Category Archives: Early Modern Recipes Online Collective

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I have just completed the final pages from my first experience of transcribing historical documents, and so I thought this would be the perfect time to write a blog post about this particular assignment.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.

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.

The Digital Recipe Project – A Finale!

When i decided to choose The Digital Recipe Project back in the summer when i was deciding what third year modules to take on for this year, I did not think that I was going to grow such a bond with Margaret Baker, a seventeenth-century English housewife. Initially, I was very excited to be working with an entire recipe book written by a woman over 300 years ago and to have the chance to transcribe it into a digital format, like a professional historian! However, as the module progressed, Baker’s life and the society of which she lived in was becoming even more intriguing to me and I couldn’t help but want to find out more!

Initially, the idea of this module having such a vast digital component was exciting to me, being a 21st century young adult, the internet is at the centre of everything, and I thought I would have easily got the grasp of blog-writing and website-making. However, the reality was not as straight-forward, and trying to write an informal blog post after two and a half years of formal historical essay-writing, was a lot more difficult than I initially thought. Despite this, (and despite the 9am starts) this module was a lot more intimate than any of my other third year modules – with such a small class, it was nice to get to know Lisa a lot better than we usually would with any other seminar leader, and it made us all feel a lot more relaxed in conversation and debate within our seminar. Not only this, but every seminar really was a conjoined effort, and each week was a different topic and theme to investigate.

It is amazing how much you take for granted being brought up in the 21st century, where medicines and treatments are constantly developed, and recipes are shared by foodies more and more on social media such as on Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes the recipe book is disregarded, and the recipe for any dish can be with you in 10 seconds with the help of Google. It was not this easy in seventeenth-century England, these recipes for both food and medicine were circulated around the country normally through word of mouth, or through migration. It is interesting now, especially, how disregarded medicinal recipes have become, and that is something that I myself was guilty of, in our first seminar: ‘What is a recipe?’. Maybe I was ignorant in just thinking that a recipe book was just that.. a book for food recipes. However, recipes had a much broader meaning, nowadays you would immediately link a ‘recipe’ with food, however, I do not think the seventeenth-century English believed in such structural organisation and conformity. A recipe book did not mean simply food, like a prayer book did not necessarily mean it only included prayers (which i mention in my last blog).

Sitting opposite my own bookcase which is full almost solely of recipe books, from Nigella, to Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein to Delia Smith, there is not really any other recipe book other than for anything other than just food dishes. From witnessing the use of alchemy widely in Margaret Bakers seventeenth-century recipe book, I was beyond excited when I found a book on my shelf with ‘Alchemy’ written in big writing on the spine of the book.. however, looking more closely ‘Alchemy in a Glass, The essential guide to Handcrafted Cocktails’ was not what I had expected to come across. Its interesting however, this book is actually giving you instructions of how to make cocktails, so its as much a ‘guide’ as it is a recipe book! Wow, this module really has got me thinking more about the definition of a ‘recipe book’!

Yet, this even got me thinking further, how such meanings and emphasis become placed differently throughout the years, although we speak the same language, we don’t necessarily speak the same meaning – and this is something I especially had to take into consideration when I first begun transcribing Baker’s book.

To close this final blog post, which is more of a reflection, or a transcription of my own train of thought, I wanted to mention a book that my grandmother recently let me borrow named ‘Natural Wonderfoods’. Although it is not a recipe book, it lists nearly every fruit, vegetable and meat product, and explains on a double page spread the importance of these different types of within healing, immune-boosting and for fitness-enhancing.

The introduction of the book itself, gives acknowledgements to our ancestors, and it is amazing that I open the book onto the introduction page (that i never look at) to such mention of the fact that knowledge of these healing foods were known centuries ago (Maybe its Baker herself that made me open it, saying: ‘See! I was right about all these healing foods in my recipe book!).

Looking at ‘A medycine for the eies’ (14.v. 15.r.) sage leaves, fennel leaves, honey and egg were used. Looking in this glorious book, all the completely natural foods are written: sage, fennel and eggs (which can be used as face masks to help dry skin!) I will leave you all with the pages and explanations of both sage and fennel to show you just how knowledgeable and clever these seventeenth-century women were! Thank you Margaret Baker et al!






By Florence Hearn.


Bartimeus, Paula, Haigh, Charlotte, Merson, Sarah, Owen, Sarah, Wright, Janet, Natural Wonderfoods, (London 2011)

‘& thise will helpe you by the grace of god’ – God in the recipe?

It was not until I spotted multiple mentions of God through Baker’s book, that i began to consider Religion to Baker and her seventeenth-century English society. Multiple questions began to run through my mind that i was itching to find the answers to: Was Margaret Baker very religious? What was her relationship with God? Why has God been so widely mentioned in a book full of recipes for food and medicines?

The recipe ‘to putt a waye a heate; burninge; or ague’  is closed by Baker stating that ‘thise will helpe you by ye grace of god’. (V.a. 619, 65.v.) [1]

Margaret Baker’s recipe book, V.a.619

Immediately I was intrigued as to why Baker specifically included God and his grace at the end of the recipe for the medicine, and with this, i turned to the books to investigate. With the help of Lisa, I came across a chapter titled ‘Providence’ in Keith Thomas’ book: ‘Religion and the Decline of Magic’, which actually gave me insight and a lot of answers as to why Baker mentions God in such a way. Thomas not only mentions that all post-reformation theologists taught that nothing could happen in the world without God’s permission, but that the actions of their lives were actually the “working-out of Gods purpose”[2]. Baker was mentioning God at the end of her recipes not because she was simply saying ‘God will help you’ but because she understood that she needed God’s own permission, or ‘grace’ in order for the medicine to successfully work.

