My First Transcription Project

I have just completed the final pages from my first experience of transcribing historical documents, and so I thought this would be the perfect time to write a blog post about this particular assignment. I will be discussing what I learned about the process of transcription, the issues that I encountered while transcribing the particular document that I was working on and what the pages I transcribed taught me about Early Modern recipe’s and recipe books.

An example of one of the pages that I transcribed
An example of one of the pages that I transcribed

The pages that I was transcribing came from the recipe book of Margaret Baker. Baker compiled this recipe book throughout her lifetime and it was published in 1675, making it a fantastic source of inquiry into the nature of recipes and recipe books in early modern England. Although little is known of Margaret Baker, like many authors of recipe books in the early modern period she was most likely a housewife. No dates are given to suggest when each recipe was put into the collection, but it is likely that Baker compiled these recipes across much of her lifetime, especially given the sheer volume and variety of recipes present within the tome. The first thing I noticed upon skimming through the pages of Baker’s book was the way in which the style of handwriting used changed throughout the progression of the novel. This coupled with the fact that the same words are spelt in a different way many times throughout the book (For example, morning and morninge) leads me to believe that Margaret was almost certainly not the only person who contributed recipes to the book. She most likely had help from other sources, which is quite common of recipe books of the period, perhaps from a family member. In one page I transcribed, the words “Nuesse Gessett” are written next to one of the recipes. Having not found any evidence to suggest that these are actual words, I can only assume that it is a name, most likely of the person that contributed that particular recipe to the book.

Having never done transcription of any sort before this, I wasn’t even really sure what transcription was. For this particular book, I was transcribing  using the semi-diplomatic format, which meant that I was supposed to transfer the text from the book to a modern document, whilst keeping the language and punctuation used as close as possible to the original text. This meant I would copy down the text as it was written on  the page, and I was not to correct the spelling of words  or add punctuation where the original author had not. The DROMIO software that I was using to transcribe Baker’s book included a number of handy XML buttons that could be used to aid in my transcription. I could mark page breaks, headings, text insertions, text in the margins, and it even allowed for the tagging of superscript text and symbols that represented words, such as the symbol for ‘ye’ which cannot be represented in modern computerised format.

A picture of the DROMIO software that I used to transcribe Baker's book
A picture of the DROMIO software that I used to transcribe Baker’s book

There were many different features of Baker’s book that made it difficult for me to transcribe. The first, and main issue, was learning to read and understand the handwriting style used in the early modern period. Some letters were very difficult to distinguish from one another, the letter ‘s’ for example looks very like the letter ‘f’when written in early modern hand. Issues like this sometimes made letters very difficult to distinguish from one another, especially in the middle of a word where ‘r’, ‘e’ and ‘c’ looked very similar, as did ‘i’ and ‘l’, as well as ‘n’ and ‘m’. These jumbled letters in the middle of a word were not too much of a problem when part of a word that is part of the modern English language, as the first and last letters of the word were generally enough to give me a good idea as to what the word was. This, however, brings me onto the second big issue I encountered when transcribing, which was words that no longer exist in the English language, or are not recognisable when compared to their modern counterparts. If the word I was transcribing didn’t even exist, then how was I to know whether I had correctly transcribed it? Despite this issues however, I feel that after some practice I really got the hang of reading early modern text, and the speed at which I was able to read and transcribe pages greatly increased.

From my transcription of Baker’s book, I learnt a some interesting things about the types of recipes and the construction of early modern recipe books. The first thing that intrigued me was the huge variety of recipes that were present within the book. These ranged from simple pie recipes, to medicine and into alchemical recipes, with one page mentioning an elixir that healed almost every ailment one could possibly imagine. Another very interesting aspect of the book was it’s unusual forms of measurement, which included “the waight of 100 shilling nine pence of blacke pepper” and “brimstone as much as a great hasell nutt”. I still wonder as to how these could possibly be used as accurate forms of measurement, but nonetheless it was certainly intriguing, and makes me wonder if this was common across many recipe books of the period or if it was specific to Baker’s.

Overall, I would certainly say that this transcription project has been a positive experience. Not only has it allowed me to study this particular early modern recipe collection in great detail, it has also taught me a valuable skill which I will undoubtedly use again at some point in the future.


Response to The Mystery of the Elf Hoof

So, we’ve come to the end of our university project. Our website is finished, and we are almost ready to graduate – scary stuff. If you haven’t seen the website yet, you really should, it’s awesome (no bias here at all). My section was dealing with the weird and wonderful that can be found in Baker’s recipes, and talking about whether she meant what we thought, whether she was actually trying these recipes and if people were using supernatural style ingredients in their cooking.

On the initial draft I got a bit carried away, and ended up being far too specific about an individual ingredient. It was largely a response to Lisa Smith’s post, discussing whether or not Baker was using elves feet in her recipes.

On page 102 recto of Baker’s book she provides a recipe to help convulsive fits in children, which featured the ingredients a dead mans skull and elves feet. Specifically the hoof of an elf that lives in the mountains, preferably with ten claws on one of his feet.

While not completely impossible, it is unfortunately unlikely that Baker’s recipe originally called for actual elves hooves. Historian Lisa Smith wrote a blog post about what she thinks Baker may have been eluding to with this mysterious ingredient. Her theory concludes that Baker was referring to a type of herb – suggesting that elecampane or mandrake are the most likely culprits.

Courtesy of Wellcome Images

Elecampane can also go by the name of elf dock, or elf wort, which already suggests a connection between the plant and elves hooves. The plant was used for a lot of medical recipes, and there is even a variety that grows specifically in the mountains. The roots even (supposedly) look a little like claws. The problem with this is that elecampane is generally used for whooping cough, and to soothe colds rather than being associated with epilepsy or convulsions. In Culpeper’s Complete Herbal & English Physician (originally published in 1653) he describes the uses of elecampane as:

“The fresh roots of Elcampane preserved with sugar, or made into a syrup or conserve, are very effectual to warm a cold windy stomach, or the pricking therein, and stitches in the sides caused by the spleen; and to help the cough, shortness of breath, and weezing in the lungs. The dried root made into powder and mixed with sugar, and taken, serves to the same purpose, and is also profitable for those who have their urine stopped, or the stopping of women’s courses, the pains of the mother, and the stone in the reins, kidneys, or bladder; it resists poison, and stays the spreading of the venom of serpents, as also putrid and pestilential fevers, and the plague itself.”

Well the uses are certainly varied, however do not mention being useful for seizures or the falling sickness. Judging by Baker’s many recipes for convulsive fits we can guess that it was quite prominent at the time, so if elecampane was being used to help seizures it likely would be mentioned here. Baker’s recipes are generally fairly typical for the time so it is unlikely that she would be using this herb in a way no one else was. So what about mandrakes?

Mandrakes have a long history of being associated with magic, even today they appear in the Harry Potter franchise. Sorry, J.K. Rowling did not come up with the idea that mandrakes scream when they are pulled from the soil, the idea of the mandrakes curse has existed for hundreds of years. Because of their human-like shape people believed that when they were pulled from the ground mandrakes would scream and kill whoever was near. There were some ways around this, strangely featuring hungry dogs.

Credit: Wellcome Library

Mandrakes were used in herbal remedies, including to help epilepsy so it already seems more convincing than elecampane. However mandrakes tend to grow in swampy areas with rich soils, rather than in mountains as instructed by Bakers recipe. They were also viewed as dangerous, and gave quite powerful hallucinations. Bearing in mind that this is a recipe intended for children would a mother be inclined to use a root that is known to be dangerous even in the 17th century? While people were known to use opium to calm children at this time, the dangerous effects of this were not as widely known.

One of the problems with assuming that Baker was referring to a herb is that way the instructions are phrased it makes it sound like some sort of animal. The main reason for this is because it refers to the ‘elves’ living in the mountain – not growing. While this may seem pedantic, when you are trying to work out what exactly someone who lived 400 years ago is thinking sometimes pedantry is necessary. When referring to where you can find plants elsewhere in the book Baker always seems to say grow, so why the sudden change to lives? Lives suggests some kind of animal rather than a plant.

