and then on the day of the conference, they frame them and open up discussion.

Conference Website, Attending to Early Modern Women 2015. http://www4.uwm.edu/letsci/conferences/atw2015/index.cfm Accessed August 2015.
Conference Website, Attending to Early Modern Women 2015. http://www4.uwm.edu/letsci/conferences/atw2015/index.cfm Accessed August 2015.

We divided our participants into small groups (4 or 5 people each) and had them transcribe a recipe. Our directions were deceptively simple: after they transcribed the recipe, they were to consider what they think they know about it as well as what questions it raised for them.

"Teaching Early Modern Recipes in the Digital Age," Program for Attending to Early Modern Women 2015. http://www4.uwm.edu/letsci/conferences/atw2015/pdf/30.Early-Modern-Recipes.pdf Accessed August 2015.
“Teaching Early Modern Recipes in the Digital Age,” Program for Attending to Early Modern Women 2015. http://www4.uwm.edu/letsci/conferences/atw2015/pdf/30.Early-Modern-Recipes.pdf Accessed August 2015.

When we discussed their findings, one of the groups commented that they were surprised how recipes work against our typical linear narrative reading practice. This comment has left me pondering. Such comment caused me to reconsider how I might use recipes not only in classes with early modern concerns but courses that query the nature of texts and textuality more broadly. This fall, I will teach a graduate seminar that introduces students to the discipline of English—literary theory, textuality, authorship, etc. What if, I’ve been thinking, I have these students think about how recipes make us read differently, how they make us rethink how texts work?

A very good aproved medicine for soore eyes

Take in the month of May milke from the cowe before it be cowlde

& put it into a still & distill it when you have the water sett it

in the sonne x: or xij dayes then put to every pinte of water

as much camphire as a walnutt, if there be any heate in the

eyes use it cowlde, if not use it blood warme


Take this recipe I cite above, from Lady Frances Catchmay (d. 1629), “A booke of medicens” (Wellcome ms. 184a). What this recipe does not include is perhaps as interesting as that which it does. We know that one should collect milk in a specific month, May, warm milk (it is fresh); we know that once the milk is distilled, one should combine what remains with a walnut-sized portion of Camphire (probably camphor); and we know that the temperature of the eyes matters: if a patient has cold eyes, the application will be different than if s/he has warm eyes. But as each progressive step is dependent on what precedes it, the practice of creating this recipe, let alone reading it, is predicated on a folding back onto itself of information and action. How “cowlde” would be the right temperature? How much distilling is required to “have the water sett”? How would one know if ten or twelve days is the correct number to leave the distilled liquid in the sun? While walnuts have a generally consistent size one to another, how can one be sure to use the right walnut as sizing agent for the camphor? And what if the eyes are somewhere in-between warm and cold? How to know whether to apply the remedy on the colder side or “blood warme”?

This recipe (and I would say most other recipes) permits us to proceed in a linear way, but to understand it fully, we must move back and forth through it multiple times, ultimately coming to interpretation rather than answer. And isn’t this how texts work, really? We think we know, and we want the teleology of beginning-to-end movement, but to experience a text fully necessitates that we navigate it in messy ways, negating the definitive qualities of what we think are “page” or “book.” Reading is a practice, and the practice of (and articulated by) recipes-as-texts can help us reorient ourselves to other texts with which we are more familiar—literary or practical. Or so I hope to convince my students this fall.


Spicing up the Victorians: Teaching Mrs. Beeton’s Recipe for Mango Chutney

Isabella Beeton Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (London. S.O. Beeton, 1861).  New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 5, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/8ed44a87-9220-cb3c-e040-e00a18060cbd
Isabella Beeton Beeton’s Book of Household Management (London. S.O. Beeton, 1861). New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 5, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/8ed44a87-9220-cb3c-e040-e00a18060cbd

By Erika Rappaport

I love to teach with Isabella Beeton. Her biography and her opus, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) confound several popular stereotypes about gender, middle-class Victorians and British foodways. The book is important for studying the development of the modern cookbook and recipe and reveals the international context that produced national cuisines in the nineteenth century. My students at University of California often imagine that “British cuisine” is an oxymoron. Except for a good cup of tea, the popular conception of British food is that of overcooked, bland vegetables and simple roasted meats. One look at Household Management dispels all such myths.

I first introduce students to the book itself. At over 1,000 pages, it is huge. I bring in an old edition available in my university library, but it is now available in full via Project Guttenberg. There are also useful background essays for students and instructors on the British Library website and via BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History. I first ask students to examine how the recipes are written, arranged, to look at what ingredients and tools are used, and finally what is in the book beyond the recipes. They notice right away, for example, that the first line compares the Mistress of the house “with the Commander of an Army” (7). We talk about what or who the housewife is “fighting;” who her soldiers might have been, and why Mrs. Beeton used a masculine metaphor while addressing a largely female audience. This opens a discussion of the complicated nature of the mistress-servant relationship, particularly surrounding foodwork, and this leads to a broader discussion of domesticity, gender and class identity.

