Category Archives: Knowledge Transmission and Circulation

The Circulation of Knowledge and Recipes

In class we discussed the circulation of knowledge and whether the way in which people in early modern England exchanged recipes should be considered a patronage or currency. We tried to understand how and why knowledge and recipes, particularly medicinal ones, was being circulated. Medicine and cures was becoming very important and was a popular field of study for peopel such as Jesuits in Spanish America during this time. The main questions that I pondered over were: how did knowledge and recipes circulate between different people and groups? Was it used commercially or socially? How was its reliability ensured?

There was a brief debate as to whether the system of exchanging knowledge should be considered patronage or a currency. As Alex noted, if one was to go to a doctor with a medical problem, they would pay for the doctor to inform them of the ‘recipe’ on how to get better and get the prescribed medicine. Leong and Patrell agreed that there was a medical marketplace. However, it began filled with ‘smart consumers’ who became informed on which remedies they could make themselves rather than racking up a pricey bill and being exploited by doctors. Therfore  it could also depend on the spheres in which informations and recipes are being shared. There is an obvious commercial value, but there is also a social aspect in people offering advice to one another, in other words, patronage. Its certainly another valid way of describing how people traded and exchanged knowledge and recipes of domestic medicine socially and used them as gifts or advice for relatives and social acquaintances.

Leong and Pennell agree that most recipes collected were traded between friends or family on social visits. For instance,

“[a] total of 12 recipes, from a number of occasions were collected at [Archdale] Palmer’s own residence in Wanlip. Some of the donors were labelled as ‘cousins’, while William D’Anvers of Swithland, the father of Palmer’s daughter-in-law, is typical of the extended family who exchanged recipes with him during social visits.”[1]

It was also not unusual for recipes that were exchanged to be presented as part of a dowry or wedding gift in Italy. [2] This made me realise that recipes were considered very valuable and important which is why recipes were also inherited by family members.

Addtionally, Leong and Pennell observed that one third of the 6554 recipes they analysed came with the name of the donor or ‘author’.[3] This reminded me of the whole idea that in society, the esteemed reputations of things such as movies gain more attention and popularity through word of mouth. Clearly, factors such as who someone was able to treat would be influential in this process. For instance, Sir Theodore de Vaux, a fellow of the Royal Society, was physician to King Charles II and the dowager Queen Katherine. By important figures such as them communicating with important and influential people in parliament and aristocratic circles , his effective recipes would have spread amongst them and add to the reliability of his medicinal recipes. However, we agreed that this would only go so far as it wouldve been local and not an effective way to circulate knowledge on a mass scale compared to writing letters and keeping collections. In addition,

“[r]ealising the value of that information – that is, converting it into medical knowledge – was not simply about knowing how to construct and operate a still, but about knowing what and who was trustworthy in provision of the raw data of recipes.”[4]

Physicians such as Sir Théodore Turquet de Mayern successfully championed the effort to produce the first official pharmacopoeia and was one of many who were considered trustworthy. The fact that cures and different recipes were tried and approved by other respected fellows of the Royal Society ensured that they were more reliable. For instance, ‘philosophical transactions’ were made between physicians and fellows of the Royal Society. In ‘An Account of the Diseases of Doggs, and Several Receipts for the Cure of their Madness’, Theodore de Mayern, T. and Theodore de Vaux offer four different approved cures for the bite of a Mad Dog. Clearly, knowledge was circulated in a support system amongst professionals.

 

Mayern, T. and T. de Vaux, ‘An Account of the Diseases of Doggs, and Several Receipts for the Cure of their Madness…’ Phil.Trans. 16 (1686) pp.408-409

Personally, I think the circulation of medicinal knowledge was and is more like currency that is part of a wider support system. As people in early modern society believed cures and recipes for various purposes was special and worthy enough to be exchanged as gifts or should be inherited shows us how valuable it was to them. It also shows how people supported each other as it added to each other’s care and health. Therefore, early modern medicinal knowledge and recipes was used socially more than commercially.

