CoReMA project

Cooking traditions, local and continental, are one of the most recognizable items of European culture, and a large part of European identities. But how did they get to be what they are? How did they evolve, what were their influences?

During the last decades, research arrived at two important conclusions on these issues. First, there are no quantitative studies on the origin and formation of regional cuisines in Europe. Second, substantial evidence, namely manuscripts containing thousands of cookery recipes, first appears in the Middle Ages, which can be thus regarded as the birth of modern European cuisines. On the European continent Latin, Middle French and Early New High German recipes provide the majority of culinary transmission. Since the 1960s scholars attempt to provide overviews of the different regional cuisines based on historical evidence but since then no one tried to comprehensively include the transmission of culinary recipes into this research. Time, money and effort would have been very high.

Today we have access to edited cooking recipe collections and manuscripts as digital images, and digital humanities research methods, which greatly helps to facilitate analysis of a comprehensive corpus of historical recipes.

This project aims at realising this long dreamed-of goal and even putting an interdisciplinary focus on the cross-cultural research of medieval cooking recipes and their interrelation. The project will prepare the cooking recipe transmission of France and the German speaking countries, which includes more than 80 manuscripts and ca. 8000 recipes, for the analysis of their origin, their relation, and their migration through Europe. The comparison of French and German food history is especially suited for this task as France ever had a culturally formative influence on German speaking peoples!

The partners from the Laboratoire CESR (Centre d’Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance), at the University of Tours and the Zentrum für Informationsmodellierung – Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities (ZIM-ACDH) and the Department of Medieval German Studies at the University of Graz provide the expertise to collect manuscripts and recipes, to edit them according to scholarly and digital standards, and to analyse these multilingual texts following up-to-date quantitative and qualitative research methodology. For machine aided analysis the recipe corpus and its metadata are edited and modelled according to international standards using XML/TEI, semantic web technologies and a research infrastructure that is laid out for digital preservation of research assets. All recipes are enriched through ontologies for ingredients, cooking processes, and food historically relevant data (e.g. on religious, cultural, or medical aspects). Within and across languages the project’s analysis will reveal concurring or deviating eating habits, which have built European identities and heritage, text migration as well as the influence of neighbouring countries on their respective cuisine. The research data will be the basis for spatial and temporal visualisation and statistical evaluation, which will foster new approaches towards interpretation of the historical and cultural assets.

The research of the CoReMA project will not only provide a generic model for the integration of further language collections into the research infrastructure but also add to the curricula of the respective disciplines medieval and early modern history, food history, and digital humanities. The project team also aims at dissemination of project findings to the general public to foster the awareness of food history and eating habits.

Context

In Romanic and Anglo-American countries food and food tradition awareness and thus food history studies have reached a very high level. German food and food-history studies are less focused. Nevertheless, cooking traditions, local and continental, are one of the most recognizable items of European culture, and a large part of European identities. But how did they get to be what they are? How did they evolve, what were their influences?

During the last decades, research arrived at two important conclusions on these issues. First, there are no quantitative studies on the origin and formation of regional cuisines in Europe. Second, substantial evidence (manuscripts containing thousands of cookery recipes) first appears in the Middle Ages, which can be thus regarded as the birth of modern European cuisines. There are few attempts to provide a contrasting view of early european cuisines that either have a very wide (e.g. Flandrin 1999), or to narrow focus like the focus on a single dish (e.g. ‘Blanc manger’: Hieatt 1995 with a linguistic focus, Flandrin 1984 and van Winter 1989 with a focus on ingredients).

Until now, food history has dealt with medieval recipes mostly on a national, geographical or language separated level (e.g. Adamson 1995, Carlin 1989, Adamson 2002, Karg 2007, etc.). Based on the continuous influence France and the French culture had on German speaking peoples through the centuries a comparative analysis of the French and German medieval cuisine seems self-evident. Cooking recipes are documents for handicraft knowledge which was generally handed down verbally. They are a relatively new type of written text, substantially different from old and formalized texts like poetic texts or medical recipes, even if culinary and medical recipes can be structurally alike. Medieval culinary collections are also quite different in their content and in their formulas from Ancient culinary collections, like Apicius’ recipe collection. Although the transmission process for cooking recipes is assumed to be the same as for any other kind of texts (copying of model/original, transmission from household to household), there are only few manuscripts to prove this. For instance, we have only 2 copies from the model of buoch von guoter spîse , the most famous cookbook in German: the original München, Universitätsbibliothek, 2° Cod. ms. 731 (Cim 4) and the nearly identical copy Dessau, Anhaltische Landesbücherei, Hs. Georg. 278.2°. The lack of intermediate copies does not usually allow to reconstitute the textual tradition through a reliable stemma codicum.

Cooking recipes evolve over time (change in wording, order of ingredients, preparation), depending on various aspects: skill of the cook, scribe, its usage or adaptation to owner’s taste. Hieatt (1985,26) states: “The fact of the matter is that medieval cooks, like their modem counterparts, constantly changed and adapted recipes.” Cooking recipes are submitted to a constant lability and this is also the case of cookery books or recipe collections which evolve and get newly combined, structured, etc. As a consequence, transmission lines and collection families that indubitably exist in the culinary text production cannot be found out with classical philological means like parallel transmission analysis based on classical text collation.

Objectives and scientific hypotheses

The solution is an analysis based partly on text similarities (classical collation methods) but to a large extent also on ingredients, preparation instructions, tools and so on, named in the texts. CoReMA explores this solution and addresses the following objectives: to build a suitable ontology that fits medieval cooking recipes; to find out about recipe and collection relations; to find out about migration of recipes.  To reach  these goals  we need:  1°  recipe corpora  to be analysed; 2° modelling and annotation of texts; 3° an ontology to formalise ingredients, processes, tools; 4° analyses of data. The project findings will be proof of concept on the methods applied and on the relations between European cooking recipes.

