New Website Showcases Before ‘Farm to Table’ Project Discoveries

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The Folger Institute’s four-year exploration of early modern foodways and cultures today launches a public website curating the project’s work and activities at beforefarmtotable.folger.edu. The website includes early modern recipes; interactive features examining how food made it from farm to table in an increasingly global marketplace; and recorded panel discussions, essays, and blog posts showing the project’s wide-ranging scholarly research and intersecting interests with food professionals, farmers, bioarcheologists, and a public fascinated by food and its production.

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“The Before 'Farm to Table' website is a buffet of delightful memories for the collaborative research team,” says Kathleen Lynch, director of the Mellon initiative and of the Folger Institute. “We hope users will find exciting prompts for cooking experiments."

The Folger Institute’s four-year exploration of early modern foodways and cultures is coming to an end but beginning today a public website curating the project’s work and activities is available at https://beforefarmtotable.folger.edu. The website includes early modern recipes; interactive features examining how food made it from farm to table in an increasingly global marketplace; and recorded panel discussions, essays, and blog posts showing the project’s wide-ranging scholarly research and intersecting interests with food professionals, farmers, bioarcheologists, and a public fascinated by food and its production.

“The Before 'Farm to Table' website is a buffet of delightful memories for the collaborative research team that worked on the project for four years,” says Kathleen Lynch, director of the Mellon initiative and of the Folger Institute. “We hope users will find exciting prompts for cooking experiments together with insights into the sometimes familiar, curious, and often overlooked histories of foodstuffs. It was a treat to exercise our scholarly hospitality. We gathered scholars and students from across disciplines and career-stages. We also brought to our table performance artists, food professionals, dedicated transcribers of our manuscript recipe books, and many others, reaching deeply into our Folger-wide communities.”

Website Highlights

  • Early modern recipes adapted for modern kitchens

Eggs in moonshine and spinach toast; akara—black-eyed pea fritters inspired by Hercules, the chef enslaved by George Washington; stuffing for Thanksgiving; seed cake and other sweets; and Lord Norfolk’s punch are among the 25+ early modern recipes adapted for the modern kitchen. Other explorations include popular early modern recipes for Humble Pie and Hippocras, a drink made with wine, spices, and milk.

  • Collaborations with chefs, cooks, and artists

Recorded programs include conversations with chefs from José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup; culinary historian Michael W. Twitty, author of The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South; Third Rail artists about Confection—a Folger-commissioned, interactive performance on the human price of sugar; and “Indigenous Foodways Past and Present” and other discussions from the Food and the Book conference with the Newberry Library, among others.

  • Interactive explorations of early modern foodways

Expert guides to topics like “Globalization and the Spice Trade” and “Colonization, Sugar, and Enslavement” that look at food production as well as a digital walk through an early modern British recipe book, “Page and Plate: Reading Early Modern Recipe Books.”

  • Digitized collection of the Folger’s early modern recipe books with transcripts

The Folger’s collection of English 17th- and 18th-century handwritten recipe books—the largest in the world—can now be viewed through images and a growing body of transcripts created by hundreds of volunteers. Full-text search of the images, downloadable reading copies, a text-file of the entire corpus, and resources for using transcriptions in the classroom are available. Transcripts and other resources will continue to be added.

About the Before ‘Farm to Table’ Project

Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures is a collaborative research initiative in the humanities. Active from fall 2017 through summer 2021, the project was convened at the Folger Institute of the Folger Shakespeare Library. It was funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The project’s numerous initiatives included, among others:

  • Confection, a commissioned performance piece about the human cost of the production of sugar by Third Rail Projects
  • First Chefs, a Folger exhibition with related programs and discussions
  • Pop-up exhibitions with Folger Consort programs, including Davenant’s Macbeth; A Christmas Messe; and Oktoberfest
  • Nell Gwynn, Folger Theatre’s Helen Hayes Award-winning production
  • Menu collaborations with America Eats Tavern and Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar
  • 23 posts about early modern recipes and foodways for the Folger’s Shakespeare & Beyond blog that have been viewed more than 85,000 times
  • Transcribathons with hundreds of volunteers worldwide of the Folger’s handwritten recipe books
  • Digging the Past: Writing and Agriculture in the 17th Century, a scholarly weekend seminar, which included a trip to Smith Meadows Sustainable Farm in Virginia
  • Food and the Book, a virtual scholarly conference with the Newberry Library
  • Eating Through the Archives, a graduate student workshop
  • Seminars and sessions with distinguished scholars like geographer Judith Carney, who conducts fieldwork on Africa and the African food legacy in the Americas, and historian Craig Muldrew, whose numbers-based research assesses early modern food costs, caloric intakes, and more
  • George Washington University class visits and lectures with José Andrés’s “World on a Plate” course on food and sustainability
  • Amherst College undergraduate January sessions focused on the Folger’s recipe books

The Before ‘Farm to Table’ project was co-directed by three scholarly team leaders: David Goldstein, associate professor of English at York University in Canada; Amanda Herbert, associate director for fellowships in the Folger Institute; and Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts and associate librarian for collection audience development at the Folger. The core team also included postdoctoral fellows: Jack Bouchard, Elisa Tersigni, Neha Vermani, and Michael Walkden. Justine DeCamillis and Jonathan MacDonald served as project coordinators and Julia Fine was affiliated with the project as the Dumbarton Oaks Humanities Fellow.

Project collaborators include Michael W. Twitty, Jose Andres’s ThinkFoodGroup, America Eats Tavern, Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar, Dumbarton Oaks, Amherst College, George Washington University, and the Newberry Library.

About the Folger

Folger Shakespeare Library is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the ultimate resource for exploring Shakespeare and his world. The Folger welcomes millions of visitors online and in person. We provide unparalleled access to a huge array of resources, from original sources to modern interpretations. With the Folger, you can experience the power of performance, the wonder of exhibitions, and the excitement of pathbreaking research. We offer the opportunity to see and even work with early modern sources, driving discovery and transforming education for students of all ages. During our multiyear building renovation, join us online and on the road.

Learn more at http://www.folger.edu, and on social media at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Connect with our e-newsletters and blogs at http://www.folger.edu/connect.

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Peter Eramo, Jr.
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