Category Archives: Early Modern Recipes Online Collective

Combatting Coughs in Eighteenth-Century England.

In the year of 2020, having a cough has become a thing of pure fear amongst the general public. With the outbreak of COVID-19 sweeping across the world, affecting day to day life, a common symptom of this deadly pandemic is a dry cough. As of writing this blog post, there has not been a cure of this disease and all of the world superpowers are currently racing to find a remedy to combat Coronavirus. With all of this misery and worry in our society today, it is easy to forget how fortunate we are to live in the 21st century. We live in a world with better healthcare than ever before. As a Historian, I tend to ponder about life in the 18th century and how they would have coped with issues that we all face today. With the context of COVID-19 taken into account, my mind tends to go straight back to the recipes that they would use in order to combat coughs and temperatures. 

What is interesting to add, that much like our current situation, having a cough within this period was not just considered to be a symptom

A garden snail, Sourced by Martyn Cox

of a less serious ailment. With some recipes linking a cough to lung failure [1]. The ingredients of a recipe for cough would vary, with some in cases including 2 quarts of House Snails[2]. The use of house snails during this period would be for the creation of distilled water which came from ‘one of the cleanest feeders in the world. Once again, the use of snails is still used in today’s market, being used in moisturizers [3]. 

Some recipes such as Lady Ellis’ cough remedy advises the person to take the medicine with a licorice stick [4]. The trend of key ingredients being used in modern recipes and early modern alike is clear with this common ingredient. Products like Covonia that aid a cough use liquid licorice extract to soothe and stifle a cough. Although a harsh taste, the licorice would be used for chest coughs and asthma, much alike

A diagram of a licorice plant
Diagram of Licorice plant, sourced by KARAKALPAKSTAN BLOG 

today [5]. Lady Ellis’ recipe also includes “one ounce half of the syrrup of Maiden haire”. This is a liquid form that is derived from the Maidenhair plant. This syrup went completed was used as a refreshing summer drink after being mixed with fruit juices [6]. What is interesting is that Lady Ellis’ cough syrup follows a trend during this period of the use of Maiden Hair syrup. The reason for this is this ingredient was the primary herb in the popular cough syrup “Capillaire” which remained in rotation into the nineteenth century[7].

These cough medicines wouldn’t have been given out to each person, there were many variations and benefactors that one must have considered before making or purchasing medicine. A prime example of this is the fact that children and adults would often have differing medicines due to the popular belief that they differed in humoural make-up and strength [8]. Evidence of this in cough medicines can be shown in Sally Osborn’s blog post, where it displays a cough medicine that is made up of Cinnamon, Syrup of Violets and Poppy water [9]. Osborn

18th-century painting of child being seen by a doctor, sourced by Britannica

notes in her blog that Syrup of violet has a laxative effect on the bearer [10]. This could be evidence of a doctor or apothecary altering the reaction to the syrup in order to preserve the children’s health. Doctors would also offer a sweeter alternative of cough medicine to the children in order to ensure that they will take it as children were thought to dislike bitter tastes in this period [11]. Therefore in the example that Osborn has offered us, the fact cinnamon is in the recipe shows that although the medicine has the same purpose as the likes of Lady Ellis’ cough medicine, it has been manipulated to be more accessible for a younger customer.

But one question still runs through my mind when looking at cough medicine during this period, did it actually work? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that cough medicine worked for the users in this period. Firstly we only need to look at the example we have reviewed in the blog to see that some ingredients have remained the same, and the medicines are relative of these recipes, with licorice being an ingredient that remains consistent in cough prevention. Nowadays, if you have a cough, your first port of call would be to go to the shops and self medicate, recipes for cough medicine shows us evidence that this was the case in eighteenth-century life as well. The only difference between the present day and eighteenth-century attitudes towards self-medicating is that medicine is affordable and more accessible nowadays, wheres if you were poor in the eighteenth century, then you would go without[12]. 

In summary, combatting coughs within this period was somewhat simple, and has proven to be a largely unaltered process. Although the methods and affordability have changed, the ingredients and the consideration of children nowadays are somewhat similar to our predecessors. Would eighteenth-century society be able to handle the ongoing threat of Coronavirus? That is something that is best left unanswered, all this historian can observe is that although Coronavirus is serious and threatening, awareness and public discussion have increased during this time, and I am certain that this would have been the case of our ancestors many years ago.

Bibliography

  • Newton, H, ‘Children’s physic: medical perceptions and treatment of sick children in early modern england, c.1580-1720’, Social History of Medicine, 23, 3 (2010)
  • Medindia Content Team, Medicinal Uses of Liquorice (Licorice) / Yashtimadhu, Medindia, <https://www.medindia.net/alternativemedicine/liquorice-yashtimadhu.asp>, [accessed 12:03, 26/03/2020]
  • Osborn, Sally, Cough Cough, 18th Century Recipes, <https://18thcenturyrecipes.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/cough-cough/>, [accessed 11:53, 26/03/2020]
  • Osborn, Sally, Health in the 18th Century, Eighteenth Century Recipes, <https://18thcenturyrecipes.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/health-in-the-18th-century/>, [accessed 13:01, 27/03/2020]
  • Paneck, Dr, 18th Century Medical Treatments: The Cough of the Lungs, Living History W, <https://livinghistoryvw.com/livinghistory/forum/bloggers-corner/4632/18th-century-medical-treatments-the-cough-of-the-lungs>, [accessed, 10:42, 26/03/2020]
  • Smith, Lisa, Suffering from Colds in the Eighteenth Century, Sloane Letters Project <http://sloaneletters.com/suffering-from-colds-in-the-eighteenth-century/> [accessed 10:38, 26/03/2020]
  • Unknown, Maidenhair Fern, Natural Medicinal Herbs.net, <http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/a/adiantum-capillus-veneris=maidenhair-fern.php>, [accessed 12:21, 26/03/2020]
  • Unknown, ‘Used With Constant Success’: Animal Ingredients in Eighteenth-Century Remedies, and their Success in the Beauty Industry, <https://recipes.hypotheses.org/tag/eighteenth-century>, [accessed 11:20, 26/03/2020]

 

  • 1. Lisa Smith, Suffering from Colds in the Eighteenth Century, Sloane Letters Project <http://sloaneletters.com/suffering-from-colds-in-the-eighteenth-century/> [accessed 10:38, 26/03/2020]
  • 2. Dr. Paneck, 18th Century Medical Treatments: The Cough of the Lungs, Living History W, <https://livinghistoryvw.com/livinghistory/forum/bloggers-corner/4632/18th-century-medical-treatments-the-cough-of-the-lungs>, [accessed, 10:42, 26/03/2020]
  • 3. Unknown, ‘Used With Constant Success’: Animal Ingredients in Eighteenth-Century Remedies, and their Success in the Beauty Industry, <https://recipes.hypotheses.org/tag/eighteenth-century>, [accessed 11:20, 26/03/2020]
  • 4. Sally Osborn, Cough Cough, 18th Century Recipes, <https://18thcenturyrecipes.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/cough-cough/>, [accessed 11:53, 26/03/2020]
  • 5. Medindia Content Team, Medicinal Uses of Liquorice (Licorice) / Yashtimadhu, Medindia, <https://www.medindia.net/alternativemedicine/liquorice-yashtimadhu.asp>, [accessed 12:03, 26/03/2020]
  • 6. Unknown, Maidenhair Fern, Natural Medicinal Herbs.net, <http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/a/adiantum-capillus-veneris=maidenhair-fern.php>, [accessed 12:21, 26/03/2020]
  • 7. Ibid., <http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/a/adiantum-capillus-veneris=maidenhair-fern.php>
  • 8. Newton, H, ‘Children’s physic: medical perceptions and treatment of sick children in early modern england, c.1580-1720’, Social History of Medicine, 23, 3 (2010), p.466
  • 9. Osborn, Cough Cough, <https://18thcenturyrecipes.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/cough-cough/>
  • 10.Ibid., <https://18thcenturyrecipes.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/cough-cough/>
  • 11. Newton, H, ‘Children’s physic: medical perceptions and treatment of sick children in early modern england, c.1580-1720’, Social History of Medicine, 23, 3 (2010), p.468
  • 12. Sally Osborn, Health in the 18th Century, Eighteenth Century Recipes, <https://18thcenturyrecipes.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/health-in-the-18th-century/>, [accessed 13:01, 27/03/2020]

Early Modern recipe books for when you’re not ill

If you’ve been following these blog posts, you may have realised a few things; I am terrible at looking after myself and I love organisation. Unfortunately, I have not been ill in a while and my leg pain has been fixed (not sure if I should call this unfortunate though and it was actually a lower back problem, the leg was fine all along) so this post isn’t going to be quite so medical but instead we’re going to look at the layout of recipe books.