For me was what pushed me to eliminate elcampane from the possibilities. But why does it not completely eliminate mandrakes as a possibility? Well, this is because of the myths surrounding the mandrakes. As stated earlier, mandrakes bear resemblance to human figures, and because people believed that they screamed when pulled up it is likely they thought mandrakes were living creatures rather than plants. Looking at old images and diagrams of mandrakes seemed to confirm this, as they are generally drawn as human with extra planty bits. This could explain why it is described as having lived on a mountain, rather than grown. The claws would be parts of the root.

But if mandrakes are meant to be humanoid, then that fits in with the foote and perhaps the clawes, but what makes less sense if the houfe. One comment on Lisa’s blog posts points to the fact that elks were often used to help seizures.

In A Compleat History of Druggs, on the section on elks it reads:

“he is very subject to the Falling-Sickness; and as soon as he is attack’d with this disease, he fails not to put his left foot to his left Ear, to cure himself thereof; which has given Occasion to the antients to believe that the Elk’s claw, or the Horn upon the left Foot, was a specific for the Epilepsy.”

Now we have a living creature, with hooves and claws which were used as medicine to help cure epilepsy. While Elks generally live in woods and forests they are found on mountains, which again fits in with the description given by Baker. The only thing that gives cause for concern is that she states the best kind have ten claws, and even if you count split hooves as two claws it still doesn’t quite match the description. There were also no Elks found in Britain at this time, and the Eurasian variety tended to live in forest areas rather than in the mountains.

However, because elks have such a strong association with curing epilepsy and they are sometimes described as having claws it seems most likely to me that this is what the recipe originally called for. I think she was given this recipe by someone who had connections to the continent, and unfortunately mistranslated one word.

It needs that extra ‘something’

When working on 17th century manuscripts you occasionally come across strange and unusual ingredients. There are often things you have not come across, especially if like me your culinary knowledge stems mainly from watching Jamie Oliver or MasterChef. These can be interesting and helpful, especially in expanding your knowledge of botany, for instance hart’s-tongue, which while it sounds disturbing is actually a type of fern. Sometimes, however, you come across an ingredient that makes you feel a little bit ill.

Hart’s tongue – a lot less disturbing than it sounds

This was my experience when recently transcribing one of Bakers recipes. The previous page had the type of ingredients I have learnt to expect from her medical recipes, namely a variety of plants and spices – though a lack of honey which seems to be in an awful lot of her instructions. Cheerfully typing away I started on the next page, a “precious medisen for aches” – seems standard enough. The first line of the recipe however disturbed me (animal lovers look away now), as it called for a “whelpe”.  That’s right ladies and gentleman; all you need to do to get rid of that ache after a hard day’s work is kill a puppy. “the fatter the better” Baker suggests.

I’m not kidding, here it is.

I love animals, I always have. My boyfriend’s dogs are basically now mine (much to his objection) and I just can’t imagine deciding to drown a puppy to get rid of an ache. It was a stark reminder that while recipes can transcend time periods, the ideals with those recipes are always changing.

Don’t worry, puppies aren’t the only morbid ingredient Baker recommends in her recipes. For instance if your child is having convulsive fits one ingredient you need to acquire is the powder of a dead mans head.

Recipe’s for Life

As you may have read in previous blog posts on this page, recipes are a much broader  concept than simply instructions for cooking. One thing that this can include is a recipe for trying to have children. Today there is all sorts of information available to couples trying to conceive. In the 21st Century it is more likely that couples trying to have children would go to a doctor and find out all sorts of sciencey ways that will improve their chances. But what about in the 17th Century – what did people then do to help them improve their chances? Without a secure knowledge of how reproduction worked and what roles the woman and men’s bodies played, you might think that couples simply played the odds. Enter Recipe Books. Aristotle’s Master-piece (probably not actually written by Aristotle himself) is one such book that gives advice for these couples.

To understand the thinking behind her advice (which I will go onto in a second – fear not), it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the humoral system. This theory was originally made by Hippocrates and expanded upon by Galen, and essentially argues that the body is made of the four ‘humors’; black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. When these liquids were balanced you would be in perfect health, both physically and mentally. These humors had different qualities composed of; cold, hot, moist, and dry.

Diagram of the Four Humors

If you want more information on how this would affect people’s moods in a general way look here. What is important here for us is how people viewed women and men to help us understand why Aristotle’s Master-piece suggests certain methods for conception. The general consensus in Early Modern Europe was that women’s bodies are naturally cold and wet, whereas men’s bodies are naturally hot and dry.

And now we come toman the advice. It is interesting to see how people thought certain things would help conceive a child. For instance Aristotle’s Masterpiece has some methods about the act to encourage procreation.

One of the things that has not gone out of fashion is the concept of “Generous Restoratives”. In the 17th century this would consist of herbs that would help relax you and warm the body up, and ‘hot’ spices which would help the latter. This is where we see the idea of the humoral system come into play. Because the cold, wet body of a woman was not seen as the best way to conceive and keep a baby healthy. This means that in order to make a baby, ideally the woman would need to make herself warmer. This could be done through the restoratives, having a hot bath or even drinking wine. Although the reasons behind it have largely changed, there are still websites promoting the use of natural herbs to promote fertility. This is not because people still buy in to the humoral theory, but because it is believed to help with hormone balance and help relax the couple. This means that the “generous restoratives” Aristotle’s Masterpiece refers to may have actually had a positive effect on fertility, despite a misunderstanding of how human bodies worked.

The text also shows an importance of the humors after sex has occurred. Aristotle’s Masterpiece states that “when they’ve done what Nature does require, the Man must have a care he does not part too soon from the Embraces of his wife, lest some sudden interposing Cold should strike into the womb, and occasion a miscarriage1”. The thinking here is that because the man is naturally hot, whereas the woman is naturally cold, not cuddling after sex would cause the baby to miscarry. This means that cuddling after sex in the Early Modern Period was not just a show of affection, but also necessary to help you have a child.

What is really interesting is another piece of advice the masterpiece gives us is that in order to help conceive, sex should be “brisk and vigorous2”. This is interesting because it shows that people believed that the emotional state was very important to the conception of a child. What did this mean for arranged marriages where there was no love? The masterpiece states that “Sadness, trouble and Sorrow, are enemies to the delights of Venus” and should you try to conceive during this time it would have a “malevolent effect upon the Children3”, so it may be that you could have a child but that child would probably not turn out well. This could be signs of an early understanding of modern psychology. While they believe it is the mood during conception that would have a negative effect, growing up in a household where your parents are always fighting or sad may have negative consequences for the child.enhanced-buzz-24936-1372182219-1

The reason I found this manual so interesting was because a lot of the ideas used in it we still hold today. People will still use natural herbs to promote fertility, although not because they think it wi
ll warm up the naturally cold female body. People still like to cuddle after sex, again not because of the warmth for conception but because it is affectionate. Just because people in the Early Modern period did not have a firm grasp on how reproduction and the human bodies functioned, or differed with regards to sex, it did not mean that all the ideas were completely unfounded. Specifically regarding the restoratives, people would have experimented with different herbs and spices until they found something that seemed to work for them. This would be passed on to friends and family until a fairly well established and thoroughly tested method would become more prominent than others that only worked for a couple of people. Considering they were working off the humoral system it may seem bizarre that we are still using a few of their methods, but it does make sense. And hey, at least it’s an excuse for a nice hot bath.


[1] Aristotle’s Masterpiece Completed, in Two Parts (London, 1697), pp. 91-94.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

Did the medical recipes within early modern recipe books represent early modern medicine and medical understanding?

Having just completed my online exhibition text on the use of medicinal recipes within the receipt book of Margaret Baker, I was researching how the medical recipes within Baker’s book compared with medicinal understanding in the time period. This involved studying the medical recipes in Baker’s book and determining whether the ingredients used in her medical recipes were the same ingredients that would have been recommended by physicians of the time in order to treat a particular disease or ailment. The result of this examination was that Baker’s medical recipes were heavily comparable to the recipes of early modern physicians.

