Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

This holiday season, many museums internationally are highlighting the histories of food, medicine, and science in special exhibitions. If your travel plans take you to any of the cities below in December or January, consider stopping by an exhibit. Be sure to check the websites for full exhibit descriptions, as well as visitor information such as hours, fees, and directions. We also welcome readers to share your trips to any museums and exhibits of interest to the Recipes Project community on Twitter or Facebook!

What Why How We Eat

Anchorage Museum (Anchorage, AK, USA)

Through 12 January 2020

What Why How We Eat tells the changing story of food culture in Alaska—from the subsistence whale hunt in Point Hope to the Halal market in Anchorage—through filmed interviews, art installations, utensils, tools, recipes and food. The exhibition highlights multiple cultures and food traditions within Alaska communities, providing an interactive space for learning about how food is produced, preserved and shared within Alaska’s diverse communities in both rural and urban areas. Food-oriented public programming and a book of food essays with companion cookbook of Alaskana recipes for dishes commonly made in Alaska’s kitchens are among the ways the What Why How We Eat project connects Alaska food culture with other cultures around the world.

The Art of Healing: Australian Indigenous Bush Medicine (International Tour)

The Berlin Museum of Medical History, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin (Berlin, Germany)

Through 2 February 2020

The Art of Healing: Australian Indigenous Bush Medicine, an exhibition developed by the Melbourne Medical History Museum, is on its last stop on an international tour after first on display in 2018-2019. Prints and paintings by Indigenous Australian artists are juxtaposed with historic specimens from the Berlin Museum of Medical History’s permanent display. The contemporary works of art depict healing practices and medicines from the artists’ own Indigenous communities and cultures. Through their depictions of medicinal flora, the artists celebrate a long tradition of healing which predates Western medicine by tens of thousands of years. This exhibition was curated by Jacqueline Healy, University of Melbourne Medical History Museum and Henry Forman Atkinson Dental Museum Senior Curator.

Food Fit for Kings County: The Culinary History of Brooklyn

Brooklyn Public Library (Brooklyn, NY, USA)

Through 3 January 2020

This exhibition at the Brooklyn Public Library examines the borough’s social and cultural history through food and drink. The exhibition displays a variety of sources, including menus, images, books, and other material objects. Visitors can see a range of cultures, cuisines, and exhibited objects across Brooklyn’s history, including 1896 letterhead from the India Wharf Brewing Company, images from picket lines at Ebinger’s Bakery in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, and menus displaying the juxtaposition of immigrant food cultures, such as one advertising “Sheesh Kabab” alongside spaghetti and meatballs. For a preview of Food Fit for Kings County, be sure to visit the exhibit’s website before your visit.

Resetting the Table: Food and Our Changing Tastes

Peabody Museum of Archeology & Ethnography at Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, USA)

Through 28 November 2021

The Peabody Museum’s new exhibition, Resetting the Table, explores food choices and eating habits in the United States, including the sometimes hidden but always important ways in which our tables are shaped by cultural, historical, political, and technological influences. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 1910 dinner for Harvard freshmen featuring Cotuit Cocktail, beef, imported champagne, an elaborate Eastern European cake called “Mocca Tree,” and cigarettes. Visitors not only encounter this meal set on a great oak dining table, but also explore the historical and cultural roots of each set of foods on the menu, and the privileged context of their presentation. The exhibition objects, culled from nine institutions, reveal the long history of many iconic American foods, across multiple cultures and thousands of years. These objects will include prehistoric oyster shells, turkey bones, Budweiser cans excavated from Harvard Yard, and an intricately fashioned nineteenth-century eel pot from New England. Stunning Central American tools and ceramics will signal the New World origins of corn and chocolate. The foodstuffs introduced to North America from other parts of the world include sugar, coffee, rice, and grape wine. Visitors also encounter a life-sized diorama of an early twentieth-century kitchen showcasing the preparation of foods before it is consumed and introduces objects of food preparation from around the world. This exhibition was guest curated by Joyce Chaplin, Harvard University James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History.

