|Lilian Brown, dressed in a Sari (~1920)|
So I’ve been casting about for other ways to combine my work and free time. Or rather, I should say, for ways to pass my hobby off as work.
As some of you may know, I’m supposed to be writing a dissertation about the history of paleontology around the turn of the 20th century. One of the people who figures pretty prominently in my story is Barnum Brown (who some of you may remember from a previous post). It turns out that Brown was a rather fascinating character, in more ways than one. For example, he was named after PT Barnum, whose circus was playing near his home in Topeka Kansas on the day he was born. Later, after he had become a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Brown used to delight in telling people that he was destined to run a great fossil menagerie.
|Barnum Brown, dinosaur hunter extraordinaire|
While Brown was on a steamer crossing the Atlantic, he met a young woman named Lilian who was traveling with her aunt. It was not long before the two were engaged in a trans-atlantic love affair. In fact, they hit it off so well that they made plans to meet up and travel around India after Brown had concluded his survey of the Ethiopian oil fields. Now, it turns out that Lilian was not only smitten with Barnum, she also harbored ambitions to make a name for herself in the business of travel writing. So the debonair scientist on his way to find oil in Africa followed by fossils in India must have seemed like a perfect opportunity to kick start her career! And, indeed, Lilian went on to write highly amusing accounts of their globe-trotting adventures with titles like “I Married a Dinosaur” and “Bring ’em Back Petrified.”
What does all of this have to do with my desire to connect the history of science and cooking? Well, just this: as I was reading Lilian’s travelogue of her time in India I came across a recipe for Mango Chutney she had learned from one of Barnum’s native field hands. This is just great, I thought, especially since I had never made chutney before! So I gathered all the ingredients and set about recreating a dish from the foothills of the Himalayas. Well, unfortunately Lilian didn’t provide especially detailed or precise instructions, because the end result left rather a lot to the imagination. Still, I really liked the idea of eating something that was not too dissimilar from what my historical actors had also enjoyed!
The reason I am writing this is because I wonder if other people also cook food they have come across in their research. Have you found any good recipies at the archive? In addition to Lilian’s Chutney I’ve also seen an enticing set of instructions for how to make corn biscuits that a late 19th century fossil hunter used to eat when he was out in the field. I haven’t gotten around to making them yet, in part because doing so involves burying a cast iron pot in the ground with some hot embers from your campfire and leaving it there overnight. Then, of course, it’s also a lot of fun to look around for old recipe books on google (such as this one, this one, or this one).
(Just as a fun aside: another great thing to do is look up old dueling manuals. I especially enjoy this one, written in verse, as well as this one, in prose, which provides much sage advice for the neophyte!)
So, if you have a good story please share the recipe (especially if it’s an older one from the 18th or 19th century!) in the comments section. Even better would be if someone succeeded in making an historical dish and took pictures — if so, feel free to e-mail them alongside a description (rieppel at fas dot harvard dot edu) and I’d be happy to put the text and images up as a new post.