As a result of this research, I began to wonder whether the medical recipes present in other early modern recipe books would tie in as closely with early modern medical knowledge. Therefore, the goal of this blog post will be to examine the medical recipes from a different early modern recipe book, one written by a Mrs. Elizabeth Hirst and dated 1684. From this research, I will hopefully gain a better understanding as to whether Margaret Baker’s medical knowledge was an exception to the norm, or whether it was common for women of the household to possess extensive medical knowledge in early modern England.

An example of one of the recipe’s in Hirst’s recipe book

The first recipe from Hirst’s book is a recipe entitled “To stop Rhewme in the eye” (Hirst 31). Rhewme (or rheum) is a watery thin mucus that discharges from the eyes and crusts together.  The recipe instructs the user to make a plaster from several herbs, as well as frankincense and the white of an egg, and apply it to the temple of the patient. In JohnGerard’s Herball, he explains that the user can make a remedy to “keepeth backe the watering of the eies” using rofeleaves, frankincense and the white of an egge (Gerard 1211). Hirst’s recipe is clearly very similar to Gerard’s, although she substitutes the rofeleaves for several other herbs. Nonetheless, her recipe conforms to the medical knowledge of the time, and Culpeper’s Pharmacopoeia seems to suggest that the herbs are not really necessary at all. Culpeper says that “Frankincense… being applied to the temples, stops the rheum that flows to the eyes” (Culpeper 74). This demonstrates the Frankincense was the key ingredient that Hirst needed to include in her recipe, and her inclusion of this demonstrates her knowledge of early modern medicinal practice.

The second recipe that I will be examining is a much simpler recipe that is designed “to cure a feaver” (Hirst 37). The recipe simply instructs the user to infuse rhubarb in white wine, and make the patient drink it in the morning. Hirst explains that this will allow the passing of stool and help trapped wind to escape. In Pharmacopoeia, Culpeper states that rhubarb “sleeped all night in white wine” will “purgeth but gently” (Culpeper 11). This purging is reffering to the passing of bile in the stool. Once again, this demonstrates that Hirst appeared to possess extensive medical knowledge, and this particular recipe shows that she is not only aware of the recipe but also how the remedy works.

A final recipe that I will explore is a recipe “to take away pimpl’s or redniss in ye face”(Hirst 39). Hirst informs the reader to take a small piece of brimstone and mix it with white wine to form a cream, which should then be applied to the skin of the patient. Once again, we can find a very similar recipe in Gerard’s Herball, Gerard’s version uses white wine vinegar as opposed to white wine, and adds in the root of an iris as well as the brimstone. Gerard states that the recipe “taketh away sun burning, freckles/spots, the morphew, with all deformities of the face”(Gerard 1341). However, Brimstone appears to be the ingredient that actively heals the skin, as Culpeper states that “brimstone… takes away leprotics, scabs and lech” (Culpeper 42), all three of which are skin issues. Once again, Hirst demonstrates that she has an excellent understanding of medicine, and that the recipe she has used conformed to the medical theories of her contemporaries.

Although a rather small sample size, all three of the recipes that I selected from Hirst’s recipe book were recipes that were thought to be scientifically accurate in the early modern period. This demonstrates that Hirst appeared to have an excellent knowledge of medicine for a woman of her time. Whether the recipes are her own or not, she was clearly very well read and likely studied the medical field of her own volition. This evidence, supported by the study I have already conducted on the recipes in Margaret Baker’s book, appears to demonstrate that early modern women (or at least the ones who published recipe books) were quite knowledgeable when it came to medicinal practise and theory. It appears that Baker’s aptitude for medical recipes was not an exception to the norm, but rather, at least in the case of Hirst, her peers possessed an equal or perhaps even greater understanding of medicine than Baker did.

By Felix Wills


Culpeper, Edward, Pharmacopoeia Londinensis, or the London Dispensatory  (Royal College of Physicians) London, 1720

Gerard, John , The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes (Sidney Thomson Fisher) London, 1636

Hirst, Elizabeth , Receipt Book (Wellcome Library MS-2840) London, 1684


The Use of Medical Recipes by Women Outside of the Household

When one examines the recipe books of Early Modern Europe, it is not a challenge to find a plethora of recipes designed to cure certain ailments and heal the human body. This makes it clear that a large number of housewives had an interest in medicine and its practice, and inside the home a number of women probably actively engaged in the practice of medicine. However, outside of the household the story was rather contrasting. It was not that women did not want practice medicine outside of the household, but rather that many men disapproved of it. Male physicians and apothecaries actively sought to limit, and later even ban, the women who wanted to practice medicine. An example of this was the Paris Surgeon’s Guild, who after 1484 would only accept the widows of former Master Surgeons as members of the guild, and later in 1694 women were outright barred from membership. One could assume that this systematic persecution of women in the medical field resulted in the non-presence of female medical practitioners outside of the home, but this would not be true. There were still women who chose to practice medicine outside of the home, and this blog post will examine two sources that demonstrate the vital role that some women played in Early Modern medicine and healing.

Saint Elizabeth cares for a patient in a hospital in Marlburg, Germany (1598)

The  first source that will be examined is a letter written by Lady Mary Wortley Mortagu to a woman named Sarah Chiswell (a friend in England). The letter was written in April 1717, and concerns Montagu’s observation of the process that was used in Turkey to treat Smallpox. Montagu was living in Turkey as she was the wife of the British ambassador to Turkey. As Montagu is writing to a friend, I see little reason as to why she would lie about the events that she describes in her letter, and therefore they are most likely factually accurate.

Montagu starts of her letter by saying that “the Small Pox so fatal and so general amongst us is here entirely harmless by the invention of engrafting“. The Turkish, through a process that was known to Montagu as ‘engrafting’, but was more commonly known at the time as variolation have managed to totally eradicate the harmful effects of the disease. Montagu explains that there is a set of old women whom “make it their business” to carry out the procedure. Although it is not clear whether this means this women pursued this venture for profit or simply for the good of the people, it is clear that these elderly women carried out the treatment. Montagu then describes the process of ‘engrafting’ in great detail, frequently referring to the old woman throughout. For example, “the old woman comes with a nutshell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox and asks what veins you please to have open’d“. This implies that the old woman has a good understanding of the anatomy of the human body, further emphasising her knowledge and involvement in the practice of medicine. Montagu also makes it clear that these women do not perform medicine just within their household, but rather that “every year thousands undergo this operation“. Obviously there are not thousands of people within these women’s households, and so it seems they were treating the community at large. Towards the end of the letter Montagu mentions that she wants to have the process carried out on her son, demonstrating the trust she has in the medical knowledge that these women possess.

The second source is another letter, this time written by a man named J. Hare to the famous Early Modern physician Hans Sloane. Hare was a vicar for the Parish of Cardington in Bedfordshire, England. The letter describes a man who falls ill and is subsequently treated by a local woman. Hare assures Sloane of the accuracy of his claims, saying “I affirm and in Testimony have subscribed my name” at the end of the letter. As Hare is a man of God, a testimony from him almost guarantees the authenticity of his statement.

The letter starts out by describing that a man within a household where Hare was staying had had an ear pain for two or three days, and upon a female servant searching the man’s ear she noticed small maggot like creatures within the ear cavity. Hare then says that a woman from the neighbourhood was sent for. According to Hare, the woman “applyd to it ye steam of warm milk“. The woman was sent for from the local area, and so was most likely already known within the area as a healer and practitioner of medicine. The woman applies the treatment to the patient, and a little later Hare manages to pick 24 maggots out of the man’s ear, although some still remain that were too far into the ear to reach. Hare then says he “left him for about an hour… & then returning to him, I could at first perceive nothing but a think bloody matter but by degrees they worked outward and I pickd out nine more“. Hare states the next day, the man was better and complained of no more pain. It seems the treatment the village woman had applied was likely responsible for the  uptake in the man’s condition, as he had complained for several days of pain and suddenly no longer felt any. This exhibits the medical knowledge that this woman possessed, and gives us further evidence that women practiced medicine outside of their own homes. Interestingly enough, steam and is still known today to be an effective treatment for ear pain. Steam helps to clear the ear drum of pus and wax, which was most likely the bloody substance that Hare describes, and this seemed to push the maggots out of the patient’s ear.

