About Rare Cooking

In July 2015 we published an essay about our method in Archive Journal. Read it here.

“Cooking in the Archives: Updating Early Modern Recipes (1600-1800) in a Modern Kitchen” is a public food history project run by Alyssa Connell and Marissa Nicosia. Funding from a University of Pennsylvania GAPSA-Provost Fellowship for Interdisciplinary Innovation has enabled us to launch this project in June 2014. Follow our culinary and archival exploits at our blog and on twitter @rare_cooking

“Cooking in the Archives” sets out to find, cook, and discuss recipes from cookbooks produced between 1600 and 1800. This project is situated at the intersection between the practice of modern cooking and the history of early modern manuscript and printed recipe books. Penn’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts holds over 100 recipe books from the early modern era. We believe these recipes belong in the modern kitchen as well as the historical archive. After all, what are recipes if not instructions for cooking?

In designing this project we were inspired by many other early modernists in the academy and on the internet. The collaborative  Recipes Project blog features recipes drawn from manuscripts and archives all over the world. In this post on The Collation blog from The Folger Shakespeare Library, Heather Wolfe uses a recipe for “Cock Ale” as an example of early modern handwriting (but she strenuously suggests that readers do not attempt to brew this ale at home.) A University of St. Andrews library blog includes “historical how-to” posts which occasionally feature recipes. Gina Patnaik and Lili Loofbourow cooked up some 17th-Century Delights for a series on The Awl. Benjamin Breen even prepared some medicinal recipes from Penn’s collection, some from the same manuscript recipe books we’re looking at, and documented his findings in Aeon Magazine.

“Cooking in the Archives” will produce a twofold product: 1) a website that displays facsimiles of early modern recipes and documents our cooking process, and 2) a final feast where we will share the fruits of our research with our mentors and peers. This project is uniquely able to address contemporary public interest in food cultures  (proliferating on food blogs and websites, for instance) and contribute to the study of early modern culture. We will use the tools of book history and bibliography to decipher our sources, utilize digital humanities methods to exhibit our findings to the general public, and deploy our shared expertise in cooking to prepare early modern dishes in our modern kitchens.

* Our header image is from UPenn Kislak Center MS. Codex 252, [Recipe Book], 32 (verso).


11 thoughts on “About Rare Cooking

  1. Very cool blog! I was so delighted to stumble upon this, as my grandmother’s cookbooks are a linchpin of Penn’s rare cookbook collection http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/28/nyregion/esther-b-aresty-92-collector-of-rare-books-on-the-culinary-arts.html and she wrote several cookbooks herself based on the recipes in her collection. Growing up, she would occasionally serve our family 18th century dishes (like mustard soup!) I look forward to following your research.

    • We’re so glad to hear that you’re reading! The collection is truly fabulous. Let us know if we cook any of your grandmother’s favorites.

  2. Love this blog! I work at the 92nd Street Y in NYC and would love to speak with you both about developing a live event around this.
    Please let me know the best way to contact you. Thanks !

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  4. I like this area titled “Rare Cooking”. But it is suggested you qualify it: Rare British or English cooking/cuisine.

    Or do you plan digging into the archives of French, German or….Chinese cooking? :D There’s a whole world out there that’s incredible and very exciting that the rest of the English speaking world hasn’t bothered to translate into English.

  5. I also found it in WaPo–to bad they NEVER list site names! Found you anyway and am delighted! I often think of all the folk in the kitchens–managing the fire, grinding, pounding, sieving to make these things. Now we can make them by ourselves–thanks to our machines.

  6. I found this site from the CNN article and can’t express how much I love both the concept and execution! I love trying old recipes and delighted to see you both experimenting with them and sharing the results. I can’t wait to break some of these out for my next smorgasbord soirees. Let historical novelty reign! Thank you both! ~Michelle

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