All posts by tallulahmaait

Aqua Mirabilis

On page five of the V.b.400 “receipt manuscript” a recipe for “Aqua Mirabilis” appears. Aqua Mirabilis can be translated from latin in two ways: the ‘miracle water’ or ‘the wonderful water’. Either way, the name promises something spectacular. To get this miracle water you will first need to take “gallingale cloves cubebes ginger melitele grains cardinomum mace nutmegs of each one graine, the juce of celendac half a pint”. Cloves, ginger, cardamom, mace, and nutmeg are all relatively common spices used in modern cooking but not medicine. “Gallingale” is spelt “galangal” nowadays and is “The aromatic rhizome of certain Asian plants… of the ginger family, used in cookery and herbal medicine”. “Cubebes” are just “cubebs” and are “The berry of a climbing shrub Piper Cubeba or Cubeba officinalis, a native of Java and the adjacent islands; it resembles a grain of pepper, and has a pungent spicy flavour, and is used in medicine and cookery.” “melitele” is “melilot” which is “Any of the genus Melilotus the dried flowers of which were formerly much used in making plasters, poultices” and “celendac” with a little respelling is “celandine”: “Its thick yellow juice was formerly supposed to be a powerful remedy for weak sight.”

Aqua Mirabilis title from vb400

So together these spices and juices, with three pints of water and white wine, make a remedy? Well first you have to distil the ingredients for 24 hours, or more if possible. Then you separate the water from the leftover herbs and you burn that leftover matter into ashes. Then you add rainwater to those ashes, let it sit for two days, drain the water and keep it, add more rainwater to the ashes and let sit again. Finally you drain the water away, throw away the ashes, mix the reserved waters and let them sit over a fire until the water evaporates until you have salt leftover. Mix these crystals with the first water reserve and that is your spirit. Your aqua mirabilis.

According to the book “The virtews are these”:This water can “disolveth the swelling in the lunggs”, “tongues [that] be wounded or perished it mightily composeth them”, “he that useth thy water shall not need to be lett blood”, “it expelleth the Rhum and filleth the stomack, it conserveth a good colour and youth in his estate, it also preserveth the memory, it destroyeth the palsie of the tongue and limbs” and even better “ if one spoonfull be given to one att the point of Death… it retrieveth them” What an incredible miracle cure! Of course, if it did do these things we’d still be using it nowadays and it has sadly become obsolete. I was however interested to find a recipe that I had never heard of for something supposedly so incredible, and was curious to see if anyone else wrote about this concoction or it was a one-book recipe. Surely someone else would have been using this? Both the OED and British History websites list account for Aqua Mirabilis with use going back as far as 1673. In both of those descriptions the same less complex recipe is followed from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. This 1755 dictionary that lists Aqua Mirabilis as “The wonderful water, prepared of cloves, galangals, cubebs, mace, cardomums, nutmegs, ginger, and spirit of wine, digested twenty-four hours, then distilled. It is a good and agreeable cordial.” The benefits are not touted as much as in the recipe book but the inclusion in a dictionary means that it was a popular enough remedy around that time to make its mark and have the approval of the author.

Definition from Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary

Aqua Mirabilis also appears in the 1677 Pharmacopoeia translated by William Salmon, still claiming to cure a great many ills, John Locke kept a recipe in his notes that is likely he got from the Pharmacopoeia, and The Lady Sedley’s Receipt Book from 1686 includes a recipe for aqua mirabilis that is “very close to the original prescription”. More interestingly,The Countess of Kent’s Choice Manual of rare and select secrets of physick and chirurgery has two different recipes for aqua mirabilis. The first recipe calls for “Take three pints of White wine, one pint of Aqua vitae, one pint of juice of Salandine, one drachm of Cardamer, a drachm of Mellilot flours, a drachm of Cubebs, a drachm of Galingal, Nutmegs, Mace, Ginger and Cloves, of each a drachm, mingle all these together over night, the next morning set them a stilling in a glass Limbeck.” The second recipe goes as such; “Take Galingall, Cloves, Quibs, Gin∣ger, Mellilip, Cardamonie, Mace, Nutmegs, of each a drachm, and of the juyce of Salledine half a pint, adding the juyce Mints and Balm, of each half a pint more, and mingle all the said Spices be∣ing beaten into pouder with the juyce, and with a pint of good Aqua vitae, and three pints of good White wine, and put all these together into a pot, and let it stand all night being close stopt, and in the morning still it with a soft sire as can be, the still being close pasted, and a cold still.”

Recipe from Elizabeth Gray’s manual

These two recipes are pretty similar to the manuscript one, but most importantly both recipes contain sections of the “virtues” of aqua mirabilis and the Countess of Kent’s list of virtues is almost identical to v.b.400. “This Water dissolveth swelling of the Lungs, and being perished doth help and comfort them, it suffereth not the bloud to putrifie, he shall not need to be let bloud that useth this water, it suffereth not the heart burning, nor Melancholy or Flegm to have dominion, it expelleth urine, and profiteth the stomack, it preser∣veth a good colour, the visage, memorie, and youth, it destroyeth the Palsie. Take some three spoonfuls of it once or twice a week, or oftner, morning and evening, first and last.” Is it possible that both of these receipt books copied down the recipe from the same or similar sources? How interesting that two recipes can have almost identical wording from two seemingly unrelated sources.

So there you have it, aqua mirabilis, the wonderful water, the miracle tonic, guaranteed to save you from death! Willing to give it a try?


Kent, Elizabeth Grey, Countess of, “A choice manual of rare and select secrets in physick and chyrurgery collected and practised by the Right Honorable, the Countesse of Kent, late deceased ; as also most exquisite ways of preserving, conserving, candying, &c. ; published by W.I., Gent.”, Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership, 2011, <;view=fulltext>, sections 5, 6, 7, [accessed 24/01/2020]


“Page View, Page 152.” A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: December 6, 2012.

Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl. “Aqua – Aqua mirabilis,” in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton: University of Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online, accessed January 23, 2020,

“aqua mirabilis, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

“celandine, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

“melilot, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

“cubeb, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

“galangal, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

Recreating a Historical Recipe: Blanch Creame

The moment I got this assignment I knew I wanted to reconstruct a historical recipe: I love cooking so historical reconstruction is a particular interest of mine. I decided to reconstruct the recipe for “Blanch Creame” from folio 13 verso of manuscript Va429. I chose this recipe because it seemed a relatively simple recipe that would be easy to follow and I had, perhaps naively, assumed that it would be easy to assume what the result would be.

To make things easy I used my transcription of the recipe finished in class.

The original “blanch creame” recipe

“To make a blanch Creame ​

Season a pinte of th​e​ thickest Creame with
Rose water and Suger set it to boile then take th​e​
whites of 10 Eggs doe away th​e​ treads beat them wi​th​
a little could creame then stirr them into you​r​
creame when it boiles upp and stirr it continually​
untill it​ comes to curd then take it up and passd –
it through a haird sive beat it with a spoone
till it be could and then dish it”

I then did some research on what kind of dish I should be aiming for: I knew it would be a sweet dish since it involved cream, sugar, and rosewater but I wanted to be sure in terms of consistency and ingredients. My searches for “blanch creame” did not turn up anything so I instead focused on “blanch” on the OED. I assumed it would refer to the cooking process but instead this was the definition:

“blanch, adj. Obsolete exc. Historical.
1. White, pale. Chiefly in specific uses, as blanch fever, blanch powder, blanch sauce. Obsolete.
1475 Liber Cocorum (Sloane) (1862) 28 (heading) Blaunche sawce for capons.
1584 T. Cogan Hauen of Health cxxvi. 110 A verie good blanch powder, to strow upon rosted apples.”

From this I learnt that the ‘blanch’ referred more to the colour of the sauce than the cooking process and I was able to make my first important decision. I would usually use unrefined brown sugar to cook with to maintain historical accuracy but I chose to use a white sugar so as to preserve the colouring it was named after. I then did some research as to what a “creame” could be, starting with Marissa Nicosia and Alyssa Connell’s blog “Cooking In The Archives”. Cooking In The Archives became an invaluable source for me throughout this recipe reconstruction, from the research stages to the cooking.

I looked for any “cream” recipes on the blog and found two recipes that came in the most useful: “Rashberry Cream” and “Snow Cream”. Snow Cream involved large amounts of cream flavoured with rosewater, and the Rashberry Cream involved boiling cream with sugar and eggs until thickened. Neither were exactly what I was looking for, but they helped me to decide on rudimentary measurements for my recipe. I had intended to reduce the volume of the recipe like Marissa usually does but I ended up making the full 1 pint of cream, 10 egg whites recipe.

(“Cooking In The Archives”, Rare Cooking,,, accessed 17 November 2019)

Here is my reconstructed recipe for “Blanch Creame”.

1 Pint Cream
10 egg whites
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp rose water

The ingredients I used for the recipe


1: Combine cream, sugar and rose water in saucepan. Set on a medium-low heat to boil.
2. Separate egg whites and yolks, removing the “threads” from the whites
3. Beat eggs with a little leftover cream
4. Pour in eggs to boiling cream and mix quickly until thick
5. Pour into basin and mix until cooled

The cooked and cooled mixture


Optional step:

6. If not happy with taste or consistency, put in pastry case and bake into a more appealing tart.

The finished tart


As you can see, something happened at the cooking stage of the creame. The biggest problem with reconstructing historical recipes is that so much of the recipe is presumed knowledge: what constituted “seasoning” the cream and what was a “curd”? As I was unsure how the recipe would taste after cooking I added 4 tbsp extra sugar and about 5 tsp of rosewater as I cooked. I boiled and stirred the mix until it thickened to a point where I did not think it would thicken anymore – , was that a curd? A quick look at a Lemon Curd recipe advised far slower cooking than my recipe but I was using many more eggs so I stuck to my keeping it on high heat after boiling. I tried to pass the mix through a sieve but it was far too thick; I gave up and left it lumpy. 

Beating it as it cooled didn’t seem to have any effect on the texture so I popped into the fridge and let it set overnight. The next day the cream had thickened into a custard texture that tasted very sweet and also strongly of rosewater. People did enjoy it, surprisingly enough, and here are a few of their comments:

M said that it “tasted weird and was not very good by itself.  The texture was like a cheesecake filling and very sweet”.

D said that the texture was “the weirdest” but he liked the light flavour.

S said that he thought it would be “good with strawberries” and reminded him of a filling for cake or French pastries. 

This focus on it as a filling led to a moment of inspiration, and with a trip to Tesco a pastry shell was procured and the rest of the filling put in it. 20 minutes in the oven and what came out was a floral custard-y tart that was completely finished over three days. So, a success in the end.

Writing this up has helped me come to a few conclusions if I ever wanted to make this recipe again: first, I added far too much sugar and rosewater. Second, I should have cooked it slower especially when adding the eggs. Third, I should have the effort to put it through the sieve a little at a time and beat it afterwards. Finally, I think serving it with fruit would have been a nice accompaniment. 

It was both fun and frustrating to make a recipe that I had no outside help on: I couldn’t google other recipes to double check or ask anyone else, and I had no pictures or outside information to know what I was aiming for. In the end it was a fun experiment and I hope to make more historical recipes soon.