Contents page of recipe book Va.429, f. v verso/vi recto(Folger Shakespeare Library)

                Now, some writers were absolute darlings and gave a little collection of contents pages at the front of their book, organised alphabetically with the page numbers listed for each recipe beside it. While similar recipes can be seen in close proximity to each other, this is not a constant in all books. However, the time taken to go through and create such a detailed contents page shows a desire for organisation after the fact of writing, perhaps in order to make the book easier to use in the future despite the layout of some recipes. In my previous post, I explained Leong’s argument that some recipe books were compiled in order to be used for reference,¹ so the immediate availability of the knowledge it contained was something of a necessity. Contents pages like this would have made life easier for a wife and mother, be she new to the role or experienced, or in fact any family member.

                I’ll admit, the example above could be better; her lines could be more parallel and she has three sections for ‘P’ but we shan’t hold those things against her. In fact, closer inspection tells us that we shouldn’t hold it against her at all. If you were to zoom in on the above picture you would see two different handwritings: the first, larger and prettier style being that which divided up the pages, wrote in the letters and added the initial recipes, the second clearly having stuck to the original owner’s organisation and added around it. Only once they ran out of room in the original ‘P’ section (you can see they tried to fit in as much as possible at the bottom) did they add the one above it, keeping the alphabetical order intact and once they had run out of space in that, added the third section under ‘N’, perhaps learning from their previous mistake and leaving themselves as much space as possible for future additions.

‘Anna Maria Wentworth/Her Book 1725’ Va.429, f. i verso/ii recto (Folger Shakespeare Library)

A bit of sly letter comparison to the name written in the front of the book tells us that the original writer was Anna Maria Wentworth in 1725 as the ‘M’ matches.

The second writer is unknown although it is clear they sought to maintain the well-organised, easy-to-use nature of the book.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it really is truly astonishing how much can be learnt from just a few pages.

(This new recipe book is one used in a student project about alcohol, it’s called Old Timey Winey and by all means check it out!)

                Anyway back to the recipe book we’ve been so dedicated to previously, loyalty is everything after all! This book does not have a contents page of any sort, although there is evidence that the first page has been ripped out so whatever was on that was lost. Her first section focuses on ‘Waters’ although they’re not actually waters but rather very strong alcoholic drinks that have been distilled to increase their strength for medicinal use (the ‘water’ comes from the phrase ‘water of life’, NOT a reference to actual water).² Alongside these recipes she also writes of the virtues of these beverages so perhaps this recipe book was less of a collection gone through and organised after writing and more of a well-thought-out study of medicines compiled with the appropriate accompanying information for later use. At the end of this first section, before the second for syrups begins, she has left a few pages blank. How many blank pages, I cannot say but as the original writer’s handwriting ends on page ten and the next page is fifteen (the pages inbetween being missing, perhaps removed simply because they were blank), we can assume that she left five.

Recipes from book V.b.400, p.10 (Folger Shakespeare Library)

A different handwriting is also evident in the recipe at the bottom of the last remaining page of the section. The fact that this second writer made the decision to write this recipe at the very bottom of the page rather than on the next page, at the end of the book or even anywhere that there might have been more space shows how important the organisation of these books was for their use and to the people that used them.

                The fact that this book is organised in that way, with recipes grouped so specifically and leaving so much space for later additions implies that the original writer was not only writing this compilation for her own benefit but with the intent of handing it down so it could be used by other people. This is not so surprising as these books are known to have been passed down through generations: it’s one of the reasons they have survived so long.³ Evidence of this exists beyond finding more than one name on the inside cover or more than one type of handwriting; this shows that the intent was present from the start of its creation, not as an afterthought when they came to have kids.

                Now, as I have now come to the end of my focus on this topic, I should warn against something disingenuous that I’ve done. In each of these posts I have assumed that the writer is a woman; now with the book first mentioned in this post, the name is given but with the book that I have given most attention to, there is no name. While the principle users of these books were women, this does not mean that it was only women that used and wrote in them; they were sometimes the creation of a whole family,⁴ not just the wife and mother.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little mini-series of blogs, thanks for reading!

¹Leong, E., ‘ ‘Herbals she persueth’: reading medicine in early modern England’, in Renaissance Studies, 28, 4 (2014), pp.556-78.

²Sournia, J., A History of Alcoholism (Oxford, 1990), pp.15,17.

³Leong, E., ‘Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household’, Centaurus, 55, 2 (2013), pp.81-103.

⁴Ibid.

Another Trip into Early Modern Medicine

Now, I didn’t literally trip over but I did hurt my leg. Perhaps I’m not very good at taking care of myself. Anyway, it turns out that tendon knots don’t go away if you ignore them. In fact they kind of get worse. Whoops!

                How does my injured leg and apparent incapacity to go to the doctors have anything to do with an early modern recipe book? I hear you ask. Well, from the amount of medicines contained in these recipe books and as there was little distinction between professional practice and lay treatments,¹ I think it’s reasonable to assume that the families this type of book belonged to didn’t have regular access to a doctor therefore making these books a necessary alternative. Now don’t get me wrong, I have access to a doctor, just not the inclination to go, so it got me wondering how a person without access to a doctor would deal with my injury and there it is… the recipe book.

                To find anything relating to leg, or more accurately knee, pain, I had to flip through a great deal of this woman’s recipe book (V.b.400 of the Transcribathon project) and, while I mentioned my suspicion of her organisational skills in my last post, this gave me a new appreciation for how well she categorises her recipes. She deals so comprehensively with each element of a possible ailment before moving onto the next, showing how well acquainted she was with potential health problems and if not well-read in them then certainly well connected to be able to build such a collection. Such extensive medical reading by women is demonstrated by Elaine Leong in her examination of two other women’s medical recipes. In this study she reveals just how dedicated these women were to reading about medicine and how they would then apply their own thinking and organisational needs to what they had read. One of these she describes as being written with the purpose of being a standalone book because the author did not have regular access to this medical knowledge, therefore necessitating her own usable collection.² This book has a similar feel to it.

                Anyway, before I go onto dealing with leg pain I ought to give you a bit of a set up about humoural theory, how treatments were intended to restore balance and maybe something a little peculiar.

                When a person is sick nowadays it usually is quite helpful for them to rest and sleeping is particularly good as it allows your body to devote the entirety of its energy to fighting off whatever infection is causing it. However, the Galenic theory of medicine, which survived for quite a long time (with blood-letting still being practiced much later than I would care to admit), prescribes a theory of opposites that was intended to restore a person’s humours, or fluids that controlled everything about a person, and so if a person is feverish and tired, you cool them down (helpful) and you make them do exercise (not so helpful).