Baker does not only use this sentence of the grace of God a couple times within her recipe book. She actually uses it almost twenty times in regards to various healing medicines and remedies, which can underline that she did understand and believe in the workings of God.


Various mentions of God’s grace in Margaret Baker’s recipe book, V.a.619

So why does Baker rely on God to heal the patient, when she has already conjured up an entire treatment to treat them herself? The idea of Providence can be used to answer this. The definition of Providence in the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘The foreknowing and protective care of God (or nature, etc.); divine direction, control or guidance'[3],it was as if she was pleading for God’s blessing, not just over the ill, but over the ingredients used to make their treatment. It could be understood that God was an important ingredient in her recipe; it is all well and good producing a medicine, but what is the point if God does not provide his own care and guidance?

There is a disregard of any idea or belief in chance, that if the medicine worked, it was solely because God wanted it to work, not because of the great quality of the ingredients. It would have been their faith in God and his divine right to control the effect of the medicine, and ultimately, the life of the ill – whether he deserved to survive, or deserved to die.

This was an idea that many Protestant believed, that there was no natural explanation for the epidemics or disasters that struck them, for example: the plague, floods and fires [4] were direct punishments from God, attacking them for their poor morality. For example, in this pamphlet published in the time of the Great Plague, we see the Londoners pleading God to ‘have mercy’ over them and the ‘mortality of pestilence’ of which the ‘Almighty God.. raigned upon them’. This underlines the idea that these people sincerely did believe that God controlled everything, pleading Him to lessen the severity of the mortal plague. The seventeenth-century people placed explanation in the hands of God. Your house caught on fire? God was punishing you. The plague came to your city? The Heavenly Father was punishing you – and only the most pious, dedicated Christian who pleaded for God’s grace would receive protection and cure.

If one recognised Gods grace, if one was a good, religious person, God would supply his care and would forsee the healing of illness and/or disease.

Initially, I found it intriguing that God was included even within recipes to heal, however, the mixture of recipes and faith were not uncommon, and women even wrote sermons or hymns within them (Although Baker does not). Seventeenth-century recipe books seem to have had the flexibility to be a type of personal prayer book – one page could note a prayer, song or sermon, and the next could be a recipe for a meal. This is something we see in Martha Hodges book, and in between pages of ‘Psalm 126’ and  ‘A Preparation to Prayer’ lay a simple recipe of how ‘to make a Cakesfoot Pie’.

‘Psalm 126’ – p. 50 of Martha Hodges book. MS2844                      ‘How to make cakesfoot pie’ p.  52 of Martha Hodges book. MS2844

‘A Preparation to Prayer’ p. 53 of Martha Hodges book. (Wellcome Library, MS2844)

This explains that it was not actually so strange to mention God within recipe books, whether it is a sentence, or three pages long, and in fact, Bakers book was extremely mild in comparison to other recipe books like Martha Hodges. This does not however, mean that Baker was not a religious woman, as she could have held other religious pages on loose leaf pages [5].

My own curiosities of religion within Bakers book led me to understand that this was not out of the ordinary – that recipes and religion could combine into one, whether its within the same notebook, or within the same recipe. The grace of God was important to each individual, in every part of their life, even down to medicine and food. Piety amongst women and within recipe books were actually common, and who are we to question the religious expressions of a seventeenth-century woman?

By Florence Hearn.


[1]  Baker, Margaret. Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675, (MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.)

[2]Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic, (London, 2012), p. 90.


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

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


Baker, Margaret. Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675, (MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.)

Hodges, Martha. Reciept Book of Martha Hodges, ca. 1675, (MS2844. Wellcome Library, London, United Kingdom)

Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic, (London, 2012)

Sherman, William, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, (Philadelphia, 2010)

Margaret Bakers Ghost?

I have wracked my brain to think of a subject for this, my last blog post of our academic year’s involvement with Margaret Baker’s recipe book. To be honest, so close  to the end of term  my brain is numb and I cannot effectively put pen to paper on any one particular scholarly point of our digital recipe project. So, I thought I’d appraise the exhibition website our group has just completed. After the initial panic, denial of our technical prowess and frantic last minute virtual collaborations that threatened to crash Facebook, the subject of this blog rests upon comparison.

The Scribes Room in the Schwazer Bergbuch (ÖNB 10852, fol. 85v), 1561; (fol. 114v)

Before I compare and contrast the seventeenth century with the twenty first I must stress how proud we are of what we produced, how we conquered our fear of technology and found that team spirit that we were afraid would not materialise.

Our website is our ‘masterpiece’. [1] Not a pompous boast it is a reality, comparing directly with the piece of work completed by apprentices in the past. While our skills have not been seven years in the making, we, like them absorbed knowledge and skills passed on from master to student. In years to come it will be a testament to the progress we made under the watchful eye of our tutor. It will also stand as the bar upon which we can either rest, or from which we can climb even higher.

Our engagement with Dr. Lisa Smith’s Digital Recipe book project has taken us from novices to accomplished scholars. We can transcribe incomprehensible scripts;
understand concepts of empire, alchemy, chemistry and medicines contained within what at first appeared to be no more than written instruction. We can also now effectively navigate our way around early modern primary texts, reconstruct and experiment with confidence.

Our ‘masterpiece’ is comparable with Bakers Manuscript in as much as it has been a collaborative undertaking. Baker has her contributors, Lady Croon, Mistress Corbett, and through her friends, relatives and aristocratic connections we have snapshots of her life and have placed her in context. [2] We too have collaborated, forged alliances, networked and brought different skills to the table.

A possible Margaret Baker?

