Research on Recipes in the Early Modern Atlantic World
Historical recipes have sometimes been seen as documents of folk culture, and given the ways in which Canada’s Maritime provinces seem to persist in the national imagination as the home of the folk—a homogeneous fiddling and fishing crew who live in colourful clapboard homes at the ocean’s edge—there may be a temptation to approach these recipes in that way, as well. That would be a mistake.
Ian McKay’s Quest of the Folk challenges our ability to view the Maritimes through the lens of folk culture on the grounds of the facts of the region’s history: it is a place which saw the collision of Indigenous, Acadian, German, Loyalist, Black Loyalist, Scottish, Irish, and English people: the eighteenth-century did not “fit a model of Folk tranquillity and rootedness;” instead there were wars, expulsions, dispossession, political and religious upheaval, and a race riot (27). The idea of the folk, he contends, was constructed “as part of a broader antimodernist movement within the region and the province” between 1920 and 1950, particularly to sell Nova Scotia to American tourists (30).
Contemporary research into historical recipes also tends to resist the perspective that recipes are products of folk culture. Largely focused on the UK, but also including other parts of Europe and what is now called North America, recipe scholarship has exploded in the past decade to complement research on English, French, and North American food cultures and the history of medicine, particularly with respect to female medical practitioners. This research has approached a range of questions around how recipes consistute authority, how manuscript recipe collections can function as a form of autobiography and, collected across generations, as a family archive. As markers of literacy, recipes are treated as an outcome of “kitchen literacy” to use Wendy Wall’s phrase, and as evidence in the history of reading. They also show connections between recipe collectors and their broader understanding of the world, of their social connections and networks, and their engagement across knowledge hierarchies that include women, servants, artisans, professional medical practitioners, and theoretical knowledge sanctioned by scholarly societies, amongst other things. Recipes can also express political affiliations and function polemically by carving out spaces of cultural and class difference through the representation of domestic management and taste or the expense of ingredients. Recipes can also imagine the body, pondering the place of food in creating health and the inculcation of health through medicines.
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Other Pre-1800 Digital Recipe Collections
Whitney Cookery Collection. New York Public Library, New York.
LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.
Recipe Books. Wellcome Library, London.
Carter, Kevin. “18th and Early 19th Century Cookbooks: Searchable, and Free.” Savoring the Past.
What’s Cooking? Food, Drink and the Pleasures of Eating in Old-Time Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Archives.
Digital Collections of Canadian Recipes (post-1900)