Both these sources demonstrate that in the  Early Modern period, some women were not only demonstrating exceeding medical knowledge, but they were also actively practicing outside of their home environment. Women were likely responsible for healing a large number of people from within their local communities, and even though they often were not allowed to become licensed medical practitioners, this did not stop them from trying to make a difference.

The Early Modern Household and Public Health

For the past few weeks, my classmates and I worked extension on the UoE Baker project, which explores different aspects such as Beauty, Supernatural and Medicine and so on in Margaret Baker’s recipe book. I must say, I am quite proud of our final product and I found the research of how people such as Baker, constructed their recipes to be very enlightening. Exploring Margaret Baker’s medicinal recipes made me think of how the general health care system in early modern England was at the time as opposed to the medical help and recipes offered by domestic family household recipes.

General hospitals in the early modern Europe were inherited from the medieval system which was designed to care and cure. However, the treatment received in these hospitals ranged from non-existent to quite substantial and only catered to the curable poor and not sufferers of contagious diseases.[1] It was only after hospitals began to become medicalised over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that it expanded its medical services.

One question that popped into my head was, why did the common household contribute to public health and care? Well, the answer was religion. The origins the hospital was rooted in early Christianity which advocated a mission to save people’s souls. Jane Crawshaw attempted to illustrate how the contribution from families to the public health uncovers a system and variation of medical practices.

“Domestic expertise, alongside bonds of kinship and a sense of obligation and charitable care within the parish, has, therefore, been shown to have influenced women’s work” [2 ]

Most places, especially the countryside were not able to receive extensive care until the eighteenth century. [3] Luckily, people practised medicine in rural areas. Public health was considered a collective effort and everyone should do their part to help the poor. Hannah Woolley noted a noble woman, who she belonged to, had a ‘Charitable temper to do good amongst her poor neighbours’. [2] Clearly, this would’ve been a great support network for medical care.

Hannah Woolley, A supplement to the Queen -like closet.

Through this, we can understand the motives behind the making of these medical recipes by people of a noble background or from certain neighbourhoods. In Hannah Woolley’s recipe book, she endlessly lists the different types of wounds and illnesses she treated in her neighbourhood. Apparently, her skills were ‘often exercised’ amongst her fellow neighbours in Newport Bond, Essex. She claimed she was trusted to treat

” Agues, Feavers, Small-pox, Consumptions, and many other diseases; in all which, unless they were desperately ill, their parents trusted me without the help of any Physician or Chirurgion: likewise the neighbours in eight or ten miles round came to me for cure.” [4]

( An Early modern neighbourhood)

With epidemics such as the cattle plagues, particularly in rural areas, spreading at an alarming rate, the government hired physicians, practitioners and midwives to montior health in the local area and provide care which used as a warning system.[5] I guess one way to look at it is they were unofficial GPs (general practices) for local health care before it could be legitimised. This definitely helped me contextualise the link between women, the early modern household and domestic/medical recipes.

The idea of neighbourhoods having that one person they could go to and trust when access to general health care provided by the state was not accessible or available, deepens the understanding of a sense of community that seemed to be clearly embraced in the early modern period. Its quite nice to think that medical recipes were not just inherited or constructed and made out of sheer interest in medicine but was for the purpose of providing healing and care for their own local community and those who couldn’t even afford it.


[1] Lindemann, M., Disease, and Medicine in ed. Scott, Hamish M.,  The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History: 1350-1750, Volume 1, Oxford, 2015) p.109

[2]  Woolley, H. A Supplement to the Queen-Like Closet… (London, 1674) p.10

[3]  Lindemann, M., Disease, and Medicine in ed. Scott, Hamish M., The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History: 1350-1750, Volume 1, Oxford, 2015) p. 113

[4] Woolley, H. A Supplement to the Queen-Like Closet… (London, 1674) p.12

[5] Lindemann M., The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History: 1350-1750, Volume 1, Oxford, 2015) p.113

Baker’s many Agues

By Abbie Burnett

As a class we have been drawing to the end of our recipe books project. Our website exhibition on Margaret Baker’s seventeenth century manuscript has launched, and I am certainly proud of how far we have come and how much we have learnt about the digital world of early modern recipes.

Baker’s manuscript has offered us many topics to research and explore, and it was after a last leaf through of its pages on the Folger website that I realised a recipe title reoccurred numerous times: “For An Ague”.  I personally have transcribed pages in which an ague recipe is featured, however I did not realise then that variants of this recipe were not just included once or twice, but eleven times throughout the manuscript. 

Receipt Book of Margaret Baker folio 38r, ca. 1675, MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library

So, what is an ague? It is not a word in which I was familiar with, at first I thought it may have been a miss spelling of the word ache, but this seemed unlikely as Baker includes recipes for aches within her book and so she is obviously aware of its spelling. So I searched for the term ague in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to discover that an ague was a form of feverish sickness, most likely to be malaria. According to this article, the term ague remained in common usage in England until the nineteenth century. My curiosity about these recipes was truly ignited; Malaria- in England?!

This then begs the question, why would Margaret Baker, who we know to have lived in the midlands of the UK, require so many recipes to treat Malaria? Today malaria is common in warmer environments close to the Earth’s equator. The Centres of the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  sites locations for highest transmission of the disease in Africa south of the Sahara and in parts of Oceania. You wouldn’t contract it in England- one benefit o
f living on such a rainy island.

This map shows an approximation of the parts of the world where malaria transmission occurs in the 21st-century.

For Baker living in seventeenth-century England, this does not seem to be the case. The inclusion of eleven recipes to treat an ague suggest that the disease was frequently affecting her or someone within her social circle. Baker even includes a recipe to treat a pregnant woman with an ague.

Receipt Book of Margaret Baker Folio 81r, ca. 1675, MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library

Looking into the history of this disease I discovered an article on the British Medical Journal website titled Malaria in the UK: past, present, and futureFrom it I learnt that the disease was once indigenous to the UK, (and may once again be due to global warming but that’s an issue for another blog post…). It was only in the late nineteenth century, when the use of antimalarial drugs and improvements in the standard of living, that transmission of Malaria declined and eventually disappeared in England. Other evidence of agues prior to the nineteenth century can by found by looking to the famous William Shakespeare. Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1616 and included agues in 8 of his plays! In the Tempest, one character diagnoses another with an ague and attempts to treat him with alcohol:

“. . . (he) hath got, as I take it, an ague . . . he’s in his fit now and does not talk after the wisest. He shall taste of my bottle: if he have never drunk wine afore it will go near to remove his fit . . . Open your mouth: this will shake your shaking . . . if all the wine in my bottle will recover him, I will help his ague.”[1]

Alcohol and opiates were commonly used to suppress the shaking fevers of malaria. Interestingly, the recipes that Baker includes to treat an ague differ quite a lot. Some recipes include alcohol as their main ingredient, like this one on (f.66v) made of simply the ‘white of 2 new leade eggs… and putt to it a spounefull of aqua vite’ to be mixed well and drunk before the ‘fite douth come’. While others include more varied ingredients such as this one on (f.75r) with a mix of herbs, plants and medicinal waters, and then created by a more complicated methodology- distilling.  However there are some common ingredients in baker’s ague recipes. These include; liquor/ ‘aquavitie’, ‘reddest sage’, ‘eall’, and ‘ealder buds’.  A couple of Baker’s recipes are specifically for ‘quarten’ agues, the OED defines this as a fever  that reoccurs every fourth day. This was surely a very unpleasant form of Malaria, which Baker would have been keen to heal.

Receipt Book of Margaret Baker Folio 105v, ca. 1675, MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library

The fact that Baker had eleven recipes to deal with the problem of agues suggests that not one individual recipe was particularly effective in curing malaria. It is possible that once the patient stopped taking their medicine their symptoms returned. Alternatively, Baker’s family may have been especially susceptible to agues or many different strains of the disease may have plagued them. This would have been common knowledge to Baker’s friends and neighbours, and may explain why a recipe was contributed by John Reedman “for an ague all though thay have had it longe”.

