Dr. Marissa Nicosia speaks to members of the Mount community on Sept. 22. Photo courtesy of Mount Saint Mary College on Flickr.

By: Emily Gursky

What if someone told you that you could eat virtually the same food someone else did, nearly 400 years ago? Well, Dr. Marissa Nicosia, Associate Professor of Renaissance Literature at Pennsylvania State University, Abington College, does just that. By studying recipe manuscripts from households of the early modern period, Nicosia has been able to adapt them to be suitable for the modern kitchen. 

On Sept. 22, Nicosia shared this research with the Mount as a featured speaker at the annual SURE Symposium. 

During her presentation, Nicosia showed audience members recipes written in what’s called “secretary hand,” a form of handwriting foreign to most people today. Through extensive collaboration, meticulous annotations and transcription software, she and her students convert the text to modern English and make the necessary ingredient modifications so they can be replicated in the modern kitchen. Through this work, Nicosia has been able to recreate all kinds of treats that range from sweet desserts like donuts fried in butter, to savory dinner dishes such as collar beef.

Some ingredients consistently called for in the recipes, like rosewater, can be hard to find, though. While this means that the finished product may not be exactly the same as what people ate back then, it’s still pretty close. 

Nicosia believes that the tasty treats are evidence that many historical documents still serve a valuable purpose today, and her hope is that her research gives students “insight into what these documents still have to teach us.” 

Additionally, she’s found that her research highlights the value of collaboration between scholars in her field; there seems to be the idea that historical research is a solitary experience — “but it does not have to be,” said Nicosia. In fact, she believes historical scholars should “embrace collaboration.”

Moving forward, Nicosia hopes that recipes from our current day and age will transcend time, just as these treats from centuries ago can still exist in our kitchens today. She is also curious about how today’s recipes will be archived in the future, since many are now kept online rather than being handwritten. 

To see a cohesive list of Nicosia’s recipe recreations in the modern kitchen, visit https://rarecooking.com/