By Breanne Weber
MA Student, UNC Charlotte
The day after the Transcribathon, my fellow graduate students from UNC Charlotte and I spent all day in the Folger’s reading room. Surrounded by hundreds reference books, situated above the decks where rare and fragile manuscripts are preserved, and inspired by the beautiful architecture and scholarly atmosphere, we together pored over each manuscript we requested for our own projects, sharing exciting and strange finds. We spent hours in the Folger reading room that day, breaking only for a very late lunch so that we could return until closing.
I spent nearly all of my hours in the reading room with the 1673 Choyce receits collected out of the book of receits, of the Lady Vere Wilkinson, begun to be written by the Right Honble the Lady Anne Carr. The names listed on the title page of this receipt book – Lady Vere Wilkinson, Lady Anne Carr, and Susana Hixon – illustrate from its beginning the collaboration that took place in the creation of this particular recipe book. I was thus unsurprised to find that the pages of this particular book were filled with different hands.
Such collaboration permeates the text, as each page details various recipes, from medicines to cakes to drinks. Many pages list several different versions of the same recipe, such as how to make “sugar cakes” (the second recipe labeled “another sort of sugar cakes”). The recipes are often labeled according to contributor, in a similar fashion to those spiral-bound church cookbooks filled with recipes for Jell-O Salad and mushroom soup-based casseroles: Anne Carr’s receipt book contains “The Lady Trevors way of preserving grapes green in jelly” and a recipe “To dry plumms naturally – Mrs Harringtons way.” Labeling the recipes with the names of their creators or contributors not only serves to distinguish between similar foods or medicines, but it also illustrates the collaboration and community that surrounded the creation of such recipe books. For Anne Carr, or any reader of this book, to distinguish between the nearly identical recipes for making grape preserves, she needs to know those women who contributed the recipes.
In Anne Carr’s book, there are sometimes annotations – inserted either by the writer herself or by another reader – which also help guide readers to choose specific recipes over others. For instance, “The Countesse of Lincolns way of makeing pancakes” is qualified with the phrase “which she used to make for the King & Duchesse of York.” Clearly, if the Countess of Lincoln made them for the King, her pancakes must be worth making! In a similar fashion, other contributors qualify their recipes in their titles: page 43 features a recipe for “a very fine great cake” while another, earlier page describes how “to make Apricock Cakes the best way.” Not all of these qualifications are necessarily good, however; one recipe, for “damson wine,” contains an added annotation in a different hand: “the worst in the world.”
Through their titles and annotations, these contributors to Anne Carr’s recipe book provide their authority on these subjects – gained through the experience of trying these recipes and sharing their thoughts with others. They participate in a continued dialogue, encouraging future readers to either try a particular recipe or stay clear from it. They assume others will use these recipes to make their own version of the Countess of Lincoln’s pancakes or to modify the worst damson wine in the world. Their words are a continuous call-and-response, hearkening back to their own personal experiences of developing these recipes while simultaneously anticipating the needs and desires of future readers. These women have built, across cultures, continents, and time, a community that still thrives today.
As for our postmodern transcription community, we have a wonderfully glorious responsibility: to further the legacy that these early moderns have left behind. To keep this community alive, we need only open, read, and share the magic found within the fragile pages of these manuscripts.