Brewing Up Chicago: How Beer Transformed a City

Exhibition organized by the Chicago Brewseum, hosted by the Field Museum (Chicago, IL, USA)

Through 5 July 2020

Brewing Up Chicago traces the growth of the city in the nineteenth century through the lens of its brewing industry and the immigrant community who built it. The German-American community in Chicago, initially regarded as ethnic outsiders, gradually came to be viewed as respected citizens, due in no small part to their contributions in brewing. The exhibition consists of four sections: The Raw Ingredients (1833-1850); The Mash (1851-1870); Fermentation (1871-1885); and Maturation (1885-1893). Each section details Chicago’s development, the German-American brewers’ experiences, and the stages of the brewing process. Brewing Up Chicago illustrates how beer is more than just a beverage; it is a strong cultural force capable of building community and making change.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Vertumnus, a portrait depicting Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor painted as Vertumnus, the Roman God of the seasons, c. 1590-1. Skokloster Castle, Sweden. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Revisiting Arcimboldo

La Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie (Lyon, France)

Through 31 May 2020

This immersive visual and auditory experience celebrates the paintings of the Italian Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. His portraits play a visual game with the viewer, merging food and portraiture. This exhibition features Arcimboldo’s works revisited by contemporary artists in a surreal and surprising experience. Revisiting Arcimboldo is displayed in the newly-opened La Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie in Lyon. This space, housed in the restored Grand Hôtel-Dieu, a former hospital, is devoted to the theme of gastronomy at the crossroads of food and health. The space houses permanent exhibitions on the history of Lyon’s gastronomy, a digital space presenting the gastronomic meal of the French, terroirs and the making of meals, temporary exhibitions, workshops, conferences, and more.

Making Marvels: Science & Splendor at the Courts of Europe

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, USA)

Through 1 March 2020

Joachim Friess, “Automaton in the Form of Diana and the Stag,” ca. 1620, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In early modern Europe, lavish spending, displays of precious metals, and the possession of artistic, scientific, and technological innovations conveyed power and status. These innovations were often highlighted in elaborate court entertainments. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition, Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe explores the complex ways in which the objects collected and displayed by early modern European monarchs expressed these rulers’ ability to govern. The exhibition features approximately 170 objects, including clocks, automata, furniture, scientific instruments, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, print media, and more, from The Met collection and over fifty lenders. Some of the objects on display include the largest flawless natural green diamond in the world (weighing 41 carats and in its original 18th-century setting), the alchemistic table bell of Emperor Rudolf II, and a fountain bearing the coat of arms of the Madruzzo family of Trento to be used to spurt wine or water during court festivities. The exhibition will be divided into four sections dedicated to the main object types featured in these displays: precious metalwork, Kunstkammer objects, princely tools, and self-moving clockworks or automata. The exhibition site includes links to videos showing the movement and functionality of several Making Marvels objects. Making Marvels is organized by Wolfram Koeppe, the Marina Kellen French Curator in The Met’s Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts

A Delight for the Senses: The Still Life

Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, PA, USA)

Through 15 March 2020

Albert Francis King, Late Night Snack, ca. 1900, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of the R. K. Mellon Family Foundation

Emerging in the seventeenth century in the Netherlands, the still life genre documented the objects and symbols of wealth and status among the flourishing merchant class. This exhibition, A Delight for the Senses: The Still Life, celebrates this genre, exploring nearly 250 years of the tradition from the seventeenth century to America’s Gilded Age. Featuring items as diverse as foods, flowers, animals, scientific instruments, books, and more, the arrangements were not only aesthetically pleasing, but also symbolic of the moral, religious, and social structures of the time. The exhibition features the museum’s first seventeenth-century still life painting, a recent bequest from the late Drue Heinz, as well as loans from the Detroit Institute of Arts and several local collectors. A Delight for the Senses is curated by Akemi May, Assistant Curator, Fine Arts, Carnegie Museum of Art.

