Professor Carolyn Nadeau’s research reveals how — in history, culture and identity
— we truly are what we eat.
Story by KATE ARTHUR & TIM OBERMILLER
Carolyn Nadeau’s hunger for knowledge on the rich literary and cultural history of
16th- and 17th-century Spain has taken her to the great libraries of two continents.
But lately she’s made a wealth of discoveries closer to home. Turning the kitchen
in her 100-year-old Bloomington home into a culinary laboratory, the Byron S. Tucci
Professor of Hispanic Studies has prepared, then taste-tasted recipes from one of
Spain’s most influential cookbooks.
In her decades-long fascination of Spanish literature, language and culture, Nadeau
grew increasingly aware of the ways food connected class, culture and ethnicity. Research
for another book led her to Arte de cocina, pastelería, vizcochería y conservería (the art of cooking, pie-making, pastry-making and preserving).
First printed in 1611, Arte de cocina was written by Francisco Martínez Montiño, who headed the kitchens of both King Philip
III and IV of Spain. More than 25 editions of the cookbook have been published — by
the 1800s, copies could be found throughout Europe and in the Americas. While little
is known about Martínez Montiño’s life, Nadeau feels she has gotten a sense of the
author. “You really get to hear the voice of the cook,” she explains. “You can feel
his passion. At the same time, he wrote with a critical eye, often complaining about
the deficits found in other cooking manuals.”
Preparing recipes, Nadeau says, has been among the most fun and challenging components
in developing the first English translation and critical edition of Arte de cocina, to be published next year. Among those challenges was translating the cookbook’s
less-than-precise instructions. Instead of cups or teaspoons, Martínez Montiño suggests
“a little bit” and “some.” A step may be timed not in minutes, but by reciting three
Hail Marys or the Apostles’ Creed.
Nadeau also had to figure out how to convert “extremely hot embers” to the temperatures
of an electric stove. She was stumped by his reference to heat “above and below” until
her research revealed that Martínez Montiño used a pan lid that held hot coals.
The first of many Arte de cocina’s dishes that Nadeau prepared was green mutton stew, seasoned with todas especias (“all spices”), a combination of black pepper, clove, nutmeg, ginger and saffron used
in many of the recipes. After sampling the stew and subsequent dishes, Nadeau and
dining companions — including her husband (a professional chef) as well as friends,
colleagues and students — would debate whether the clove seemed too heavy or the pepper
too light. Still, she concedes, “We will never really know what’s right. How do we
know what the tastes were 400 years ago?”
Some of the book’s recipes are as simple as poached eggs on a bed of spinach. Nadeau
was surprised there was only one salad recipe, but lettuce was used in inventive ways,
as a wrap or floated in soup. Certain ingredients are hard to find today, like cow
udder and goat liver (organ meats were considered a delicacy). She was able to recreate
a dough-encrusted hare, which her tasters gave a thumbs-up. Occasionally a recipe
flopped, like the custard pie that was “too eggy” when she guessed wrong on the sugar.
When a recipe called for eggplant, Nadeau examined Spanish paintings of the era to
determine which variety. She also found insights on Spanish cooking traditions in
the markets and small towns of Spain. “There’s a butcher in every neighborhood,” Nadeau
says. “You talk to the old ladies — the grandmothers. They always know more than everybody
Nadeau’s research was funded in part by a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship
and an American Philosophical Society grant. Her professorship, endowed by University
Trustee Byron S. Tucci ’66 in 2010, continues to support Nadeau’s teaching and scholarly
pursuits as well as that of other faculty and students in the Hispanic Studies Department
— including Nathan Douglas ’15, who accompanied Nadeau on one of her research visits
to Barcelona’s Biblioteca Nacional de Catalunya.
Now a doctoral student at Indiana University, Douglas credits Nadeau for giving him
“consistent nudges toward the field of Hispanic literature. Her support was, without
a doubt, one of the reasons I decided to take the jump into the Ph.D. program. She
encouraged me to take on bigger, more adventurous projects and was always available
to provide detailed, critical feedback.” Among those projects was another research
trip to Barcelona, this time guided by Professor of Hispanic Studies Carmela Ferradáns
and funded by a Mellon Foundation humanities grant for student scholars.
Douglas first met Nadeau as a frustrated freshman seeking help in Buck Memorial Library.
A computer glitch prevented him from getting into his first-semester classes. Seeing
Nadeau in her office, he introduced himself and explained his problem, “which I, of
course, thought was dire at the time. She set aside what she was doing, invited me
to sit down and helped me, a random student, redo my schedule. I recall her extreme
patience in helping me out.” By the time he left her office, Douglas says, he had
both a class schedule and settled nerves.
Across oceans and next door
Helping students is rewarding to Nadeau, but getting them engaged in topics explored
in her courses gives her the biggest satisfaction. What stands out most, says Hispanic
Department Chair Christina Isabelli, is Nadeau’s commitment to the University-wide
goal of preparing students to engage and lead as global citizens. “That means not
just communicating, but understanding and valuing the cultures of the people who live
next door to us.”
“Next door” includes local healthcare settings, where students in the Nadeau-designed
course “Medical Spanish and Cultural Competency for Healthcare” gain firsthand experience.
