Category Archives: Food History

The Digital Recipe Project – A Finale!

When i decided to choose The Digital Recipe Project back in the summer when i was deciding what third year modules to take on for this year, I did not think that I was going to grow such a bond with Margaret Baker, a seventeenth-century English housewife. Initially, I was very excited to be working with an entire recipe book written by a woman over 300 years ago and to have the chance to transcribe it into a digital format, like a professional historian! However, as the module progressed, Baker’s life and the society of which she lived in was becoming even more intriguing to me and I couldn’t help but want to find out more!

Initially, the idea of this module having such a vast digital component was exciting to me, being a 21st century young adult, the internet is at the centre of everything, and I thought I would have easily got the grasp of blog-writing and website-making. However, the reality was not as straight-forward, and trying to write an informal blog post after two and a half years of formal historical essay-writing, was a lot more difficult than I initially thought. Despite this, (and despite the 9am starts) this module was a lot more intimate than any of my other third year modules – with such a small class, it was nice to get to know Lisa a lot better than we usually would with any other seminar leader, and it made us all feel a lot more relaxed in conversation and debate within our seminar. Not only this, but every seminar really was a conjoined effort, and each week was a different topic and theme to investigate.

It is amazing how much you take for granted being brought up in the 21st century, where medicines and treatments are constantly developed, and recipes are shared by foodies more and more on social media such as on Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes the recipe book is disregarded, and the recipe for any dish can be with you in 10 seconds with the help of Google. It was not this easy in seventeenth-century England, these recipes for both food and medicine were circulated around the country normally through word of mouth, or through migration. It is interesting now, especially, how disregarded medicinal recipes have become, and that is something that I myself was guilty of, in our first seminar: ‘What is a recipe?’. Maybe I was ignorant in just thinking that a recipe book was just that.. a book for food recipes. However, recipes had a much broader meaning, nowadays you would immediately link a ‘recipe’ with food, however, I do not think the seventeenth-century English believed in such structural organisation and conformity. A recipe book did not mean simply food, like a prayer book did not necessarily mean it only included prayers (which i mention in my last blog).

Sitting opposite my own bookcase which is full almost solely of recipe books, from Nigella, to Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein to Delia Smith, there is not really any other recipe book other than for anything other than just food dishes. From witnessing the use of alchemy widely in Margaret Bakers seventeenth-century recipe book, I was beyond excited when I found a book on my shelf with ‘Alchemy’ written in big writing on the spine of the book.. however, looking more closely ‘Alchemy in a Glass, The essential guide to Handcrafted Cocktails’ was not what I had expected to come across. Its interesting however, this book is actually giving you instructions of how to make cocktails, so its as much a ‘guide’ as it is a recipe book! Wow, this module really has got me thinking more about the definition of a ‘recipe book’!

Yet, this even got me thinking further, how such meanings and emphasis become placed differently throughout the years, although we speak the same language, we don’t necessarily speak the same meaning – and this is something I especially had to take into consideration when I first begun transcribing Baker’s book.

To close this final blog post, which is more of a reflection, or a transcription of my own train of thought, I wanted to mention a book that my grandmother recently let me borrow named ‘Natural Wonderfoods’. Although it is not a recipe book, it lists nearly every fruit, vegetable and meat product, and explains on a double page spread the importance of these different types of within healing, immune-boosting and for fitness-enhancing.

The introduction of the book itself, gives acknowledgements to our ancestors, and it is amazing that I open the book onto the introduction page (that i never look at) to such mention of the fact that knowledge of these healing foods were known centuries ago (Maybe its Baker herself that made me open it, saying: ‘See! I was right about all these healing foods in my recipe book!).

Looking at ‘A medycine for the eies’ (14.v. 15.r.) sage leaves, fennel leaves, honey and egg were used. Looking in this glorious book, all the completely natural foods are written: sage, fennel and eggs (which can be used as face masks to help dry skin!) I will leave you all with the pages and explanations of both sage and fennel to show you just how knowledgeable and clever these seventeenth-century women were! Thank you Margaret Baker et al!

 

 

 

 

 

By Florence Hearn.

