By Tracey Cornish
The Baker Project consists of three recipe books, two of which are owned by the British Library (MS Sloane 2485 and 2486) and one of which is owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library (Va619). Whilst transcribing Margaret Baker’s recipes it has come to my notice that she uses different animals in her recipes to eat, cure or use in some way or another. Animals were an important part of 17th century life and many people lived in close proximity of their animals such as chickens and pigs. Baker assumes this in her recipes as in her recipe entitled ‘To make Cocke Water, A Cordial’, Baker writes ‘’take an ould cocke from the barne doore the Redder the better plucke his feathers from him alive, then kill him and quarter him; and with clean clothes wipe away from the fleshe all ye blood’. (Va619, 46r) One does have to wonder if she plucks the poor cockerel alive as she wanted the blood to be warm to use for her cordial.
Cruelty on cats and dogs was common, they were tortured regularly, and sometimes even skinned for their fur. However, this behaviour was seen as normal, domestic and wild animals existed for the use of humans. Animals were used for their meat, fur and also for entertainment such as animal baiting and fighting.
Margaret Baker does come across as savage when it comes to the treatment and use of animals in her recipes. As a medicine for aches Baker suggests in her recipe to ‘take a whelpe that sucketh ye fatter the better and drowne him in water till he be deade’. (Va619, 68r) Of course in the 21st Century if someone had thought that you had drowned a puppy to cure aches and pains you would be locked up but in the 17th century it must have been believed that this would work. Just carrying out the drowning would be bad enough. There is also a recipe included in her books for
‘to make a pupy growe noe more.’ (43r) This recipe included many herbs, the poor dog being whipped and fed only once a day for a month. It is unclear from this recipe why one would want a puppy to stop growing and why whipping him would help. In another recipe Baker writes that one should ‘take a doge and knock him one the head’.(Va619, 55r)
From Baker’s recipes it would appear that it was not just meat that animals were used for. Horse and pig dung was used as ingredients in recipes as was their fat and grease. Even using barrow hog dung to help stop nose bleeds, if it did not stop a nose bleed it would certainly leave a nasty smell up one’s nose. For a recipe for ‘Asprayne’ Baker writes ‘Take a pennyworth of barrowe hoggs grease & your owne urine; and boyle it in a pipkin with a piece of scarlett cloth; and soe binde ye cloth about ye place as hot as you can suffer itt.’ (Va619, 40v) A barrow hog was a pig that had been castrated before sexual maturity. Margaret Baker also used creatures such as earth worms as a medicine for any ache. ‘Take greate garden worms and slitt them and stripe of the filth that is with them, chop them smale and frye them.’ (Va619, 58v)
It is unknown if Margaret Baker actually used or even tried out these recipes and where they originally came from. Some of her recipes do have name beside
them which is probably whom the recipe came from. Other recipes have a mark which probably means that she has tried them out but we should not assume that those without a name or mark have not been tried out.
In a recipe for ulceration of the liver and lungs it is clear that Baker has tried the recipe and did in fact use it on goats first to see if it worked. She writes ‘for this I have proued in goats troubled with a cartayne infirmitie called Bissole of the goate.’ She claims that she ‘made it into pouder and gave it to the goats with salt and for the most part they weare helpe and that I cured a number of men and women of that desease’. (Va619, 18v). This ponders the question, why did Baker feel that if the medication could cure goats of a disease it could also cure humans with an ulcerated liver and lungs. However, according to Baker it did cure both.
Although some of these recipes make Baker look like she was cruel to animals there are some recipes which actually strive to cure animal illnesses. Not only the recipe for the goat but also there is a medicine for ‘a mangy horse or doge’. Of course it would be in the owner’s best interest not to have a horse or dog with the mange but one could argue that death may have been an option giving how they treated animals in the 17th century.