Modernizing Markham is a project that has existed in various forms since 2008. It started out as a paper for a class, then blossomed into a potential journal article. After continuously setting the editing aside for day-to-day tasks, the Markham project has been reborn with a new twist as my final project for the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa.
Rather than do what I had previously done, which was to only talk about Markham within the context of 17th-century England, I decided to bring Markham into the present day, and in doing so I started down a crazy path that would result in this blog, a book, book talks/signings, and the promise of more books in the future.
The goal of this project is several-fold: first, to ‘modernize’ Markham by adapting (some of) his recipes for modern cooks and their kitchens (e.g. providing modern measurements and using a stove, say, rather than an open fire). I should emphasize that by ‘modernizing’ recipes my goal is not to fundamentally alter them (although some alteration is going to be inherent in this), but rather to make as close an approximation of the original as I can using tools and techniques accessible to modern cooks.
For my Center for the Book project (which was the basis of my first book), I created a complete meal’s worth of recipes from one of Markham’s suggested banquet menus. For my future books, I’ll be departing from faithfully recreating a specific menu, and instead talking more holistically about how Markham addresses certain subjects (e.g. soil amendment for plants). I also include lots of discussion of cultural history and book history to help readers contextualize early modern English life within a larger framework. These usually focus on how a specific post relates to the history of the book (who else was publishing on this at this time? What did these books look like? Who was buying them?) and food history (what kinds of foods were being cooked in these recipes? Were the intended audiences for the books the same as the people who prepared the actual food? What about these recipes is similar to and different from today?)
As you look through my posts from my first book, you’ll notice that one component of that project was a pamphlet-bound manuscript that used historically accurate materials and a period-appropriate calligraphic hand (Secretary hand, to be exact) to reproduce the recipes. Since the focus of the first book was on the ‘modernizing’ component, I wanted to take the recipes I had modernized and shared over our modern media, and push them back into a historical form. They looked beautiful in the pamphlet book, and it was very fun and enlightening to prepare. For my future books, I would love to play around with historic media some more, but the jury is still out on what that will look like (making my own ink? Woodcuts? Who knows!)
Since I will be sharing the link to this blog with everyone from my mom to my professors, I am hoping to focus more on people’s access to and understanding of the project than on writing an ‘academic work’ in any strict sense. As such, I am going to assume that at least some of the readers will not come upon this blog with any knowledge of the field of food studies or book history per se, so while I am supposing my readers to be intelligent folks, I will be defining and clarifying for a more general audience as need be.
So, sit back and enjoy the blog (and don’t forget to contact me or leave comments!)