References:

Leong, E. and S. Pennell, ‘Recipe Collections and the Currency of Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern “Medical Marketplace”’, pp. 133-152 in M. S. R. Jenner and P. Wallis, eds. Medicine and the Market in England and Its Colonies, c. 1450-1850 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

[1] E. Leong,  and S. Pennell, ‘Recipe Collections and the Currency of Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern “Medical Marketplace” (Basingstoke, 2007) p.139

[2] Ibid p.141

[3] Ibid p.138

[4] Ibid p.149

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.

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.

 

 

Methods of Measurement and Delight.

As a student of Early Modern Recipes the process of discovering Margaret Baker and her contemporaries has been an unexpected delight on so many levels. Should we ladies ever meet , I’m sure we would connect; if not in the detail of our lives, then at least in the shared experience of being wives, mothers and caregivers. Early modern cruelty to animals, where ‘whelps are drowned’ and chickens plucked alive (Tracey’s post) would, of course repulse my  twenty first century sensibilities, but then the speed at which we live today, our secular lifestyles and modern individualism would perhaps appear quite alien to her.

Frontispiece The queen-like closet Hannah Woolley, 1670
Frontispiece
The queen-like closet Hannah Woolley, 1670

Baker’s world was one of extended social networks emanating, not from a mobile phone, but from her home and family.  Cooperation and collaboration by women within the domestic sphere strengthened familial bonds as well as alliences between mitresses and servants and made for the smooth running of a household. Collaboration and connection are also inherent within recipes, the following remark in the recipe book of Philip Stanhope, ‘my daughter-in-law taught it me/ Mrs Phillips taught it her’, an example of the  transmission of knowledge, and sociability.

Yet recipes themselves remain inanimate if not accompanied by instructions for their use.  Returning to the concept of meeting Baker I suspect this would be something we would have talked about. Possibly, we would also have reflected upon the importance of  both measurement and precision in the preparation and execution of our recipes.

Today, ‘precision’ is something we take for granted, regulated by micro measurements, global positioning instruments, and digital apparatus. Unfortunately, it is not something we automatically attribute to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in a domestic context. Instead, we see an England as yet untouched by the Industrial Revolution and so still tied into agrarian rhythms.

Harvest, Pieter Bruegel.
Harvest, Pieter Bruegel.

This became evident when Baker herself recommended a tonic  to be taken in Spring and the ‘fall’, and, although I knew otherwise, the phrasing of her instruction led me to reimagine her as a colonial American. I double-checked. Biographical information on ‘EMROC – The Baker Project’ confirmed her as English, and the Oxford Dictionary Online explained that ‘fall’ derived from the old English, ‘at leafs fall’, a centuries old phrase denoting the third quarter of the year. Latterly it was simply referred to as ‘fall’ and so in common usage , was then taken to the new world by puritan migrants. In England, as urban societies grew and ties with the countryside diminished the less rustic sounding  ‘autumn’ was adopted to describe the season.

Precision, we must accept was no less accurate in the past if we do not judge the concept by modern standards. Then, accuracy, at least enough for people to rely upon, was achieved by constancy: by using the same instruments, weights and measurement whatever they were.

Seventeenth-Century English Recipe Books: Cooking, Physic and Chirurgery in the Works of Elizabeth Talbot Grey and Aletheia Talbot Howard: Library of Essential Works by Elizabeth Spiller (Editor)
The Works of Elizabeth Talbot Grey and Aletheia Talbot Howard: by Elizabeth Spiller .

Today recipes will sometimes make use of phrases such as a ‘cup’ of rice but usually it is 30 grammes of this or 450 grammes of that. Very precise. By contrast early modern  methods of quantifying  items appear strange to us, almost  haphazard? Consequently, we can easily dismiss women like Baker, Elizabeth Talbot Grey and Aletheia Talbot Howard as having inadequate tools with which to standardise amounts. Not so. In the absence of digital scales their constants were ‘handfuls’, ‘pennies’, ‘pecks’, and nuts.