Bibliography

Bartimeus, Paula, Haigh, Charlotte, Merson, Sarah, Owen, Sarah, Wright, Janet, Natural Wonderfoods, (London 2011)

Margaret Baker’s recipe books give us so much more information than recipes

By Tracey Cornish

Little is known about Margaret Baker, however just because not much is known of the author does not mean we cannot learn a significant amount.  Three recipes books that she had written have survived today, two are owned by the British Library and one is owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library.  They are dated approximately 1670, 1672 and 1675.  The recipe books contained medicinal, culinary and household recipes and it is through these recipes that we can find out how people lived and survived in the seventeenth century.

Baker’s books contain recipes from other people for example she mentions ‘My Lady Corbett, my Cousen Staffords, Mrs Davies and Mrs Weeks.   We could assume that these people were known to Baker and she has been given these recipes by them.  Both men and women could gain medical information through their contacts although they may not have always given information about their own health or concerns.  Therefore just because Mrs Denis tells Margaret Baker about a remedy ‘To comfort ye brayne and takes away aney payne of the head’ (37r) it did not necessarily mean that Mrs Denis had used the remedy herself.  She also appears to recite Hannah Woolley’s recipes from her ‘The accomplisht ladys delight in preserving, physic and cookery.’   Large sections of printed books are copied by Baker many are from doctors.  Many of the doctors quoted in her books were non English medical practitioners and this suggests that she was influenced by her continental contemporaries. However medical instruction at Oxford and Cambridge Universities were so far behind that in continental universities that a large percentage of Englishmen who wished to become doctors went abroad for their education.[1]

Hannah Woolley’s The Accomplisht Ladys delight

So what can we learn from Margaret Baker’s recipes?  The books contain a range of preparations for ointments, powders, salves and cordials for a variety of medical complaints.  From these remedies we can see what diseases were prevalent at the time. For example ‘A preservation against the plague’ (24r).  We would not find a remedy for the plague in medical books today and so was therefore a worry in the 1670s.   There is also a remedy for ‘A canker for a women’s breste.’  (68v).  This is very interesting as it reveals that even in the 1670s cancer was a known illness and could actually be diagnosed although one has to assume that due to the lack of medical knowledge in the seventeenth century it was only when a lump was present that cancer was diagnosed.  Other illnesses mentioned are measles and shingles (26r).  There is also a remedy for ‘the stone in the blader and kidnes’ (17v) which is another example of medical knowledge inside the body.

The body was believed to be made up of four humours – Blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile and it was an excess of one of the humours that caused illness.  Health was managed on a day to day basis.  Recipe books like Margaret Baker’s reveal the extent of self-help used by families and explores their favourite remedies and analyses differences in approached to medical matters.  Women as carers and household practitioners could assume significant roles in place of a sick person, for example the husband,  and some women would have made key decisions about information and treatment of the sick.[2]

Women and medicine http://www.baus.org.uk/museum/timeline

The recipes for foods reveals the diet of the seventeenth century person although one should remember that Margaret Baker was more than likely middle class and so was writing for middle class society.  She includes recipes for cakes, biscuits and meat.  Her recipes reveal that food was eaten according to the season. We can also learn what types of food the seventeenth century person ate.  As mentioned in my previous blog,  Baker’s use of animals in recipes no part of an animal ever went to waste with most parts being used as food.

Baker’s recipes also reveal beauty regimes in the seventeenth century.  Her recipes include a pomatum to style hair   Karen writes a more detailed account of the seventeenth century beauty regime according to Margaret Baker in her essay  on our website UoE Baker Project. https://sites.google.com/prod/view/uoebakerproject/beauty

Recipe books like Margaret Baker’s are an invaluable insight into the world of seventeenth century society and how they coped with illness, disease and how they ate among other things.  When I first began this module I was apprehensive that recipe books would be limited.  How wrong was I!  I could never have imagined the knowledge one can retrieve from a seventeenth century recipe book.

 

[1] Anne Stobart, Household medicine in Seventeenth Century England, p.29.

[2] Ibid  p.29.