Like baker we have used our foremost technology; for her ‘the book’, for us ‘the website’. Yet herein lies the greatest  difference between ourselves and Baker, namely our modern quest for perfection. There is no denying that digital technology has enabled the wider study of Bakers book. However, alongside what has been gained we must also look at what has been removed. From the pages of Bakers book 1675 and those of our modern website 2017, it seems to me especially that something has been ‘lost in translation.’


Both Baker and ourselves are represented on the page by our words yet it is only Baker’s thinking processes that are evident. To read Baker is to know far more about her than it is to recognise us on our website. To compensate we included an ‘about us’ page but that was a statement of what we thought the reader would like to know as opposed to them discovering us for themselves. Alternatively, to ‘find’ Baker is quite
thrilling. Despite there being a possibility of a more sophisticated edition, this her assumed  workbook  has an abundance of clues to follow. But our website, unless we had consciously designed it to do so reveals nothing personal about the HR650 students who compiled it.

Clear and precise if a mistake is made on a website it can be erased leaving only perfection. It does not entertain the workings of the mind, a process that is so thankfully clear in Baker. We are represented by our words but not our thought processes. Baker crosses out, makes mistakes, creates ink splodges, and leaves stains from cooking or experimentation on the page, indicative of experimentation, change of mind, a new direction to pursue, a muddled train of thought to be improved upon later.

Today, a mistake is inexcusable. Deleteable type makes it is so easy to ‘get things right’. Yet for Baker mistakes were unavoidable, ink would soak into porous ‘rag’  paper  and if a large piece of text was heavily crossed through, the reverse was almost illegible.[3] For Baker mistakes or miss-thoughts were unavoidable unless she discarded her papers. This highlights emotion in her penmanship, the feelings that accompanied a clear, steady, neat and light hand were going to be different to those involved in heavy dark strokes. Even if the writing was not hers we know that by the very differences we can see.

Today by striving for uniformity and perfect presentation we have lost the personal and individual. While Intelligence and reasoning is still present in mechanically written words, character and personality is not.

In my second blogpost I argued that if Baker and I ever met I would recognise her, divided only by time. I still think that. Alternatively, if she could see our website, unadulterated by mistakes she would think me perfect and unknowable. As a concept usually reserved for God, it is reasonable to assume then that going back in time would be easier for me than coming forward would be for Margaret.

Having said that I will report that at the moment we launched our state of the art ‘masterpiece’ the cork from the celebratory champagne popped unassisted. Perhaps Baker was there in the shadows and did not need mistakes on a page to know everything about us after all.

[1] UoE Baker project 

[2] Baker, Margaret. Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675, (MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.)

[3]  Baker, Margaret. Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675, (MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.)

Margaret Baker’s recipe books give us so much more information than recipes

By Tracey Cornish

Little is known about Margaret Baker, however just because not much is known of the author does not mean we cannot learn a significant amount.  Three recipes books that she had written have survived today, two are owned by the British Library and one is owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library.  They are dated approximately 1670, 1672 and 1675.  The recipe books contained medicinal, culinary and household recipes and it is through these recipes that we can find out how people lived and survived in the seventeenth century.

Baker’s books contain recipes from other people for example she mentions ‘My Lady Corbett, my Cousen Staffords, Mrs Davies and Mrs Weeks.   We could assume that these people were known to Baker and she has been given these recipes by them.  Both men and women could gain medical information through their contacts although they may not have always given information about their own health or concerns.  Therefore just because Mrs Denis tells Margaret Baker about a remedy ‘To comfort ye brayne and takes away aney payne of the head’ (37r) it did not necessarily mean that Mrs Denis had used the remedy herself.  She also appears to recite Hannah Woolley’s recipes from her ‘The accomplisht ladys delight in preserving, physic and cookery.’   Large sections of printed books are copied by Baker many are from doctors.  Many of the doctors quoted in her books were non English medical practitioners and this suggests that she was influenced by her continental contemporaries. However medical instruction at Oxford and Cambridge Universities were so far behind that in continental universities that a large percentage of Englishmen who wished to become doctors went abroad for their education.[1]

Hannah Woolley’s The Accomplisht Ladys delight

So what can we learn from Margaret Baker’s recipes?  The books contain a range of preparations for ointments, powders, salves and cordials for a variety of medical complaints.  From these remedies we can see what diseases were prevalent at the time. For example ‘A preservation against the plague’ (24r).  We would not find a remedy for the plague in medical books today and so was therefore a worry in the 1670s.   There is also a remedy for ‘A canker for a women’s breste.’  (68v).  This is very interesting as it reveals that even in the 1670s cancer was a known illness and could actually be diagnosed although one has to assume that due to the lack of medical knowledge in the seventeenth century it was only when a lump was present that cancer was diagnosed.  Other illnesses mentioned are measles and shingles (26r).  There is also a remedy for ‘the stone in the blader and kidnes’ (17v) which is another example of medical knowledge inside the body.

The body was believed to be made up of four humours – Blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile and it was an excess of one of the humours that caused illness.  Health was managed on a day to day basis.  Recipe books like Margaret Baker’s reveal the extent of self-help used by families and explores their favourite remedies and analyses differences in approached to medical matters.  Women as carers and household practitioners could assume significant roles in place of a sick person, for example the husband,  and some women would have made key decisions about information and treatment of the sick.[2]

Women and medicine

The recipes for foods reveals the diet of the seventeenth century person although one should remember that Margaret Baker was more than likely middle class and so was writing for middle class society.  She includes recipes for cakes, biscuits and meat.  Her recipes reveal that food was eaten according to the season. We can also learn what types of food the seventeenth century person ate.  As mentioned in my previous blog,  Baker’s use of animals in recipes no part of an animal ever went to waste with most parts being used as food.

