Farm to Table … at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library

Detail from Abraham Bosse engraving, The Pastry Chef (ca. 1634).

Some may hear the phrase ‘farm to table’ and think only of a sweet gastropub in the countryside, but for one group of scholars it calls to mind a recently completed, four-year project to explore seventeenth- and eighteenth-century culinary culture. Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, a collaborative research initiative, convened at the Folger Institute of the Folger Shakespeare Library from fall 2017 through summer 2021. Funded by a $1.5-million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the team organized pop-up exhibitions, performances, and recipe-sharing to showcase not only their research but the ways in which their scholarship intersects with the interests of food professionals, farmers, and the public at large.

Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library

Constance Hall’s manuscript cookbook (1672).

The public now has an ever better view of the project though a website launched this week to share the Before ‘Farm to Table’ project discoveries. It includes a host of early modern recipes adapted for modern kitchens (e.g., black-eyed pea fritters inspired by Hercules, the chef enslaved by George Washington); recorded programs of conversations and collaborations with chefs like José Andrés; interactive explorations of early modern foodways through expert thematic guides; and a digitized collection of the Folger’s early modern recipe books with transcripts.

“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,” commented 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.”