If you’d like to feature a museum exhibition or collection on the Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Museums have increasingly been highlighting food, culinary, and dining history in their exhibition schedules. The upcoming months prove to be very exciting for those of us interested in such topics, as museums internationally have planned a wonderful array of exhibits. If your conference, research, or personal travel plans take you to any of the cities below, consider stopping by an exhibit. Be sure to check the websites for full exhibit descriptions, as well as visitor information such as hours, fees, and directions. We also welcome readers to share your trips to any museums and exhibits of interest to the Recipes Project community on Twitter or Facebook!

Current Exhibitions

Feeding History: The Politics of Food

British Museum (London, UK), through 27 May 2019

Wooden model group of a butcher’s shop, Deir el-Bersha, Egypt, Middle Kingdom period. (London, British Museum)

The exhibition “Feeding History” at the British Museum focuses on five objects, exploring the relationship between food, power, and control. The display juxtaposes ancient and contemporary objects to explore issues surrounding food production and control of food resources. The focus of the display is a contemporary sculpture, Anti Social Wild West Weaving (c. 2000), by Native American artist Pat Courtney Gold. Her work represents the barbed-wire fences used on the North American prairies, simultaneously allowing settlers to claim the land for ranching and farming and restricting Native Americans from accessing their ancestral land. The four ancient objects include an Egyptian wooden plough handle (1550–1069 BC), an Egyptian model of butchers preparing meat (c. 1850 BC), a gilded silver vase with a grape harvesting scene (possibly from Iran, 500–700), and a Ming dynasty porcelain serving dish decorated with grapes (1403–1424). Through this combination of works, the exhibition explores the origins of farming and the inequality between the wealthy landowning minority and the impoverished working majority. Furthermore, the exhibition stresses that feeding the world is closely connected to issues of power, politics, and economics.

Feasting and Fasting: The Great Kitchen at Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral (Durham, UK), through 1 June 2019

Durham Cathedral’s museum experience, Open Treasure, currently features an exhibition, “Feasting and Fasting,” exploring the history of the Cathedral’s fourteenth-century Great Kitchen. The octagonal kitchen, completed in 1370, was active for over 570 years. It was the site of food preparations for everyone who lived and worked at the Cathedral; daily meals and grand feasts alike were prepared here. Visitors can learn about the food consumed by Benedictine monks of Durham Priory and discover what was eaten at the Cathedral’s lavish banquets. The highlights of “Feasting and Fasting” are the recipe collections on display, including the The Art of Cookery by John Thacker, cook to the Dean and Chapter from 1739–1758. After exploring the exhibit, visitors can continue through the museum into the Great Kitchen, which now houses the Anglo-Saxon Treasures of St. Cuthbert.

Feast of Fools: Bruegel Rediscovered

Gaasbeek Castle (Lennik, Belgium), through 28 July 2019

Feast of Fools: Bruegel Rediscovered

Nestled in the idyllic Belgian countryside, Gaasbeek Castle is home to a museum, park, and gardens. The Museum Garden alone may be of interest to Recipes Project readers: it contains many traditional and rare fruit and vegetable varietals, featuring espaliered fruits. The museum inside Gaasbeek Castle, however, is currently hosting an exhibition rooted in the work of Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel. In “Feast of Fools,” visitors experience a series of contemporary and modern inspired by Bruegel. Among many other works, the exhibition presents a virtual reality installation by the Berlin-based theatre company, Rimini Protokoll, focused on the contemporary food industry titled “Feast of Food.” In his works, Bruegel depicted the farmers who fed local consumers. In the twenty-first century, Bruegel’s farmers have been replaced by high-tech agro-industries and most consumers now ignore the origins of their food. Rimini Protokoll helps visitors explore what farming and food production look like today. Through virtual reality, visitors are immersed in modern sites of food production, including Rungis, the biggest food market in the world, located near Paris, a gigantic slaughterhouse in Bavaria, and plantations in Almería.

