Teaching Transcription and Recipes at a Liberal Arts College

In a new undergraduate course at Bowdoin College about health and healing in the early modern Iberian world, we dedicated a unit of our semester to studying recipes from the period, as curative and culinary, considering questions such as access to ingredients, location of preparations and intended makers and recipients. We began our unit with introductory materials from selections from Carolyn Nadeau’s Food Matters (2016) and Michael Soloman’s Fictions of Well Being (2010). We then spent a class session in Special Collections for some hands-on work. Although we did not have any examples of Iberian recipe books on hand, the college is fortunate to possess a 1662 copy of The queens closet opened: incomparable secrets in physick, chyrurgery, preserving and candying, allowing students to handle the palm-sized edition of this widely popular 17th-century English recipe book, commenting on the materiality of the book, the contents of the recipes and connections with cabinets of curiosity as well as the gendering of medical practices.[1] In anticipation for this visit, students also spent time with the virtual paleography tutorial preparing them for their first encounters in transcription during this visit.

Bowdoin’s resourceful librarian Marieke Van Der Steenhoven curated a selection of manuscripts in English, offering a variety of hands and examples of types of documents with early material from the collection. Some of the documents included a French-to-English translation of Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713); A 1772 court notice for the trial of Ansell Nickerson who was “charged with the crime of murder, committed upon the High Seas”; A revolutionary war letter from Jacob Gerrish to L. Jewett dated November 23, 1778 regarding troop provisions and movement around the Boston area; and a 1727 land deed for the township of North Yarmouth, Maine. Along with our hands-on help, students consulted tips on transcription using selections from this guide.

Thanks to advice from colleagues in EMROC, I learned about the Granville manuscript as a source of information that would allow us to think about recipe circulation in the Iberian context, while also demonstrating ties between England and Spain and the global circulation of ingredients and preparations. The goal of the class was to introduce students to the history and content of this particular recipe collection, but also to provide space for some hands-on practice with digital transcription.

Here is one of the recipes, “receta para agua de ambar” or recipe for amber water, from the Granville MS, fol. 106r.

Below are some student responses to the transcription experience:

Francesca-Beth Haines: “From transcribing the two recipes I chose, I found that although the transcription was, at times, quite difficult and perplexing, it was very satisfying to figure out the word or words that were actually written… I learned to be patient and open-minded through this process. This was an eye-opening experience where I participated in something I never thought I would, and I was able to gain additional respect to those who perform these transcriptions because they can be very arduous.”

Hannah Zuklie: “Transcribing today was especially interesting because each recipe reminded me of the Lentils (Carolyn Nadeau) reading we did earlier in the semester, and it made clear that the Granvilles had access to privileged foods like steak, not to mention chocolate from the Americas.”

Cordelia Stewart: “Transcribing with DROMIO was an incredibly rewarding experience. While the process of transcribing requires patience and persistence, the omnipresent knowledge that every word decoded contributes towards a huge project of sharing is super fulfilling. It was a particularly empowering exercise as a Spanish-speaking female to work on transcribing recipes from historic Spanish-speaking females.”

Grace Mallett: “I learned the importance of understanding the context of the time period in which the manuscripts were written. With this background knowledge, illegible words will be much more clear and transcription is much more seamless. Furthermore, I feel like this experience truly allowed me to sense the history of the manuscripts. Seeing the original text / paper was very powerful and made my experience feel extremely authentic.”

Tessa Westfall: “I had so much fun decoding and transcribing the Early Modern recipes! It felt like I was a real detective, uncovering what people hundreds of years ago were interested in. It was so remarkable to me that even though the textual expression looked so different, the recipes I was working on could easily be found in a contemporary cookbook. The whole experience was a very exciting coalescence of past and present, old and new, and I felt really lucky to have contributed to the project.”

Catherine Call:  really liked the transcription class. It was fun, and like a puzzle. It reminded me of a religion class I took last year when we read excerpts from the Dead Sea scrolls and looked at the actual pieces they came from– this exercise (and looking at how tiny and faint the Dead Sea “scrolls” were) reminded me of how much work goes into making information available.

Sabrina Albanese: I really enjoyed transcribing the recipes. It thought it was interesting to know that we are able to be part of something bigger than ourselves and actually help out others studying recipes. It was like a puzzle trying to figure out what the writing was saying but it was fun!

Diego Villamarin: I appreciated having a class in Special Collections and Archives prior to the digital transcription. Getting the hands on experience with a peer reminded me the goal of our work. Also, working in a group allowed us to cover a larger span of the paper, since we covered each other’s weaknesses and we had the second pair of eyes to check over our transcription of the text. The individual work with EMROC in the library computer lab offered a hands-on experience that had a more immediate contribution since our transcriptions were sent immediately and were awaiting more transcriptions in order to ensure accuracy. Working in the presence of our peers certainly gave the feeling and rush of taking part in a “transcribe-a-thon”. With your and Marieke’s help, a lot of the common mistakes and hurdles were overcome. The experience gave me a new appreciation for the work that is done to make the papers and texts that I read legible and accessible.

