‘This chocolatical confection…’

A world of chocolate: Sophie's map included tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar to remind us that these 'new world' products transformed the habits of old Europe.

A world of chocolate: Sophie’s map included tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar to remind us that these ‘new world’ products transformed the habits of old Europe.

What better way to mark the first of our public lecture series, ‘Cultural Encounters: Travel, Religion, and Identity in the Early Modern World’, than with a chocolate map of the world, prepared for us by Sophie Jewett of the wonderful York Cocoa House? We’re hugely grateful to Sophie not only for her chocolate cartography, but for serving up delicious drinks made in accordance with two early modern recipes — one for hot chocolate, dating from 1644, and one, from 1710, for a pretty potent chocolate wine.

But why chocolate (as though that’s ever a real question…)? Continue reading


Early modern word of the day: ‘collop’

NB: An occasional (not daily!) feature…

In Philip Massinger’s The Renegado, or The Gentleman of Venice, a play first performed in 1624 and published in 1630, Gazet, a bumbling and clownish servant, resists conversion to Islam, exclaiming:

                                      No, so I should lose

A collop of that part my Doll enjoined me

To bring home as she left it: ‘tis her venture,

Nor dare I barter that commodity

Without her special warrant. (1.38-42)

What Gazet is worried about is circumcision. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that a collop is an egg fried on bacon, which — though Doll might well enjoy it — doesn’t seem quite right here. The term gradually shifted to mean any slice of meat (though presumably Gazet is keen not to experience the popular dish of ‘minced collops’). Continue reading


Beermat with Calvinus logo

On a recent trip to the SAMEMES conference in Lausanne, I was delighted to be introduced to Calvinus: the drink which allows Les Frêres Papinot of Geneva to keep the traditions of Calvin alive through brewing. According to the back of my bottle (at least according to my inexpert translation), throughout 1563, Calvin used to cloister himself in his house for long hours, and the strange odours which emerged left his enemies convinced he was practising alchemy. But no! With the help of an old Trappist convert, Calvin was brewing delicious and health-giving beer, though its effects may not have been quite as medicinal as he hoped, as he died soon after, in 1564 (I’m not sure how to translate ‘crise de bile’, but it sounds painful). Now, you too can drink like Calvin, as Les Frêres Papinot have traced his researches and practices to produce some delicate and delicious beers (as I can happily attest).

Unsavoury conversions

A fifteenth-century spice box

Sir Thomas Browne was an English author and physician, whose interests ranged from the bronze age practice of urn burial to astrology, biblical hermeneutics, and the mystical significance of the quincunx (the arrangement of five units in a pattern like the dots on the five-spot side of a dice). His 1646 Pseudodoxica epidemica, or, Enquiries into Very many Received Tenets, and commonly Presumed Truths constituted a vast encyclopedia of misconceptions, false assumptions, and untruths, which he aimed to put to rest once and for all. Continue reading

Conversion and Cake

The symbolic importance of food and food practices (or ‘foodways’ in academic speak) to religious culture is readily apparent at this time of year. During Lent it is traditional for Christians to fast, marking the beginning of the Lenten period by using up fat, eggs and flour in pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. At Easter we consume chocolate eggs  – a pagan fertility symbol hijacked by Cadburys – and hot cross buns – a reminder of the crucifixion. A recent lecture by Eric Dursteler (Brigham Young University) at the University of York on food and conversion in early modern Spain brought to the project’s attention the complex role played by foodways in cultures where large numbers of people converted – willingly or otherwise – from one faith to another. Continue reading

The dangers of coffee, early modern style…

Sign commemorating London's first coffee house

In 1652, London’s first coffee house opened its doors. Historians have celebrated the vibrant coffee-house culture of the early modern period, and have argued that coffee houses offered a venue which made possible new kinds of political debate and participation in a developing public sphere. A slightly different companion story is, however, suggested in the nickname the first coffee house quickly gained amongst the local community: the Turk’s Head. Continue reading