Future Exhibitions

FOOD: Bigger than the Plate

Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK), 19 May–20 October 2019

FOOD: Bigger than the Plate is poised to be a significant exhibition at the V&A on a variety of food topics (including food history). It will feature over seventy contemporary projects, new commissions and creative collaborations by artists, designers, chefs, farmers, scientists and local communities. The exhibition will explore how individuals, communities and organizations are re-inventing how we experience food. FOOD leads visitors through the food cycle, from “Compost” to “Farming” to “Trading” to “Eating.” Visitors will even experience several installations physically growing in the gallery space. These projects will sit alongside thirty objects from the V&A collections, including early food advertisements, illustrations, and ceramics, providing historical context to the contemporary exhibits. The V&A has also released information about a number of early events related to the exhibit, including a Curators’ Talk and a Food Styling and Photography Workshop. Readers can receive an early bird offer of 40% off individual advance tickets using promo code FOOD40 at check out. Note that this offer is available for a limited time only and please review the terms and conditions.

Last Supper in Pompeii

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology (Oxford, UK), 25 July 2019–12 January 2020

The Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford has scheduled an exhibition delving into a story of the foods loved and consumed by the people of the ancient Roman town of Pompeii. This southern Italian resort town was located between vineyards, orchards, and the Bay of Naples; its people produced wine, olive oil, and garum (a fish sauce) for consumers around the Mediterranean. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in the first century, people in Pompeii were eating, drinking, and producing food, like any other day. Much evidence has been preserved about the food in this town, such as mosaics in villas and the remains found in kitchen drains. The exhibition will feature many objects on loan from Naples and Pompeii which have never left Italy. The items range from the luxury furnishings of Roman dining rooms to the carbonized food that was on the table when the volcano erupted. Accompanying the exhibition is the forthcoming publication of Last Supper in Pompeii (Ashmolean Museum, 2019) by Paul Roberts, the Sackler Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean. Included in the book is new research based on the excavation of drains and rubbish pits and the excavation of a Roman vineyard between Vesuvius and Pompeii.

Café Europe: Food Ties

Museum of European Cultures (Berlin, Germany), 1 August–1 September 2019

The Museum of European Cultures, one of the Berlin State Museums, hosts a permanent exhibition “Cultural Contacts: Living in Europe” which examines discussions on social movements and boundaries. Tied to the permanent exhibition, “Café Europe: Food Ties,” is a temporary exhibition with accompanying special events exploring trans-regional and international influences on the culinary arts. As mobility has continued to increase across Europe, so too has culinary migration. Diets have both assimilated many influences and changed significantly in recent decades. Be sure to check the website as “Café Europe” approaches for more information about cooperating partners and scheduled special events.

If you’d like to feature a museum exhibition or collection on the Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Introduction: “Russian Recipes” at the July Recipes Project

By Clare Griffin

Dear Readers of the Recipes Project Blog,

Earlier this year I was asked to put together a series of posts on Russian Recipes. But how to introduce the posts to help non-Russianists grasp them? Through all the organising and writing of this ‘special edition’ of the Recipes Project, this has remained the hardest thing to pin down. What, fundamentally, were the central aspects of early modern Russia, and how to do them justice in one introduction?

My solution is the following brief travel guide for the curious visitor to Russia c. 1690. Hopefully this will provide a useful introduction as you peruse our featured posts on “Russian Recipes” this month.

L0004274 Map of Russia lent by Dr. Schuster.
Russia in the Early Modern Period
(Wellcome Images)

Location:                                         

Although having its roots in the early Medieval princedom of Kiev, by the early modern period Russia meant a tsardom centred on the more northerly Moscow, hence its other early modern name, Muscovy, although there was a large and growing empire far to the east of that city. Travellers arriving after 1703 would be more likely to head to the new capital of St Petersburg, modestly named after the reforming Tsar Peter the Great.