Receipt Book of Margaret Baker Folio 126r, ca. 1675, MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library

The inclusion of ague recipes in Baker’s manuscript have helped reveal another aspect of the seventeenth-century world in which she existed. I am glad to have had that last leaf through of its pages. I’m sure whoever next takes up the task of continuing our work on Baker will continue to expose parts of her world this way. They will discover as I have, that her recipe book is much more revealing than it at first appears.  

[1]Paul Reiter, ‘From Shakespeare to Defoe: Malaria in England in the Little Ice Age’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal 6 (2006). 

The Digital Recipe Project – A Finale!

When i decided to choose The Digital Recipe Project back in the summer when i was deciding what third year modules to take on for this year, I did not think that I was going to grow such a bond with Margaret Baker, a seventeenth-century English housewife. Initially, I was very excited to be working with an entire recipe book written by a woman over 300 years ago and to have the chance to transcribe it into a digital format, like a professional historian! However, as the module progressed, Baker’s life and the society of which she lived in was becoming even more intriguing to me and I couldn’t help but want to find out more!

Initially, the idea of this module having such a vast digital component was exciting to me, being a 21st century young adult, the internet is at the centre of everything, and I thought I would have easily got the grasp of blog-writing and website-making. However, the reality was not as straight-forward, and trying to write an informal blog post after two and a half years of formal historical essay-writing, was a lot more difficult than I initially thought. Despite this, (and despite the 9am starts) this module was a lot more intimate than any of my other third year modules – with such a small class, it was nice to get to know Lisa a lot better than we usually would with any other seminar leader, and it made us all feel a lot more relaxed in conversation and debate within our seminar. Not only this, but every seminar really was a conjoined effort, and each week was a different topic and theme to investigate.

It is amazing how much you take for granted being brought up in the 21st century, where medicines and treatments are constantly developed, and recipes are shared by foodies more and more on social media such as on Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes the recipe book is disregarded, and the recipe for any dish can be with you in 10 seconds with the help of Google. It was not this easy in seventeenth-century England, these recipes for both food and medicine were circulated around the country normally through word of mouth, or through migration. It is interesting now, especially, how disregarded medicinal recipes have become, and that is something that I myself was guilty of, in our first seminar: ‘What is a recipe?’. Maybe I was ignorant in just thinking that a recipe book was just that.. a book for food recipes. However, recipes had a much broader meaning, nowadays you would immediately link a ‘recipe’ with food, however, I do not think the seventeenth-century English believed in such structural organisation and conformity. A recipe book did not mean simply food, like a prayer book did not necessarily mean it only included prayers (which i mention in my last blog).

Sitting opposite my own bookcase which is full almost solely of recipe books, from Nigella, to Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein to Delia Smith, there is not really any other recipe book other than for anything other than just food dishes. From witnessing the use of alchemy widely in Margaret Bakers seventeenth-century recipe book, I was beyond excited when I found a book on my shelf with ‘Alchemy’ written in big writing on the spine of the book.. however, looking more closely ‘Alchemy in a Glass, The essential guide to Handcrafted Cocktails’ was not what I had expected to come across. Its interesting however, this book is actually giving you instructions of how to make cocktails, so its as much a ‘guide’ as it is a recipe book! Wow, this module really has got me thinking more about the definition of a ‘recipe book’!

Yet, this even got me thinking further, how such meanings and emphasis become placed differently throughout the years, although we speak the same language, we don’t necessarily speak the same meaning – and this is something I especially had to take into consideration when I first begun transcribing Baker’s book.

To close this final blog post, which is more of a reflection, or a transcription of my own train of thought, I wanted to mention a book that my grandmother recently let me borrow named ‘Natural Wonderfoods’. Although it is not a recipe book, it lists nearly every fruit, vegetable and meat product, and explains on a double page spread the importance of these different types of within healing, immune-boosting and for fitness-enhancing.

The introduction of the book itself, gives acknowledgements to our ancestors, and it is amazing that I open the book onto the introduction page (that i never look at) to such mention of the fact that knowledge of these healing foods were known centuries ago (Maybe its Baker herself that made me open it, saying: ‘See! I was right about all these healing foods in my recipe book!).

Looking at ‘A medycine for the eies’ (14.v. 15.r.) sage leaves, fennel leaves, honey and egg were used. Looking in this glorious book, all the completely natural foods are written: sage, fennel and eggs (which can be used as face masks to help dry skin!) I will leave you all with the pages and explanations of both sage and fennel to show you just how knowledgeable and clever these seventeenth-century women were! Thank you Margaret Baker et al!






By Florence Hearn.


Bartimeus, Paula, Haigh, Charlotte, Merson, Sarah, Owen, Sarah, Wright, Janet, Natural Wonderfoods, (London 2011)

‘& thise will helpe you by the grace of god’ – God in the recipe?

It was not until I spotted multiple mentions of God through Baker’s book, that i began to consider Religion to Baker and her seventeenth-century English society. Multiple questions began to run through my mind that i was itching to find the answers to: Was Margaret Baker very religious? What was her relationship with God? Why has God been so widely mentioned in a book full of recipes for food and medicines?

The recipe ‘to putt a waye a heate; burninge; or ague’  is closed by Baker stating that ‘thise will helpe you by ye grace of god’. (V.a. 619, 65.v.) [1]

Margaret Baker’s recipe book, V.a.619

Immediately I was intrigued as to why Baker specifically included God and his grace at the end of the recipe for the medicine, and with this, i turned to the books to investigate. With the help of Lisa, I came across a chapter titled ‘Providence’ in Keith Thomas’ book: ‘Religion and the Decline of Magic’, which actually gave me insight and a lot of answers as to why Baker mentions God in such a way. Thomas not only mentions that all post-reformation theologists taught that nothing could happen in the world without God’s permission, but that the actions of their lives were actually the “working-out of Gods purpose”[2]. Baker was mentioning God at the end of her recipes not because she was simply saying ‘God will help you’ but because she understood that she needed God’s own permission, or ‘grace’ in order for the medicine to successfully work.

Baker does not only use this sentence of the grace of God a couple times within her recipe book. She actually uses it almost twenty times in regards to various healing medicines and remedies, which can underline that she did understand and believe in the workings of God.


Various mentions of God’s grace in Margaret Baker’s recipe book, V.a.619

So why does Baker rely on God to heal the patient, when she has already conjured up an entire treatment to treat them herself? The idea of Providence can be used to answer this. The definition of Providence in the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘The foreknowing and protective care of God (or nature, etc.); divine direction, control or guidance'[3],it was as if she was pleading for God’s blessing, not just over the ill, but over the ingredients used to make their treatment. It could be understood that God was an important ingredient in her recipe; it is all well and good producing a medicine, but what is the point if God does not provide his own care and guidance?

There is a disregard of any idea or belief in chance, that if the medicine worked, it was solely because God wanted it to work, not because of the great quality of the ingredients. It would have been their faith in God and his divine right to control the effect of the medicine, and ultimately, the life of the ill – whether he deserved to survive, or deserved to die.

This was an idea that many Protestant believed, that there was no natural explanation for the epidemics or disasters that struck them, for example: the plague, floods and fires [4] were direct punishments from God, attacking them for their poor morality. For example, in this pamphlet published in the time of the Great Plague, we see the Londoners pleading God to ‘have mercy’ over them and the ‘mortality of pestilence’ of which the ‘Almighty God.. raigned upon them’. This underlines the idea that these people sincerely did believe that God controlled everything, pleading Him to lessen the severity of the mortal plague. The seventeenth-century people placed explanation in the hands of God. Your house caught on fire? God was punishing you. The plague came to your city? The Heavenly Father was punishing you – and only the most pious, dedicated Christian who pleaded for God’s grace would receive protection and cure.

If one recognised Gods grace, if one was a good, religious person, God would supply his care and would forsee the healing of illness and/or disease.