 Nutmeg. http://wellcomeimages.o
Nutmeg.
http://wellcomeimages.

Take, for example Grey’s, ointment to break a sore. She takes a handful of gentian, stamps it, straines it and puts it to half a pint of may butter, and as much virgin wax as a walnut’. 1 Nutmegs as a unit of measurement also feature regularly in her recipes, e.g, ‘Take the quantitie of one nutmeg out of your tin pot’, alternatively, ‘take the bigness of a nutmeg. 2 In one script she uses a combination of measuring methods all at once,

‘A handful of red sage, a quantitie of rustie bacon as big as a walnut, bay salt 2 ounces, sowr leaven as much as an egg…’3 

Amazingly, coins frequently appear,  both as a unit of weight and of measurement, a pennyworth of saffron suggesting a particular and standardised  quantitie. 5 Interestingly women also used ‘a penny weight, the latter being easily multiplied to achieve the desired outcome. For example, ‘the weight of five pence’, 6  ‘the weight of two shillings,’ 7 or ‘a  4 penny weight of spikenard.’  A pennyworth may also have been a liquid measurement as per this instruction for a plaister for ‘the collick’, in so much as it may refer to a small round amount of oil only as big as a penny.

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Returning to the possibility of ever meeting up with either, Howard, Grey or Baker, amidst the myriad of topics we would explore and engage in, I would of course, have to share with them my utter delight in their early modern methods of measurement.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Spiller, Elizabeth, (ed) Seventeenth-Century English Recipe Books: Cooking, Physic and Chirurgery in the Works of Elizabeth Talbot Grey and Aletheia Talbot Howard: Library of Essential Works. Routledge. 2008

[1] pg 81

[2] pg 151

[3] pg 34

[4] pg 209.

[5] pg 31

[6] pg 122

[7] pg 362

[8] pg 173

A Recipe To Life

By Faye Glover

Before The Digital Recipe Books Project I had always considered a recipe as just a set of instructions to make a food dish. How naïve! I have now realised how recipes are invaluable primary sources to studying the domestic sphere in the early modern period. Whilst food recipes from the period give historians more specific information, for instance which ingredients were favoured, for which I am sure culinary historians are grateful. Most recipe books from the early modern period include instructions for beauty regimes, medical prescriptions and household management. So besides telling us all the weird and wonderful foods contemporaries liked to make it give us a real insight in to their world.

The Johnson family recipe book is a great example of an early modern working recipe book. It contains an abundance of recipes, added between the years of 1694 and 1831. The Johnson family record numerous recipes for different foods, wines, medical prescriptions and also instructions for good housekeeping. The large volume of recipes alone tells us immediately that the Johnson family have a keen interest in note taking and passing on knowledge on such topics.

It is clear that this recipe book is a working book from the indications in the margins on most pages. Most recipes were tried and tested and this marked in the margins with either ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ or in some cases crossing out the recipe all together.

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The Johnson family recipe book incorporates recipes from those they took recommendations from. For example, the some recipes are titled ‘Mrs Gardlands Way,’ showing that they family have taken advice from somebody else, although it is not clear who Mrs Gardland is. In addition, the Johnson family have a recipe titled ‘Lady Herons Plumcake.’ Although it is again unclear if Lady Heron is a friend of the family or if the recipe has even come from the Lady herself, this could indicate to the social status of the Johnson family to have such correspondences.

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The recipes within the Newdigate family records differ from those in the Johnson Family’s recipe book. In class on the 17 November 2016 we looked at Lisa Smith’s transcriptions of the Newdigate family papers from the Warwickshire County Record Office. These papers included family births, deaths and correspondences as well as recipes for the household. From these recipes it would seem that the Newdigate family were not as interested in keeping notes on recipes as much as the Johnson family. There recipes were less as part of a working recipe book and instead noted down for a practical reason.

