Readers of Early Modern Recipes

by Kristina Duemmler, UNC Charlotte

I have always been fascinated with reading. Many people believe that reading is a static activity that does not reveal important information about readers; but reading practices are everywhere, and they reveal a lot about readers. This is especially true when looking at Early Modern recipes. 

I recently graduated with my B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and will be a student in the M.A. Program in English there in the fall. I am a member of the English honors program. As part of the program, I am expected to conduct research and produce a thesis. When thinking about topics for my research, my mind immediately turned to readers.

I looked for an area of study that had little research on readers, and that is when I encountered Early Modern recipes for the first time. As I scanned through these wonderful works that held so much history, I couldn’t help but notice the many instances of marks that hinted at the activities readers participated in.

I immediately went online to look for scholars that had already looked at readers of recipe books. I was sure that there would be a lot of research that I could study, but I was mistaken. There was little research done on the practices of Early Modern recipe book readers. Thus, my thesis idea was born.

I spent the rest of the semester hunched over Kristine Kowalchuk’s Preserving on Paper, specifically her transcribed version of Mary Granville’s Receipt Book. I also spent a large amount of time analyzing images from the original Receipt Book (Oh, what I would have given to be able to go to the Folger’s Library and look at the text in person).

Through these months of analysis, two things occurred. One, I found clear areas where readers engaged with the text in meaningful ways, and these meaningful interactions told me a lot about the readers during the 17th and 18th centuries. Two, and almost as important as the first, I developed a deep respect for receipt books and for the transcription and preservation of these texts.

Now, after my long-winded explanation, I will share the fun and fascinating things I found within Mary Granville’s Receipt Book.

Stains

The stains that occurred within the Granville project were the first things I noticed when looking at the manuscript. These beautiful little mistakes can tell a lot about the reader and about the text itself.

Granville, Mary, D’Ewes, Anne. “Receipt Book.” The Granville Project, Folger Shakespeare Library. V.a. 430. Pages 18 and 25

The stain that is pictured above appears on page 18. The spot is directly on top of the writing. Since the stain appears on top of the writing, I speculate that the stain occurred after the writing of this recipe. Thus, it might have occurred during the reading of the recipe and might have been caused by the reader.

If my assumptions are correct, that would place the recipe book within the confines of the kitchen. It would also suggest that this was not a text that was read leisurely. Instead, this text was used and practiced. The recipes were read and then acted out.

Annotations

Annotations are another part of recipe books that interested me. Annotations can tell us a lot about the readers intentions. I could say a lot about annotations, but I am short on words. So instead I will focus on corrections made to the text.

Granville, Mary, D’Ewes, Anne. “Receipt Book.” The Granville Project, Folger Shakespeare Library. V.a. 430. Page 165.

The recipe for making spanish pap has been edited. The original recipe called for two yolks of eggs; however, the two has been written over with a four. This annotation occurs in a different hand from the author, so I am guessing that it was the reader who made the correction.

If it was in fact the reader making this correction, then it shows us that the reader used this recipe and made improvements to the recipe to suit her needs. This is important because it shows that the readers were active readers that individualized the text.

As Elaine Leong argues in her article, Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household, readers of receipt books had “a desire to personalize and adapt these collections to one’s own requirements” (Leong).

Manicules

Last, but certainly not least, I looked at manicules. Manicules are fascinating and, once again, show the practices that readers participated in.

Granville, Mary, D’Ewes, Anne. “Receipt Book.” The Granville Project, Folger Shakespeare Library. V.a. 430. Page 102.

Once again, here is a moment where the reader is interacting with the text. This manicule is pointing out a particular recipe of interest. The reader could be marking the recipe to show that it was tried and successful, or the reader could be marking the recipe so that he or she could quickly find the recipe again in the future.

One interesting note about the manicule is the unique and individualized nature of them. While manicules share some basic features, like a pointing finger, their appearance is extremely distinctive. Distinct manicules were a way for the reader to make the text meaningful and their own. Readers created manicules, not only to point to important passages, but to also share in the making of texts. They wanted to create a text that was specific to their needs. The readers created a text that was individual and unique.

If my findings are correct, then it suggests that the readers of recipe books were active readers that engaged with the manuscripts in meaningful ways. Readers also individualized the text to suit their specific needs. 

After conducting my research, I was pleased with my findings and with the time I spent analyzing the Granville receipt book. I look forward to future research I may conduct involving recipe books.

Resources:

Leong, Elaine. Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household. Centaurus, 2013

Granville, Mary, D’Ewes, Anne. “Receipt Book.” The Granville Project, Folger Shakespeare Library. V.a. 430. Pages 18 and 25

Granville, Mary, D’Ewes, Anne. “Receipt Book.” The Granville Project, Folger Shakespeare Library. V.a. 430. Page 165.

Granville, Mary, D’Ewes, Anne. “Receipt Book.” The Granville Project, Folger Shakespeare Library. V.a. 430. Page 102.


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About jennifermunroe

Jennifer Munroe is Associate Professor of English at UNC Charlotte and author of Gender and the Garden in Early Modern English Literature (Ashgate, 2008) and editor of Making Gardens of Their Own: Gardening Manuals for Women, 1500-1750 (Ashgate, 2007). Most recently, she co-edited (with Rebecca Laroche) Ecofeminist Approaches to Early Modernity (Palgrave, 2011). Munroe is currently working on a monograph, an ecofeminist literary history of science about the relationship between women, nature, and writing in the context of seventeenth-century scientific discourse. For fun, she gardens, hikes, and takes her dogs to run on land she and her husband own outside of town.

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