Undergraduate Recipe Research Wins PSU Abington Prize

By Marissa Nicosia

EMROC member Marissa Nicosia was recognized for her teaching and mentorship of undergraduate researchers with the 2018 Abington College Faculty Senate Outstanding Teaching Award. At the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities poster session her students were awarded the 2018 Blue Ribbon prize for an Arts and Humanities Project and the library’s Information Literacy Award.

Early in the fall 2016 semester, a student approached me after class to ask if I “had an ACURA” project. In the parlance of my home institution, Penn State Abington, “ACURA” is an acronym for the thriving Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities program. This program fosters student and faculty research collaborations that are a hallmark of our small, undergraduate-focused campus. At first I was stumped: I didn’t have an ACURA project planned and the program seemed to be dominated by science and social science research. But I thought about my research process for Cooking in the Archives, the ongoing transcription work of EMROC and Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO), and my colleagues’ stories about working on recipes with undergraduate students in the classroom and beyond. Why couldn’t I run an independent study about recipes that would be useful for students, for me, and for the community at large? I designed and launched a research project entitled “What’s in a Recipe?” which has become a multi-year collaboration with four students.

Here is a link to the syllabus for the 2017-2018 version that I discuss in what follows. At Penn State Abington, this ACURA project counts for one course credit in the fall and two credits in the spring. Students and faculty meet by appointment and projects take radically different shapes depending on the topic and the discipline. I’m planning to redesign this course next year to include more DH instruction through a collaboration with Heather Froehlich and other colleagues at the library.

The first thing I asked students to read was a Student Collaborators’ Bill of Rights. We talked about the fact that their labor contributed to an international digital humanities project and that they could (and should) utilize the information that they were generating for their own scholarly pursuits. Then we spent the fall semester reading crucial background articles and a recipe manuscript from the Folger Shakespeare Library collections. Over the past two years we have worked on two seventeenth-century manuscripts of medical and culinary receipts owned and compiled by gentlewomen named, respectively, Margaret Baker and Mrs. Corlyon. Although this might seem like a straightforward activity, as EMROC readers likely know, seventeenth-century handwriting is far more difficult to decipher than modern cursive. After accessing online resources on paleography—the study of historical handwriting—students worked with me and with one another to master the handwriting in the manuscript and type up transcriptions of large sections of the book. In addition to participating in the transcription project and learning about recipe books in general, during the spring semester each student also developed a personal research project. The readings for the second half of the course are tailored to what students were curious about at the end of the fall semester. Students have tested recipes for healthful foods and cosmetics, investigated perfumed gloves and humoral theories of sleep, and considered Baker’s self-fashioning as a healer and collector in her manuscript. You can read what they have to say about their experiences here and here.

I’m pleased that ACURA funding supported a trip from Philadelphia to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC each year so that the students could consult the original manuscript that they had been working with, see other recipe books for comparison, and discuss their research topics with curators and scholars at the library. Turning the pages of the manuscript that they had scrutinized and deciphered online was simply electrifying. Students reported that this experience of handling rare materials and engaging with the broader scholarly community was equal parts transformative and informative.

Working with students on this shared project has forced me to ask questions about recipes that I would never have asked if I had simply continued my research alone. Since my research is focused on food – specifically, recipes for dishes that sounds so tasty that I want to recreate them in my kitchen – I often skim over the recipes for plague water, face cream, salves, perfumes, and restorative broths that fill early modern recipe manuscripts. But my students were curious about these recipes, and drawn in by their questions I became more curious, too. I tried one of Margaret Baker’s possets and I’m planning to make some “sweet bags” of potpourri when the weather turns cooler. As I continue to research manuscript recipes, I’m excited to work alongside my students and see where both my interests lead them and their interests lead me.

Shorthand in Cromwell and Packer

By Michele Pflug

Last week, I was perusing Katherine Packer’s A Boock of Very Good medicines for severall deseases wounds and sores both new and olde, dated 1639, when I came across some passages consisting entirely of curious symbols: omegas, slashes, numbers, hyphens.  I was utterly unsure of what to make of these cryptic codes embedded in medical recipe book.  Out of curiosity, a professor and I put the images on Twitter, in the hopes someone, somewhere would know how to crack the code.

I was utterly unsure of what to make of these cryptic codes embedded in medical recipe book.  Out of curiosity, a professor and I put the images on Twitter, in the hopes someone, somewhere would know how to crack the code.

Due to similarities, the Twitter community assumed the images came from L. Cromwell’s manuscript book, one of the three manuscripts up for transcription today.