The Newdigate family records include many recipes for the garden and keeping the home, such as poisoning vermin and foxes, making ink and cementing stone. This may be because Sir Richard Newdigate the younger wrote and kept these, whereas it was a mix of men and women writing the Johnson family recipes. Lisa Smith has an interesting blog titled Tracing Recipes to Kill Vermin which explores recipes from the early modern period which deal with the issue of vermin.

The Newdigate family records do have a few interesting food recipes as well, such as the Essex method of making butter. This recipe highlights key regional differences in the preference of butter making as ‘the famous Epping Butter is all made in this manner and is more esteemed in London than any other.’

To see the extent to which women had to go to in order to prepare and preserve foods is eye opening as today we take it for granted that you can buy food already prepared and cooked. Similarly, to see how women made ointments and creams is interesting as it shows the interest they had, even two hundred years ago, in beauty regimes. The recipes for household management show the huge amount of hard work and thought which went into housekeeping in the early modern period. For this I have a newly found respect for the women keeping these recipe books.

In addition to those written by the everyday woman, some recipe books were published for the masses. Mrs Beaton’s Book of Household Management is probably the most famous example of this. Her book contains advice on almost everything, from assigning duties to domestic servants to recipes for hundreds of food dishes. Likewise Hannah Wooley’s A Supplement to the Queen-like Closet includes instructions for letter writing and for beauty regimes alongside her recipes for food!

Every recipe book tells a story. Whilst today we may think of recipe books as a guide to cooking in the early modern period they offered an extensive guide to the management of the household and professed the importance of good domesticity.

Good Housekeeping

 

I’m md15914530033sure my mother never imagined that her well used Good Housekeeping’s Cookery Compendium (1952) would ever feature in a blog. I’m equally sure she had absolutely no idea what a blog was or how it had become  part of  21st century communication. Suffice to say her cook book, my blog and recipe books of the past  are as similar as they are different. Language and its presentation may be the common medium through which their ideas are expressed but what is actually being communicated is potentially exclusive; inclusive; multi-layered; of their period and timeless. That’s a highbrow explanation of a sample of books and blogs I hear you say? Not necessarily. Along with my fellow students, also grappling with the concept of what constitutes a recipe, my ideas, have drastically changed.

 

Blogs, for example are recognised as cutting edge modern communication and could not be further from an early modern recipe book if they tried. Sure about that? What about both being conversational; making use of speech and language contractions?  Similarly, my mother’s 1952 compendium- low on conversation and high on instruction- also finds a parallel in the modern blog where the writer needs to impart information concisely within prescribed word counts. As a firm believer in the idea that history is not a foreign country but the idea of ‘us in retrospect’ constrained only by relatively primitive technologies, it becomes possible to see how we, through texts such as Castleton and Baker are connected irrespective of time. With this in mind transcribing Bakers recipes as part of EMROC becomes a personal experience, especially her medicinal scripts. The realisation that the early modern woman and I have always been synchronised at the point we recognise medicines  need to be used means that we are closer than we think. That our ancestral counterparts actually had to produce many of their own prescriptions as opposed to purchasing them, as I do, seems to me a nominal difference. Knowing this, the acceptance of how Baker’s ‘warm musk desolveth wyndynes’ and the importance of being able to identify exactly where a fore-rib of beef is located on a cow, appears less ludicrous, now  reimagined as a continuation of family provision and domestic knowledge over time.

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Although Baker is our prescribed transcription project when you read around our subject it becomes clear just how much involvement women had in household management, aspiring to both proficiency and accomplishment.  As with the 1950’s novice housewife many women upon marriage found themselves charged with the running of a home, wellbeing of a partner and subsequent children and until the present day, where convenience foods and laboursaving devices prevail, these women had to provide largely from scratch. Even early modern gentlewoman Alice Le Strange who married in 1602 and, though not quite cooking and cleaning herself, found she needed to organise those whose labour supported the family estate. By trial and error she perfected her accounting, enabling her to both display agency and sustain control.

