Category Archives: What is a recipe?

Aristotle’s Master-Piece Completed, in Two Parts – The Unexpected.

When we think of recipes, we think of the cookbook that we have shoved in a cupboard, ready to use if the occasion ever should call for it – though for many it never does. However, when the historian wants to examine society, the recipe book remains that useful tool which wasn’t expected. That is what we have found, and we have learned that we can tell much from the archaic spellings and even more from the sentences that those spellings form. I admit, when I began the Digital Recipe Project, I was never under any sort of illusion that I would be coming into contact with a how-to guide on making dinner. Instead, I knew there would be some strange ingredients, and medicines for diseases that have long since been forgotten, and cures for which so ludicrous it can barely be believed. You’ve heard the phrase ‘a recipe for disaster’? Well, how else do you describe the fact that the methods for encouraging pregnancy were virtually the same as those to prevent it. I could not help but feel some modicum of respect for the women who were able to master the difference, as my twenty-first century mind surely could not.  

 

I was even prepared to face some equally silly sounding alchemical procedures. Models to make gold from lead, or love potions. Pseudo-science to fit into a book where asking God for assistance was sometimes as important as the right medicine. A recipe, by definition, is a set of instructions in order to create something. I was expecting anything that could come into that category.

 

Or so I thought. Despite my readiness for the weird and wonderful, what even my prepared mind was surprised to see was the presence of a guide to create a happy relationship, out of nothing. I have to admit, when I saw the name ‘Aristotle’, I cracked a smile. I’m fairly certain the philosopher who had died almost two thousand years prior had nothing to do with this, but I like the idea that part of his great philosophical thoughts involved such a topic. Regardless, it is an interesting read, if only because of its amusing relevance to the modern reader. Also, there’s something reassuring in knowing that people were as terrible at romance in 1697 as they are now.  

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Onto the text itself, of the short extract I have read, which focuses on how to… get the mood right, for a night between husband and wife. In case anyone was uncertain, the author makes it clear that ‘without copulation, there can be no generation.’ I would hope that the reader was aware of this, I’m not sure why the author has bothered to write this, unless he’s simply posturing in preparation of his recipe of love.

 

I have to admit that I wasn’t certain on first reading what was meant by the term ‘restoratives’, aside from the obvious. But I could guess well enough to suit my purpose, so I forged on. It makes sense, if you want to increase your chances of pregnancy, have a healthy body. It’s not like that isn’t deemed true today, with the various vitamin tablets intended purely for those attempting to conceive – though I expect the restoratives of the seventeenth century were of a more natural composition, and was probably nothing more than a good quality meal.

 

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So, step one, get your body healthy. Simple, makes sense, easy to remember, a good rule in general. Step two, have a glass of wine, (or two, or three – depends how ‘unequal’ the ‘match’ is, I suppose) and relax, be happy. The author warns against sadness and sorrow, stating that it can prevent conception, and even if it does not, can have a poor effect on the coming child. The scientific mind is sceptical of this, because there’s obviously no way anybody could have measured this. Thus we are given a display on the importance of superstition in early modern culture – oft the resort to find reason where science has yet to provide an answer.

 

The author goes on to warn against excess, though, so maybe that third glass of wine would have been too many, I thought. Again, common sense seems to be the theme of the text. Too much food or drink, and you’ll become ‘dull and languid’ – anybody who likes a roast dinner can get on board with that. But what the author goes on to explain next is somewhat unusual to our thoughts, explaining that good blood creates good spirits, and allows a man to perform his ‘dictates of nature’. What comes after the act is a man must stay with his wife, so that she stays warm – here we see the importance of the humoral explanation of medicine.

 

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Finally, the woman should be left to rest, ensuring that she keeps happy thoughts, and refrains from any coughing or sneezing or turning or generally moving at all. That seems like a test, considering how bad a mood a person can get in if they are uncomfortable in bed.

 

So, it seems like recipes really do cover all bases. Even the historian can be surprised, when it comes to this subject. All in all, though, how different is the early modern method of setting the mood between disparate couples to the methods which modern couples use when struggling to keep the fire of passion alive. I would imagine it’s not that different, and this marks another case of the seemingly alien early modern world being far more familiar than we could have thought.

 

Political Recipes

By Sarah Osho

During my second seminar class for the digital recipes module, we discussed and debated what a recipe was and its conventional functions. My initial and general understanding of what a recipe encompassed was the transmission and exchange of personal knowledge, usually for the use of cooking. During the seminar, we also realised it would depend on the context and how the information is interpreted. This would help determine whether it was indeed a recipe. However, after reading ‘Constructing the Politics of Cookery: Authorial Strategy and Domestic Politics in English Cookery Books, 1655-1670’ by Claire Saffitz, the concept of a recipe is not a straightforward as it seems. I found the possibility of an early modern cookery book being used to spread royalist propaganda very fascinating. Who would have thought that recipes would not only be of a domestic nature but have a political dispute between the comparisons of two Queens too?

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The Queens Closet Opened (1668)

The first section of Saffitz’s article looks at The Queen Closet Opened (1656), credited to Henrietta and Maria and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth (1664) credited to Elizabeth Cromwell.  Saffitz’s suggests these book illustrate how good housewifery and the strength of nation was seen as connected in the early modern era. Madeline Bassnett and Laura Knoppers point out that they were used as

polemical political tools in the decades before and after Charles II’s restoration to emphasize aristocratic and royalist social networks, promote courtly practices of the early Stuart era, and link the wellbeing of the national household to the monarchy.[21]

This very insightful as this indicates how both the domestic and political spheres have a connection just as the public and private ones do.  This could indicate the popularity and thereby influence it had in the early modern period. However, Saffitz argues that due to “male authorship and female subjectivity,” the attempt to merge political polemic with cookery book genre has resulted in the instability of these two texts.  Additionally, its structure conflicts its function as a practical cookery guide.

Saffitz also suggests there is an anxious tone to these two texts in the exposing and making private feminine spaces public.  The idea that William Montangu has pirated Henrietta Maria recipes, thereby ‘opening the Queen’s closet’, alludes to the idea of making her private hidden secrets, and in this case her political competence, known. As one goes through the recipes, it is apparent that the style is of a detached nature, showing how it does not contain any personal tastes and preferences in recipes and therefore no sense authorship. It reveals

a troubling tension between what is presented as a window into the private life of the Queen and her absenteeism from this space she is supposed to occupy.

This showed me how there were many more ways of reading and interpreting a recipe. If analysed closely, it can be informative in terms of tracing personality traits and the social aspects of a person or family home. Which recipes they used and from what backgrounds they originated from could be relatively useful in making social and political links.

Another aspect of the article was the idea that Henrietta Maria’s portrayal was that of an ideal queen and housewife, whereas Elizabeth is represented as a queen who was as “stingy toward her husband’s table as she is toward the nation”. Her reputation at the time was not a pleasant one amongst the poor.  During her reign 75% for the price of food increase and agricultural labour wages drastically fell as well. Knoppers stated Elizabeth was unwilling or unable to act hospitably in her role as protectoress. [29] The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth implies Elizabeth’s poor household management indicates and is linked to her incompetency as a wife and ruler, which are both damaging to England. This presents yet another way in which to interpret recipes and the authorship behind the different editions made. This book also shows me how women were conceived and judged by their domestic abilities and if inadequate, can be used against them.

To conclude, clearly recipes cannot be strictly defined in a singular sense. Their uses are never-ending and can be quite informative. Some can be used to just transmit knowledge from one family member to another, and others used to show and support a political statement.

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.