Symposium J -9 Measure for Measure
A multitude of measurement units, changing from one place to another, from one era to another … how to navigate in that chaotic jungle ? This 20th may … you will have some answers!
But Gianenrico Bernasconi attention, will make his presentation in French … with slides in English!
Time Measurement in Culinary Recipes in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
In this paper, culinary recipes will be approached from a praxeological angle, namely as the written traces of practices of food transformation, based on ingredients, a material culture, a set of techniques and gestural movements. Such written traces are the result of a codification of experience, aimed at reproducing it elsewhere and at another time, thus acting as memory supports or communication tools. The temporality of cooking, as much as the quantification of ingredients, participates in the process of codification, whose function is also to make the practical knowledge of cooking reliable.
Starting from the analysis of several French recipe books published between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, this paper will examine the techniques employed to record time, which are sometimes purely linguistic, sometimes imply sensory data (the colour or texture of food), but can also resort to everyday life gestures (e.g. a prayer) as benchmarks, or to actual timepieces, such as pocket watches and hourglasses.
While the first part of the paper will discuss such techniques for time recording, taking into account their evolution in the historical period chosen for this study, the second part will raise questions on the functions of the temporal indications found in recipes. Which are the cooking operations concerned by time determination? How long do they last? Is it possible to see any regularity in the way a certain operation is associated with a certain length of time? By asking these questions, ‘temporalized’ recipes are not only considered as traces of practices (as in the praxeological definition) but also as ‘ways of speaking, persuading, and thinking’ (Wall 2016), namely as milestones in the constitution of a form of knowledge.
If the intensification of temporal indications in eighteenth-century recipe books is a sign of the emergence of a ‘quantifying spirit’, supported by the large diffusion and high precision of timepieces (Bernasconi 2020), the interpretation of this phenomenon is less straightforward for texts of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Is this intensification due to the rise of a time culture in ordinary practices, and of the growing importance of accuracy in measuring duration? Or is it merely a rhetorical strategy as a part of the process of ‘réduction en art’ (Vérin 1993), which characterises technical literature as of the sixteenth century?
Measures in 16th Century French recipes (Livre fort excellent de cuysine, 1542)
It is well known that the recipes of medieval and Renaissance cookery books are poor in detail, rarely quantifying the ingredients they use, with no details on weights and proportions, a confusing feature for the modern reader. Beyond this obvious fact, and although this question has already beenstudied, for medieval English texts in particular, a detailed analysis of this essential characteristic of ancient cookbooks has yet to be carried out. It is in this perspective that I propose to analyse the terminologies and the quantification procedures – and their absence – in use in the Livre fort excellent de cuysine (1542).
Several lines of thought – and hypotheses to be verified – will structure this study in particular:
- Are some types of preparations more detailed than others?
- Are some ingredients measured or weighed more than others? It is generally accepted that it is the case of spices, including sugar; is this true here?
- Do some phases in the realization of recipes stand out as sequences requiring finer measurements or, at least, better established proportions?
This paper aims to contribute to a better understanding of the only new cookbook published in France in the 16th century, an essential work for understanding the French culinary art of the Renaissance. More importantly, the question of measurements and quantifications offers a way to question recipes as a kind of discourseand thus to put to the test the categories we use to think about them. An analysis that involves a comparison with other types of recipes and other types of knowledge, notably the one of the craftsman and of the apothecary.
Measurement in the cookbooks of the medieval Islamic West
The right measure appears in various ways in the two cookbooks of the medieval Islamic West (al-Andalus and Maghrib), namely Kitāb al‑ṭabīḫ or Anwāʿ al‑ṣaydala fī alwān al‑aṭʿima, an anonymous work compiled in the 13th century, and Fuḍālat al‑ḫiwān fī al‑ṭaʿām wa‑l‑alwān by Ibn Razīn al‑Tuğībī (d. 692/1293).
Both concede a significant place to equilibrium (iʿtidāl), borrowed from medical concepts, which implied, among other things, adapting the making of a dish to the temperament of its consumer. However, only a relatively small number of the 900 or so recipes preserved contains a precise dosage of the ingredients required. These quantities come in various units, including the ounce (ūqīya), the pound (raṭl), the measure (kayl) as well as an estimated weight in dirhām, a modality used mainly for spices, even though weights and measures tended to vary according to region and time in the Dār al‑Islām. At the same time, more recommendations mention the spoon (miġrafa) and, more frequently, indications such as “a little” (qalīl or yasīr), “a lot” (kaṯīr) or “just the right amount”. All in all, these approximate indications underline the practical dimension of the culinary matter in which the skill and expertise of the cook—their savoir-faire—were decisive. Indeed, the recipes show a high degree of technicality and pragmatism in the processes set out, in particular through the temporal indicators—generally visual ones—marking the succession of stages, according to the consistency of the preparation, its colour, or its flavour.
My paper thus focuses on an in-depth analysis of the quantitative, qualitative, and temporal measurement mobilised by the two Maghribi cookbooks. First, it will be a question of considering the foodstuffs and dishes that are the subject of a dosage, so as to perceive possible convergences between the recipes and the authors. From there, the connections with other literary sources, in particular medical and pharmacological works, as well as the recipes from the Islamic East, can be questioned. Apprehending the measure will thus make it possible to question the dialectic between the written word and practice in the culinary field of the medieval Islamic West.