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Interacting with us on levels beyond that of accounting, the language of the Johnson Recipe Book is both definitive and ambiguous. Culinary and medicinal recipes in different hands are evidence of gendering, with knowledge exchanged by several members of the household or possibly generations over time. Efficacy markings throughout the manuscript, plus text struck through, illustrate how the author interacted and experimented with the text. Inclusion of newspaper cuttings also shows awareness of current ideas which the author is prepared to filter into her own findings.  As a repository for personal and collected information perhaps this was both a private and communal workbook? As the latter, inscriptions in Greek speak of possible inclusions by educated men and the mention of a Lady Gresham and Sir Francis Prugen speak of elite social networking or at least social aspirations.

 

Sir Richard Newdigate         (1644-1702)

If not social aspirations, then social affirmations appear in the Newdigate family papers. Loose papers kept by what appears to be a dysfunctional family disclose genealogical information plus dark family secrets compounded by the erratic state of mind of its patriarch, who used both carrot and stick to manage a small army of  servants. A family with a social position to protect, among recipes to treat ‘obstinate scurvy’  make butter ‘the Essex way,’ prescriptions for vetinary cases’ and ‘directions for  making ‘indian glue,’ there are receipts telling of a ‘a method  for cementing stone…’ a collection of books in Italian and French, plus a collection of ‘ coins and Italian marble.’  

 

Times may change but a need for remedies, control and the desire to improve are constant. That’s why I include  my mother’s Good Housekeeping Compendium alongside the Johnsons and Newdigates of this blog. Never having to use outlandish ingredients or administer an estate the size of a small country, she did however, like them, feel the need to establish her domestic identity. The similarities between herself and mistresses Johnson and Newdigate range over three hundred years the only real difference being that mum was now buying into a growing consumer culture with its own definitive need for effective household management. Among the recipes for rock cakes and how to make lump-less custard Good Housekeeping promoted thrift and economy in the form of buying sturdy kitchen equipment and polishing utensils weekly to prolong their life and so save money.

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In her time, and in her own way mum too experimented; physically with ingredients and mentally in her personal assimilation of the knowledge she received, leaving annotations on the pages of the family’s favourite recipes. The precise layout and colour presentation of my mother’s 1952 book is vastly different to those of the early modern housewife, but how to effectively pickle an egg  could well have been the result of earlier experimentations perfected by women like mistress Johnson. Alternatively, advice on thrift may have had roots in the accounting processes of Alice Le strange. I too, as a young child, claim involvement with the recipes in mum’s book, notably by scribbling ‘Thes one’ and ‘That one’ (this one/that one) across the pictures of my favourite cakes.  I  doubt however,  my involvement within the conversation of recipes, will ever be going down in history.

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The Stories in the Recipe Book

By Lisa Smith

Some time ago, Carla Nappi posed an intriguing series of questions over at The Recipes Project :

Reading through this text, I began to think deeply about these recipes as literary objects. What if we understand a recipe not just as a kind of text, but also as a form of storytelling? If a recipe does tell a story, what kind of story might that be? And how might understanding recipes in this way change the way we read and experience them?

Her questions came to mind after our seminar on ‘What is a Recipe?’–a seemingly simple question with a vastly difficult answer. Recipes were more than a set of instructions. They were forms of narration, at their most authoritative within the context of experience or case histories (Gianna Pomata), and a space for translation between people and cultures (Carla Nappi). Recipes included implied knowledge; not everything was written down. When transmitted, words, ingredients and measurements might gain or lose meanings. Expertise came from the ability to interpret recipes for specific situations, not simply to reproduce an outcome.

woolley-supplement-titleThe excerpts from Hannah Woolley’s A Supplement to the Queen-like Closet (1674) further complicated our answer. Alongside recipes for food, medicine and beauty, Woolley included detailed instructions for cleaning chimneys, examples of letter-writing, and an account of how to make a ‘pretty toy’ to catch flies (complete with ingredients, process and usage). The line between recipes and other didactic writing was clearly blurred. They share, after all, a common function of providing instructions.