The Science and Secrets of Cooking

By Abbie Burnett

In his book Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, Ken Albala includes a guide explaining ‘how to cook from old recipes’. To those unfamiliar with early modern recipes the inclusion of this guide may seem unusual and even unnecessary as recipes today are explicit in detailing how a recipe should be recreated, therefore a guide to aid them is redundant. However, what is apparent to those who have familiarised themselves with early modern recipes is that there is a large amount of assumed knowledge between their lines. 

Albala argues that “modern recipes are written scientifically, even though for the most part cooking is not a science.”[1] While cooking may not be a science, the scientific nature of recipes today can be easily recognised by their list of precise ingredients, exact measurements which are standardised internationally, and their explicit instructions, cooking times and temperatures. A modern recipe can be reproduced by almost anyone who follows its strict instructions, with no previous knowledge or skills necessary. (A blessing to inexperienced chefs of the twenty first century!) In addition, it is likely that due to the clear cut  and explicit nature of modern recipes they will be easily replicated to the same standard in 200 years time as they are today, providing cooking appliances do not drastically change.

In contrast, recipe books from the early modern period are much more difficult to follow. Recipes from this period did not have explicit instructions or standardised measurements, they were characterised by vague instructions and ambiguous guidance which was open to much interpretation by the reader. There was also a high level of implied knowledge in recipe books from this period, to which a contemporary reader would have been expected to have been aware of in order to follow a recipe successfully. Within Margaret Baker’s recipe book the assumed knowledge behind the measurements for ingredients has been highlighted well in Karen’s blog post ‘Methods of measurement and delight.’

A recipe for a powder of tertian feauer in Margaret Bakers Recipe Book, V.a.619 “as much as will lye on a six pence”

But why are modern recipes so explicit while early modern recipes left much to interpretation? It may be because recipes today are globally exchanged, they have the potential to reach thousands of readers and be recreated in many kitchens around the world. For this reason recipes are required to be specific and universal; to allow for anyone to easily cook from them despite cultural or geographical differences. However, in the early modern period recipes were expected to reach a much smaller audience.  Evidence of sociability of recipes can be seen in Margaret Bakers recipe book, she mentions contributors such as Mris FamesSir Walter Rallyes and Mris Denis, among others.  Specific recipes may have been expected to be shared among families or neighbours, but recipes traditionally travelled through lines of inheritance.

Only rarely would a recipe reach fame nationally or internationally if it was especially successful, such as Dr Lucatella’s balame. Margaret Baker claims that she was the first to record Luatella’s recipe, it then appears in many other recipe books from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, as well as being sold seperately. Here it is found as ‘Lucatelles balsam’ in 1669 in a memorandum book contributed to by unknown authors, and as late as 1820 the balme is recorded in John Knowlson’s book The Complete Farrier; Or Horse- doctor; Being the Art of Farriery Made Plain and Easy… With…a Catalogue of Drugs

Mathew Lucatalla’s Balme in Margaret Baker’s recipe book V.a.619

Today, some recipes would be impossible to recreate exactly or simply fail without the level of literal detail that modern recipes include. For example Bearnaise sauce, included in this article as number 3 of the 10 toughest dishes in the world to recreate, is evidence of how precisely a recipe must be followed. A particular temperature must be maintained during the cooking and specialist equipment is required for a Bearnaise sauce to be correctly reproduced; “This sauce is made in a bain-marie (a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water), but if it gets too hot, the eggs will scramble and there is no turning back.” It may be that early modern people used simpler dishes as Bearnaise sauce was not said to be created until the early nineteenth century, however it is more likely that during the early modern period this information was conveyed in other ways than direct instructions within a recipe book. In the early modern period in which Baker wrote, recipes and the methods to recreate them took on secret like qualities. They were passed on verbally, taught by elder family members to their young, from chefs to servants, from neighbours to friends, rather than being shared openly to everyone and anyone.