Community partnerships are key to another course Nadeau launched, “Spanish for Social
Justice,” as well as the new “Business Spanish in its Cultural Context,” which she
will teach for the first time this spring. Opportunities to help shape the curriculum were partly what drew Nadeau to IWU when
she joined the faculty in 1994. A passionate advocate for study abroad, she helped
design and served as inaugural director for the University’s London and Madrid programs. Speaking at the 2003 Honors Convocation, where she received the University’s highest
award for teaching excellence, Nadeau asked, “How many remember that anxiety of the
unknown, the humility and pride of learning to communicate in a different language,
the amazement of new landscapes and architecture, the thrill of meeting people and
exchanging ideas with someone who you may never see again, or with whom you plant
the seeds of a lifelong friendship?
“I believe deeply that all students should study abroad,” she continued. “This experience
teaches students about the world and its people and helps them gain more mature perspectives
on their own role in both their local and global communities.”
A Washington, D.C., native, Nadeau herself studied broad for a year at the University
of Madrid while attending college at the University of Virginia. Her fascination with
Spanish language and culture deepened during her master’s studies at New York University
in Madrid. She completed her Ph.D. at Penn State and developed her doctoral dissertation
into the book Women of the Prologue: Imitation, Myth, and Magic in Don Quijote I (Bucknell University Press, 2002).
The book explores how Don Quijote’s author, Miguel de Cervantes, created female characters that possess “a sense of
freedom not often found in the literature of the time,” says Nadeau. “One of my favorite
characters in particular, Marcela, decides she doesn’t want to get married and goes
out and lives on her own, and that’s basically unheard of. That kind of strength from
those type of female characters that he paints in his novel really resonates with
students today, both men and women.”
To get a keener sense of Spanish women’s lifestyles in the 1600s, Nadeau studied unconventional
materials such as domestic manuals with etiquette tips, recipes and remedies for ailments
from tooth cavities to breast cancer. Nadeau noted how the manuals, as well as the
era’s great literature, described food and culinary practices in ways that offered
fresh perspectives on essential questions of class, culture and identity.
“Food is what connects us,” she says. “Really, food is the basis for our humanity,
and it’s a huge part of our identity. As immigrants, we can pick up a language and
change our clothing, but food habits are the last to go. Food is fundamental to how
we think about the world. It’s a rarity if it’s not in a work of literature.” One
memorable example occurs when Cervantes introduces Alonso Quijano, better known as
Don Quijote, by describing his diet: “A stew made of more beef than mutton, cold salad
on most nights, abstinence eggs on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and an additional
squab on Sundays consumed three quarters of his income.”
Says Nadeau, “The five phrases that make up that sentence pointed to food and class,
and food and Jewish and Muslim history, New World products and religious fasting.”
The passage inspired her book Food Matters: Alonso Quijano’s Diet and the Discourse of Food in Early Modern Spain,
which explores how food and associated customs are portrayed in classical works such
as Don Quijote during a period when “Spain’s Hapsburg empire dominated the world landscape and then
lost that position, a time when the country produced dozens of literary and visual
artists that are still recognized for their creative genius, a time when the country,
like others in Europe, experienced a gastronomic revolution with dramatic changes
in the foodstuffs and methods of preparation,” Nadeau writes in her book.
In addition to Don Quijote and other literary works, Food Matters explores travel logs, dietary treatises, advice manuals and cookbooks of Cervantes’
time (including Martínez Montiño’s Arte de cocina).
Published this year by the University of Toronto Press, Food Matters was hailed as a significant work by scholars worldwide. Enrique García Santo-Tomas,
a professor of languages and literature at the University of Michigan, observed that
Nadeau’s book offered “a reflection on how eating and drinking became symbols and
makers of class, ethnicity, and what it meant to be ‘Spanish.’ This is interdisciplinary
research that will delight the social historian and the literary critic in equal parts.”
Isabelli believes Nadeau’s book will have lasting impact on early modern Spanish studies.
“It helps us to understand, among other things, the changing political circumstances
of class and culture during specific time periods.”
Melissa Ramirez ’14 helped Nadeau translate 47 recipes from contemporary sources featured
in the appendix for Food Matters. A first-generation Latina from California, Ramirez was surprised to see some familiar
dishes among those recipes. “They were definitely variations of my mom’s cooking.
It brought me a little bit back home,” says Ramirez, who hadn’t even planned on studying
Spanish until she took a class with Nadeau and was hooked. She minored in Hispanic
studies and now works in IWU’s Admissions Office, recruiting Spanish-speaking students.
Her mother, an undocumented immigrant, took a chance on traveling to Illinois for
Ramirez’s graduation. The new graduate decided to throw a little dinner party, inviting
Nadeau and Isabelli but never expecting they’d be able to make it. But they did, and
the conversation lingered for hours.
“My mom was very impressed,” Ramirez recalls. “She said, ‘These are the professors
you had? Can I be a student?’ My mom truly, truly valued this.”
Nadeau, in turn, values her students. That’s evident in her online biography, where
she describes the courses she’s taught — including her 2015 Hispanic Studies senior
seminar, “El individuo y la sociedad en la literatura picaresca.”
“A group of intellectually charged majors read, analyzed and discussed picaresque
novels and themes of anti-heroism, crime and punishment and concepts of the self in
terms of gender, race, religion and social norms. Students wrote fascinating research
papers, and several presented their findings at the John Wesley Powell Research Conference.”
“I couldn’t wait to go to class,” Nadeau says of the seminar. “I would jump out of
bed in the morning and wonder, ‘What’s going to happen today?’ Here we were, six of
us, teasing out these works of literature from 400 years ago, what they meant then
and why they’re important to us today.”