- Preserving on Paper: Seventeenth-Century Englishwomen's Receipt Books ed. by Kristine Kowalchuk
Scholarship concerning seventeenth-century English recipe (or receipt) books has burgeoned since the turn of the twenty-first century, especially with libraries on both sides of the Atlantic (most notably, the Wellcome and the Folger) digitizing their manuscript receipt book collections and creating databases of receipt book manuscripts through Perdita, Early Modern Manuscripts Online, and Early Modern Recipe Online Collective. Previously marginalized not only because of their archival form but also because the texts were written primarily by women, concerned with household matters, and often without single authorship, this new availability of receipt books has enabled and encouraged scholars to investigate the rich materials. Within this atmosphere of exciting [End Page 190] new research in receipt books, and food studies more generally, Kristine Kowalchuk has contributed an edition of three transcribed seventeenth-century receipt book manuscripts, those attributed to Mary Granville and Anne Granville D'Ewes, Constance Hall, and Lettice Pudsey.
In her substantial introduction, Kowalchuk offers a primer to early modern recipe/receipts, a Bakhtinian reading of Renaissance food culture, and an overview of early modern housewifery. Kowalchuk explains the "medico-gastronomic" characteristics that link food and medicine through the guiding principle of Galenic theory, and she describes the peculiarities of the early modern recipe form, which often lacks ingredient lists or clear measurements. In her discussion of previous scholarship, she takes scholars to task for reading receipt books as evidence of women's emerging subjectivity, arguing that such scholars have misunderstood this genre as not single-authored but, rather, a collective effort. Given her vehemence against any individualized/biographical readings, it seems odd that she has chosen texts that have biographies of particular women attached to them (rather than choosing anonymous texts, for example) and, furthermore, has provided biographical information at the beginning of each receipt book transcription. Nonetheless, these short biographies do help the reader understand the context of the books and the culture in which they were produced, even as Kowalchuk claims to prefer "postauthor utopian" readings of the texts.
The body of the book proffers meticulous semi-diplomatic transcriptions of all three texts that readers will undoubtedly find useful. As such, Kowalchuk has transcribed the recipes as they are written on the page, preserving line breaks, spelling, and capitalization, thereby allowing the reader to experience the recipes as they would appear visually in the manuscript. The explanatory notes throughout are helpful and give added information about the manuscripts themselves, such as which hand is writing the recipe and any extra marks or flourishes that appear. As the Granville receipt book contains recipes written in Spanish, Kowalchuk has generously included her translations of these into English. Perhaps one of the most invaluable aspects of the edition for anyone interested in the genre or seventeenth-century quotidian life is the glossary of early modern processing/cooking terms, ingredients, and ailments. From adarme (a Spanish medieval unit of measure) to zedoary (a variety of turmeric, used to cure stomach aches and worms and to sweeten the breath), Kowalchuk uncovers a world of words that is often baffling to the modern reader/transcriber. Overall, this book makes accessible historical culinary and medicinal experience, ranging from those recipes one might want to try (damson wine, French bread, or gooseberry cakes) to those that are strange and perhaps less appetizing (a syrup of snails or a stew of calf's head), and it is an excellent introduction to the field of early modern receipt books as well as a useful edition of three primary texts. [End Page 191]
Amy L. Tigner
Department of English, University of Texas, Arlington