Implied knowledge in early modern recipes displays the limited reach of recipe books in the early modern period, authors expected their readers to be aware of unsaid rules or at least be close enough to ask them personally if they required more information. While the secret like quality of early modern recipes romanticises early modern cooking, the consequences of the existence of assumed knowledge in recipe books is that we may never be truly able to reconstruct recipes from this period. As Florence’s blog post displays, reconstruction of early modern recipes includes a lot of guess work. Information which was implicit to contemporary readers has not been passed on which has turned recipes from the early modern period into a  truly secret code to be deciphered by historians. As mentioned earlier, Albala takes an optimistic approach to this problem by arguing that “despite changes in ingredients and procedures, what tasted good hundreds of years ago still tastes good today,”[2] and therefore by trial and error we can gradually work to reconstruct near authentic replicas of dishes from early modern recipes. However, I fear that the silences in early modern recipes in which assumed knowledge was meant to fill may remain silent, and true recreations of recipes from this period may therefore be impossible.

[1]  Ken Albala Cooking in Europe 1250- 1650 (Westport, 2006), p. 27.

[2] Ken Albala Cooking in Europe 1250- 1650 (Westport, 2006), p. 28.

The Creation of the Kitchen

By Tracey Cornish

The reading for this week’s seminar was a topic that I had not thought much about before.  Just as I had never really thought about recipes and their meaning in the early modern period before I began studying this module.  The topic in question is kitchens.  I suppose I had thought that kitchens had always existed in the way in which we think of kitchens now.  When you visit castles or stately homes there is always a kitchen where the hustle and bustle of daily life took place.  The kitchen in Hampton Court is indeed huge.  It was built in 1530 and was designed to feed at least 600 members of the court, entitled to eat at the palace, twice a day.

The kitchens had master cooks each with a team working for them.  Annually the Tudor Court cooked 1240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar.  That is without mentioning the chickens, peacocks, pheasant and vegetables which were also on the menu.[1]

Hampton Court Kitchen plan

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace also has a chocolate kitchen.  The royal chocolate making kitchen which once catered for three Kings: William III, George I and George II is the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the country. Recent research has uncovered the precise location of the royal chocolate kitchen in the Baroque Palace’s Fountain Court. Having been used as a storeroom for many years, it is remarkably well preserved with many of the original fittings, including the stove, equipment and furniture still intact.[2]

 

Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace

The only original 17th century kitchen to be preserved is at Ham House. In the basement  there are several small rooms comprising of the kitchen, the scullery, the servants hall, a laundry, several pantries, a wet larder, a still house, a wash house and a dairy room. All these rooms would have had servants working in them and would have made the workings of the kitchen easier as it would have provided room to prepare and cook food.[3]

Original 17th Century kitchen

Of course, this is an example of a palace so what about everyday houses?  Peasants in the middle ages lived in one room which served as a room for cooking, general living and eating.  It consisted of a hearth stone, a fire with a pot of the top.  Sara Pennell suggests in The Birth of the English Kitchen 1600-1850 that kitchens in the early 1600’s were ‘unfixed and at times contested’[4] and that it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that kitchens were ‘distinctive yet integrated spaces in the majority of households.’[5] Food could be prepared in any room with a table and could be cooked in any room with a fire.  However it was the need to provide space for the works of the kitchen and other ‘food’ rooms such as pantries, larders and sculleries which reallocated eating to its own distinctive space.[6] Pennell argues that histories of the domestic interior and its evolving design neglected the kitchen and yet arguably the kitchen is and was an important room in a household. [7]

Margaret Baker never mentions in her recipes as to where the production of the recipes should take place, one just imagines that she is in her kitchen trying out the recipes (the ones which she did try) and writing them down.  Of course, the fact that her kitchen would have been nothing like our kitchens today should also be taken into account if a reproduction of one of her recipes takes place.  As Florence mentions in her  blog,  Replicate, Authenticate and Reconstruct Baker uses ‘learned knowledge’ in her recipe book.  There would have been no modern oven to set to a certain temperature as they would have used a fire.

17th Century Kitchen

Evolution of the kitchen was linked to the invention of the cooking range or stove and the supply of running water.  The living room began to serve as an area for social functions and became a showcase for the owners to show off their wealth.  In the upper classes cooking and the kitchen were the domain of servants and the kitchen was therefore set away from the living rooms.