Recipe from p.133 of Receipt Book V.b.400 (EMROC)

In the section spanning from pages 133-6, she deals mostly with how to combat a fever BUT intermixed with these medicines are also those to help a person sleep. The inclusion of recipes to induce sleep amongst those for fever suggests that she had linked the two in treatment, going against this theory of opposites. Without further research into how prevalent it was to recommend sleep when someone was ill, I can’t say if this is peculiar or not; I can say however that I found it interesting to see that this woman had made this link between two different factors, fever and fatigue, so clearly that she combined recipes that are completely unrelated in a way that goes against a prevailing medical theory. This combination is particularly significant, as we will now see, because she adheres to humoural theory in her other recipes.

                So, finally I came to something relating to my injury in 2 pages from 148-9. The recipes over these pages often refer to either an ache (spelt acke), pain, or more specifically a rheumatic (spelt rhumatick) pain which could be taken to imply more of an inflammation of a joint, muscle or tendon rather than just pain.

                Page 148 begins with an overarching recipe of how to ‘Draw the Rumatick oyle of Rosses’. Now, in beginning the section with this recipe without stating specifically where to use it, it’s clear that this oil is essential in treating any of the following aches and pains, hence why it is given prominence as it needs to be done before anything else.

Recipe from p.148 of Receipt Book V.b.400 (EMROC)

If we were to consult Nicholas Culpeper, a doctor and author of Herbals, then we can see the reason why. In his descriptions of the value of roses, he recommends the use of rose oil against aches, or more specifically, ‘against heat and inflammation’ as the rose oil will cool and heal it.³ (Do you see the humoural theory of opposites that I mentioned before? Treat a hot inflammation with a cool oil in order to restore balance.) The author of this recipe book echoes this theory in her method for making her oil of roses, insisting that it should be kept somewhere cool, seeing that the pot that contains the mixture is placed in the cellar or buried somewhere cool. The significance of this theory is visible again when it is on a ‘knee very hott’ (inflamed) that the restorative ointment is applied.

                The similarities between the two texts in their reference to using opposing temperatures to cure an inflammation, especially as both are writing specifically about roses, is clear evidence that these recipe books were based on medical theory and well-researched so that they can be used in the absence of a learned medical professional. The deviation above is perhaps an example of her relying on her own observation instead and supporting the idea that as well as relying on professional medicine, some lay people managed to create treatments that were better.⁴

I might stick to using Voltarol and muscle exercises though; I think my landlord may take issue with me burying a pot of pressed roses in the garden for 3 months.

Voltarol – my preferred joint pain relief
(picture taken by me)

Notes:

¹Nagy, D., Popular Medicine in Seventeenth Century England (Ohio, 1988), p.43.

²Leong, E., ‘ ‘Herbals she persueth’: reading medicine in early modern England’, in Renaissance Studies, 28, 4 (2014), pp.556-78.

³Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (London, 1653), p.301

⁴Nagy, Popular Medicine in Seventeenth Century England, p.48.

Palaeography

            Transcribing an Early Modern Household Recipe!

Reading someone else’s handwriting can be a daunting task in any occasion, however, when coupled with old italic handwriting and phonetic spelling the text in front of you may even appear as completely unreadable at first glance. trust me, we’ve all been there! luckily for you I have put togethere some of the most important rules to follow when reading old handwriting. so whether you’ve got an essay due or you simply enjoy looking at old recipes then look no further.

First of all, it is important to look at the text as a whole, this is due to the phonetic spelling which was followed by most people. There was also no standardised spelling of the English language until the 18th century so noting the date of the text can help with identifying specific words. Try to identify the different letters which may sometimes occur in random order. it is also helpful to find out where the text was written as regional accents affected the spelling of words. Sounding out the word in the accent of the author can both fun and helpful so don’t be shy. Identifying the type of text you are looking at can also help to predict which phrases or words are likely to appear. However, if you struggle to identify the word straight away, you can label it as a question mark and come back to it later.

Once you’ve had an initial look at your chosen document you may have identified some emerging patterns between the letters, here are some things to look out for: The writing of ‘Y’ and ‘I’, ‘I’ and ‘J’, ‘U’ and ‘V’, ‘S’ and ‘F’. In the example below you can see what looks like a long ‘f’ in the writing style of ‘please’ and ‘of’. Although these letters look awfully similar they represent ‘S’ and ‘F’ where appropriate so its important to be careful.

Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750.: folio 27 verso || folio 28 recto

Another important thing to know is the meaning of superscript letters which is represented with a single letter followed by a raised smaller one such as this ‘Wt‘. these are just a shorter way of writing a word with ‘Wt‘ meaning ‘with’, ‘Wth‘ meaning ‘which’, and ‘Mr’ meaning ‘master’. The example below shows how the word ‘which’ may appear in the text.

Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750.: folio 27 verso || folio 28 recto

Thorn is also important to look out for which is represented by letters such as ‘Y’ which stands for ‘TH’, ‘Ye‘ which stands for ‘THE’ and ‘Yt‘ which stands for ‘THAT’. The example below shows how the word ‘THE’ could be represented in your chosen document. However, it may not be clear straight away which thorn is being used, therefore, it is important to keep coming back to the text with a fresh perspective for further analysis.

Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750.: folio 27 verso || folio 28 recto

In sources such as recipes, account records, town registers etc numbers can be represented in Roman numerals as the standard ‘I’=’1’, ‘II’=’2’. However, when written in English documents these numbers may look more like ‘j’=’1’, ‘ij’=’2’ etc. This will depend on your particular document. If you’re looking at a will or a similar type of document then understanding the money calculations which were used is a useful tool to have. A Pound is marked by ‘li’/’£’ and is equivalent to 20 Shillings. A Shilling is marked by an ‘S’ and is equivalent to 12 Pennies. A Penny is marked by a ‘d’ and is equivalent to 2 Halfpennies.

Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750.: folio 27 verso || folio 28 recto

The above example however, shows that there wasn’t a standardised way of writing anything, so to fully understand a text you will have to play around with it, maybe even ask your friend to look over it too, just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. However you choose to tackle this task, make sure to take your time and don’t give up! Happy transcribing.

  1. https://transcribe.folger.edu/transcription.php?id=Transcribathons/EMROC/Va429/Va429.xml&srcid=Va429&sfcid=RF-127340&wid=agne stradomskyte&dir=Transcribathons/EMROC/Va429
  2. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/where_to_start.htm
  3. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/quick_reference.htm

The Joys of 18th Century Baking: Small Cakes

Ever since I was a boy, on my Birthday I have most looked forward to my birthday cake, my affinity for my mother’s home-baked, Victoria Sponge cake, with homemade strawberry jam and cream center can only be rivaled for my passion for History. This year, I have decided to give my beloved mum a break from this task because, after 24 years of baking for her little prince, I believe she has earned a day off. This had left me with a predicament, with my mum kicking back on the sofa watching “Harry Potter” this year, the burden of making a birthday cake falls on my shoulders. Conveniently, I needed an idea for this blog post, therefore I decided to combine my two troubles together an eliminate them at once. Therefore for my 24th Birthday, I would be eating my birthday cake, 18th-century style!

Preparation:

The preparation for this certain project starts, unlike most recipes, as for this birthday cake one must decipher 18th century English and transcribe the recipe in order to prepare and plan out the bake. By using Dromio, I had selected my desired cake to blow my candles with. 

Ingredient’s used for the bake:

As a historian, I have tended to focus my career and talents upon the study of the past and analysis of historical literature, therefore my talents have never expanded to baking. With this considered, I had decided to go in the direction of ‘Small Cakes’ to fully take advantage of my limited baking knowledge.

