DIY Feminist Archive: Writing in the Cookbook’s Endpapers #FemRhet2019

I was recently invited to present at the upcoming Feminisms and Rhetorics conference (November 2019), so I figured I would share with you my proposal (unedited, although I received some fantastic feedback for improvement from the anonymous reviewers). I am excited, both for the conference which I’ve been told is outstanding and because this odd little project is one very close to my heart. I’ve lately been exploring an obsession with paratextual material, inspired long ago during a Renaissance drama class (shoutout #700R!). While this particular presentation looks at marginalia as its own form of paratext, it is absolutely an extension of the early work, and just goes to show how often seemingly disparate areas of study weave themselves into contemporary projects.


This presentation examines the marginalia and ephemera of cookbooks, published between 1870-1920, housed in the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University. By attending to the minutiae of these voices, I suggest the marginalia writers are feminist archivists themselves, using the cookbook’s endpapers to write their own herstories. By rejecting the pre-formatted spaces for writing within the cookbooks and in conjunction with the lessons about economy and household management included by the cookbook’s authors, these writers were creating spaces for their own intellectual practice, and in doing so were also working, consciously or not, to protect and archive their intellectual property.


While paging through the 400-plus cookbooks housed in the Browne Popular Culture Library, I heard voices. Every time I opened a new volume, I found a different voice, a different set of handwritten notes and ephemera. I found a different history, one that was often at odds with the published advice of the cookbook’s author. While the printed recipes were rarely different from each other, the marginalia turned each book into a record of a life, and a record of the activities of women who were responsible for taking care of other lives. This presentation will bring those voices to light by close attention to their marginalia and ephemera, in effect seeing the cookbook as feminist archive. Women wrote—and wrote a lot—sometimes filling the endpapers with so much writing that they were squeezing their words along the edges of the page. Instead of filling out the many blank spaces intentionally included in the middle of the books to collect recipes, these women authors make use of the endpapers, often extensively and exhaustively, to write. I theorize that this writing stems from a desire to claim their authorship by rejecting the preformatted places in favor of their own blank page. These writers have hacked their cookbook, turning it into a repository for their own creative endeavors, and in doing so have created their own feminist archives.

Invention twice-over: The use of marginalia in recipe books

Recipe books may not immediately seem particularly inventive. Indeed, their very form— a list of steps to recreate a particular meal—automatically seems more straightforward and scientific in its approach. However, by examining the way receipe books are actually used, I intend to argue that they are repositories of inventive thought. My argument centers on examining two early modern English recipe books in particular—that of Anne Goodenough as well as a collection authored by multiple women. By examining the marginalia in these books, the modern day reader gleans not only how these women were utilizing these books in the kitchen, but in some ways how these books destabilized the domestic spaces they occupied.

Wendy Wall, a prominent scholar in domesticity in early modern England, has written a number of articles and two books that deal directly with cookbooks. Her argument in “Literacy and the Domestic Arts” provides a particular reading of cookbooks as practice spaces for the growing population of literate women. Not only were women compiling information about household chores, they were also using these spaces to practice their handwriting. By tying the act of writing to the act of cooking, these women were practicing what Wall dubs “artisanal literary,” which ties knowledge to experience and labor within these domestic spaces. She further argues that this artisanal literacy is fostered by a “kitchen literacy,” where the idea of “making” ties together writing and cooking (386).

By thinking about cookbooks in this way, it isn’t difficult to extend the concept of making to the actual books themselves. As Wall argues: “Writing recipes and undertaking particular types of manual work trained women in alphabetic literacy and the conventions of book use, but handicrafts in the home also signified in their own right as forms of ‘writing’ within a functional thoery of making” (387). If this idea of the physical act of making can be extended into the theoretical dimension of thought, then the marginalia in addition to the compiled recipe books function as further evidence of the inventive process. Continue reading “Invention twice-over: The use of marginalia in recipe books”