The kitchens of elite households were not originally in the basement.  In fact basement level kitchens were almost unheard of in England before 1666.  Yet by 1750 kitchens were found in the basement.  One could argue this was to keep the kitchen staff out of sight of the main household and to ensure that the kitchen smells did not overwhelm the main living accommodation.

A 17th Century Distiller

So what about the medical and scientific recipes?  Many kitchens or basements formed laboratories for people to experiment and write down their medical recipes.  It was popular for higher class women to have stills and alembics in their kitchens for making essences. .  Even the lower classes would gather herbs together and make remedies in their kitchens.

Experiments took place in many places such as coffee houses, laboratories and universities but the private residence was a popular place to experiment.  Many renowned scientists used their kitchens as a ‘laboratory’ including Frederick Clod who was a physician and a ‘mystical chemist’ who used his father in law’s kitchen to experiment. [8]

It could be argued that the design of kitchens have come full circle with many people preferring to have open plan living areas which include the kitchen with people enjoying socialising whilst cooking and enjoying all those cooking smells.

References:

[1] http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/henry-viiis-kitchens/#gs.R6K2E18 accessed 20th March 2017.

[2] http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/chocolate-kitchens/#gs.tJhj8mM accessed 20th March 2017.

[3] https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden accessed 20th March 2017.

[4] Sara Pennell, The Birth of the English Kitchen, 1600-1850, (London, 2016) p.37.

[5] Ibid p.37.

[6] Ibid p.39.

[7] Ibid p.38.

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Clod accessed 21st March 2017.

Images:

Hampton Court Kitchen plan – http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/henry-viiis-kitchens/#gs.R6K2E18 accessed 20th March 2017.

Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace –  http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/chocolate-kitchens/#gs.tJhj8mM accessed 21st March 2017.

Original 17th Century kitchen –  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden accessed 20th March 2017.

17th Century Kitchen –  http://www.homethingspast.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/cotohele-kitchen.jpg accessed 20th March 2017.

A 17th Century Distiller – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/f1/6f/b0/f16fb0f555b48fd576bf6dc1621a041d.jpg accessed 21st March 2017.

 

Currying Favour with the Empire… in the ERO

It was a revelation to me to find that curry was part of eighteenth century cuisine. I had not seen it in Baker and, my curiosity aroused I looked to the Essex Record Office to see if this phenomena of east meets west was something I could see locally. I wasn’t disappointed. With access to digital images on the their SEAX website I found Mrs Elizabeth Slany’s recipe book.

The Fly Leaf of Slany’s recipe book dated 1715 – ERO D/DRZ1

The ERO has a blog featuring an overview of Slany’s recipes which also points to an article in  Essex Countryside magazine dated February 1966 written by Daphne E Smith who judges Elizabeth to  be ‘a most efficient housewife who nurtured her family with care.’ Smith also assumes that the recipe book was started in preparation for her forthcoming marriage. However the 1715 date on the fly leaf is a full eight years before Elizabeth married  Benjamin LeHook in 1723 so if true it was quite a lengthy  engagement.

With Benjamin a London agent it is probable Elizabeth did not reside in Essex . However, her eldest daughter did, marrying into the Wegge family of  Colchester. As the ‘hand’ within the book changes halfway through it can be assumed it was she who entered the ‘currey’ recipe, giving me the local Essex location I was looking for.

I admit, realising the recipe was probably the daughters not her mothers did dilute my first ecstatic light-bulb moment of ‘I’ve discovered curry in England as early as 1715 !’ into ‘stop jumping to conclusions and analyse, you’re a historian!’  However, on reflection it was just as exciting to realise young Elizabeth’s ‘currey’ was realistically contemporary with Hannah Glasse’s inclusion of this hot and spicy dish in her book The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Easy  1747.

Madhur Jaffrey, in the introduction to her book Curry Nation dismisses Glasse’s recipe  as little more than a spicy gravy, consisting of pepper and Coriander seeds which were to be ‘browned over the fire in a clean shovel’ before being beaten to a powder. At this point the rice was added during cooking. Nevertheless,  it gave the women who cooked these exotic dishes a connection to Britains growing empire. It also gave the recipients of such meals a way to ‘virtually tour’ the wider world. Though such recipes were effectively Anglicised claims that they were ‘true’ Indian dishes seems not to have been questioned.

