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.

“How to make a Mortres good to geue to those​ that be weake.”

As an English major with a passion for cooking, who has worked in restaurants for the past five years, studying this topic interested me instantaneously. I quickly joined Dr. Nicosia’s “What’s in a Recipe?” undergraduate research independent study. We transcribed and researched Mrs. Corlyon’s recipe book from the late 17th century. Excited to cook hundreds-of-years old recipes, possessing the perfect job to fulfill that excitement. Upon joining the project, I asked all my coworkers if they would be interested in trying some of the food I made, with a nearly unanimous willingness. I was ready to cook. I transcribed recipes, hunting for pages that interested me, until I stumbled upon “How to make a Mortres good to geue to those​ that be weake.”

How to make a Mortres good to geue to those​

that be weake​

Take the brawne of a colde Capon or Henn, that hath

been rosted, shridd it very smale, all sauinge the Skinne,

then take a quarter of a Pounde of Almondes, beynge blanched,

grinde them in a Morter very smale, wi​th​ a litle Sacke, if

the partyes stomake be colde, or else wi​th​ white wine, so much

as will serue to make them a litle moiste, and no more, then

putt your meate to them, and so grinde them very smale togea=

ther, then putt thereto the yeolkes of two egges, and 3. or 4.

spoonefulles of redd Rose water, and when you haue tempered

them well togeather, drive it throughe a strayner, then sett

it vppon a chafingdishe of coales, and season it wi​th​ Salte,

and if the partyes stomake be coulde, putt thereto a litle

Sinamonde and Ginger, and so much Sugar, as will make

it pleasant, but if the party be hott, putt onlye Sugar

to it, and so boile it, vntill it be come to be as thicke as

Almonde butter, then geue the party thereof, this will keepe

good three dayes.

The first question that arose was about the word “brawne.” After a quick search on Oxford English Dictionary, I found the word to mean “brain,” usually, however, of a human. I soon after warned my coworkers that they may be agreeing to try highly outlandish ingredients, things that most people do not eat, resulting in mixed feelings. Some grew squeamish at the thought of eating a brain, while others, like myself, became excited, willing to “try anything once.” I scoured the area around me for a week, searching for live-kill poultry shops, butcher shops, delis, and the like, but to no avail; at best, some said “Come in later this week, I might have some,” at worst, a man said in disgusted disdain “Chicken what?! I’ve never heard of using that before.” I was losing hope, unable to find a definite chicken-head-supplier for my mortress. I visited my project advisor, Dr. Marissa Nicosia, to ask for some guidance. Her first step was re-checking OED, which yielded the second definition of “brawne,” which I had not noticed: the body, the meat, the bulk of something. After a swift slap to my head, I laughed, both disappointed and relieved, quick to roast a chicken with my job’s rotisserie, and make the recipe I had been stressed about for a week.

The use of humoral theory is highly significant in this recipe and the act of cooking it. Humoral theory allows for two interpretations of the recipe, two different dishes. It shows people’s dependence on the nuances of recipes, not simply for nutrition, but health. The dish made with red wine for the person with a colder stomach had deeper undertones and aromas, and was consistently rated slightly lower by my coworkers, while the white wine dish was simpler and sharper, and rated slightly higher. Once the chicken was mixed with the almonds, it became extremely doughy, dry, and sticky, so I added more a few more tablespoons of rose water, loosening it and allowing it to have softer formations. Both dishes ended up bland and in need of salt, which was available to and used by all coworkers who tried them.

Roast a chicken.

  1. Season raw with salt and pepper
  2. Place covered in a baking pan for 70 minutes in a 350° F oven, or until the bird’s internal temperature is 185° F.
  1. While the chicken cooks, grind ¼ lb. almonds in a mortar and pestle.
    1. Separate the ¼ lb. into halves, making two piles of ⅛ lb. almonds.
    2. Mix one pile with one tbsp. of red wine, the other with one tbsp of white wine.
      1. If this does not make the almonds paste-like, add more wine.
  2. After cooking, shred the chicken finely, discarding of the skin, bones, and cartilage.
  3. Mix half of the shredded chicken with the red wine almonds, and the other half with the white wine almonds until they are the consistency of dough.
  4. Combine one egg yolk to each pile.
  5. Combine two tbsp. rose water to each pile.
  6. Lightly salt both piles
  7. Add cinnamon, chopped ginger, and sugar to the red wine pile, and only sugar to the white wine pile                                                         .
  8. One may make this dough into any shape preferred—ball, patty, specific shapes—and heat in a pan with a little butter or a fryer.
    1. Since it is already cooked, this heating should be done purely for warmth and not for actual cooking.             