But… if you took a step back from the individual parts, could you read the whole recipe book as a story—or, maybe even a recipe—in itself? Rachel Rich, for example, suggests that nineteenth-century print recipe books drew readers into narratives by casting them in the role of heroine. Dramatic tension came from the endless potential for the reader’s failure.

The Queen-like Closet also reveals tensions between the recipe’s narrative and instructional functions. Woolley framed her expertise—particularly her medical know-how—in terms of experience. In the foreword, she emphasised that she only included ‘such things as I have had many years Experience of, with good success’. She also provided cases of successful cures, demonstrating her authority and efficacious remedies.

Woolley also put herself in the role of heroine. For example, one case entailed her raising the dead.

A man taken suddenly with an Apoplexy, as he walked the Street, his Neighbours taking him into a house, and as they thought he was quite dead, I being called until him, chanced to come just when they had taken the Pillow from his Head, and were going to strip him.

She forced him to drink a remedy, rubbed and chafed him, opened the window and ‘in a little time he came to himself and knew every one.’ Although he only lived ten hours more, he had enough time to prepare for a good death by making peace with God and putting his affairs in order (14).

Heroism appears in other ways in the Queen-like Closet. Julia Lupton, for example, interprets the book in terms of being a form of ‘shelter writing’—the discourse of housekeeping, particularly in the face of hardships. Many of Woolley’s cases or examples referred to the daily hardships visited upon women: from medical assistance for an abused woman to a sample letter breaking the news of a child’s death. Woolley’s urban middling-sort audience could aspire to becoming heroines—or, at least, excellent, upwardly-mobile housewives… if they followed her instructions.

Therein lies the rub; where judgment was required in more complicated cases, Woolley ‘dare not therefore adventure to teach, but only those things wherein People cannot easily Erre.’ If successful outcomes in using Woolley’s book came purely from reproducing what was written down, rather than exercising good judgment in the interpretion of what was written, were these recipes merely a set of instructions? And to what exactly were the readers aspiring?

Considering the whole, we might read A Supplement to the Queen-like Closet in three ways.

  1. A collection of useful knowledge that could teach women how to keep house. Good judgment was not necessary for success, as each section should be easily reproduced. (Or, according to ‘An Advertisement’ in the book, Woolley’s remedies could even be purchased directly from her!)
  2. One large recipe for the life success of aspirational housewives, in which each ‘recipe’ or recipe-like entry is only one step. In this way, it wouldn’t matter if the individual parts were merely reproducible instructions, as the end goal was to become a housewife who had learned good judgment through her own practice of Woolley’s advice.
  3. A story in which heroines—Woolley, suffering women, or the reader—attained success in re-establishing domestic harmony. Within the story, each recipe performed a particular function: offering the perfect dish, healing neighbours, cleaning dark chimney corners, or putting one’s best cosmetically-enhanced face forward.

woolley-addressPerhaps recognising the tension in her text, Wolley added that ‘for many other things which I cannot in few words relate, if any Person will come to me, I will satisfie them to their content’. Those who wanted a deeper knowledge than instructions could seek it out; their story did not have to end with this book.

Knowledge dispensed, Woolley wished her readers ‘all the happiness I may’ (200). She was clear, though, that the success or failure was entirely up to the reader:

Ladies, I hope your pleas’d, and so shall I be,

If what I’ve Writ, you may be gainers by:

If not, it is your fault, it is not mine,

Your benefit in this I do design.

A fourth narrative, then: the expert passing on her knowledge step-by-step, with the potential for the recipient’s failure. Rachel Rich concludes that recipe books did not always have a happy ending, but at least with the Queen-like Closet, there were a range of possible endings–from the merely useful to the expert with good judgment.