The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse. 1758

 

Inevitably the  taste and composition of the dish gradually changed, as seen in subsequent editions of  Glasse’s book plus by the end of the century a commercial curry powder blend had became available.  Bickham, in his study of C.18 culinary imperialism, Eating the Empire  tells us how curry recipes were included in mass produced affordable cookery books. Aimed at a lower to middling sorts these women  would have used curry powder for convenience buying it from grocers shops who in turn sourced it directly from spice wholesalers or from larger shops.

Elizabeth LeHook’s receipt book lists two curry recipes and the first does appear to be a glorified stew consisting of 2-3 Lbs of mutton and onions. She then recommends it be thickened with ‘the curry stuff’ plus to add the juice of two lemons,  some salt and cayenne pepper, adding a note at the end,

NB. 2 large spoonfuls is be sufficient for a curry of two pounds and so in proportion – add to the curry powder about a fifth of turmeric.

A Lady at the Hearth. Pehr Hilleström.

Her second recipe calls for chicken , lamb, or duck to be prepared in the same fashion, stewing the meat in enough water to see it become tender. Shallots or onion are added. Then the gravy is strained off, thickened with a tablespoon of ‘the powder’  and returned to the pan so everything stews together for a further half an hour or,

‘until it is of a proper thickness to be sent to the table’.

Rice was then to be served up as usual.

Elizabeth Slany’s connection to the empire is still visible over the page. Here she  tells us how to make a Turkish pilau. Interestingly as featured in my previous post Methods of Measurement and Delight , Elizabeth uses money as a visual aid stating the pound of mutton required should be cut up small about the size of a crown piece.

On the opposite page are instructions  as to the Chinese way of boiling rice. This reflects on the importance eighteenth century housewife’s placed on authenticity or at least the pretence of it, in connection with their perceived social status. The process was simple,   the rice being washed in cold water then boiled in hot until soft. It was then left in a clean vessel to blanch until snow white and as hard as crust. By then it had apparently become an excellent substitute for bread!

To find the exotic in Essex was gratifying and I was fortunate to have found what I was looking for in one of the few recipe books in the ERO to have been digitalised. It was not a  groundbreaking discovery; after all I hadn’t found curry in 1715 had I ?  But, I had found local evidence of what we, as HR650 students had been seeing in recipe books far grander than Elizabeth Slany’s.  If nothing else its a testament to shared domestic knowledge and the proof of domestic involvement in what was then a new and expanding British empire.

 

 

Replicate, Authenticate, and Reconstruct

The idea of replicating and reproducing a 300-year-old recipe is one that intrigued me whilst I was transcribing Baker’s books. Could I, a 21-year-old History student, be able to replicate a recipe as accurately to the one Baker would have? Does the 300 year gap really make that much of a difference when your reproducing quite a (what I thought was simple) recipe? Or is it challenging to precisely reconstruct an old recipe, and produce an exact, authentic piece of food without corrupting it with 21st century behaviours? The answer of that is of the latter; of course I wasn’t going to be able to make an authentic cake, the sugar I used was out of a packet, as was the flour and the cream, and the egg wasn’t freshly laid. Could we really communicate effortlessly with early modern cookery, and imitate an exact recipe to produce an exactly similar outcome, unchanged despite the 300 years between us?

sugar-cakes-recipe-picture
The recipe ‘for suger cakes’, which I would be reconstructing.