Every person scored every dish in looks, smell, taste, texture, and overall from one to five. The averages were all similar, between high three’s and low four’s for most categories, but the cold stomach’s dish consistently scored lower by less than a full point in every category other than looks, which were equal. When Joie, the shift manager of that night, tasted the cold stomach’s dish, she took an unimaginably slow bite, with her nose subsequently scrunched in near-disgust, eyebrows scowling. Let us remember Walkden’s bonny-clabber, and the “hard-wired” “disgust that feels instinctive.” After registering the actual flavors, her eyebrows perked, eyes widened, face brightened, in shock of the tolerable flavors presented to her. Nobody expected this to be edible, let alone enjoyable. A fellow line-cook, Stephen, genuinely enjoyed it, asking if he could take some home so his wife could try some. He offered no negative comments toward the dish, enjoying both the historical and culinary aspects of it. Everyone who tasted was highly interested in trying food from hundreds of years ago, with not a single negative, unfavorable experience on the whole.

Eric Seamans, a student of Marissa Nicosia at Pennsylvania State University, Abington College

Happy New Year from the Steering Committee

When the Steering Committee last met face-to-face in November 2016, we set the goal of having ten recipe collections completely transcribed, vetted, and entered into the Folger’s DROMIO database by the end of 2017. Today there are seventeen collections thus finished. And so, we start this new year’s message with a huge pat on the back for all of you who helped make this incredible volume of transcriptions possible.

Following tradition, we begin 2018 with a resolution for ourselves as Steering Committee members that we hope you all will take up with us. With the generous help of a grant from the Pine Tree Foundation, the Folger Shakespeare Library has been able to devote concerted time to vetting transcriptions that we have generated in recent years so that they are ready to join the growing body of material in EMMO (Early Modern Manuscripts Online). But the grant funds this work for a limited time. With this in mind, the Steering Committee has resolved individually to transcribe a certain number of pages from Folger MS Wa87 (available in the EMROC folder in Dromio), by late spring to generate as many documents as possible to be placed in the queue for vetting while the funding is still in place.

In the spirit of collaboration that drives EMROC, we invite you to join us in transcribing this book (even if only one page) and to help us maximize this opportunity to create a truly significant and research-changing data-set. If the spirit of collaboration isn’t enough to motivate you, perhaps knowing that this will: in this early 18th century anonymous receipt book you will find the secrets to making quince cakes or “To boyle a Duck ye French way,” or Dr. Dassy’s elixir, or “How to make a Battalia Pie”–and so much more.

Warmest wishes, and Happy New Year,
The EMROC Steering Committee

Rebecca Laroche
Elaine Leong
Jen Munroe
Hillary Nunn
Lisa Smith
Amy Tigner

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.

Transcribathon Banquet

 

Please join us virtually for our 3rd annual online Transcribathon on Tuesday, November 7, where we will have a number of texts available for transcription.

In the past two Transcribathons, we have worked only on one text, Rebeckah Winche (Folger V.b.366) and then Lady Castleton (Folger V.a.600)—respectively—from start to finish. This year we are going to take a different approach: to complete several texts. Our goal is to have 10 completed texts this year, that is 10 triple-transcribed and vetted early modern recipe books that can be downloaded in a searchable pdf. We currently have a number of texts that are either partially transcribed or fully transcribed but not completely vetted.  So, in working to complete these texts we will be offering a banquet of possibilities for those interested in learning more about early modern recipes and paleography.

In terms of transcription, we will begin with the L. Cromwell recipe book (Folger V.a.8), which is one third done, and then when it is finished we will move onto Margaret Baker manuscript (Folger Va619), which is approximately two thirds transcribed.


To make an Apple pudding. Cromwell Manuscript, Folger V.a.8, F37.

For advanced paleographers interested in learning the art of vetting, we will also be offering a number of texts to be vetted, first then Mary Cruso (Folger X.d.24) then Lady Castleton, and finally the recipe manuscript written by Lettice Pudsey (Folger V.a. 450).  We are, in short, offering a kind of smorgasbord of transcribing—or a “choose your own adventure” in early modern paleography with a mix of 21st century coding.

Please save the date, November 7, and stayed tuned for more information soon.   We hope you will join us.

Amy L. Tigner, University of Texas, Arlington