Initially, I found it intriguing that God was included even within recipes to heal, however, the mixture of recipes and faith were not uncommon, and women even wrote sermons or hymns within them (Although Baker does not). Seventeenth-century recipe books seem to have had the flexibility to be a type of personal prayer book – one page could note a prayer, song or sermon, and the next could be a recipe for a meal. This is something we see in Martha Hodges book, and in between pages of ‘Psalm 126’ and  ‘A Preparation to Prayer’ lay a simple recipe of how ‘to make a Cakesfoot Pie’.

‘Psalm 126’ – p. 50 of Martha Hodges book. MS2844                      ‘How to make cakesfoot pie’ p.  52 of Martha Hodges book. MS2844

‘A Preparation to Prayer’ p. 53 of Martha Hodges book. (Wellcome Library, MS2844)

This explains that it was not actually so strange to mention God within recipe books, whether it is a sentence, or three pages long, and in fact, Bakers book was extremely mild in comparison to other recipe books like Martha Hodges. This does not however, mean that Baker was not a religious woman, as she could have held other religious pages on loose leaf pages [5].

My own curiosities of religion within Bakers book led me to understand that this was not out of the ordinary – that recipes and religion could combine into one, whether its within the same notebook, or within the same recipe. The grace of God was important to each individual, in every part of their life, even down to medicine and food. Piety amongst women and within recipe books were actually common, and who are we to question the religious expressions of a seventeenth-century woman?

By Florence Hearn.


[1]  Baker, Margaret. Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675, (MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.)

[2]Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic, (London, 2012), p. 90.


[4] Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, p. 97.

[5]Sherman, William, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, (Philadelphia, 2010), p. 75.


Baker, Margaret. Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675, (MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.)

Hodges, Martha. Reciept Book of Martha Hodges, ca. 1675, (MS2844. Wellcome Library, London, United Kingdom)

Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic, (London, 2012)

Sherman, William, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, (Philadelphia, 2010)

Margaret Bakers Ghost?

I have wracked my brain to think of a subject for this, my last blog post of our academic year’s involvement with Margaret Baker’s recipe book. To be honest, so close  to the end of term  my brain is numb and I cannot effectively put pen to paper on any one particular scholarly point of our digital recipe project. So, I thought I’d appraise the exhibition website our group has just completed. After the initial panic, denial of our technical prowess and frantic last minute virtual collaborations that threatened to crash Facebook, the subject of this blog rests upon comparison.

The Scribes Room in the Schwazer Bergbuch (ÖNB 10852, fol. 85v), 1561; (fol. 114v)

Before I compare and contrast the seventeenth century with the twenty first I must stress how proud we are of what we produced, how we conquered our fear of technology and found that team spirit that we were afraid would not materialise.

Our website is our ‘masterpiece’. [1] Not a pompous boast it is a reality, comparing directly with the piece of work completed by apprentices in the past. While our skills have not been seven years in the making, we, like them absorbed knowledge and skills passed on from master to student. In years to come it will be a testament to the progress we made under the watchful eye of our tutor. It will also stand as the bar upon which we can either rest, or from which we can climb even higher.

Our engagement with Dr. Lisa Smith’s Digital Recipe book project has taken us from novices to accomplished scholars. We can transcribe incomprehensible scripts;
understand concepts of empire, alchemy, chemistry and medicines contained within what at first appeared to be no more than written instruction. We can also now effectively navigate our way around early modern primary texts, reconstruct and experiment with confidence.

Our ‘masterpiece’ is comparable with Bakers Manuscript in as much as it has been a collaborative undertaking. Baker has her contributors, Lady Croon, Mistress Corbett, and through her friends, relatives and aristocratic connections we have snapshots of her life and have placed her in context. [2] We too have collaborated, forged alliances, networked and brought different skills to the table.

A possible Margaret Baker?

Like baker we have used our foremost technology; for her ‘the book’, for us ‘the website’. Yet herein lies the greatest  difference between ourselves and Baker, namely our modern quest for perfection. There is no denying that digital technology has enabled the wider study of Bakers book. However, alongside what has been gained we must also look at what has been removed. From the pages of Bakers book 1675 and those of our modern website 2017, it seems to me especially that something has been ‘lost in translation.’


Both Baker and ourselves are represented on the page by our words yet it is only Baker’s thinking processes that are evident. To read Baker is to know far more about her than it is to recognise us on our website. To compensate we included an ‘about us’ page but that was a statement of what we thought the reader would like to know as opposed to them discovering us for themselves. Alternatively, to ‘find’ Baker is quite
thrilling. Despite there being a possibility of a more sophisticated edition, this her assumed  workbook  has an abundance of clues to follow. But our website, unless we had consciously designed it to do so reveals nothing personal about the HR650 students who compiled it.

Clear and precise if a mistake is made on a website it can be erased leaving only perfection. It does not entertain the workings of the mind, a process that is so thankfully clear in Baker. We are represented by our words but not our thought processes. Baker crosses out, makes mistakes, creates ink splodges, and leaves stains from cooking or experimentation on the page, indicative of experimentation, change of mind, a new direction to pursue, a muddled train of thought to be improved upon later.

Today, a mistake is inexcusable. Deleteable type makes it is so easy to ‘get things right’. Yet for Baker mistakes were unavoidable, ink would soak into porous ‘rag’  paper  and if a large piece of text was heavily crossed through, the reverse was almost illegible.[3] For Baker mistakes or miss-thoughts were unavoidable unless she discarded her papers. This highlights emotion in her penmanship, the feelings that accompanied a clear, steady, neat and light hand were going to be different to those involved in heavy dark strokes. Even if the writing was not hers we know that by the very differences we can see.

Today by striving for uniformity and perfect presentation we have lost the personal and individual. While Intelligence and reasoning is still present in mechanically written words, character and personality is not.

In my second blogpost I argued that if Baker and I ever met I would recognise her, divided only by time. I still think that. Alternatively, if she could see our website, unadulterated by mistakes she would think me perfect and unknowable. As a concept usually reserved for God, it is reasonable to assume then that going back in time would be easier for me than coming forward would be for Margaret.

Having said that I will report that at the moment we launched our state of the art ‘masterpiece’ the cork from the celebratory champagne popped unassisted. Perhaps Baker was there in the shadows and did not need mistakes on a page to know everything about us after all.

[1] UoE Baker project 

[2] Baker, Margaret. Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675, (MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.)

[3]  Baker, Margaret. Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675, (MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.)

If Looks Could Kill

There is so much focus on beauty in modern media. Ideas of what constitutes as beautiful or ugly are constantly thrown at us, through regular advertisements of cosmetics and adoration of “beautiful” celebrities. The perfect beauty regime is much sought after and, today, the beauty industry is worth billions. Recently there has been much discussion of what is beautiful and I personally find it exhausting trying to adhere to what society says is beautiful, after all beauty is supposed to be in the eye of the beholder, right?

This focus on attractiveness is not a modern phenomenon, even the Romans stressed importance on beauty. Roman author, Pliney the Elder (23AD-79AD) wrote that women desired to achieve beauty through colouring their eyelashes, and even warned women against “sexual excess” as this would make their eyelashes fall out![1]

Early modern contemporaries similarly enjoyed their beauty regimes. There any many examples of recipes from this time for home-made cosmetics. In A Supplement to the Queen-like closet (1670), Hannah Woolley includes numerous recipes for maintaining beauty, for example, “to make salve for the lips” which melts together “white Bees-wax”, “pure fallad Oyl” and “white sugar candy.” The use of bees-wax in lip salve is still a popular notion today as it has many benefits, especially its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-oxidant qualities.[2]

Woolley does include a rather bizarre instruction to wash the face. She advises that there is “no better thing to wash the face with, to keep it smooth and to scour it clean, than to wash it every night with Brandy.”[3] Not sure about any other modern day minds but I would rather keep to drinking my brandy.

Margaret Baker is another lady who had a keen interest in beauty and cosmetics. In her recipe book  she wrote many instructions for early modern cosmetics, for example how to make powder for the face. Karen Bowman recently researched this topic, please click this link which will take you to our class website where her work is published.