This welcome confusion prompted me to compare the two shorthands.  At first, they appeared to have nothing in common.  Upon closer inspection and comparison, it was apparent that the shorthand in Packer’s manuscript was written upside down.  Suddenly, what I believed to be E’s transformed into 3’s, 6’s transformed into 9’s, and omegas, well, stayed omegas.

I cannot speak with absolute certainty, but based on the similarity of the symbols and the order they appear, the shorthand in both manuscripts seems to be of the same system.  Certain symbols resemble shorthand for measurements in merchant’s notebooks, while others hark back to medieval abbreviations.   These are useful hints, but do not form enough of a basis to translate the passages.  In both manuscripts, recipes written in symbols were often sandwiched between recipes written conventionally, which begs the question: why choose to write certain recipes in shorthand?  In manuscripts shared amongst friends, neighbors, or family, could writing in shorthand be a method of exclusion?  Secret knowledge held by those who could interpret the systems of symbols?  Recipes closely guarded and highly valued?

Sneak Preview: “My Lady Grace Castleton’s Booke of Receipts”

By Elaine Leong and Hillary Nunn

In case you missed the news, on Wednesday, EMROC will be hosting our annual transcribathon at the Folger Shakespeare Library. At EMROC headquarters, we’re all super excited and looking forward to the big day. This year, the recipe book at the centre of our flurry of activity is a small leather-bound book created by Lady Grace Castleton (1635-1667). But who was Lady Castleton and what’s so interesting about her recipe collection? For answers to those questions, simply read on!

From what we can tell of her short life, Lady Grace Castleton embodied early modern principles of domestic virtue. The daughter of a wealthy and politically active landowner, she gave birth to at least six children during her eleven-year marriage. She makes few appearances in typical historical records, but the substantial recipe book she left behind after her death at age 32 offers us some valuable glimpses into her household concerns.

Lady Castleton was born Grace Bellasis, or Belasyse, in Coxwold, to a family on the rise. Her grandfather Thomas Bellasis was 1st Viscount Fauconberg, and her father Henry bought the title of baronet and served five times as an MP, representing his local borough of Thirsk. He married Grace Barton, who gave birth to the future Lady Castleton in 1635. She married George Saunderson, 5th Viscount Castleton, in 1657. When Saunderson began serving in Parliament in 1661, Grace apparently followed him in his travels to London. She died there suddenly, in 1667. A funeral elegy dedicated to her and attributed to one “Jo. Sh.” declared that “Able she was with Learned men to reason, / Nimbly confuting Heresy and Treason,” that she “many ways helpt such as stood in need,” and, most notably, that she was so modest that no one “Need question whether she was man or woman.”

castleton-signatureLike many others, Grace Balasye started her recipe collection as a young woman. She inscribed her name on the inside cover of the book and began to enter recipes from both ends of the notebook – medical recipes in the front and recipes for ‘good cookery’ in the back. Upon her marriage to George Saunderson, the recipe book accompanied Grace to her new home and to mark her change in status, she crossed out the original inscription and, confidently, wrote underneath it “The Lady Grace Castleton’s Booke of receipts”.

After her death, the book remained in the possession of the Saunderson family and other family members, including Saunderson’s second wife Sarah, continued to add to the book well into the eighteenth century.

castleton-1Sarah was the widow of Lord Thomas Fanshawe, 2nd Viscount Fanshawe, whose aunt was the notable cookbook keeper Anne Fanshawe.

 The Castleton’s recipe collection was written into a small leather-bound notebook decorated with a coat of arms and closed with metal clasps. The notebook contains just over 200 recipes offering instructions to make a wide range of medicines and foodstuffs. Now we don’t want to give away too many spoilers – after all, half the fun of transcribing is discovering new ways to make chocolate cream or to dry apricots – but we will say this: there are number of recipes which will come in handy for Thanksgiving dinner and other feasts. And, for those of you suffering from the perennial start-of-academic-year colds and flus, we’ve got plenty of home cures in store for you. So, mark your calendars – next Wednesday, 9-5 EST, online or at the Folger – the second annual EMROC Transcribathon. Don’t suffer from FLMO, just join us!

More details available here. If you’d like to join us onsite at the Folger, please email Lisa Smith @ lisa.smith@essex.ac.uk.