[1] For a compelling introduction to this recipe book, see Opening the Queen’s Closet: Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Cromell, and the Politics of Cookery (Laura Luner Knoppers, Renaissance Quarterly 60.2 2007)

Margaret Boyle is an Associate Professor in the Romance Languages and Literature Department, Bowdoin College.

God in the Recipe

Written by Jana Jackson

The diverse uses of an early modern woman’s private space in the home, often termed her “closet,” are reflected in the writing she produced. A good Protestant woman, for example, was encouraged to take notes in her Bible and to also keep a commonplace book containing personal religious musings: “[Readers] were also trained to compile their own collections [of religious thoughts] on bound or loose-leaf pages, either following the subject headings of a trusted authority or devising a scheme that met their particular needs” (Sherman 75). These commonplace place books also contained recipes, both culinary and medicinal. In addition, women compiled “receipt books,” to prove their competency in domestic responsibilities. In keeping with the non-bifurcation of religion from quotidian life in the early modern period, some of these receipt books contain references to God, Bible verses, and other religious marginalia in addition to recipes.

Many extant receipt books, of course, contain no sermon notes or other spiritual prose. However, it is not uncommon for God to be included within the medical receipts even in these texts. Frances Catchmay’s manuscript is an excellent example of the frequent occurrence of God within a receipt as an essential ingredient for achieving the promised efficacy. In a receipt to cure the plague, for example, she instructs the reader to drink a “draught”of malmosey & treacle till he leave casting. . .and after give the patient adrawght of bournt malmsey without treacle, & so cast him into asweate, & let him be after kept very warme, & by the grace of god [italics mine] he shall have helpe (22r). Likewise, Mary Granville’s rendition of “Doctor Burges” plague water includes the phrase “under God trusting” to support her assertion that “this never did faile either man woman or child” (41r).

Cookery and medicinal recipes of the Granville family, MS V.a.430 Folger Shakespeare Library

Certainly, the desperate crisis of the descent of bubonic plague on a town makes exhortations to God, even among the non-religious, in the physics of plague waters understandable. Kevin Killeen, in fact, asserts that it was not uncommon for doctors to flee from infestations of the plague, leaving behind less wealthy citizens and, presumably, female domestic practitioners anxiously dispensing their homemade physic (194). Additionally, the plague was often viewed by early modern Protestants as a curse from God in punishment of sin, thus reinforcing the view that healing the disease cures both the body and soul (194). But “God as ingredient” occurs in receipts for less catastrophic (or contagious) diseases as well. For example, Margaret Baker’s receipt titled “For the fallinge downe of the mother” concludes with a claim that “it will help by the grace of god” (57r). These early modern Protestant women frequently acknowledge that without God’s help, physics treating a variety of diseases will fail.

The Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, MS V.a.419. Folger Shakespeare Library

God was, therefore, often thought to be a highly efficacious “ingredient” in early modern physic. A woman was extolled as truly pious if she demonstrated her faith in every aspect of her life, including, of course, the imitation of Christ achieved through healing the sick. Additionally, it contributed to the credibility of the value of the receipt itself. Arguably, male physicians were more likely to incorporate domestic physic into their own medical practices if the contributor was a pious woman who understood her place within the cultural/religious patriarchy.[1] Therefore, “God in the recipe” accomplished two important functions for an early modern Protestant woman: It “proved” her piety, and it lent authority in the male-dominated medical profession to her domestic medical practice.

 

Jana Jackson is a graduate student at the University of Texas, Arlington

Works Cited

Baker, Margaret. Receipt book of Margaret Baker. MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, 1675(?). Web.

Catchmay, Lady Frances. A booke of medicens. MS184A. Wellcome Library, 1625(?). Web.

Grenville Family. Cookery and medicinal recipes of the Granville family. MS V.a.430. Folger Shakespeare Library, c.a. 1640. Web.

Killeen, Kevin. “Powder for Padlocks: The Rhetoric of Thanksgiving and the Politics of Flight in Caroline Plague.” Literature and Popular Culture in Early Modern England. Eds. Matthew Dimmock and Andrew Hadfield. Great Britain: MPG Books Group, 2009. 193-207. Print.

Sherman, William H. Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England. Philadelphia, PA: U of Pennsylvania P, 2008. MLA International Bibliography. Print.

[1] See, for example, Richard Banister’s encomium of Lady Grace Mildmay in his “Letter to the Reader” in A Treatise of One Hundred and Thirteen Diseases of the Eyes by Jacques Guillemeau.