Combining my experience with transcribing with my basic skills as a baker, transcribing this recipe did prove to be a trial. For example, whilst transcribing I was met with the word “Sack”. Due to my evident inexperience with the kitchen, I was dumbfounded at this term, and why I needed 4 spoon fulls of this unknown ingredient. I first believed that I had transcribed the word incorrectly, but after a quick consultancy with my peers, I exhaled knowing that I had indeed, completed my contribution as a historian correctly. Therefore, I had to deduce what a “sack” is. A swift search on Oxford English Dictionary soon sent me in the direction I needed: sack was a sweet wine derived in the Spanish regions, nowadays known as Sherry.

With the recipe correctly understood and transcribed, it was now time to get my hands dirty (literally) and bake my Birthday cake.

Method:

The method behind the bake was one thing I had to make alternations for since I do not own a brick oven or a stone-lined bread oven which is what most households in the 18th century would have used to cook their food. This meant I had to adjust the baking time to correspond to the heat of my oven.

I am fortunate to have use of an AGA, a cast-iron oven that retains its heat and burns continuously. I decided to use the AGA as it’s suggested to be alike to a baker’s brick oven which would mean I could yield more accurate results whilst keeping somewhat true to the methodology of the bake.

I first decided to half the recipe, because I wasn’t positive on my baking ability. Keeping true to the recipe, I used my hands to mix in the butter and flour together. This was exceptionally messy and sticky work, as at this juncture, the recipes full amount of butter was combined with half of the recipe’s flour.

With all aspects of the ingredients added, the mixture yielded a thick dough texture

After beating the eggs separately, I added them to the mixture. I decided to go with an electric whisk to speed up the process, this yielded interesting results as the mixture became a sticky dough-like texture, which after adding the rest of the flour, the Rum (the closest thing I had to sack in my cupboards) and the currants, resembled a bread dough. This initially made me question my baking talent once again as I was sure I must have gone wrong somewhere. But keeping true to the recipe allowed me to see results of which I had not expected.

Results & Final Thoughts.

Fresh out of the Oven…

Due to the bread-like texture and the use of 4 eggs, the cakes rose and were delicious. These cakes hail a somewhat scone-like texture but were incredibly sweet. Upon serving these cakes to a, admittedly reluctant, family, my mum suggested that these cakes would be brilliant with a serving of custard. Overall everybody seemed to be impressed that such a simple recipe could yield results so satisfying, the cakes buttery sweet taste combined with the hint of rum and fruitiness of the currants allowed this recipe to fill us up upon our taste test. This is not surprising, as baking within the 18th century typically showed a stodgier bake instead of the lighter bakes we typically associate with cakes to this day.

Would I do this again and would I serve these cakes again? Yes, I believe that this easy to follow recipe can yield results which can be the centerpiece to any afternoon tea, I would hasten to suggest to any avid baker/historian reading this that the butter can be overpowering, so I would alter the amount of butter you use for this recipe as it can affect the bake and devour the delightful flavours that the recipe incorporates. But even for a novice, this recipe is easy to re-create and has room for interpretation which could allow one’s creative side to flourish. But overall the cakes allow the person eating them to actually taste a bit of history, which in my opinion made this year’s birthday unforgettable

A scone like texture which works perfectly as a sweet snack!

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, https://rarecooking.com/2016/10/05/to-make-rashberry-cream/, https://rarecooking.com/2016/07/08/snow-cream/, 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.

Treating a cough … Early Modern style!

Recently I came down with a cough. I know, that sounds so interesting, but I left it untreated, hoping it would go away only now it has shifted onto my chest and is causing my sides to ache from all the coughing so perhaps that wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to look at some early modern remedies for coughs because who needs modern medicine? Intrigue has to come from somewhere, right? So why not from my own ailments? Let’s look at Receipt Book V.b.400, together.

Looking first at some remedies for a sore throat, the ingredient allum was often repeated.

Recipe from p.111 of Receipt Book V.b.400 (EMROC)

A quick search on the Oxford English Dictionary website told me that allum was an old term for salt. This was reassuring at least. Even now, if you’ve got a throat infection, gargling with warm saltwater still comes highly recommended by the nhs as salt can help fight bacteria and reduce swelling while the warm fluid helps to loosen the mucus. It’s unlikely though that this specific connection between salt and bacteria, was made by early modern recipe writers. Instead recipes were often the result of trial and error, evident in the continued testing and alteration of recipes by younger generations, some are even crossed out entirely if it’s found that they don’t work.¹ If something worked, it was repeated. The use of salt, or rather “allum”, clearly worked with sore throats.

Side note – the prevalence of this ingredient in old recipes could be seen as the basis for the label of ‘gargling saltwater’ as an “old wives tale” in that it literally was just that.

With this discovery in mind and a mental note to double check ingredient names, I continued to look through the book.

The next 3 pages, pp.112-14 are left blank, potentially intended for later additions relating to the mouth and throat issues on the preceding pages. These empty pages tell us something though as they show a desire for organisation. Medicines were not simply written in as and when the author came across them, they were organised in relation to what they treated. Such an organised recipe book would be much easier to use if a family member fell sick as they could flip to the right section and choose from the most appropriate recipes without having to leaf through pages and pages to find something. From these blank pages alone, we can already see a great deal of forethought. Who knew 3 blank pages could say so much?

The next 9 pages are more relevant, pp.115-23, as these include recipes that I could choose from to treat my cough. From the number of recipes available, we can see that a cough was clearly a common ailment leading to the collation of various recipes with the hope that one might just work for the type of cough that was being suffered with. The different variations in coughs also lead to there being many different medicines to treat them all. This variation is visible in the titles of the recipes.

p.116 of Receipt Book V.b.400 (EMROC)

From a focus on stopping phlegm, to a cough felt in the lungs as opposed to the throat to even more specifically phlegm in the lungs when there is pain felt in the sides, there’s one for when it’s accompanied by wheezing, or shortness of breath (I’ll admit I didn’t realise there was a difference) and even a dry cough.

p.118 of Receipt Book V.b.400 (EMROC)

A couple of these titles (above and below) have something else worthy of note in them. Notice the inclusion of the word “wonderfully” in the top one, or “excellent” in the bottom one. These recipes were considered as certain to work then, likely to have been tested by either the author or someone she knew before being given this credit in the title.

p.120 of Receipt Book V.b.400 (EMROC)

A similar implication can be see in the use of the word “approved” in the title on p.120. Approval suggests testing by someone other than herself; it may not say who but they were clearly enough in her esteem to be believed on the efficiency of this medicine before she wrote the recipe down.

I’ll end the suspense and choose a medicine for my cough.

I considered looking at a recipe focused around phlegm as it seemed most appropriate to my current condition but perhaps this is too much information about my cough so instead I settled on one entitled “For the Cough of the Lungs” on p.119. However I also found a recipe 2 pages later entitled “Against the Cough of the Lungs” on p.121. A quick comparison of the two reveals the use of very similar ingredients. Both use rasins, annyseed, sugar and maidenhair (which according to Culpeper, is a plant similar to a fern – ALWAYS double check ingredients because this one confused me – he says that it is good for coughs but should always be used alongside other ingredients as its effects are ‘weak’),² boiled in running water. This mixture is then strained and two spoonfulls are taken in the mornings. The only differences I could find was that the first on p.119 included liquorice whereas the second on p.121 used figs. A couple of questions spring to mind. Why include 2 recipes that are so similar? Did she perhaps forget that she had already written the first? Did she find that figs were a better substitute for liquorice but not enough to discount the first recipe? I turned back to Culpeper, he was so helpful on the topic of maidenhair after all. Liquorice is once again suggested for use when suffering with a cough, but he recommends the use of liquorice, maidenhair and figs together in a drink rather than separately.³ Therefore these recipes may have been put together based on pre-existing knowledge of the benefits of what we might considered were the active ingredients. Perhaps her own testing was what led to their separation between two recipes. It should be noted that the second recipe is more detailed, including a suggestion to clean the raisins, strain the medicine through a linen cloth, and that the user “shall find present remedy probatum oft”. These added details imply she had more faith in second one than in the first as it comes across as more tested.