Networking Recipe Writers with “Networking Early Modern Women”

By Melissa Schultheis

There are few events that could put me to work before 8 A.M. on a Saturday with a smile on my face, but Networking Early Modern Women was certainly one of them. Networking Women and the subsequent “add-a-thon” trained participants to add early modern women and their relationships to the site Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, a digital humanities project that represents early modern social networks. As moderator Christopher Warren explained, women made up half of the population during this epoch but make up only 6% of entries in Six Degrees’ main source, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Networking Women aims to complicate such a male-centered view of history by representing the networks in which early modern women participated: “news networks, print networks, food networks, court networks, literary networks, epistolary networks, support networks, and religious networks,” the event’s “Rationale” explains, “in short, all networks.”

Tracking recipe writers’ and compilers’ networks will be tremendously helpful to our work: perhaps we will be able to say more about a recipe’s movement, evolution, and original location. We may be able to analyze more accurately disparities in early modern healthcare based on the social status, education, and wealth of writers and compilers. Or we may be able to draw parallels from the popularity of recipes and ingredients to a burgeoning global pre-capitalist society. The Recipes Project and EMROC have found another great ally, and I am thrilled to be a young scholar at a time when a myriad of disciplines can collaborate easily and share in the labor of representing the historically un- and misrepresented.

Of course, digitally reconstructing the social fabric of early modern society comes with both pitfalls and advantages. Racial and social-status diversity can be difficult to clearly represented due in part to language, cultural, and educational disparities. And representing women and their relationships has been problematic for contemporary researchers since, as Amanda Herbert notes in her keynote, “less scholarly attention has been paid to the way that women’s networks helped constitute and maintain a growing British empire in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.” Additionally, even when we broaden archival work to include hand-worked objects such as clothing and jewelry or traditionally overlooked pieces of historical writing such as account and recipe books, we run into masculine apparatuses that obscure women’s identities and thus their role in the period.

For example, as I added female recipe contributors mentioned in Aletheia Howard’s Natura Exenterata (1655), I struggled to identify these women elsewhere due, in part, to marriages and subsequent name changes—not to mention the possibility of alternative spellings for both maiden and married names. As you can see in the image of my entry for Lettice Pudsey, trying to locate the same early modern woman in more than one currently searchable source requires many open tabs: OED, ODNB, EEBO, Six Degrees, The Recipes Project, Luna, Google Docs and Google Book searches. While not an extensive search, the pursuit of more biographical information on Pudsey came up short that day, and with one relationship (to Mrs. Risley, who may be related to Thomas Risley (1630-1716) who practiced medicine) the node is floating in a network that I hope will one day have more to say about the woman it represents.

Lettice Pudsey Node

Traditionally, identifying early modern women has depended on identifying their relationships with and to men. And with so few early modern women in contemporary databases at this time, we will inevitably rely on early modern men to identify many of these women. So while Six Degrees now allows me to represent Howard’s relationship to recipe contributor Lady Cook and Coventry and gives Pudsey a place in this digital recreation, I can hear Hillary Nunn’s inquiry buzzing in the back of my mind: “If only that means we could say for sure who these people are.”

Of course, the paradox here is that as we add women and track their lineage, often through their relationships with and to men, we will begin to see more clearly the complexity of women’s networks, more accurately articulate their dependence on and independence from men, and better understand who these people are, while continuing to complicate narratives that portray early modern women only as victims of patriarchal apparatuses. Six Degrees is a tremendous resource for this work with the potential to grow with and adapt to contemporary research that augments the historical canon of the period.

Fundamentally interdisciplinary and collaborative, Six Degrees will be most helpful when working in a similar manner. The day of the add-a-thon I worked from a list of names compiled by Hillary Nunn and a transcription of the Natura that she shared with me. I worked from Google Docs with other contributors. I watched enthusiastic Twitter users discuss the day’s talks. I went from being two degrees from the project, to one. The day gave me a new support system, a new network, through which I can more easily learn who these early modern women are, while sharing that information with other scholars. As with any project that aims to shed light on underrepresentation, for Networking Women to more accurately represent early modern women’s social networks, it demands much from its contributors. We must look in margins and notes, as Amanda Herbert recommends, and search for women’s work in material items. We must think both creatively and together as we reconstruct the past, working with the conviction articulated so well that day by @DanAShore on Twitter: “Obviously #networkingwomen isn’t just about a single website. The hope is that inclusion in one resource leads to wider inclusion as well.”

Melissa was part of the EMROC (Early Modern Recipes Online Collective) contingent who participated in Networking Women. She is an M.A. student at the University of Colorado-Boulder. This post is cross-posted at The Recipes Project and was originally published at her own blog.