The Ingredients of a Good Recipe

This week’s video is part of the Recipe Project’s Virtual Conversation, and looks therefore at the word “Recipe”:

It was the origin and history of the word recipe itself that really led to the web of connections presented in the video. One recipe-related word we didn’t have time to include in the video is the word ingredient. It comes from the Latin verb ingredior meaning “to enter or go in”, and specifically is formed from the present participle, so literally “going in”. It’s first use in English is indeed to describe what goes into a recipe of the sweetened and spiced wine hippocras that I mentioned in connection to the word receipt. This first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is in a book of household practises and management called the Bok of Nurture by one John Russell: “Alle þese ingredyentes, þey ar for ypocras makynge.” In addition to explaining how to make hippocras, this 1250 line poetic manual explains such things as the duties of a butler, how to lay the table, how to carve meat, and so forth. So not exactly a recipe book, but an interesting document which records late medieval household practices around the middle of the 15th century.

Culinary recipes of course go back to ancient times. One of the most famous recipe books from the ancient world is the Apicius, a cookery book from the late 4th or early 5th century CE, and named after (though probably not actually written by) the famous Roman gourmand Marcus Gavius Apicius, who lived in the 1st century CE. One notable recipe detail we’ve discussed before in the video “Bug” (which discusses in large part the history of patents), is the apparent patenting of recipes in ancient Greece. The ancient Greek colony Sybaris, located in what is now Italy, was so financially successful that the citizens became known for their feasting and hedonism, so much so that even today the word sybaritic means “devoted to opulent luxury”. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that cooks in Sybaris were apparently granted exclusive rights to any culinary recipe they invented for a period of one year, at least according to the Greek writer Athenaeus. Even if this report isn’t true, that the idea of intellectual property could be conceived of in the ancient world is an interesting milestone. By way of comparison, today recipes can be copyrighted (not patented) but in order to be copyrighted they have to include more than just a list of ingredients but also the process (at least that’s my understanding of it).  It’s also worth noting about recipes in the ancient world that Galen, that most important of Roman physicians, who was the main source of medical knowledge in the middle ages, also wrote about food in something resembling a recipe book, as did several other Roman physicians, according to Athenaeus. In terms of Galen’s views on the humours, he believed that blood was the most dominant of the humours and thus most needed to be controlled, hence his recommendation of leeching.

 The Apicius manuscript

The Apicius manuscript

 Marcus Gavius Apicius

Marcus Gavius Apicius

As we mentioned in the video, the notion of bodily humours is not unique to ancient Greece and the medical traditions that stem from it. Most notably Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine from India, recommends the balance of three doshas (or humours) in order to maintain health. And similar to the ancient Greek humoural system, these doshas are also associated with the elements (earth, air, fire, water, and ether). Unlike the now obsolete humoural system in Europe, however, a considerable percentage of the population in India still practise some form of Ayurvedic medicine.

 Ayurveda humours

Ayurveda humours

And finally we come to the women’s magazines which we ended the video with as well. If you’re interested in knowing more about this history, we highly recommend the Guardian article “Zeal and Softness” by Kathryn Hughes, which goes into much more detail. We particularly traced the progress of British women’s magazines, but of course there were other notable women’s magazines in the English-speaking world.  In the US, the premiere magazine was Godey’s Lady’s Book. Though still published by a man, Louis Godey, it was edited by the highly influential Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale, who also wrote the children’s song "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (which by the way has the honour of being the first recording made on Thomas Edison’s phonograph), was responsible for promoting the US Thanksgiving tradition, and popularizing the Christmas tree in America. Hale was also very politically minded, at a time when the country was threatened by civil war. Her appeal to President Lincoln to create Thanksgiving as a national holiday was in part motivated by a desire to create a unifying American tradition. She also used Godey’s Lady’s Book as a platform for promoting national unity, even though the publisher, Godey, was against putting any overt political material into the magaizine. For instance, in her fiction she often wrote stories of romances between northerners and southerners, all with nice happy endings. For more on Hale’s efforts to stop the US Civil War, see this JSTOR post by Erin Blakemore. But in these (at the time) bold efforts we perhaps can see something of Teen Vogue’s current political statements in the turbulent US politics of today, a trend we can for instance see demonstrated in this Teen Vogue article and frequently commented on in other news outlets (such as here and here).

 Godey's Lady's Book

Godey's Lady's Book

 Sarah Josepha Hale

Sarah Josepha Hale