Baker’s recipes also reveal beauty regimes in the seventeenth century.  Her recipes include a pomatum to style hair   Karen writes a more detailed account of the seventeenth century beauty regime according to Margaret Baker in her essay  on our website UoE Baker Project.

Recipe books like Margaret Baker’s are an invaluable insight into the world of seventeenth century society and how they coped with illness, disease and how they ate among other things.  When I first began this module I was apprehensive that recipe books would be limited.  How wrong was I!  I could never have imagined the knowledge one can retrieve from a seventeenth century recipe book.


[1] Anne Stobart, Household medicine in Seventeenth Century England, p.29.

[2] Ibid  p.29.

The Creation of the Kitchen

By Tracey Cornish

The reading for this week’s seminar was a topic that I had not thought much about before.  Just as I had never really thought about recipes and their meaning in the early modern period before I began studying this module.  The topic in question is kitchens.  I suppose I had thought that kitchens had always existed in the way in which we think of kitchens now.  When you visit castles or stately homes there is always a kitchen where the hustle and bustle of daily life took place.  The kitchen in Hampton Court is indeed huge.  It was built in 1530 and was designed to feed at least 600 members of the court, entitled to eat at the palace, twice a day.

The kitchens had master cooks each with a team working for them.  Annually the Tudor Court cooked 1240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar.  That is without mentioning the chickens, peacocks, pheasant and vegetables which were also on the menu.[1]

Hampton Court Kitchen plan

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace also has a chocolate kitchen.  The royal chocolate making kitchen which once catered for three Kings: William III, George I and George II is the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the country. Recent research has uncovered the precise location of the royal chocolate kitchen in the Baroque Palace’s Fountain Court. Having been used as a storeroom for many years, it is remarkably well preserved with many of the original fittings, including the stove, equipment and furniture still intact.[2]


Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace

The only original 17th century kitchen to be preserved is at Ham House. In the basement  there are several small rooms comprising of the kitchen, the scullery, the servants hall, a laundry, several pantries, a wet larder, a still house, a wash house and a dairy room. All these rooms would have had servants working in them and would have made the workings of the kitchen easier as it would have provided room to prepare and cook food.[3]

Original 17th Century kitchen

Of course, this is an example of a palace so what about everyday houses?  Peasants in the middle ages lived in one room which served as a room for cooking, general living and eating.  It consisted of a hearth stone, a fire with a pot of the top.  Sara Pennell suggests in The Birth of the English Kitchen 1600-1850 that kitchens in the early 1600’s were ‘unfixed and at times contested’[4] and that it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that kitchens were ‘distinctive yet integrated spaces in the majority of households.’[5] Food could be prepared in any room with a table and could be cooked in any room with a fire.  However it was the need to provide space for the works of the kitchen and other ‘food’ rooms such as pantries, larders and sculleries which reallocated eating to its own distinctive space.[6] Pennell argues that histories of the domestic interior and its evolving design neglected the kitchen and yet arguably the kitchen is and was an important room in a household. [7]

Margaret Baker never mentions in her recipes as to where the production of the recipes should take place, one just imagines that she is in her kitchen trying out the recipes (the ones which she did try) and writing them down.  Of course, the fact that her kitchen would have been nothing like our kitchens today should also be taken into account if a reproduction of one of her recipes takes place.  As Florence mentions in her  blog,  Replicate, Authenticate and Reconstruct Baker uses ‘learned knowledge’ in her recipe book.  There would have been no modern oven to set to a certain temperature as they would have used a fire.

17th Century Kitchen

Evolution of the kitchen was linked to the invention of the cooking range or stove and the supply of running water.  The living room began to serve as an area for social functions and became a showcase for the owners to show off their wealth.  In the upper classes cooking and the kitchen were the domain of servants and the kitchen was therefore set away from the living rooms.

The kitchens of elite households were not originally in the basement.  In fact basement level kitchens were almost unheard of in England before 1666.  Yet by 1750 kitchens were found in the basement.  One could argue this was to keep the kitchen staff out of sight of the main household and to ensure that the kitchen smells did not overwhelm the main living accommodation.

A 17th Century Distiller

So what about the medical and scientific recipes?  Many kitchens or basements formed laboratories for people to experiment and write down their medical recipes.  It was popular for higher class women to have stills and alembics in their kitchens for making essences. .  Even the lower classes would gather herbs together and make remedies in their kitchens.

Experiments took place in many places such as coffee houses, laboratories and universities but the private residence was a popular place to experiment.  Many renowned scientists used their kitchens as a ‘laboratory’ including Frederick Clod who was a physician and a ‘mystical chemist’ who used his father in law’s kitchen to experiment. [8]

It could be argued that the design of kitchens have come full circle with many people preferring to have open plan living areas which include the kitchen with people enjoying socialising whilst cooking and enjoying all those cooking smells.


[1] accessed 20th March 2017.

[2] accessed 20th March 2017.

[3] accessed 20th March 2017.

[4] Sara Pennell, The Birth of the English Kitchen, 1600-1850, (London, 2016) p.37.

[5] Ibid p.37.

[6] Ibid p.39.

[7] Ibid p.38.

[8] accessed 21st March 2017.


Hampton Court Kitchen plan – accessed 20th March 2017.

Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace – accessed 21st March 2017.

Original 17th Century kitchen – accessed 20th March 2017.

17th Century Kitchen – accessed 20th March 2017.

A 17th Century Distiller – accessed 21st March 2017.


