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AsiaYear exhibition

soy-sauce-bottlesLast Thursday, January 26, was the opening of the library Asia exhibition ‘A Buddha in the Backyard’, the kickoff to Leiden’s Asia Year 2017 – a joint programme by Leiden University Libraries, several Leiden museums and the city council to celebrate the merging of all of Leiden University’s Asian collections into a new ‘Asian Library’ at the existing UB Main Library at the Witte Singel. (more…)

Symposium Export Paintings

Chinese export paintings: studies and interpretations

29 November 2016. Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden. A gathering of curators, art dealers, (art) historians, sinologists, anthropologists and a large audience of many other collectors, scholars, and interested listeners.

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Rosalien v.d. Poel

The topic: Chinese paintings, made for trade, that have languished for so long in Dutch and English collections without anyone paying them any attention.

Rosalien van der Poel, co-organizer of this symposium, welcomed everyone, and told us that a symposium on this topic had never been organised in the Netherlands before. Anne Gerritsen and Kitty Zijlmans, both of LUCAS, Leiden University chaired the discussions throughout the day. (more…)

Viewing Chinese trade paintings, Museum Volkenkunde

On Tuesday morning 30 November 2016 researcher Rosalien van der Poel organised a special viewing of the collection of Chinese export paintings in the depot of Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, just hours before her public PhD defense on the topic. We were with a group of 11 international experts, who had all travelled to Leiden to participate in the symposium on Chinese export paintings held at the museum the day before, and to be part of Van der Poel’s reading committee at her defense later in the afternoon. (more…)

The Buddha’s hand at Chenonceau

chenonceau-2It is a citrus fruit like no other: a thick, shiny skin in shades of green and yellow, with numerous elongated shapes pointing downwards, not unlike fingers with long, pointy nails. From its appearance alone, it is not difficult to imagine why it this citrus fruit is known as Buddha’s Hand Fruit (foshougan 佛手柑).

Foushougan, also known as busshukan in Japanese (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, or the fingered citron) is relatively rare in Europe. The photo to the left was taken by Nicholas Tomlan, Botanical Director at Chenonceau, one of the finest French chateaux along the Loire. (more…)

Shared Taste & IEHCA

The beautiful French city of Tours, located in the Loire Valley in central France, hosts an institute solely dedicated to the study of food. This European Institute for the History and Culture of Food (IEHCA) has an excellent library, hosts cultural events and activities around the protection of food and drink heritage, supports publications in the field, and organises an annual conference on the history of food. Moreover, for the last fourteen years it has hosted a Summer University: a week of intense study dedicated to the cultures and histories of food and drink.

For the first time this year, the Shared Taste project collaborated with the IEHCA Summer University. Anne Gerritsen offered one of the five expert presentations, Alice de Jong was one of the participants, and two students were the beneficiaries of a Shared Taste bursary. This is the first of three Shared Taste blog posts that were inspired by the IEHCA Summer University of 2016.

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Reading Historic Cookbooks

Gibson House Museum, Boston: kitchen equipmentIn the beginning of June I had the great opportunity to participate in a seminar on historical cookbooks at the Schlesinger library at Harvard. The seminar, ‘Reading Historic Cookbooks: a Structured Approach’, was taught by 85-year old Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, food scholar and honorary curator of the library’s culinary collection.

Wheaton has dedicated her life to the analysis of thousands of cookbooks, and over the decades she put all the content found inside their recipes in her massive database called ‘the Cook’s Oracle’, which hopefully – after more conversion work and further programming – will become available online this summer or later this year.

We now are immersed in them, but cookbooks used to be much more rare. Increasingly available in digital collections to read, it is not easy to extract their meaning from them right away. One has to really dig into them to learn about the past. (more…)

Pasta’s global story: Françoise Sabban on the contested history of noodles

Pasta’s global story: Françoise Sabban on the contested history of noodles. A lecture for Shared Taste at SieboldHuis, Leiden

In April 2016, we had the great pleasure of hosting the eminent French food historian Françoise Sabban. Professor Sabban is professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and member of the Centre for Modern and Contemporary China Studies. She is one of the foremost scholars of food history in Europe, and the most eminent historian of Chinese food history. It was a great honour for us to host her in Leiden; her presence was an inspiration, and her lecture was an overwhelming success. (more…)

The curious thing about rhubarb

The most curious thing about this picture is not the tall plant with the big leaves in the middle, or the two pairs of men working in the field either side of the plant, not even the large white long-fingered shape in the lower right-hand corner of the image. Not even the title of the book, visible in the banner in the sky, Rabarbarologia Curiosa, is strange. The strangest thing about the image is, in fact, the architecture of the city in the right-hand background of the image:


A close look at the city reveals white-washed walls with small openings surrounding a city with several tall buildings, a round tower on the far left of the city walls, an entrance gate with what looks like battlements, (more…)