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.
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 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.