A 17th Century recipe in a 21st Century kitchen.

Today we have the world at our finger tips. We can order products or goods online and have them delivered right to our front doors. We can pop to the shops and have fruits and food goods from around the world available to us. If we want to try something new, we have endless resources to help us find the best recipes. The accessibility we have to recipes today has removed the importance of cooking advice and recipe books being passed down, edited and improved through the generations; now we simply go onto the internet or the shops and buy or find the best recipe that suits us. The lack of exclusivity of recipe books today in comparison to the seventeenth century has inspired me to follow a recipe and record the results. From this experiment I hope to discover if there is something to be said for the almost casual formatting of recipes and the smells and flavours people in the seventeenth century experienced and if the same can be created in a twenty-first century kitchen.

John and Joan Gibson: Medical recipe book, 1632-1717.

‘To make lemmon Marmalad’ is a recipe from John and Joan Gibson’s medical recipe book. The first entry to this book was 1634 and the last 1717. It was interesting to find food recipes alongside recipes for medicines, however home remedies were often used when a doctor was not available therefore it comes as no surprise to find recipe ‘To make Lemmon Marmalad’ in the same book as a recipe for ‘if ye be swelld & ye humor hott’. The three hands in this recipe book belonged to John Gibson, Joanne Gibson and Joanna Gibson, this is an example of recipe books being used by the family and handed down through the generations. Adding to this often, the author would be credited alongside the recipes, for example, ‘given me by Lady Davey 1717’ shows the exchange of recipes and the relationship between women.

John and Joan Gibson: Medical recipe book, 1632-1717.

The format and way this recipe reads is different to the format seen in today’s recipes. There are no titles for ingredients, equipment and method. There are no measurements of time and heat. The general lack of specific information in the recipe shows the possibility such details were not needed in the seventeenth-century. This gives insight to the difference in the requirements of a recipe book then and what are needed now. The recipe reads as a list of instructions therefore when trying to gather ingredients and the appropriate equipment for the recipe, I had to read the recipe several times. Terms used such as ‘put it to’ made the instructions unclear and hard to understand what the method required me to do. As a result, although this is a relatively simple recipe, the re-reading and lack of guidance made this recipe fairly difficult to follow. The ingredients are interesting as quantities and types were not provided. For example ‘Take green apples’ it does not say how many apples or the type (regular or cooking?) of apples to use. This could have resulted in a different tasting marmalade each time this recipe was followed therefore the consistency of this recipe’s results come into question. Did this recipe produce the same marmalade every time?  The lack of specific details in the recipe could not have guaranteed this lemon marmalade would have always reliably been the same. The recipe would likely have been interpreted differently each time therefore producing difference in the taste and texture of the marmalade depending on the quantities of ingredients used by different people.  I also wondered ‘why am I using apples in lemon marmalade?’  Sugar was expensive in the seventeenth-century therefore using apples as a sweetener for the marmalade can be a justification. The availability of lemons may have also contributed to the use of apples in lemon marmalade as lemons were likely imported and so apples were easier to come by in volume. I suggest apples were used to add to the texture, sweetness and volume to the lemon marmalade. The lack of clear instructions and precise ingredients present the idea the availability of flavours, ingredients and equipment would have encouraged the motion to use whatever was available to those following this recipe.

My ‘Lemmon Marmalad’

Overall, the aroma in the kitchen was very pleasant and sweet, especially when boiling the apples. Due to the lack of explicit measurements and quantity of ingredients, it took three batches to find the right lemon, sugar and apple ratio to make an edible marmalade. The result was a syrup-like, particularly sticky, tangy and sour marmalade with a bitter sweet aftertaste. The experience of reading and following a seventeenth-century recipe has been interesting as it has shown relative difference in the understanding and requirements of recipes between the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries.


6 thoughts on “A 17th Century recipe in a 21st Century kitchen.

  1. I think that it is an important that you have highlighted the privileged world we live in today and its contrast to early modern life. I love that you were brave enough to give the marmalade a go yourself, despite the recipe appearing alien to the modern reader. The lack of specific measurements is curious, especially if the recipe passed down to future generations. Perhaps they learnt the measurements visually from the previous generation before the book was passed down?

    1. In terms of people learning measurements visually, I agree. I think as the recipes would have most likely been passed down through family members, they would have witnessed how it was made and then continued to do so themselves without the need to mention it in the recipes.

  2. I love that you tried an early modern recipe in your kitchen! Would you make it again?
    The substitution of apples for sugar and creating volume is really interesting. Did you use the same apples each time? Were there any notes elsewhere in the recipe book about the types of plants grown by the Gibson family that might suggest the type of apples they had available?

    1. I wouldn’t make it to eat, but I would try making it again to see if i can improve upon it!
      I did, I used cooking apples. I shall have a look and get back to you, it would certainly make a difference to know what apples they did use.

  3. What a fun approach to take, when reading early modern recipes books!
    Has this experience encouraged you to try other seventeenth century recipes, or does the lack of specificity regarding quantities of ingredients put you off?

    1. It was fun but the lack of specificity was a little frustrating.
      I would try other recipes because the experience was genuinely interesting. I think the ‘Citron water with Lemons’ may be next to make.

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