800px-Russian_Empire_1745_General_Map_(HQ)
The Russian Empire, 1745
(Wiki Images)

Laws:

Staying within the bounds of local law is key to any successful journey, and early modern visitors to Muscovy had to bear some important points in mind. Movement across the borders and within the country was strictly controlled, and documentation was necessary to avoid arrest. If you were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, you had to take care not to have roots or herbs on your person, as those could be cause for accusations of witchcraft.  Although there were many foreigners in Muscovy, interaction between them was not always encouraged; if you were a foreign visitor, Russian servants would not stay in your house overnight, as you were considered to be a heretic, and excessive contact with you was thought to be dangerous.

The Population:
The Russian population was distinguished in several ways. In terms of dress, Muscovites wore traditional clothes; as a visitor, you would have stood out!

Bojaren
Russian Noblemen
(Wiki Images)

Russians rarely knew foreign languages, although this was changing throughout the early modern period, as increasing numbers of “boyars” – as Russian nobles are called – kept collections of foreign books alongside other exotic foreign objects such as clocks.

Russia was not as culturally homogenous as you might think. Several courtly families came from outside the Moscow lands, including from Kazan’ and from the Georgian royal family. Outside of the court, the atmosphere was even more mixed, as the empire encompassed various races, nations, languages and religions, who were mostly left to their own devices, provided they paid their taxes on time.

There was also a thriving foreign community in Moscow, with merchant strongholds in Kholmogory and Archangel, the most important port. These communities dated back to the 1550s, when English merchants accidently found the northern coast of Russia while searching for China. Although the English were dominant for some decades, the Dutch and the Germans also had a significant presence in Moscow, where they had their own churches and community activities. Some people even put on amateur performances of Western European plays in their own homes.

Sight-seeing:
There were many wonderful sights in early modern Russia.

Ushakov's Archangel Michael and the Devil
Ushakov’s Archangel Michael and the Devil, 1676
(Wiki Images)

Early modern Russia was a very religious society, and churches played a large role in Russian life.  Services could go on for several hours. Churches and monasteries were also used in religio-political ceremonies, such as when the Tsar paraded through the streets of Moscow. Icons were similarly important. If you were an early modern visitor to Russia, you might be lucky enough to see the work of the great seventeenth-century Russian icon painter, Semyon Ushakov.

If you ventured outside of Moscow, you could have visited many wonderful sights in the early modern Russian Empire. To the East and South, you could have travelled to the towns of Kazan’ and Astrakhan, both former khanates but a part of the empire since the sixteenth century. You might even have gone on to distant Siberia!  Although partly used to exile prisoners, Siberia was also valued for its wildlife.  Siberian furs fetched high prices in Western Europe.

We hope you enjoy your visit to early modern Russia!

Posts in the series: 

What to Feed the Servants in Sixteenth-Century Russiaby Carolyn Pouncey

A Medieval Russian Hangover Cure, by Darra Goldstein

How to Heal a Foreigner in Early Modern Russia, by Clare Griffin

A Modern Culinary Manuscript from Russia’s Ural Mountains, by Aleksandra Ippolitova

Love Magic in 18th century Russia: a Search for Passion in Russian History, by Elena Smilianskaia

Early Modern Comfort Foods

By Amanda E. Herbert

Today we associate “comfort foods” with tradition, indulgence, and familiarity.  These humble but beloved foods have received a lot of recent attention from cooks and culinary specialists – the Guardian food blog even produced a full-page spread of its favourites last month.  But what were the early modern equivalents of comfort foods?  And how did early modern people feel about incorporating new or exotic foods into their diets?

A recipe collection at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts helps to reveal culinary adaptations made by early modern Britons: this is the Charles Brigham Account Book.[1]  Like many early modern manuscript recipe collections, the Brigham book had multiple author-compilers, and was maintained over a long period of time, for nearly one hundred years (c. 1650-1730).  Although little is known about the provenance of the book, at one point it was “given to Sarah [by her mother] when she moved to Grafton amonst the Indians [in] 1731…so that she could do her own Cooking & [doctoring] as there was no Dr in the county.”  This was probably Sarah Prentice (1716-1792), whose ownership mark appears in the book, and who was married to the Rev. Solomon Prentice (1705-1773), the first minister of Grafton, Massachusetts.