The most interesting recipe book I have come across in research for this post is a book by Lola Montez titled The Arts of Beauty; Or Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet (1858). I still class this as a recipe book because over the course of this year I have learnt that a recipe book is an umbrella term which includes how to guides, medical prescriptions and, most obviously, food recipes. Montez, originally born in Ireland, became a famous Spanish dancer and travelled most of Europe. From her book, it is evident that she was well travelled as she recounts beauty hints and tips that she found whilst abroad, particularly in Italy and France thus portraying how internationally widespread the pursuit for feminine beauty was.

I recognised some of Montez’s beauty tips as they are still recommended today. She warns against poor diets as this is “most destructive to beauty.”[4]This idea is still very much advised today as we are told that the foods you eat have a profound effect on your skin.

Montez also places much importance on female beauty, similarly to modern media. She states that “it is a women’s duty to use all the means in her power to beauty and preserve her complexion.”[5] This is echoed in modern media as we are constantly told that women should do all they can to keep themselves beautiful, by keeping up to date with new beauty products and not to let themselves go.

Like Woolley, Montez does include some strange recipes for beauty. She writes that she “knew many fashionable ladies in Paris who used to bind their faces, every night on going to bed, with thin slices of raw beef, which is said to keep the skin from wrinkles, while it gives a youthful freshness and brilliancy to the complexion.”[6] Upon first reading this, I thought using raw foods on your face abhorrent and an extreme measure in the quest to stay beautiful. However, when I then remembered the cliché tip of using cucumber to rejuvenate they eye areas the use of food didn’t seem all that unusual. Nonetheless, I think I’ll still steer away from putting raw beef on my face.

Montez also highlights the importance of a pale complexion and explains the extreme lengths that some women went to in trying to achieve this. She saw “ladies flock to arsenic springs and drink the waters, which gave their skins a transparent whiteness; but there is a terrible penalty attached to this folly; for when once they habituate themselves to the practice, they are obliged to keep it up the rest of their days, or death would speedily follow.”[7] This shows even more extreme lengths that women would go to in the attempt to fulfil society’s idea of beauty. Today there are still concerns over the dangers of some beauty products, for example the scare over high levels of lead in lipstick.[8]

The changing ideals of beauty prove just how crafted “beauty” is. Recipe books from history illustrate this to us, whilst showing that beauty has always been of interest to many women. Such books are interesting to help parallel similarities and differences in the beauty world today.


[1] Pliney the Elder, Natural History Book X p.529 online version

[2] Lola Montez, The Arts of Beauty; or, Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet (New York, 1858) p.9.

[3] Ibid.p.9.

[4] Ibid.p.29.

[5] Ibid.p.38.

[6] Ibid.p.40.

[7] Ibid.p.41.

[8] [accessed 10 May 2017]


Montez Lola, The Arts of Beauty; or, Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet (New York, 1858).

Pliney the Elder, Natural History Book X p.529 online version [accessed 10 May 2017];JSESSIONID=71f7bcdc-df76-49dd-9c06-3442a951abb6?search=SUBMIT&q=margaret+baker&sort=call_number%2Cmpsortorder1%2Ccd_title%2Cimprint&QuickSearchA=QuickSearchA [accessed 10 May 2017] [accessed 10 May 2017] [accessed 10 May 2017]


Margaret Baker’s recipe books give us so much more information than recipes

By Tracey Cornish

Little is known about Margaret Baker, however just because not much is known of the author does not mean we cannot learn a significant amount.  Three recipes books that she had written have survived today, two are owned by the British Library and one is owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library.  They are dated approximately 1670, 1672 and 1675.  The recipe books contained medicinal, culinary and household recipes and it is through these recipes that we can find out how people lived and survived in the seventeenth century.

Baker’s books contain recipes from other people for example she mentions ‘My Lady Corbett, my Cousen Staffords, Mrs Davies and Mrs Weeks.   We could assume that these people were known to Baker and she has been given these recipes by them.  Both men and women could gain medical information through their contacts although they may not have always given information about their own health or concerns.  Therefore just because Mrs Denis tells Margaret Baker about a remedy ‘To comfort ye brayne and takes away aney payne of the head’ (37r) it did not necessarily mean that Mrs Denis had used the remedy herself.  She also appears to recite Hannah Woolley’s recipes from her ‘The accomplisht ladys delight in preserving, physic and cookery.’   Large sections of printed books are copied by Baker many are from doctors.  Many of the doctors quoted in her books were non English medical practitioners and this suggests that she was influenced by her continental contemporaries. However medical instruction at Oxford and Cambridge Universities were so far behind that in continental universities that a large percentage of Englishmen who wished to become doctors went abroad for their education.[1]

Hannah Woolley’s The Accomplisht Ladys delight

So what can we learn from Margaret Baker’s recipes?  The books contain a range of preparations for ointments, powders, salves and cordials for a variety of medical complaints.  From these remedies we can see what diseases were prevalent at the time. For example ‘A preservation against the plague’ (24r).  We would not find a remedy for the plague in medical books today and so was therefore a worry in the 1670s.   There is also a remedy for ‘A canker for a women’s breste.’  (68v).  This is very interesting as it reveals that even in the 1670s cancer was a known illness and could actually be diagnosed although one has to assume that due to the lack of medical knowledge in the seventeenth century it was only when a lump was present that cancer was diagnosed.  Other illnesses mentioned are measles and shingles (26r).  There is also a remedy for ‘the stone in the blader and kidnes’ (17v) which is another example of medical knowledge inside the body.

The body was believed to be made up of four humours – Blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile and it was an excess of one of the humours that caused illness.  Health was managed on a day to day basis.  Recipe books like Margaret Baker’s reveal the extent of self-help used by families and explores their favourite remedies and analyses differences in approached to medical matters.  Women as carers and household practitioners could assume significant roles in place of a sick person, for example the husband,  and some women would have made key decisions about information and treatment of the sick.[2]

Women and medicine

The recipes for foods reveals the diet of the seventeenth century person although one should remember that Margaret Baker was more than likely middle class and so was writing for middle class society.  She includes recipes for cakes, biscuits and meat.  Her recipes reveal that food was eaten according to the season. We can also learn what types of food the seventeenth century person ate.  As mentioned in my previous blog,  Baker’s use of animals in recipes no part of an animal ever went to waste with most parts being used as food.

Baker’s recipes also reveal beauty regimes in the seventeenth century.  Her recipes include a pomatum to style hair   Karen writes a more detailed account of the seventeenth century beauty regime according to Margaret Baker in her essay  on our website UoE Baker Project.

Recipe books like Margaret Baker’s are an invaluable insight into the world of seventeenth century society and how they coped with illness, disease and how they ate among other things.  When I first began this module I was apprehensive that recipe books would be limited.  How wrong was I!  I could never have imagined the knowledge one can retrieve from a seventeenth century recipe book.


[1] Anne Stobart, Household medicine in Seventeenth Century England, p.29.

[2] Ibid  p.29.

The Circulation of Knowledge and Recipes

In class we discussed the circulation of knowledge and whether the way in which people, in early modern England, exchanged recipes should be considered a patronage or currency. We tried to understand how and why knowledge and recipes, particularly medicinal ones, was being circulated. Medicine and cures were becoming very important and were a popular field of study for people such as Jesuits in Spanish America during this time. The main questions that I pondered over were: how did knowledge and recipes circulate between different people and groups? Was it used commercially or socially? How was its reliability ensured?

There was a brief debate as to whether the system of exchanging knowledge should be considered patronage or a currency. As Alex noted, if one was to go to a doctor with a medical problem, they would pay for the doctor to inform them of the ‘recipe’ on how to get better and get the prescribed medicine. Leong and Patrell agreed that there was a medical marketplace. However, it began filled with ‘smart consumers’ who became informed on which remedies they could make themselves rather than racking up a pricey bill and being exploited by doctors. Therefore it could also depend on the spheres in which information and recipes are being shared. There is an obvious commercial value, but there is also a social aspect in people offering advice to one another, in other words, patronage. Its certainly another valid way of describing how people traded and exchanged knowledge and recipes of domestic medicine socially and used them as gifts or advice for relatives and social acquaintances.