Replicate, Authenticate, and Reconstruct

The idea of replicating and reproducing a 300-year-old recipe is one that intrigued me whilst I was transcribing Baker’s books. Could I, a 21-year-old History student, be able to replicate a recipe as accurately to the one Baker would have? Does the 300 year gap really make that much of a difference when your reproducing quite a (what I thought was simple) recipe? Or is it challenging to precisely reconstruct an old recipe, and produce an exact, authentic piece of food without corrupting it with 21st century behaviours? The answer of that is of the latter; of course I wasn’t going to be able to make an authentic cake, the sugar I used was out of a packet, as was the flour and the cream, and the egg wasn’t freshly laid. Could we really communicate effortlessly with early modern cookery, and imitate an exact recipe to produce an exactly similar outcome, unchanged despite the 300 years between us?

The recipe ‘for suger cakes’, which I would be reconstructing.

I faced a number of problems before I started making my suger cakes, Baker weighed her food in pounds, and I had a scale that weighed in grams – (luckily a quick click on Google allowed me to figure out the grams easily). On top of this I had to guess the temperature to put my oven on, and I had to guess how long to have my bake in the oven for – this was tricky in itself. I sat next to my oven for over 20 minutes peering through the window until my sugar cakes looked baked. 17th century housewives did not have electric ovens where you simply turn the dial to the temperature you want – you had to be alert and patient. That was an initial trouble I faced, “what temperature do I set the oven to?, were these cakes meant to be hard and crispy? Or soft and spongy?” These recipes lacked in these descriptions because they themselves knew exactly what a ‘suger cake’ should look, feel, and taste like; if only I knew the same 300 years later. Ovens, hearths, open fires or spits would have been in an early modern household and who knows whether the same sugar cakes produced then, would be the same as my sugar cakes I produce now. 17th century techniques may have baked these foods entirely different to how my 21st century oven would have – suddenly I realised that reconstruction of this recipe wasn’t as easy as it initially seemed.


Dough-like consistency of the ‘suger cake’ mixture

Like a lab experiment, everything had to be controlled, these factors hindered me from making an truthful replica of the cake which Baker would have made. This made me question the finishing product, was this even what Baker took out of the oven, or was it something that looked entirely different? I soon came to realise that even the early modern use of names and labels were just another obstacle preventing me from an accurate outcome. From reading the recipe ‘for suger cakes’, I assumed I was baking something similar to a fairy cake. Yet after mixing all the ingredients together, and finding myself kneading the mixture more than beating it, thinking it felt more like cookie dough, I started to become confused. However, I wanted to carry on with the ‘cake’ I was making – so I placed them in the cake cases, into the oven and took to the Internet for some assurance. “The earliest English cakes were virtually bread, their main distinguishing characteristics being their shape –round and flat-”¹ was something which caught my eye, I wasn’t meant to be making cakes as we know it today, but round and flat sugar cakes!

Miscommunication – Before understanding the definition of a ‘cake’ could also be flat and round.

The definition of a cake is: “a flat, thin, mass of bread, especially unlevened bread”² and the definition of a cookie: “a small cake made from stiff, sweet dough rolled and sliced or dropped by spoonfuls on a large, flat pan and baked”³. The glue-like, thick consistency of the dough made sense, I was essentially making a cookie, not a cake. After taking my first batch of ‘cakes’ out of the oven (which looked like mini scones), I put in another batch, this time aiming for a cookie-looking outcome.
Its interesting how such a little word can lead to such a huge miscommunication – Initially I was making something which was not a suger cake, but instead more like a sweet, small, scone.


I understood how beautifully stripped Early Modern cooking was, it was about wholesome ingredients, and the care and time which was put into it. However, after trying to make a recipe as close to that of 300 years ago, and reading a chapter on authenticity (link), It is impossible for me, a modern day 21 year old, to replicate the recipe with such precision. Looking at this as a History student, someone who has to use entirely correct facts, knowledge and historiography in order to create a valid argument or essay; One cannot help but understand, in my own academic OCD, that there is no way a 21st century reconstruction will ever validate and authenticate a dish cooked 300 years prior. The lack of similarity in atmosphere, utensils, ingredients, communications, recipes and even interpretation, highlights the limitations of reconstruction. 21st century customs seems to be an obstacle of the wholesomeness art of early modern baking, and as a result restricts the question of authenticity.

The final product! ‘Suger Cakes’.

Florence Hearn


[1] John Ayto, The Diner’s Dictionary: World Origins of Food and Drink, (2012). p.57.



Methods of Measurement and Delight.

As a student of Early Modern Recipes the process of discovering Margaret Baker and her contemporaries has been an unexpected delight on so many levels. Should we ladies ever meet , I’m sure we would connect; if not in the detail of our lives, then at least in the shared experience of being wives, mothers and caregivers. Early modern cruelty to animals, where ‘whelps are drowned’ and chickens plucked alive (Tracey’s post) would, of course repulse my  twenty first century sensibilities, but then the speed at which we live today, our secular lifestyles and modern individualism would perhaps appear quite alien to her.

Frontispiece The queen-like closet Hannah Woolley, 1670
The queen-like closet Hannah Woolley, 1670

Baker’s world was one of extended social networks emanating, not from a mobile phone, but from her home and family.  Cooperation and collaboration by women within the domestic sphere strengthened familial bonds as well as alliences between mitresses and servants and made for the smooth running of a household. Collaboration and connection are also inherent within recipes, the following remark in the recipe book of Philip Stanhope, ‘my daughter-in-law taught it me/ Mrs Phillips taught it her’, an example of the  transmission of knowledge, and sociability.

Yet recipes themselves remain inanimate if not accompanied by instructions for their use.  Returning to the concept of meeting Baker I suspect this would be something we would have talked about. Possibly, we would also have reflected upon the importance of  both measurement and precision in the preparation and execution of our recipes.