But the Brigham Account Book did not originate in Massachusetts.  Early entries in the book suggest that it was instead created in Britain.  It was first compiled by “Anna Cromwell,” who labeled the text “my booke of receipts December the 23 1650.”  Cromwell included a recipe for “fitts of the mother,” which encouraged readers to purchase ingredients from “Mr. Seamer an appothicary over against Aldermanberry Church [London].”  Another one of Cromwell’s recipes taught how “to make a Lestershiere plover.”  As later author-compilers made their own contributions to the book (it contains six different ownership marks), each added their own familiar, go-to recipes.  Some of these “comfort foods” had Scots influences, such as one “to make Skinke” (soup made from beef shin, traditionally from Scotland), and another “to make a haggesse pudding.”[2]  One or more of the compilers also had access to an extensive library of British gardening, cooking, and natural history texts.  The manuscript contains recipes copied from Digbys Closset and Verulams Nat Hist–and specifically fruit wine and cider recipes from Wordlidge Vinet Brit.[3]  There’s even a recipe for “Damson wine with Raysons, Woolley” which matches, ingredient for ingredient, a recipe in Hannah Woolley’s Queen-Like Closet (London, 1670).

But towards the end of the book, the recipes begin to reflect the influence of trans-Atlantic commerce, travel, and trade.  The recipe “to sauce a turkie like stargion [sturgeon]” suggests that one of authors learned how to cook “new world” breeds of animals, like turkeys, by preparing them in the same familiar, comforting way as fish eaten regularly in Britain.  Later recipes in the book celebrate the new plants and foods that were at colonists’ disposals; one recipe “to cleanse a skurffy skin” instructed practitioners to “bath the place where the scurff is with spirit of nicotiane,” a reference to Nicotiana tabacum, or tobacco.  Another recipe provided directions for making “jockaleta biskits,” or chocolate biscuits.[4]  Lists of accounts at the back of the book note the sums paid by the one of the book’s owners for “2 gallons of Rum of River Town,” as well as “2 galons molasses,” and “5 pnd of tobacco,” all popular colonial commodities.  Marginalia, too, reflect a change in geographical perspective, with authors centering themselves in British America rather than in Britain.  The author of a recipe for “incomparable cosmetick of pearl,” noted that “this is one of the most exelent beautifiers in the world this oil if weel prepared is richly worth seven pound an ounce in England.”

The increasing prevalence of “new world” recipes, as well as these subtle geographical and rhetorical shifts, suggest that the Brigham Account Book made a trans-Atlantic voyage sometime in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, presumably carried by one of its owners as they journeyed to a new life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  As people struggled to adapt to colonial environments, familiar recipes and remedies from home could have provided comfort to colonial British Americans. Manuscript recipe books, handed down between family members and friends over generations, surely provided important and lasting senses of connection with loved ones who had been left behind. The Brigham book also reveals the adaptability of these early colonists, and demonstrates how recipe authors used their books to learn about and use the plants, animals, and foodstuffs available to them in their new home.

Thanks to Molly Warsh and James Roberts for their help with this post!

[1] Charles Brigham Account Book, MMS Dept., Folio Vols. “B,” American Antiquarian Society.  Charles Brigham was another early resident of Grafton, MA, and his ownership mark also appears in the book.

[2] For more on haggis recipes and their possible origins, see Chris Hilton’s Recipes Project post on Robert Burns Day here.

[3] Probably references to Kenelm Digby, The closet of the eminently learned Sir Kenelme Digbie (London, 1669); Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum: or A Naturall Historie (London, 1627); John Worlidge, Vinetum Britannicum, or, A treatise of cider (London, 1678).

[3] In the late seventeenth century, “jacolatta” or “jockelatte” were common terms for chocolate.  For example, Samuel Pepys called the cacao-based drink “Jocolatte” when consuming it at a London coffee-house on 24 November 1664.  For more on early modern chocolate, see Amy Tigner’s Recipes Project posts here.