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”