‘& 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.

[3] www.oed.com/view/entry/153450?rskey=26WBTp&result=1#eid

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

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

Bibliography

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)

www.oed.com/view/entry/153450?rskey=26WBTp&result=1#eid


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