Either way, I’m not a massive fan of liquorice or figs so I might just stick to my honey and lemon drink.

Notes:

¹Leong, E., ‘Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household’, Centaurus, 55, 2 (2013), p. 91.

²Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (London, 1653) p.221

³Ibid, p.216

A plum cake: (A ‘slight’ modern adaptation to an old classic)

my version of a 1725 plum cake

welcome library Debora Branch’s book recipe by Lady Backs for a plumb cake  https://wellcomelibrary.org/item/b1874350x#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=26&z=0.0591%2C0.468%2C1.0916%2C0.6968

I came across a recipe for ‘A plum cake’ by lady Backs in Debora Branch’s recipe book dating back to 1725 and I felt inspired to recreate it. However, while studying the ingredients list, I have found that it is not as straight forward as it appears to be. This meant that after some considerable research, some minimal adaptations had to be made to the original recipe, but I did follow the methodology as in scripted.

Ingredient list:

  • 2 pound of flour   – 907g
  • Quarter pound of sugar – 113g
  • Half an ounce of mace- 14g
  • Cloves
  • nutmeg
  • 11 eggs- 8 whites
  • Quarter pint orange flower- 142ml
  • Half pint of ale yeast- 284ml
  • Pound and a quarter of butter- 566g
  • 3 quarters of a pint of cream- 426ml
  • 3 pounds of currants – 1.360kg

Firstly I have to address the fact that although this is a plum cake, the ingredients list does not contain any plums. The recipe does however call for 3 pounds of currants, so I took the liberty of looking up the definitions of the two in the oxford dictionary which I have demonstrated below.

‘Plum is the edible fruit of the tree Prunus domestica (family Rosaceae), which is a fleshy drupe of variable size, usually having purple, red, or yellow skin with a dull powdery bloom when ripe, a sweet pulp, and a flattish pointed stone. Of the many varieties, the sweeter and juicier kinds are used as dessert fruit and are dried as prunes, while more astringent types are used in cooking and in making jams and alcoholic drinks.’https://0-www-oed-com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/view/Entry/146028?rskey=qVeI43&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid

Currants on the other hand are raisins or dried fruit prepared from a dwarf seedless variety of grape, grown in the Levant; much used in cookery and confectionery. currants can also be a small round berry of certain species of Ribes called Black and Red Currants. Currants were introduced into English cultivation some time before 1578, when they are mentioned by Lyte as the Black and Red ‘Beyond sea Gooseberry’. They were believed at first to be the source of the Levantine currant; Lyte calls them ‘Bastarde Currant’, and both Gerarde and Parkinson protested against the error of calling them ‘Currants’.https://0-www-oed-com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/view/Entry/46089?redirectedFrom=currant#eid7552580

In this case, as well as with other plum cake recipes of the time ‘Plum cake’ refers to a wide range of cakes made with either dried fruit (such as currants, raisins, or prunes) or with fresh fruit. Plum cakes made with fresh plums came with other migrants from other traditions in which plum cake is prepared using plum as a primary ingredient.https://bakeryinfo.co.uk/news/archivestory.php/aid/1848/18th_Century_plum_cake.html

I also came across another ingredient referred to in the recipe as ‘orange flower’, unsure of what this was I consulted similar recipes for plum cake at the time as found a couple of examples of an ingredient called orange flower water such as the example shown below and is most likely referring to orange ‘blossom’ water. 


The Dudley book of cookery and household recipes 1909

Orange Blossom Water was a very popular flavoring in the 18th and 19th centuries in American and English cookery. It is derived from the distillation of orange flowers from the Seville Orange tree or other varieties of orange trees. The use of orange blossom water in cookery comes to the west from North Africa, The Middle East, and the Mediterranean. The flavour of this distilled water is flowery but not too overpowering.http://atasteofhistorywithjoycewhite.blogspot.com/2014/10/cooking-with-orange-flower-water-orange.html

Because I couldn’t get my hands on orange blossom water I instead opted to use the zest of 3 oranges, although it may not have achieved the same effect, neither of the ingredients is too overpowering so I don’t think it strayed too far from the original outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

Another error that I encountered was that the original recipe calls for ‘ale yeast’ this would be easily accessible in an early modern household because it was common to brew your own beer at home. However, I instead used bakers yeast in my cake because it more readily accessible in supermarkets today. this meant that instead of using half a pint of ale yeast I used 14 grams of bakers yeast as this was the correct quantity per the amount of flower I used and I mixed that into half a pint (284ml) of water to create a similar effect.

lastly, the recipe calls for mace which I did not have and doesn’t specify how much nutmeg and cloves to use so because mace and nutmeg have a very similar flavour, I used 18 grams of nutmeg to make up for the two. Along with 4 grams of cloves which I ground up into a powder.

In the end I mixed all the dry ingredients together and then all the wet ingredients together before throwing everything into one big.. big bowl and combinng it all together. I let it proof twice to let it rise, this was done before and after I added all my mixed dried fruit and I left it to bake on 180c for 45-50 mins before turning the oven down to 110c for an extra 10-15 mins. I took my cake out of the oven and let it cool down completely before serving.

 

 

 

 

Transcription 101: Learn the basics of transcription.

Have you ever wanted to learn how to read and transcribe old historical texts but had no idea on where to start? If so, then I am here to give you my basic tips on how to transcribe historical document. When transcribing you must keep in mind that you are not reading modern text, therefore the techniques you were taught for reading shouldn’t be used in transcribing. In this blog I will be using the Wednesday 17th December 1789 Royal Menu as a template to teach the basics of transcription.[1]

It might seem daunting at first to transcribe due to the handwriting, but this should not stop attempting to transcribe a historical document. To begin, there are different techniques that can be used to transcribe. When I transcribe the first thing I do and  would suggest to do is some research and find out any historical background information of the document; this includes when the documents was written, who wrote it and why it was written, this will give you context for your document. The document that I am using as an example of transcription was written in December 1789, therefore placing it into historical context was written during the Georgian era. It is also stated as a Royal Menu, thus from this we can take that the document will hold food items and meals.

This is the date at the top of the Royal Menu.

The next step I would suggest is to skim read the document, not only does this help through the possibility of being able to pick up on a couple words and letters, but it then makes the process of transcription easier as you start to get used to the handwriting. A mistake that is often made is that people translate words rather than transcribing them. Taking a look at the document, the food ‘brocoli’ appears multiple times; it is very easy to read this as our modern day word ‘broccoli’, but this wrong and can cause many mistakes; as this translating rather than transcribing. Therefore by taking a document letter by letter may seem a long process, but it helps you transcribe accurately and not make the error of translating.

