The Spring Clean for Recipes Project

By Chelsea Clark

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

It might be autumn in the northern hemisphere–but in the southern hemisphere, it is spring! My experience in helping to tidy up the Recipes Project website has felt much the same as the typical spring cleaning that goes on after a long winter with the intent of brightening up a household or workspace. While keeping the essence of the site, I set out to make it a bit more accessible and user friendly by adding additional resource material and attempting to showcase the growing diversity of the site.

First, I would like to draw your attention to our new blog appearance. I wanted to show our clean-up in a very visual way by choosing a more sleek looking format for the blog. One of the things that I like most about the Recipes Project is its use of pictures. The main thing I wanted to showcase on the front page of the site was… even more pictures! When it comes to recipe manuscripts and books, there are so many images available–and our contributors are great at choosing images that complement their posts.  I wanted to use images on the front page to display the growing diversity of post on the site, from medicine to gardening, from exploring texts to trying out recipes, from delving into recipes for cakes to plaisters, and from gender to cultural explorations.

Original illustration (1865), by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll's novel, Alice in Wonderland. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Original illustration (1865), by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice in Wonderland. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The clean-up also led me deep into the back pages of the website to analyze the categories and tags that our posters were currently using in order to see if there was anything to make searching the recipes posts more intuitive. With the website expanding in so many ways, it is important to us to make that information as easily accessible as possible. We’ve tried to make specific topics more findable (student posts, for example), as well as to connect posts on related information that may have been unexpected to the searcher initially (lists of series). Falling down the rabbit hole, so to speak, can be a delightful blogging experience.

I hope that a reader flipping through the categories will get an idea of the breadth of topics the site covers. Categories describe themes, while tags are used to break those themes down further. Any frequently used tags suggest that these topics are popular enough to need their own categories. When deciding which of these tags to change into category titles, I tried to place myself in a browser’s position. If I was to click on the categories drop-box, what would I be interested in seeing? I found that while “Recipes” and “Recipe Books” were popular tags, they did not need to become categories: for a recipe website to have a recipes category seemed redundant.

Categories can also separate the posts in ways that make them intuitively searchable. The country categories show diversity, so I added “Germany,” “Russia,” and “China” as new categories. I also saw the categories menu as a place to showcase some of the fun tags that had gotten a fair amount of hits, such as “Chocolate” and “Distillation.” In addition, I combined the two categories “Plants” and “Herbs” due to their overlap; this also included posts with the tags “Herbs,” “Herbals,” and “Herbal Remedies.”

The SEARCH box is another, often overlooked, way of searching both tags and categories to find posts which are related. Don’t be afraid to throw your own ideas in this box and see what the site can retrieve!

In addition to the Clean-up, We have also added something new and exciting to the site … ZOTERO!

In order to keep with the ‘shiny and new’ theme, the next step was to redesign our old resource page. We decided to go with a searchable, linkable, expandable, and downloadable Zotero resource list. The idea behind the Zotero list was to create a resource list for the site that was easily searchable by both contributors and readers with varying degrees of familiarity with the sources. I consolidated many resource lists from various recipe related projects and then hunted down the sources online and familiarized myself with them in order to link them together with tags and entered them on Zotero.org.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For those not familiar with Zotero, this site is truly an amazing research organization tool. The Primary and Secondary sources entered so far cover a broad range of subjects, from recipes and medicine to reading and publishing, including English, American, Italian, Welsh, French, and Latin sources. The primary sources are searchable by library or archive and even have the manuscript identification where possible to make finding them easy as pie. The secondary sources are linked together with subject tags to make not only finding the one you want easy, but can link you to other sources you may not have known about.

The Zotero link can be found on our new page Additional Resources along with several other research tools that are useful for recipe exploration.

I hope you all enjoy the new and improved Recipes Project site. Please explore, search, browse even better than before!

The Digital Humanities Turn

By Lisa Smith

The digital humanities are everywhere in the academic world these days. And although we don’t talk much about it, it’s something that underpins our own editorial interest in The Recipes Project. Part of the rationale for starting the blog was to bring together a community of people interested in recipes, both academic and non-academic. So far, we have had over seventy contributors from around the world and, so far in 2015, about 140,000 unique readers.

Siege of Paris Menu [in English]. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
What’s on the menu this month? Fortunately, our offerings are better than those of he Siege of Paris, 1870-1. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
It’s an exciting month here at The Recipes Project, as we are officially relaunching our blog. You may have noticed the new site theme, but there are even more substantial changes. Please check out our new thematic series pages, where we round up all of the special series. Under the Credits tab, we also now highlight the work of our student contributors.

If you’re interested in the history of The Recipes Project, take a look at the Flashback section, which resurrects much of the material of Elaine Leong’s 2010 Remedies, Recipes and Receipts website.

We’re also excited to announce our new Zotero group, which is a handy way of keeping track of manscript and print recipe books in the archives and our recipe-related reading lists. If you want to contribute your own bibliographies, we’d love to have you join our Zotero group.

It’s as good a time as any to remind you about our Facebook page and Twitter feed—both of which we use to share tasty tidbits from around the web.

To celebrate our relaunch (and my own new job as Lecturer in Digital History at the University of Essex), we’ve decided to focus on the digital humanities this month. Posts include Hillary Nunn reviewing the Six Degrees of Francis Bacon from a recipe-history perspective; Katherine Allen discussing the problems of setting up database categories; Chelsea Clark explaining the rationale for her updates to The Recipes Project website; Stephen Schmidt introducting the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey; and Kathleen Walker-Miekle unveiling (for us, anyway) the Digital Antidotarium.

Of course, there will be some non-digital posts, too… with Marieke Hendriksen on using iron in cookery; Aileen Das on non-surgical methods of removing arrowheads; and—a treat for Halloween–Andrew Sneddon on a remedy for demonic possession!

Thanks to student assistants Chelsea Clark, Julia Jaegle, and Erin Spinney for their help in getting the site ready for relaunch. And thank you so much to all our contributors and readers for making our online community such a success.