Today, ‘precision’ is something we take for granted, regulated by micro measurements, global positioning instruments, and digital apparatus. Unfortunately, it is not something we automatically attribute to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in a domestic context. Instead, we see an England as yet untouched by the Industrial Revolution and so still tied into agrarian rhythms.

Harvest, Pieter Bruegel.
Harvest, Pieter Bruegel.

This became evident when Baker herself recommended a tonic  to be taken in Spring and the ‘fall’, and, although I knew otherwise, the phrasing of her instruction led me to reimagine her as a colonial American. I double-checked. Biographical information on ‘EMROC – The Baker Project’ confirmed her as English, and the Oxford Dictionary Online explained that ‘fall’ derived from the old English, ‘at leafs fall’, a centuries old phrase denoting the third quarter of the year. Latterly it was simply referred to as ‘fall’ and so in common usage , was then taken to the new world by puritan migrants. In England, as urban societies grew and ties with the countryside diminished the less rustic sounding  ‘autumn’ was adopted to describe the season.

Precision, we must accept was no less accurate in the past if we do not judge the concept by modern standards. Then, accuracy, at least enough for people to rely upon, was achieved by constancy: by using the same instruments, weights and measurement whatever they were.

Seventeenth-Century English Recipe Books: Cooking, Physic and Chirurgery in the Works of Elizabeth Talbot Grey and Aletheia Talbot Howard: Library of Essential Works by Elizabeth Spiller (Editor)
The Works of Elizabeth Talbot Grey and Aletheia Talbot Howard: by Elizabeth Spiller .

Today recipes will sometimes make use of phrases such as a ‘cup’ of rice but usually it is 30 grammes of this or 450 grammes of that. Very precise. By contrast early modern  methods of quantifying  items appear strange to us, almost  haphazard? Consequently, we can easily dismiss women like Baker, Elizabeth Talbot Grey and Aletheia Talbot Howard as having inadequate tools with which to standardise amounts. Not so. In the absence of digital scales their constants were ‘handfuls’, ‘pennies’, ‘pecks’, and nuts.

 Nutmeg. http://wellcomeimages.o

Take, for example Grey’s, ointment to break a sore. She takes a handful of gentian, stamps it, straines it and puts it to half a pint of may butter, and as much virgin wax as a walnut’. 1 Nutmegs as a unit of measurement also feature regularly in her recipes, e.g, ‘Take the quantitie of one nutmeg out of your tin pot’, alternatively, ‘take the bigness of a nutmeg. 2 In one script she uses a combination of measuring methods all at once,

‘A handful of red sage, a quantitie of rustie bacon as big as a walnut, bay salt 2 ounces, sowr leaven as much as an egg…’3 

Amazingly, coins frequently appear,  both as a unit of weight and of measurement, a pennyworth of saffron suggesting a particular and standardised  quantitie. 5 Interestingly women also used ‘a penny weight, the latter being easily multiplied to achieve the desired outcome. For example, ‘the weight of five pence’, 6  ‘the weight of two shillings,’ 7 or ‘a  4 penny weight of spikenard.’  A pennyworth may also have been a liquid measurement as per this instruction for a plaister for ‘the collick’, in so much as it may refer to a small round amount of oil only as big as a penny.


Returning to the possibility of ever meeting up with either, Howard, Grey or Baker, amidst the myriad of topics we would explore and engage in, I would of course, have to share with them my utter delight in their early modern methods of measurement.



Spiller, Elizabeth, (ed) Seventeenth-Century English Recipe Books: Cooking, Physic and Chirurgery in the Works of Elizabeth Talbot Grey and Aletheia Talbot Howard: Library of Essential Works. Routledge. 2008

[1] pg 81

[2] pg 151

[3] pg 34

[4] pg 209.

[5] pg 31

[6] pg 122

[7] pg 362

[8] pg 173

Recipe Book Memories

By Abbie Burnett

 The digital recipe book project has opened our minds to recognise that recipe books can include more than just recipes for meals, some posts on this blog explore this topic in more detail (Faye’s post and Sarah’s post). However, even with this in mind, when working on Margret Bakers recipe book I have found it difficult at times to draw these personal connections between her recipes and her lifestyle, relationships, and status in society. Sometimes Baker’s recipes for Tripe Peys are just recipes for tripe pies.

f.101v. and f.102r. from V.a.619: Receipt book of Margaret Baker
A recipe of Tripe Peys in Margaret Baker’s recipe book 

On my journey to make a connection between Baker and her recipes I was recommended by Dr Catherine Crawford to read Claudia Roden’s recipe book The Book of Jewish Food [1]. Before opening the book I checked out a few of its reviews online to get a sense of how it has been received by the general public. As a scholar, book reviews are a useful resource not only to gain an approximate judgement of quality of writings; but to find concise summaries, evaluative commentaries, and the position of these books in scholarly literature.[2]  Out of the 693 people who rated Roden’s book out of 5 stars, 86% gave it a 4 or 5 star rating, and only 3% gave The Book of Jewish Food a rating of 2 stars or lower. This overwhelmingly positive response characterising Roden’s book as a “culinary landmark” which was “packed with history and anecdote” ignited my curiosity into this twentieth century recipe book.

Claudia Roden The Book of Jewish Food (New York, 1996)
Claudia Roden The Book of Jewish Food (New York, 1996)

My high expectations were not disappointed upon reading The Book of Jewish Food. In fact, although I was prepared to find it an interesting collection of recipes I was still pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was as more than just a cookbook, but as an amazing historical narrative of Jewish people and their food. The links made by Claudia Roden between recipes and Jewish history made me abundantly aware of how recipe books have the potential to carry memories and emotion.

