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  • Reimagining Early Modern English Recipes
  • Michelle DiMeo (bio)
Wendy Wall Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen philadelphia: university of pennsylvania press, 20l6 xii + 312 pages; isbn: 9780812247589

in 1659, John Beale (clergyman and future fellow of the Royal Society) commented to intelligencer Samuel Hartlib, “Our Stationers shops have lately swarm[e]d with books of Cookery.” At the time Beale was writing, England’s surge in recipe publications was in full swing; many of these works were either explicitly addressed to the English housewife or claimed to divulge the contents of her closet or kitchen, as he curiously noted. So begins Wendy Wall’s engaging book, Recipes for Thought, which illuminates the intellectual and creative endeavors essential to the process of writing, collecting, and testing recipes. Considering both manuscript and print recipe books in English, Wall’s study ranges from roughly 1570 to 1750 to trace the ways in which commercial, national, and gendered shifts in culinary and literary traditions manifested themselves in this popular genre. Although culinary recipes are the main focus of the book, Wall explicitly states that it is not a history of diet and that her purpose is not to re-create the technical details of daily practice. Instead, she pushes beyond the obvious by asking provocative questions that help position the recipe book as a vehicle for literacy, experimentation, and knowledge creation.

Recipes for Thoughts preface, introduction, and first chapter collectively introduce the genre of the recipe book to a nonspecialist audience. Wall uses the term “recipe culture” to include all aspects of “domestic making,” meshing together medical, culinary, and household recipes to demonstrate the diversity and depth of practice. Ideally, housewives were to model Christian values and be thrifty and self-sufficient, [End Page 173] which meant that publications geared toward them integrated rhetorical reflections on national identity and helped engender a distinctively English cuisine. Such a discussion of how nationality and identity manifested themselves in the early modern kitchen will be familiar to readers of Wall’s book Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama (2002). Although there is some overlap in the source materials used for these books, Recipes for Thought makes new arguments that are enabled by the expanded timeframe and the use of recipe books as the primary focus instead of as contextual material for drama. Indeed, Wall has been working on domesticity and literature for nearly two decades, and her wide-ranging subject knowledge allows her to weave literary references throughout her history of the recipe genre. For example, the first chapter’s discussion of William King’s satirical poem The Art of Cookery and the poetic title pages in eighteenth-century cookery books by Ann Shackleford and Charlotte Cartwright exposes the wider cultural significance of defining taste in the Enlightenment. Wall’s broad textual approach is matched by the source materials themselves, as early modern recipe books often mixed the practical with the fanciful and the proven with the aspirational. Likewise, the recipes within manuscript compilations and the author attributions attached to them crossed national, social, and economic boundaries, and this transgressive distortion of order and identity manifested itself as a power dynamic in print publications and plays.

After establishing the broader cultural significance of recipe books, Wall reveals how making recipes provided both enjoyment and stimulation in a variety of ways, framing them less as documented chores and more as creative and intellectual exercises that offered a space for personal growth and potential. The following four chapters focus on particular aspects of recipe culture—pleasure, literacies, temporalities, and knowledge—and use these themes to integrate recipes into a wider textual narrative. The second chapter, on pleasure, explains how the word conceits was used in late sixteenth-century recreational publications of lyrics, verses, drama, and recipes alike, leading Wall to ask, “How was an early modern recipe a conceit?” (66). Challenging our modern understanding of recipes as instrumental, Wall draws on both etymology and publication trends to argue that late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century English readers thought of recipes as witty pleasures that could be enacted through cooking and that were explicitly connected to entertainments such as...


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pp. 173-177
Launched on MUSE
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