The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Science and Medicine

By Brandt, Susan Hanket | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Science and Medicine


Brandt, Susan Hanket, Nursing History Review


The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Science and Medicine. 2012. Early Modern Recipes Online Collective, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada. Editors: Lisa Smith and Elaine Leong. Regular Contributors: Michelle DiMeo, Rebecca Laroche, Laura Mitchell, Jennifer Munroe, Sally Osborn, and Alun Withey. Twitter account: @historecipes. http://recipes.hypotheses.org/

Explaining that "old recipes can tell us a lot about the past," The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Science and Medicine is a moderated blog focused on the history of medical, culinary, and household recipes. Launched in July 2012 by the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective, the project's goal is to create an interdisciplinary community of scholars, graduate students, undergradu- ates, and those interested in recipe history. This interactive website features monthly articles by specialists of recipes from Britain, Europe, and early America who address recipe history from various perspectives, with a temporal focus loosely limited to the long early modern period (approximately 1500s- 1800s). Users are encouraged to participate in conversations with scholars via a twitter account or by posting comments.

Recipe books have recently come to the attention of historians of health care and science as rich primary sources for early modern healing knowledge and practices. During the early modern period, domestic health care remedies and practices were intertwined with cooking, gardening, botany, alchemy, and veterinary medicine, and the lines between learned medicine and ver- nacular or "magical" healing were also blurred. Historian Alun Withey notes that women's domestic recipe books provide a window into wide-ranging health care information networks that included kin, neighbors, lay healers, and physicians.1 Medicinal recipes demonstrate that these healers operated within a similar medical worldview based on modified Galenic humoral theo- ries, which emphasized balancing the four bodily humors. In this framework, dietary therapies were as important as medicines. This is also evident in food- ways historian Chef Stephen Schmidt's analysis of an 18th century gingerbread recipe in his history of gingerbread reveals its use as both a confection and as a medicine to soothe gastrointestinal complaints including seasickness.2 Recipe research intersects with a wide variety of disciplines that include foodways history, women's and gender studies, book history, and literary studies, in ad- dition to the histories of nursing, medicine, pharmacy, and science.

For historians of nursing, the website offers insights into women's healing practices prior to the advent of professional nursing. Women chiefly compiled domestic recipe books and their remedies demonstrate the scope of their heal- ing work in their homes and communities. The Recipes Project offers pragmatic information on how scholars interpret these recipe books. For example, in a two-part posting "On the Oil of Swallows," literary scholar Rebecca Laroche and Michelle DiMeo, digital librarian at the Philadelphia College of Phy- sicians, walk readers through comparative textual analyses that explain the evolution of recipes employing unusual ingredients like oil of swallows, hare's urine, and earthworms. …

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