‘Brocoli’

If you are finding it difficult to read the document or are unable to figure out letters, do not panic or give up! The best advice for this would be to leave it and come back after with a pair of fresh eyes; and by this point you may have figured out the word or letter from it being repeated within the document. If you still are unable to identify the word or letter, there are many useful online tools and resources which can be used that offer guidance. One of the tools I used for this document; it offers the alphabet, and this allows me to identify letters that I was unable to solve initially.[2]   

You may also come across different lines, dashes or even little squiggles throughout a document. Some of the can be used as decoration for the end of a word, while others separate text. One common letter that comes in multiple early modern history English texts is what is commonly called a long s, which sometimes can look like an ‘f’ or ‘ʃ’. This is just simply the letter‘s’. Taking a look at the royal menu we can see that the abbreviation of ‘Oys.’ is common throughout the document. Previously ‘oyster sauce’ was stated as menu item; therefore it can be figured out that ‘Oys.’ is an abbreviation for oyster sauce. Other more common abbreviations can be seen in the form of what looks like an infinity sign connected with a ‘c’; this translated to modern day is ‘etc’, however written in transcription it is ‘&c.’     

An example.

Remember it is difficult to transcribe everything on the first go and this does not mean that you won’t be able to transcribe the document. It is fine to leave the document and come back to it later with fresh eyes, there are also online resources that help transcribing which you can use. It is also vital that you do not translate when you are transcribing, as this can change the original lettering of a word and in some instances change the meaning of a word. Once you have conquered and transcribed your first document you will develop your transcription techniques, which will make it easier to transcribe further documents. If you are going to transcribe a document let me know what techniques you use and how you got along in the comments. Also now that you can read, why not check out what foods were eaten during a Georgian Christmas here?!

[1] LS9-226_0015; 17 December 1789

[2] Andrew Zurcher,. English Handwriting 1500-1700, an online course https://www.english.cam.ac.uk/ceres/ehoc/index.html [accessed 5 April 2019]


Who dined at the Palace?

The Royal Menu’s entails the meals that the King, Queen and their family were eating on a daily basis, alongside listing the meals of what the other people at the Kew Palace were eating. This includes the servants, workers and guests who would be staying and living at the palace. This blog post entails to show who the the different guests were and their roles at Kew Palace.

The recording of the Royal Menu’s would have most likely been recorded by ‘The Clerk of the Kitchen’; it was their responsibility to record every meal which would be served to the Royal family, guest and workers.When taking a look at the Royal Menu’s from 1789, you can see that the first meals written on the first page are ‘Their Majesties Dinner’. Which are the meals for the Royals. Moreover their children and their servants are also present in the Royal Menu’s; for example Princess Mary, Princess Amelia and Princess Sophia.[1]

Multiple guests are recorded in the Royal Menu, lets first take a look at Dr Francis Willis (1718-1807) and his servants. Dr Willis was a doctor of ‘madness’ and he ran an asylum in Lincolnshire, but left to look after King George III on November 1788 when he was called upon to take care of the King when his ‘mania was becoming uncontrollable’. By 1789 the King was seen to have been ‘cured’ which led to the increase of the reputation of Dr Willis and thus would no longer be staying at the palace; this is evident as Dr Willis no longer appeared in the Royal Menu. [2]

Lady Elizabeth Waldegrave (1760-1816)

Another guest of the Royal family was Lady Elizabeth Waldegrave (1760-1816). She was a countess and is mentioned in the Royal Menu’s in 1789. Lady Waldegrave arrived at the palace during the period where King George III was seen as being incapacitated due to mental illness during the years 1788-89. She was serving at the side of Princess Charlotte, taking on the role as the Lady of the Bedchamber. Not only this, but she was at the side of Queen Charlotte during this period, remaining loyal to her during the difficult period of the King’s illness.

A name that continuously shows up on the Royal Menu’s is that of Miss Martha Caroline Goldsworthy (1740-1816). She was the head of the princesses’ education, teaching them a range of numerous subjects; such as ‘English, Music, French, German, Geography, Dancing and Arts’. Her official title was ‘Sub-Governess to the Royal Highnesses the Princess Daughters of George the Third’. Miss Goldsworthy was therefore living with the Princess during the period of 1788-89, when the Royal Menus were written as she was educating them.

The grave of Miss Martha Caroline Goldsworthy (1740-1816)

Some of the working roles which are stated in the Royal Menus include Footmen, King’s and Queen’s Grooms, servants, Equerries and Pages. They all took key working roles within the royal Household and were noblemen. Firstly taking a look at Equerries, they were an officer and nobles which were in charge of the stables of the Royal family members and to attend to the King whenever it was required. The roles of the Footmen were that of domestic workers, they had numerous roles to complete for the Royal family; some roles would include making sure their meals were served and running errands.

Another nobleman role was of the ‘Grooms’, who are also known as the ‘Groom of the Stool’; this role was to make sure that the King’s and Queen’s bowels were monitored and assisted. King George III in fact had hired the most Grooms throughout his time as King!

The Royal household had many guests and workers, with guests during this time period of the King’s madness were there to take care of the royal family. Lady Waldegrave and Miss Goldsworthy were there to help take care of the Princesses, while Dr. Willis was present to take care of the King. The workers that are present in the Royal Menus had to make sure that the King and Queen were being served, fed and taken care of. The Royal Menus were in place to control the food that was being made daily in the household, being written by the Clerk of the Kitchen who had to make sure that the food being made would feed everyone at the palace. If you want to find out more about the Royal Menu’s check out our other blog posts! Learn more about Dr.Willis here.  

[1]LS9-226_0021, Royal Menu

[2]John M.S. Pearce,. The Role of Dr.Francis Willis in the Madness of George III (Department of Neurology Hull, 17 Dec 2017), pp. 196-7.

Food for Fertility

An essential aspect of womanhood in the early modern period was fertility; womanhood was synonymous with motherhood. As a result of this recipe books or informational books in this period often contained knowledge on how to increase fertility or increase chances of conception. I found it interesting that one of the first primary texts we examined in the module, being The English hous-wife written by Gervase, included a recipe for women to conceive. Reading this made me curious as to what other methods were used to aid fertility. The recipe itself is as follows:

“To make a woman to conceive, let her either drink mugwort steeped in wine; or else the powder thereof mixed with wine, as shall best please her tast.” [1]

The book is not particularly detailed in regard to quantities of the solution or how frequently it should be taken, and it does not specifically state why this recipe was effective. However, it was generally thought that mugwort would encourage normal menstruation and assist in the quickening of childbirth. [2] Because of this it is typically referred to as the ‘woman’s herb’. The regular bodily functions of women, specifically menstrual flow, was seen as essential to the health of the womb and therefore the ability to procreate.


Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris): flowering stem. Watercolour. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Other recipes for conception include that written by Hannah Woolley in her advice book to women. This recipe is far more complex than Gervase’s, containing significantly more ingredients and specifically mentioning the times of day the concoction should be taken. There is one similarity between the recipes however, being the use of mugwort. This suggests that there was a common belief that this plant was beneficial to the fertility of women. Other ingredients include English snake-weed root, nettle-seeds, eringo-root, nutmeg, dates, pistachios, saffron, cinnamon, vervain and pineapple kernels. The specific instructions for this treatment are as follows;

Take of this Electurary the quantity of a good Nutmeg in a little Glass full of White wine, in the Morning fasting, and at 4 a Clock After-noons, and as much at night going to Bed, but be sure do no violent exercises. [3]

Humoral theory played a crucial part in what was widely believed to increase pregnancy. The theory is based on the idea that bodily health is dependent on the balance of the bodies four humors, being black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. Particularly important to the bodies well-being was temperature. It could not be too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. Jennifer Evans talking in great detail about the particular methods used to aid in procreation. She suggests that heat, being applied through hot foods, was perceived as essential to the creation of a child. This was rooted in the idea that hot foods would increase the heat of the womb, increasing lust and pleasure gained in sex. [4] There appears to have been a belief that increased sex would eventually result in a child, suggesting that issues conceiving was thought to be based on the frigidity of the women. The hot foods were thought to act as an aphrodisiac, increasing the chance of pregnancy through increased sexual intercourse.