The Book of Jewish Food draws the reader into not only a world of food, but also a world of religion, of displacement and persecution, and of festivals and tradition experienced by the Jewish people of the past. Through reading this recipe book I did not only learn how to reproduce many types of different meals I also learnt a significant amount about the Jewish faith, to which I was previously relatively ignorant. Roden presents her dishes in a way that traces Jewish memories and the previous homes they came from. Her personal touch on the book allows the reader to recognise the emotional significance of recipes as well as the feeling of belonging that they can bring.

Other historians of recipes have touched upon the themes of memory and belonging which can be found within a recipe book. Among them are Montserrat Cabré who writes about The Emotional Life of Recipesdiscussing how recipe books can be emotionally charged objects. As well as Lisa Smith, whose blog post touches on the emotional significance of certain family recipes passed down through generations, she questions if these recipes were picked due to their practicality or due the memories that they evoke. Roden’s recipe book is unique in that it displays very clear emotional ties to recipes, however the early modern recipe books I have encountered often do not have this discernible evidence of emotion. Margret Baker seems to be a closed book in that sense.

Claudia Roden’s recipe book has not only furthered my understanding of the emotional depth of recipes, it has also furthered my understanding of the importance of considering religion when reading recipe books. Whilst I have been studying recipe books to decipher the kinds of lives that their owners lived during the early modern period, I have been neglecting a fundamental part of those lives. Religion was not simply a minor element of early modern life, for most people it was central to it and in Europe religious wars raged almost continuously throughout the period.[3]

The Magen David, a Jewish symbol
The Magen David, a Jewish symbol

Roden’s focus on Jewish traditions and the vital influence of religious kosher laws on recipes has highlighted to me the importance of considering religion in the study of recipe books, which are circulated in both religious and non religious communities. Religion has not been ignored by those who study early modern recipe books, the Recipes Project have a number of posts classed under religion, it is not their main focus but still an important consideration in the study of recipes. By neglecting religion in the study of recipes you simplify the lives of their creators and misrepresent them in history.

The Book of Jewish Food is an interesting read even to those with no intention of recreating a dish from its pages. It has opened my eyes to the close relationship of personal history and memory in recipe books, as well as the importance of considering religion when studying recipes.  For Roden, Jewish food brings a sense of religious closeness and personal identity, just as family recipes bring a sense of memory and belonging to many others. While Baker has previously appeared to me to have less of religious or emotional connection with her recipes, she may simply have not felt the need to make this connection explicitly clear in a private family recipe book, unknowing that historians would scrutinise its pages in the twenty-first century. I am sure deeper readings of Baker with these considerations in mind may reveal aspects which I have previously overlooked.

[1] Claudia Roden The Book of Jewish Food (1996)

[2] Franklin Obeng-Odoom ‘Why write book reviews?’ Austrialian Universities’ review 56 (2014).

[3] Mark Konnert Early Modern Europe: The Age of Religious War, 1559-1715 (Ontario, 2008), p. 9.

Baker’s use of animals in recipes

By Tracey Cornish

The Baker Project consists of three recipe books, two of which are owned by the British Library (MS Sloane 2485 and 2486) and one of which is owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library (Va619).  Whilst transcribing Margaret Baker’s recipes it has come to my notice that she uses different animals in her recipes to eat, cure or use in some way or another. Animals were an important part of 17th century life and many people lived in close proximity of their animals such as chickens and pigs.  Baker assumes this in her recipes as in her recipe entitled ‘To make Cocke Water, A Cordial’, Baker writes ‘’take an ould cocke from the barne doore the Redder the better plucke his feathers from him alive, then kill him and quarter him; and with clean clothes wipe away from the fleshe all ye blood’. (Va619, 46r) One does have to wonder if she plucks the poor cockerel alive as she wanted the blood to be warm to use for her cordial.


To make Cocke Water, A Cordial (Va619, 46r)
To make Cocke Water, A Cordial (Va619, 46r)

Cruelty on cats and dogs was common, they were tortured regularly, and sometimes even skinned for their fur.  However, this behaviour was seen as normal, domestic and wild animals existed for the use of humans.  Animals were used for their meat, fur and also for entertainment such as animal baiting and fighting.

Margaret Baker does come across as savage when it comes to the treatment and use of animals in her recipes.  As a medicine for aches Baker suggests in her recipe to ‘take a whelpe that sucketh ye fatter the better and drowne him in water till he be deade’.  (Va619, 68r) Of course in the 21st Century if someone had thought that you had drowned a puppy to cure aches and pains you would be locked up but in the 17th century it must have been believed that this would work.  Just carrying out the drowning would be bad enough.  There is also a recipe included in her books for

Recipe using a knocked out dog
Recipe using a knocked out dog (55r)

‘to make a pupy growe noe more.’ (43r) This recipe included many herbs, the poor dog being whipped and fed only once a day for a month.  It is unclear from this recipe why one would want a puppy to stop growing and why whipping him would help. In another recipe Baker writes that one should ‘take a doge and knock him one the head’.(Va619, 55r)

From Baker’s recipes it would appear that it was not just meat that animals were used for.  Horse and pig dung was used as ingredients in recipes as was their fat and grease. Even using barrow hog dung to help stop nose bleeds, if it did not stop a nose bleed it would certainly leave a nasty smell up one’s nose.  For a recipe for ‘Asprayne’ Baker writes ‘Take a pennyworth of barrowe hoggs grease & your owne urine; and boyle it in a pipkin with a piece of scarlett cloth; and soe binde ye cloth about ye place as hot as you can suffer itt.’ (Va619, 40v) A barrow hog was a pig that had been castrated before sexual maturity.  Margaret Baker also used creatures such as earth worms as a medicine for any ache.  ‘Take greate garden worms and slitt them and stripe of the filth that is with them, chop them smale and frye them.’ (Va619, 58v)

It is unknown if Margaret Baker actually used or even tried out these recipes and where they originally came from.  Some of her recipes do have name beside

Recipe with a cross showing it may have been tried
Recipe with a cross showing it may have been tried

them which is probably whom the recipe came from.  Other recipes have a mark which probably means that she has tried them out but we should not assume that those without a name or mark have not been tried out.