I then ask students to make a list of adjectives they would use to describe Mrs. Beeton. They invariably come up with terms like old, solid, stocky, severe and tell me she must have been an aging Victorian cook, likely from a large aristocratic home (such as that they have seen in television series such as Downtown Abbey). They are surprised to find that Mrs. Beeton was in her mid-twenties when she wrote Household Management and that she was a fashionable and modern (by the standards of the day) woman married to a very successful journalist. Among other important texts, Samuel Beeton brought out the first English edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He published mass-market magazines for children; and, with his wife he published the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (started in 1852), one of the first inexpensive women’s magazines for the growing middle-class female market. We talk then about the standardization and commercialization of culinary literature.

I assign several recipes from Mrs. Beeton, but in my upper division, food and world history course I especially like to use the recipe for “Mango Chetney” (124). The recipe, Mrs. Beeton tells us, “was given by a native to an English lady, who had long been resident in India, and who, since her return to her native country, has become quite celebrated amongst her friends for the excellence of this Eastern relish (124).” This passage opens up a discussion about race, gender, and how food knowledge travelled between metropole and colony. We discuss how “Eastern” tastes were surprisingly acknowledged, absorbed, shared and celebrated by middle-class women just a few years after the “Indian Mutiny.” At the same time Mrs. Beeton published her guide, the same middle class readers were being inundated with frightening tales of the dangers of the East, particularly for white women. This leads students to contemplate the complex but everyday nature of the Empire and the way that cooking and dietary might have been considered a way that women in particular participated in the colonial project.

We then look at the ingredients. Mrs. Beeton is very precise, with the ingredient list right at the top: 1 ½ lbs. of moist sugar, 3/4 lb. of salt, ¼ lb. of garlic, ¼ lb. of onions, ¾ lb. of powdered ginger, ¼ lb. of dried chilies, ¾ lb. of mustard-seed, ¾ lb. of stoned raisins, 2 bottles of best vinegar, 30 large unripe sour apples. Students are struck by the ample amount of onions, garlic, ginger, mustard and chilies, salt, and sugar. We think about the supposed British distaste for spices in the modern period and talk about how spices might be used differently (or similarly) than in the Middle Ages. It is about this time that someone notices that “Mango Chetney” has apples not mangoes, and this leads to a discussion about adaptation, availability, trade, grocery shopping and authenticity.

We next turn to the “mode” of cooking, which involves a lot of pounding and drying of the spices, peeling, coring and chopping, and simmering everything until it is thoroughly blended. The concoction is then stored in bottles, corked and tied with a “wet bladder.” Finally, Mrs. Beeton tells us that “this chetney is very superior to any which can be bought, and one trial will prove it to be delicious” (124). Students are struck by the apparent contradiction between the use of the wet bladder and the large amount of work involved, which they see as old fashioned, and the fact that clearly there are at least several types of chetney for sale. Mrs. Beeton is thus advising the use of homemade as superior to store bought. I ask students whether they think this is a modern recipe, or a rejection of “modernity,” or both. This leads to a discussion of what precisely modernity might mean.

Finally, just when students start rethinking the nature of British cooking, Mrs. Beeton starts talking about “Garlic.” Next to the recipe she writes a brief history, but begins: “the smell of the plant is generally considered offensive and it is the most acrimonious in its taste of the whole of the alliaceous tribe” (124). We then learn that garlic was introduced into England from the Mediterranean in 1548, and was “in greater repute with our ancestors than it is with our selves, although it is still used as a seasoning herb. On the continent, especially it Italy, it is much used, and the French consider it an essential in many dishes” (124). Here we see how a national “British” cuisine emerged through the process of dissociation and absorption with continental Europe and the Empire. Invariably someone wants to start researching the history of garlic, Victorian chutney brands, and recipes for curry and Indian food in Britain.[i]

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861: Abridged edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 124. Photo courtesy of Erika Rappaport.
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861: Abridged edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 124. Photo courtesy of Erika Rappaport.

[i] Some helpful books on this include, Lizzie Collingham, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Anita Mannur, Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010) and Krishnedu Ray and Tulasi Srinivas, ed. Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food and South Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).

Erika Rappaport is an Associate Professor in the History Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has published, Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London’s West End (Princeton UP, 2000) and many articles on gender, consumption and middle-class culture in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. She is on the editorial board of Gastronomica and an associate editor of the Journal of British Studies. She recently co-edited Consuming Behaviours: Identity, Politics and Pleasure in Twentieth-Century Britain (Bloomsbury 2015) and is completing a major book on the history of tea that explores the connections between imperialism, consumerism, foodways and globalization from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries. The book is tentatively titled, An Acquired Taste: Tea in the Age of Empire (Princeton, forthcoming).