I faced a number of problems before I started making my suger cakes, Baker weighed her food in pounds, and I had a scale that weighed in grams – (luckily a quick click on Google allowed me to figure out the grams easily). On top of this I had to guess the temperature to put my oven on, and I had to guess how long to have my bake in the oven for – this was tricky in itself. I sat next to my oven for over 20 minutes peering through the window until my sugar cakes looked baked. 17th century housewives did not have electric ovens where you simply turn the dial to the temperature you want – you had to be alert and patient. That was an initial trouble I faced, “what temperature do I set the oven to?, were these cakes meant to be hard and crispy? Or soft and spongy?” These recipes lacked in these descriptions because they themselves knew exactly what a ‘suger cake’ should look, feel, and taste like; if only I knew the same 300 years later. Ovens, hearths, open fires or spits would have been in an early modern household and who knows whether the same sugar cakes produced then, would be the same as my sugar cakes I produce now. 17th century techniques may have baked these foods entirely different to how my 21st century oven would have – suddenly I realised that reconstruction of this recipe wasn’t as easy as it initially seemed.

 

cookies-mix
Dough-like consistency of the ‘suger cake’ mixture

Like a lab experiment, everything had to be controlled, these factors hindered me from making an truthful replica of the cake which Baker would have made. This made me question the finishing product, was this even what Baker took out of the oven, or was it something that looked entirely different? I soon came to realise that even the early modern use of names and labels were just another obstacle preventing me from an accurate outcome. From reading the recipe ‘for suger cakes’, I assumed I was baking something similar to a fairy cake. Yet after mixing all the ingredients together, and finding myself kneading the mixture more than beating it, thinking it felt more like cookie dough, I started to become confused. However, I wanted to carry on with the ‘cake’ I was making – so I placed them in the cake cases, into the oven and took to the Internet for some assurance. “The earliest English cakes were virtually bread, their main distinguishing characteristics being their shape –round and flat-”¹ was something which caught my eye, I wasn’t meant to be making cakes as we know it today, but round and flat sugar cakes!

misunderstanding-cookies
Miscommunication – Before understanding the definition of a ‘cake’ could also be flat and round.

The definition of a cake is: “a flat, thin, mass of bread, especially unlevened bread”² and the definition of a cookie: “a small cake made from stiff, sweet dough rolled and sliced or dropped by spoonfuls on a large, flat pan and baked”³. The glue-like, thick consistency of the dough made sense, I was essentially making a cookie, not a cake. After taking my first batch of ‘cakes’ out of the oven (which looked like mini scones), I put in another batch, this time aiming for a cookie-looking outcome.
Its interesting how such a little word can lead to such a huge miscommunication – Initially I was making something which was not a suger cake, but instead more like a sweet, small, scone.

 

I understood how beautifully stripped Early Modern cooking was, it was about wholesome ingredients, and the care and time which was put into it. However, after trying to make a recipe as close to that of 300 years ago, and reading a chapter on authenticity (link), It is impossible for me, a modern day 21 year old, to replicate the recipe with such precision. Looking at this as a History student, someone who has to use entirely correct facts, knowledge and historiography in order to create a valid argument or essay; One cannot help but understand, in my own academic OCD, that there is no way a 21st century reconstruction will ever validate and authenticate a dish cooked 300 years prior. The lack of similarity in atmosphere, utensils, ingredients, communications, recipes and even interpretation, highlights the limitations of reconstruction. 21st century customs seems to be an obstacle of the wholesomeness art of early modern baking, and as a result restricts the question of authenticity.

cookies
The final product! ‘Suger Cakes’.

Florence Hearn

Bibliography

[1] John Ayto, The Diner’s Dictionary: World Origins of Food and Drink, (2012). p.57.

[2]www.dictionary.com/browse/cake

[3]www.dictionary.com/browse/cookie

Recipe Book Memories

By Abbie Burnett

 The digital recipe book project has opened our minds to recognise that recipe books can include more than just recipes for meals, some posts on this blog explore this topic in more detail (Faye’s post and Sarah’s post). However, even with this in mind, when working on Margret Bakers recipe book I have found it difficult at times to draw these personal connections between her recipes and her lifestyle, relationships, and status in society. Sometimes Baker’s recipes for Tripe Peys are just recipes for tripe pies.

f.101v. and f.102r. from V.a.619: Receipt book of Margaret Baker
A recipe of Tripe Peys in Margaret Baker’s recipe book 

