How are we instructed to cook? How are sensory experiences relayed in recipes? What happens when working with recipes sonically, or when a dinner party focuses on sound? This post is series of essays on the sensory practices related to food, cooking and eating.
A recipe of publications
I am interested in how recipes form as instructions. Recently, the Dutch STS Graduate School, WTMC, published their incredible list of publications from the years 2011 – 2016. The director of the WTMC Sally Wyatt designed a competition – try and make an alternative list. My entry was a recipe, as recipes, are in essence, a list. If you are interested this is my Sublime Blood Tomato, Red Rice and Wadden Sea Mussel soup recipe of almost 150 WTMC publications, also on the WTMC website.
The Hollow Knock and Other Sounds in Recipes
Recipes are filled with sensory directions related to taste, appearance, texture, and smell, but less often to the sounds of food cooking. While cooking and eating, whether at home or in a restaurant, are recognized as sonic experiences, we are rarely specifically instructed to “listen in.” Some scholars argue that such skills cannot be written into recipes, but rather must be passed on in practice. While I largely agree with this claim, I was challenged to find exceptions in cookbooks. In an essay recently published in the exciting journal Gastronomica, I discuss some of the few but delightful examples of sonic instruction in recipes. I conclude that while sounds are rare in cookbooks, as these examples show, listening is a skill that provides valuable information in the kitchen.
Photo of the hollow knock by Thomas Fuller.
What we hear, through our tongue
In a post for the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography, I collaborated with my husband, friends and colleagues (Thomas Fuller, Alexandra Supper, Joeri Bruyninckx and Melissa van Drie) to document and reflect upon a ‘sonic dinner’ we hosted in early 2015. Each of the participants, most of us sound scholars, translated a particular sonic memory, story or observation into an edible and audible dish. These dishes evoked places which we have inhabited and relate to in different ways: countries we grew up in but no longer live in; cities we’ve made our homes in recent times; sites we’ve visited as tourists; or locations where we’ve spent time as ethnographers. In the process of ‘transducing’ these place memories into a dish, we addressed recipes in different ways: by meticulously following written instructions or intuitively following auditory cues; by learning instructions from family members in a step-by-step process over the years or reconstructing dishes from different written sources. All of these dishes used sound as a starting point but led to multisensory experiences and performances on the night that, with this contribution, we will translate into yet another format: a multivocal, multisensory and multimedia menu of stories.
Photos by Thomas Fuller.
Popcorn or dirty socks?
During a presentation I gave on training the senses with dance dramaturge Peggy Olislaegers in Maastricht recently, I conducted a little experiment for people to try and articulate sensations. I distributed cards on a table and asked the audience to smell vials from a wine tasting smell kit. The reactions to the scents were fascinating. Some of the vials incited almost the same word in most responders. Almost everyone identified the scent officially described as “pear” for example, as “pear”. Another scent highlighted the difficulties of finding the right word. Officially described as “toast”, this little vial evoked responses that varied from popcorn and Dorito chips, to smelly feet and dirty socks.
Read more about the experiment in my blogpost for Marres here.
Harris, Anna (2016) The sensory archive (exhibition review). The Senses and Society 11 (3): 345 – 350.