Evans consults the work of Jakod Rueff, author of The Expert Midwife (1637). The foods he advised to help in this area were spices, including herbs, pepper, cinnamon and ginger, which we also see present in Woolley’s list of ingredients. Other contemporary authors such as Phillip Barrough emphasised the importance of consuming hot meats, particularly pheasant, chicken, doves, capons or sparrows. [4] Wine was also commonly advised to warm the body, an ingredient we see in both Gervase’s and Woolley’s recipes.

A previous blog post entitled ‘Recipes for Life’ also discusses advice to couples attempting to conceive. The post focuses Aristotle’s Master-piece. The book, like many other informative books of the period, focuses on humoral theory and the need to heat the womb rather than identifying treatment for the specific causes of the conception issues. [5] I would be interested in investigating further the methods and recipes for improving specifically female fertility. From earlier examples, one way this was thought to be achieved was through the regulation of periods. Mugwort was one ingredient used to address this issue. However, some contended that the womb needed to be cleansed before there would be a chance of successful pregnancy. Another recipe cited by Evans can be found in the recipes of Lady Ayscough. It included parsley, hazel nuts, arch angel flowers, and “the ‘pythe’ of an oxe back”. [4] Therefore, it is apparent that improving chances of pregnancy was strongly connected to increased sex, and the cleansing of the womb (or in other words the regulation of menstruation) which could be encouraged by the consumption of hot foods and certain herbs.

By Jasmine Moran

[1] Markham, Gervase, The English hous-wife (London, 1653), p. 31.

[2] Harford, Robin, ‘Traditional and Modern Use of Mugwort’, [assessed 2nd April 2019].

[3] Woolley, Hannah, The accomplish’d ladies delight in preserving, physick beautifying, and cookery, (London, 1685), p. 43.

[4] Evans, Jennifer, ‘Gentle Purges corrected with hot Spices, whether they work or not, do vehemently provoke Venery’: Menstrual Provocation and Procreation in Early Modern England’, Social history of medicine, volume 25, no. 1, (2011).

[5] mmorgan, ‘Recipes for Life’, [assessed 2nd April 2019].

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.

My First Transcription Project

I have just completed the final pages from my first experience of transcribing historical documents, and so I thought this would be the perfect time to write a blog post about this particular assignment. I will be discussing what I learned about the process of transcription, the issues that I encountered while transcribing the particular document that I was working on and what the pages I transcribed taught me about Early Modern recipe’s and recipe books.

An example of one of the pages that I transcribed
An example of one of the pages that I transcribed

The pages that I was transcribing came from the recipe book of Margaret Baker. Baker compiled this recipe book throughout her lifetime and it was published in 1675, making it a fantastic source of inquiry into the nature of recipes and recipe books in early modern England. Although little is known of Margaret Baker, like many authors of recipe books in the early modern period she was most likely a housewife. No dates are given to suggest when each recipe was put into the collection, but it is likely that Baker compiled these recipes across much of her lifetime, especially given the sheer volume and variety of recipes present within the tome. The first thing I noticed upon skimming through the pages of Baker’s book was the way in which the style of handwriting used changed throughout the progression of the novel. This coupled with the fact that the same words are spelt in a different way many times throughout the book (For example, morning and morninge) leads me to believe that Margaret was almost certainly not the only person who contributed recipes to the book. She most likely had help from other sources, which is quite common of recipe books of the period, perhaps from a family member. In one page I transcribed, the words “Nuesse Gessett” are written next to one of the recipes. Having not found any evidence to suggest that these are actual words, I can only assume that it is a name, most likely of the person that contributed that particular recipe to the book.

Having never done transcription of any sort before this, I wasn’t even really sure what transcription was. For this particular book, I was transcribing  using the semi-diplomatic format, which meant that I was supposed to transfer the text from the book to a modern document, whilst keeping the language and punctuation used as close as possible to the original text. This meant I would copy down the text as it was written on  the page, and I was not to correct the spelling of words  or add punctuation where the original author had not. The DROMIO software that I was using to transcribe Baker’s book included a number of handy XML buttons that could be used to aid in my transcription. I could mark page breaks, headings, text insertions, text in the margins, and it even allowed for the tagging of superscript text and symbols that represented words, such as the symbol for ‘ye’ which cannot be represented in modern computerised format.

A picture of the DROMIO software that I used to transcribe Baker's book
A picture of the DROMIO software that I used to transcribe Baker’s book

There were many different features of Baker’s book that made it difficult for me to transcribe. The first, and main issue, was learning to read and understand the handwriting style used in the early modern period. Some letters were very difficult to distinguish from one another, the letter ‘s’ for example looks very like the letter ‘f’when written in early modern hand. Issues like this sometimes made letters very difficult to distinguish from one another, especially in the middle of a word where ‘r’, ‘e’ and ‘c’ looked very similar, as did ‘i’ and ‘l’, as well as ‘n’ and ‘m’. These jumbled letters in the middle of a word were not too much of a problem when part of a word that is part of the modern English language, as the first and last letters of the word were generally enough to give me a good idea as to what the word was. This, however, brings me onto the second big issue I encountered when transcribing, which was words that no longer exist in the English language, or are not recognisable when compared to their modern counterparts. If the word I was transcribing didn’t even exist, then how was I to know whether I had correctly transcribed it? Despite this issues however, I feel that after some practice I really got the hang of reading early modern text, and the speed at which I was able to read and transcribe pages greatly increased.

From my transcription of Baker’s book, I learnt a some interesting things about the types of recipes and the construction of early modern recipe books. The first thing that intrigued me was the huge variety of recipes that were present within the book. These ranged from simple pie recipes, to medicine and into alchemical recipes, with one page mentioning an elixir that healed almost every ailment one could possibly imagine. Another very interesting aspect of the book was it’s unusual forms of measurement, which included “the waight of 100 shilling nine pence of blacke pepper” and “brimstone as much as a great hasell nutt”. I still wonder as to how these could possibly be used as accurate forms of measurement, but nonetheless it was certainly intriguing, and makes me wonder if this was common across many recipe books of the period or if it was specific to Baker’s.

Overall, I would certainly say that this transcription project has been a positive experience. Not only has it allowed me to study this particular early modern recipe collection in great detail, it has also taught me a valuable skill which I will undoubtedly use again at some point in the future.

 

Recipe’s for Life

As you may have read in previous blog posts on this page, recipes are a much broader  concept than simply instructions for cooking. One thing that this can include is a recipe for trying to have children. Today there is all sorts of information available to couples trying to conceive. In the 21st Century it is more likely that couples trying to have children would go to a doctor and find out all sorts of sciencey ways that will improve their chances. But what about in the 17th Century – what did people then do to help them improve their chances? Without a secure knowledge of how reproduction worked and what roles the woman and men’s bodies played, you might think that couples simply played the odds. Enter Recipe Books. Aristotle’s Master-piece (probably not actually written by Aristotle himself) is one such book that gives advice for these couples.

To understand the thinking behind her advice (which I will go onto in a second – fear not), it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the humoral system. This theory was originally made by Hippocrates and expanded upon by Galen, and essentially argues that the body is made of the four ‘humors’; black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. When these liquids were balanced you would be in perfect health, both physically and mentally. These humors had different qualities composed of; cold, hot, moist, and dry.

4-humors
Diagram of the Four Humors

If you want more information on how this would affect people’s moods in a general way look here. What is important here for us is how people viewed women and men to help us understand why Aristotle’s Master-piece suggests certain methods for conception. The general consensus in Early Modern Europe was that women’s bodies are naturally cold and wet, whereas men’s bodies are naturally hot and dry.