Leong and Pennell agree that most recipes collected were traded between friends or family on social visits. For instance,

“[a] total of 12 recipes, from a number of occasions were collected at [Archdale] Palmer’s own residence in Wanlip. Some of the donors were labelled as ‘cousins’, while William D’Anvers of Swithland, the father of Palmer’s daughter-in-law, is typical of the extended family who exchanged recipes with him during social visits.”[1]

It was also not unusual for recipes that were exchanged to be presented as part of a dowry or wedding gift in Italy. [2] This made me realise that recipes were considered very valuable and important which is why recipes were also inherited by family members.

Additionally, Leong and Pennell observed that one third of the 6554 recipes they analysed came with the name of the donor or ‘author’.[3] This reminded me of the whole idea that in society, the esteemed reputations of things such as movies gain more attention and popularity through word of mouth. Clearly, factors such as who someone was able to treat would be influential in this process. For instance, Sir Theodore de Vaux, a fellow of the Royal Society, was physician to King Charles II and the dowager Queen Katherine. By important figures such as them communicating with important and influential people in parliament and aristocratic circles , his effective recipes would have spread amongst them and add to the reliability of his medicinal recipes. However, we agreed that this would only go so far as it would’ve been local and not an effective way to circulate knowledge on a mass scale compared to writing letters and keeping collections. In addition,

“[r]ealising the value of that information – that is, converting it into medical knowledge – was not simply about knowing how to construct and operate a still, but about knowing what and who was trustworthy in provision of the raw data of recipes.”[4]

Physicians such as Sir Théodore Turquet de Mayern successfully championed the effort to produce the first official pharmacopoeia and was one of many who were considered trustworthy. The fact that cures and different recipes were tried and approved by other respected fellows of the Royal Society ensured that they were more reliable. For instance, ‘philosophical transactions’ were made between physicians and fellows of the Royal Society. In ‘An Account of the Diseases of Doggs, and Several Receipts for the Cure of their Madness’, Theodore de Mayern, T. and Theodore de Vaux offer four different approved cures for the bite of a Mad Dog. Clearly, knowledge was circulated in a support system amongst professionals.


Mayern, T. and T. de Vaux, ‘An Account of the Diseases of Doggs, and Several Receipts for the Cure of their Madness…’ Phil.Trans. 16 (1686) pp.408-409

Personally, I think the circulation of medicinal knowledge was and is more like a currency that is part of a wider support system. As people in early modern society believed cures and recipes for various purposes was special and worthy enough to be exchanged as gifts or should be inherited shows us how valuable it was to them. It also shows how people supported each other as it added to each other’s care and health. Therefore, early modern medicinal knowledge and recipes were used socially more than commercially.


Leong, E. and S. Pennell, ‘Recipe Collections and the Currency of Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern “Medical Marketplace”’, pp. 133-152 in M. S. R. Jenner and P. Wallis, eds. Medicine and the Market in England and Its Colonies, c. 1450-1850 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

[1] E. Leong,  and S. Pennell, ‘Recipe Collections and the Currency of Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern “Medical Marketplace” (Basingstoke, 2007) p.139

[2] Ibid p.141

[3] Ibid p.138

[4] Ibid p.149

The Science and Secrets of Cooking

By Abbie Burnett

In his book Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, Ken Albala includes a guide explaining ‘how to cook from old recipes’. To those unfamiliar with early modern recipes the inclusion of this guide may seem unusual and even unnecessary as recipes today are explicit in detailing how a recipe should be recreated, therefore a guide to aid them is redundant. However, what is apparent to those who have familiarised themselves with early modern recipes is that there is a large amount of assumed knowledge between their lines. 

Albala argues that “modern recipes are written scientifically, even though for the most part cooking is not a science.”[1] While cooking may not be a science, the scientific nature of recipes today can be easily recognised by their list of precise ingredients, exact measurements which are standardised internationally, and their explicit instructions, cooking times and temperatures. A modern recipe can be reproduced by almost anyone who follows its strict instructions, with no previous knowledge or skills necessary. (A blessing to inexperienced chefs of the twenty first century!) In addition, it is likely that due to the clear cut  and explicit nature of modern recipes they will be easily replicated to the same standard in 200 years time as they are today, providing cooking appliances do not drastically change.

In contrast, recipe books from the early modern period are much more difficult to follow. Recipes from this period did not have explicit instructions or standardised measurements, they were characterised by vague instructions and ambiguous guidance which was open to much interpretation by the reader. There was also a high level of implied knowledge in recipe books from this period, to which a contemporary reader would have been expected to have been aware of in order to follow a recipe successfully. Within Margaret Baker’s recipe book the assumed knowledge behind the measurements for ingredients has been highlighted well in Karen’s blog post ‘Methods of measurement and delight.’

A recipe for a powder of tertian feauer in Margaret Bakers Recipe Book, V.a.619 “as much as will lye on a six pence”

But why are modern recipes so explicit while early modern recipes left much to interpretation? It may be because recipes today are globally exchanged, they have the potential to reach thousands of readers and be recreated in many kitchens around the world. For this reason recipes are required to be specific and universal; to allow for anyone to easily cook from them despite cultural or geographical differences. However, in the early modern period recipes were expected to reach a much smaller audience.  Evidence of sociability of recipes can be seen in Margaret Bakers recipe book, she mentions contributors such as Mris FamesSir Walter Rallyes and Mris Denis, among others.  Specific recipes may have been expected to be shared among families or neighbours, but recipes traditionally travelled through lines of inheritance.

Only rarely would a recipe reach fame nationally or internationally if it was especially successful, such as Dr Lucatella’s balame. Margaret Baker claims that she was the first to record Luatella’s recipe, it then appears in many other recipe books from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, as well as being sold seperately. Here it is found as ‘Lucatelles balsam’ in 1669 in a memorandum book contributed to by unknown authors, and as late as 1820 the balme is recorded in John Knowlson’s book The Complete Farrier; Or Horse- doctor; Being the Art of Farriery Made Plain and Easy… With…a Catalogue of Drugs

Mathew Lucatalla’s Balme in Margaret Baker’s recipe book V.a.619

Today, some recipes would be impossible to recreate exactly or simply fail without the level of literal detail that modern recipes include. For example Bearnaise sauce, included in this article as number 3 of the 10 toughest dishes in the world to recreate, is evidence of how precisely a recipe must be followed. A particular temperature must be maintained during the cooking and specialist equipment is required for a Bearnaise sauce to be correctly reproduced; “This sauce is made in a bain-marie (a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water), but if it gets too hot, the eggs will scramble and there is no turning back.” It may be that early modern people used simpler dishes as Bearnaise sauce was not said to be created until the early nineteenth century, however it is more likely that during the early modern period this information was conveyed in other ways than direct instructions within a recipe book. In the early modern period in which Baker wrote, recipes and the methods to recreate them took on secret like qualities. They were passed on verbally, taught by elder family members to their young, from chefs to servants, from neighbours to friends, rather than being shared openly to everyone and anyone.

Implied knowledge in early modern recipes displays the limited reach of recipe books in the early modern period, authors expected their readers to be aware of unsaid rules or at least be close enough to ask them personally if they required more information. While the secret like quality of early modern recipes romanticises early modern cooking, the consequences of the existence of assumed knowledge in recipe books is that we may never be truly able to reconstruct recipes from this period. As Florence’s blog post displays, reconstruction of early modern recipes includes a lot of guess work. Information which was implicit to contemporary readers has not been passed on which has turned recipes from the early modern period into a  truly secret code to be deciphered by historians. As mentioned earlier, Albala takes an optimistic approach to this problem by arguing that “despite changes in ingredients and procedures, what tasted good hundreds of years ago still tastes good today,”[2] and therefore by trial and error we can gradually work to reconstruct near authentic replicas of dishes from early modern recipes. However, I fear that the silences in early modern recipes in which assumed knowledge was meant to fill may remain silent, and true recreations of recipes from this period may therefore be impossible.

[1]  Ken Albala Cooking in Europe 1250- 1650 (Westport, 2006), p. 27.

[2] Ken Albala Cooking in Europe 1250- 1650 (Westport, 2006), p. 28.