On my journey to make a connection between Baker and her recipes I was recommended by Dr Catherine Crawford to read Claudia Roden’s recipe book The Book of Jewish Food [1]. Before opening the book I checked out a few of its reviews online to get a sense of how it has been received by the general public. As a scholar, book reviews are a useful resource not only to gain an approximate judgement of quality of writings; but to find concise summaries, evaluative commentaries, and the position of these books in scholarly literature.[2]  Out of the 693 people who rated Roden’s book out of 5 stars, 86% gave it a 4 or 5 star rating, and only 3% gave The Book of Jewish Food a rating of 2 stars or lower. This overwhelmingly positive response characterising Roden’s book as a “culinary landmark” which was “packed with history and anecdote” ignited my curiosity into this twentieth century recipe book.

Claudia Roden The Book of Jewish Food (New York, 1996)
Claudia Roden The Book of Jewish Food (New York, 1996)

My high expectations were not disappointed upon reading The Book of Jewish Food. In fact, although I was prepared to find it an interesting collection of recipes I was still pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was as more than just a cookbook, but as an amazing historical narrative of Jewish people and their food. The links made by Claudia Roden between recipes and Jewish history made me abundantly aware of how recipe books have the potential to carry memories and emotion.

The Book of Jewish Food draws the reader into not only a world of food, but also a world of religion, of displacement and persecution, and of festivals and tradition experienced by the Jewish people of the past. Through reading this recipe book I did not only learn how to reproduce many types of different meals I also learnt a significant amount about the Jewish faith, to which I was previously relatively ignorant. Roden presents her dishes in a way that traces Jewish memories and the previous homes they came from. Her personal touch on the book allows the reader to recognise the emotional significance of recipes as well as the feeling of belonging that they can bring.

Other historians of recipes have touched upon the themes of memory and belonging which can be found within a recipe book. Among them are Montserrat Cabré who writes about The Emotional Life of Recipesdiscussing how recipe books can be emotionally charged objects. As well as Lisa Smith, whose blog post touches on the emotional significance of certain family recipes passed down through generations, she questions if these recipes were picked due to their practicality or due the memories that they evoke. Roden’s recipe book is unique in that it displays very clear emotional ties to recipes, however the early modern recipe books I have encountered often do not have this discernible evidence of emotion. Margret Baker seems to be a closed book in that sense.

Claudia Roden’s recipe book has not only furthered my understanding of the emotional depth of recipes, it has also furthered my understanding of the importance of considering religion when reading recipe books. Whilst I have been studying recipe books to decipher the kinds of lives that their owners lived during the early modern period, I have been neglecting a fundamental part of those lives. Religion was not simply a minor element of early modern life, for most people it was central to it and in Europe religious wars raged almost continuously throughout the period.[3]

The Magen David, a Jewish symbol
The Magen David, a Jewish symbol

Roden’s focus on Jewish traditions and the vital influence of religious kosher laws on recipes has highlighted to me the importance of considering religion in the study of recipe books, which are circulated in both religious and non religious communities. Religion has not been ignored by those who study early modern recipe books, the Recipes Project have a number of posts classed under religion, it is not their main focus but still an important consideration in the study of recipes. By neglecting religion in the study of recipes you simplify the lives of their creators and misrepresent them in history.

The Book of Jewish Food is an interesting read even to those with no intention of recreating a dish from its pages. It has opened my eyes to the close relationship of personal history and memory in recipe books, as well as the importance of considering religion when studying recipes.  For Roden, Jewish food brings a sense of religious closeness and personal identity, just as family recipes bring a sense of memory and belonging to many others. While Baker has previously appeared to me to have less of religious or emotional connection with her recipes, she may simply have not felt the need to make this connection explicitly clear in a private family recipe book, unknowing that historians would scrutinise its pages in the twenty-first century. I am sure deeper readings of Baker with these considerations in mind may reveal aspects which I have previously overlooked.

[1] Claudia Roden The Book of Jewish Food (1996)

[2] Franklin Obeng-Odoom ‘Why write book reviews?’ Austrialian Universities’ review 56 (2014).

[3] Mark Konnert Early Modern Europe: The Age of Religious War, 1559-1715 (Ontario, 2008), p. 9.