The CoReMA project sets out to address these issues by starting a quantitative and comparative study of cooking recipe texts. The project wants to take advantage of the opportunities this research will open for resolving old and new research questions. It is going to lift scientific barriers and to apply new approaches from the emerging field of Digital Humanities on classical historical research strategies.

The first challenge is to work on a European level or at least on a comparative scale. Among the nearly 160 cookery manuscripts written from 12th to 16th c., German, French, and Latin recipes provide the majority of culinary transmission, with ca. 80 volumes and about 8000 recipes only for 12th-15th c. These will be the sample for CoReMA and with this sample we can demonstrate how French and German cooking recipes are related, and cultural assets migrated in medieval Europe.

At the moment, this huge material is not easily accessible to researchers. The original manuscripts are scattered throughout 41 cities in 9 countries. Only two-thirds of these manuscripts have been reprinted into modern editions, albeit sometimes in a poor quality. The reasons are manifold and range from a dated editorial concept (e.g. Wiswe 1958) to a poor transcription performance (e.g. Aichholzer 1999). About forty of the recipe collections, German cookbooks worked on by the University of Graz, have already been digitized and are available as digital text. The need for transcriptions and critical editions is most obvious for the cookery collections recorded in Latin, which have been excessively neglected although they were  the first ones  to be set  down in writing.

The second challenge, therefore, is to edit this culinary heritage of Medieval Latin, Middle French and Early New High German recipes and make it digitally accessible for scholarly use to meet modern and up-to-date research standards.

Unfortunately, understanding these recipes, their context and their transmission is not straightforward, which sets the third challenge. The recipes and the recipe collections need to be laboriously studied and transcribed by specialized history scholars with high skills in palaeography of medieval technical language, and fluency in the technical vocabulary that describes ingredients, utensils, procedures, and customs of the time. Thus, the texts need not only be transcribed and edited but also semantically enriched so that further analysis like machine aided comparison of ingredients or cooking processes can add to standardised philological research like the collation of text.

CoReMA aims at putting an interdisciplinary focus on the cross-cultural research of medieval cooking recipes and their interrelation. The partners provide the expertise to collect, edit, and analyse these multilingual texts following up-to-date methodology. For machine aided analysis a recipe corpus and its metadata are modelled according to international humanities and technical standards. The recipes are enriched through ontologies for ingredients, cooking processes, etc. (cf. chapter I.4. Risk management and methodology). Within and across languages analysis will reveal text migrations, concurring or deviating eating habits, which have built European identities and heritage. This data is the basis for spatial and temporal visualisation and statistical evaluation. It allows long-term comparative studies with Early Modern Cookery and also synchronic studies on particular food ingredients or habits. Last but  not least,  CoReMA  will provide  a generic  model  for the integration of additional language collections of cooking recipes and similar texts. To be internationally competitive as well as appealing we will provide the website, the documentation, and the data description in French, German and English.

Originality and relevance in relation to the state of the art

Medieval cooking recipes have been studied and edited since the 18th c. The scholars’ interest was first about history of food habits and then about lexicography of words that were often rare. Even if research on cookbooks has undergone a strong development during the last decades, it has reached two clear impasses.

First, in the philological area, there is no consensus about the method of editing medieval and early modern cookbooks. Some scholars think that the truth is in manuscript families, others choose to edit a particular manuscript, in the line of the old and classical debate between Gaston Paris and Joseph Bédier about the edition of medieval literary texts. There is no clear cut approach for providing lists of parallel transmission, which cross culinary and philological aspects (cf. Ehlert’s approach in her editions between 1996-2014 and Honold 2005, contra the critical remarks by Sorbello-Staub 2002,23f). There are also different theories on the transmission of cookery recipes collections that can be regarded as an exchange of knowledge between households of the nobility or a re-composition according to readers’ or owners’ need?

The second impasse is in Food History. Except some papers that offer studies on the European and multilingual dissemination of some dishes, as ‘Blanc manger’ (Flandrin 1984, van Winter 1989), the main effort has been about quantification as a method of knowledge on chronology of the changing tastes or shaping of regional patterns (Hyman 2005, Laurioux 2002). But this incomplete and disordered quantification doesn’t allow even a comparison between two different historian’s works. This lack of research and above all the lack of research possibilities has been lamented since the early 60ies (cf. Ehlert 1997,133f.).

Gathering thousands of recipes, the novel instrument created by CoReMA, can overcome these obstacles. It allows also to approach in a new way major research questions which have not yet gotten a proper answer: For example, analysing the relations between food and health or, more precisely, cookery and medicine. This will be possible through a deep comparison between the CoReMA corpus and medical texts, or first medical recipes, their ingredients and their medical qualities. When, how and why did occur the discrepancy, or even the divorce of cuisine and medicine formerly alleged by J.-L. Flandrin? (Flandrin 1996) Which concrete links did exist between culinary practices and medical theories in Middle Ages and Early Modern Time? Or, another example, revive the long debated question about the birth of regional patterns: The doxa states that regional cuisine was born only in the 19th c. (Csergo 1996). But historical sources, some narratives, medical and “geographical” texts, speak about regional habits or preferences as early as the 15th c. (Flandrin & Hyman 1988, Laurioux 2005). We know that CoReMA will contribute to resolve this apparent contradiction thanks to its thousands recipes enclosed in manuscripts whose composition will be precisely located.