Cooking the Books

Published: December 4, 2023

Dr. Marissa Nicosia recently spoke at the Clark on manuscript recipe books and their connection to Early Modern English literature, as well as how she adapts the recipes for modern kitchens. She walked the audience through some contemporary recipe-book history, telling listeners about the connectedness of food and medicine, the practice of sending recipes in the mail, the reliance upon the expertise of the cooks (who may not be the ones recording the recipes in the first place and who also might have only the reading out of a vague recipe by the head of the household to go off of), and so much more. The talk also featured a step-by-step recreation of a jumball (cookie) recipe. Dr. Nicosia finished by discussing the importance of food and drink in contemporary literature (e.g., Shakespeare), as well as the fact that some poems ended up in manuscript recipe books. The lecture was followed by a lively Q&A in which the audience learned about everything from cooking vegetables (as part of vegetarian movements, Lent, etc.) to how common beer was.

If you missed it, you can still check out many amazing adaptations of recipes on Dr. Nicosia’s site, Cooking in the Archives. To view digitized manuscript recipe books in the Clark’s collection from this time period, visit the Early Modern English Manuscripts page on Calisphere.

-Ikumi Crocoll, Instruction & Engagement Librarian