And now we come toman the advice. It is interesting to see how people thought certain things would help conceive a child. For instance Aristotle’s Masterpiece has some methods about the act to encourage procreation.

One of the things that has not gone out of fashion is the concept of “Generous Restoratives”. In the 17th century this would consist of herbs that would help relax you and warm the body up, and ‘hot’ spices which would help the latter. This is where we see the idea of the humoral system come into play. Because the cold, wet body of a woman was not seen as the best way to conceive and keep a baby healthy. This means that in order to make a baby, ideally the woman would need to make herself warmer. This could be done through the restoratives, having a hot bath or even drinking wine. Although the reasons behind it have largely changed, there are still websites promoting the use of natural herbs to promote fertility. This is not because people still buy in to the humoral theory, but because it is believed to help with hormone balance and help relax the couple. This means that the “generous restoratives” Aristotle’s Masterpiece refers to may have actually had a positive effect on fertility, despite a misunderstanding of how human bodies worked.

The text also shows an importance of the humors after sex has occurred. Aristotle’s Masterpiece states that “when they’ve done what Nature does require, the Man must have a care he does not part too soon from the Embraces of his wife, lest some sudden interposing Cold should strike into the womb, and occasion a miscarriage1”. The thinking here is that because the man is naturally hot, whereas the woman is naturally cold, not cuddling after sex would cause the baby to miscarry. This means that cuddling after sex in the Early Modern Period was not just a show of affection, but also necessary to help you have a child.

What is really interesting is another piece of advice the masterpiece gives us is that in order to help conceive, sex should be “brisk and vigorous2”. This is interesting because it shows that people believed that the emotional state was very important to the conception of a child. What did this mean for arranged marriages where there was no love? The masterpiece states that “Sadness, trouble and Sorrow, are enemies to the delights of Venus” and should you try to conceive during this time it would have a “malevolent effect upon the Children3”, so it may be that you could have a child but that child would probably not turn out well. This could be signs of an early understanding of modern psychology. While they believe it is the mood during conception that would have a negative effect, growing up in a household where your parents are always fighting or sad may have negative consequences for the child.enhanced-buzz-24936-1372182219-1

The reason I found this manual so interesting was because a lot of the ideas used in it we still hold today. People will still use natural herbs to promote fertility, although not because they think it wi
ll warm up the naturally cold female body. People still like to cuddle after sex, again not because of the warmth for conception but because it is affectionate. Just because people in the Early Modern period did not have a firm grasp on how reproduction and the human bodies functioned, or differed with regards to sex, it did not mean that all the ideas were completely unfounded. Specifically regarding the restoratives, people would have experimented with different herbs and spices until they found something that seemed to work for them. This would be passed on to friends and family until a fairly well established and thoroughly tested method would become more prominent than others that only worked for a couple of people. Considering they were working off the humoral system it may seem bizarre that we are still using a few of their methods, but it does make sense. And hey, at least it’s an excuse for a nice hot bath.

 

[1] Aristotle’s Masterpiece Completed, in Two Parts (London, 1697), pp. 91-94.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

The Use of Medical Recipes by Women Outside of the Household

When one examines the recipe books of Early Modern Europe, it is not a challenge to find a plethora of recipes designed to cure certain ailments and heal the human body. This makes it clear that a large number of housewives had an interest in medicine and its practice, and inside the home a number of women probably actively engaged in the practice of medicine. However, outside of the household the story was rather contrasting. It was not that women did not want practice medicine outside of the household, but rather that many men disapproved of it. Male physicians and apothecaries actively sought to limit, and later even ban, the women who wanted to practice medicine. An example of this was the Paris Surgeon’s Guild, who after 1484 would only accept the widows of former Master Surgeons as members of the guild, and later in 1694 women were outright barred from membership. One could assume that this systematic persecution of women in the medical field resulted in the non-presence of female medical practitioners outside of the home, but this would not be true. There were still women who chose to practice medicine outside of the home, and this blog post will examine two sources that demonstrate the vital role that some women played in Early Modern medicine and healing.

Saint Elizabeth cares for a patient in a hospital in Marlburg, Germany (1598)

The  first source that will be examined is a letter written by Lady Mary Wortley Mortagu to a woman named Sarah Chiswell (a friend in England). The letter was written in April 1717, and concerns Montagu’s observation of the process that was used in Turkey to treat Smallpox. Montagu was living in Turkey as she was the wife of the British ambassador to Turkey. As Montagu is writing to a friend, I see little reason as to why she would lie about the events that she describes in her letter, and therefore they are most likely factually accurate.

Montagu starts of her letter by saying that “the Small Pox so fatal and so general amongst us is here entirely harmless by the invention of engrafting“. The Turkish, through a process that was known to Montagu as ‘engrafting’, but was more commonly known at the time as variolation have managed to totally eradicate the harmful effects of the disease. Montagu explains that there is a set of old women whom “make it their business” to carry out the procedure. Although it is not clear whether this means this women pursued this venture for profit or simply for the good of the people, it is clear that these elderly women carried out the treatment. Montagu then describes the process of ‘engrafting’ in great detail, frequently referring to the old woman throughout. For example, “the old woman comes with a nutshell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox and asks what veins you please to have open’d“. This implies that the old woman has a good understanding of the anatomy of the human body, further emphasising her knowledge and involvement in the practice of medicine. Montagu also makes it clear that these women do not perform medicine just within their household, but rather that “every year thousands undergo this operation“. Obviously there are not thousands of people within these women’s households, and so it seems they were treating the community at large. Towards the end of the letter Montagu mentions that she wants to have the process carried out on her son, demonstrating the trust she has in the medical knowledge that these women possess.

The second source is another letter, this time written by a man named J. Hare to the famous Early Modern physician Hans Sloane. Hare was a vicar for the Parish of Cardington in Bedfordshire, England. The letter describes a man who falls ill and is subsequently treated by a local woman. Hare assures Sloane of the accuracy of his claims, saying “I affirm and in Testimony have subscribed my name” at the end of the letter. As Hare is a man of God, a testimony from him almost guarantees the authenticity of his statement.

The letter starts out by describing that a man within a household where Hare was staying had had an ear pain for two or three days, and upon a female servant searching the man’s ear she noticed small maggot like creatures within the ear cavity. Hare then says that a woman from the neighbourhood was sent for. According to Hare, the woman “applyd to it ye steam of warm milk“. The woman was sent for from the local area, and so was most likely already known within the area as a healer and practitioner of medicine. The woman applies the treatment to the patient, and a little later Hare manages to pick 24 maggots out of the man’s ear, although some still remain that were too far into the ear to reach. Hare then says he “left him for about an hour… & then returning to him, I could at first perceive nothing but a think bloody matter but by degrees they worked outward and I pickd out nine more“. Hare states the next day, the man was better and complained of no more pain. It seems the treatment the village woman had applied was likely responsible for the  uptake in the man’s condition, as he had complained for several days of pain and suddenly no longer felt any. This exhibits the medical knowledge that this woman possessed, and gives us further evidence that women practiced medicine outside of their own homes. Interestingly enough, steam and is still known today to be an effective treatment for ear pain. Steam helps to clear the ear drum of pus and wax, which was most likely the bloody substance that Hare describes, and this seemed to push the maggots out of the patient’s ear.

Both these sources demonstrate that in the  Early Modern period, some women were not only demonstrating exceeding medical knowledge, but they were also actively practicing outside of their home environment. Women were likely responsible for healing a large number of people from within their local communities, and even though they often were not allowed to become licensed medical practitioners, this did not stop them from trying to make a difference.