In a recipe for ulceration of the liver and lungs it is clear that Baker has tried the recipe and did in fact use it on goats first to see if it worked.  She writes ‘for this I have proued in goats troubled with a cartayne infirmitie called Bissole of the goate.’  She claims that she ‘made it into pouder and gave it to the goats with salt and for the most part they weare helpe and that I cured a number of men and women of that desease’. (Va619, 18v). This ponders the question, why did Baker feel that if the medication could cure goats of a disease it could also cure humans with an ulcerated liver and lungs.  However, according to Baker it did cure both.

Although some of these recipes make Baker look like she was cruel to animals there are some recipes which actually strive to cure animal illnesses.  Not only the recipe for the goat but also there is a medicine for ‘a mangy horse or doge’.  Of course it would be in the owner’s best interest not to have a horse or dog with the mange but one could argue that death may have been an option giving how they treated animals in the 17th century.

A response to “Women and Chymistry in Early Modern England”

By Felix Wills

During this weeks seminar, a particular source that caught my attention was Jayne Archer’s analysis of the Recipe Book of Sarah Wigges. I found Archer’s analysis of Wigges book, and more specifically what it could tell us about women and their involvement in Chymistry in Early Modern England, particularly intriguing. Thus, I believe that there would be no better topic for my first blog post than an analysis and critique of Archer’s findings.

A photograph of the inside leaf of Sarah Wigges' recipe book
A photograph of the inside leaf of Sarah Wigges’ recipe book

To begin, an introduction to the book that Archer has analysed, the ‘Manuscript Receipt Book of Sarah Wigges’. Wigges’ book was written circa 1616 in England. Like the vast majority of women who compiled recipe books during this time period, Wigges was a housewife. Also, much the same as many other recipe books of the period,  it did not just feature recipes for edible treats, but also recipes for medicines to cure particular ailments, instructions to make washing powder, instructions to help women compile a set of household accounts, as well as many other useful instructions for keeping an orderly household. However, where this book differs so heavily from other texts of the same type is that it contains some recipes that would be far more typical of a Chymistry book than of a recipe book. It contains a recipe that purports to allow the reader to manufacture the Philosopher’s Stone. Archer points out some rather amusing juxtapositions of everyday recipes situated immediately next to those that are rather more fantastical in their nature. Archer gives the example of the final leaf of the book, which contains a recipe to produce puff pastry and a recipe to manufacture diamonds. The last page sums up the overall theme of the book very well, the rather benign combined with the mystical.

Archer’s aim within the article is to establish whether women had a genuine interest in and actively practised Chymistry. Archer draws on two primary sources, one by Richard Allestree (written in 1673) and another by Thomas Vaughn (written in 1650). These two sources offer two very conflicting view about women and their success within Chymistry. For Allestree, women are too wasteful to be good chemists, they have a propensity to spend the money of the household rather than produce goods that will add value to it. As for Vaughan, he believes rather the opposite, that women have some sort of natural intuition that allows them to be better Chymists than men. Vaughan’s viewpoint is not surprising, as Archer discovers, given that his wife Rebecca is credited in helping Vaughan write his own Chymistry book. He has seen first hand that women can be successful within the field. A third primary source presents a balance between the two viewpoints, written by Margaret Cavendish. She suggests that women would labour over a fire just as much as a man, but that women are more likely to spend gold than produce it, and therefore do not make good Chymists. Archer also notes that there are multiple examples of women being involved in Chymistry in Early Modern England, the most notable of whom being Queen Elizabeth I, who had a Chymistry lab that she used regularly.

A portrait of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, and a well renowned natural philosopher

In the next part of the article, Archer focuses on the evidence that Wigges’ book in particular provides us in order to establish what role women played within Chymistry in the Early Modern period. Wigges describes many chemical procedures within her book, such as the distillation of water and alcohol, which would have been an extremely useful skill at the time. Archer believes that this supports the notion that women actively practised Chymistry and it had its place within their household duties. However, Archer discovers that an unusually large amount of the Chemical recipes in the book had been taken (un-cited) from other books such as John Gerard’s Herball and Andreas Libavius’ Alchymia to name just two. Although this shows that Wigges’ was unusually well read for a non-aristocratic woman of her time, it calls into question her true abilities when it comes to Chymistry. In addition to this, there a number of other cited sources of chemical recipes. A large portion of the centre of the book is written in a different handwriting style to those used at the beginning and end of the book, and contains copied passages from such novels as The Book of Sir Dunstan, which the author this time cites as the source. At the very end of the book, there is situated a number of recipes for producing precious stones, and these return to the same scrawling, messy handwriting used in the central section of the book mentioned previously. All this evidence would seem to suggest that the Chymistry parts of the recipe book were either written by another person or plagiarised from different texts.

The one criticism of have of the otherwise well written and interesting article Archer has produced is that in her evaluation of Wigges’ book. She acknowledges that it is very tempting to assume that Sarah Wigges herself was not the author of most of the chemical recipes within the book. She then goes on to say that it is most likely that Wigges did not even practise most of the rituals and chemical recipes used in her book, but that she was probably interested in these topics because of the use of chemistry in everyday household tasks such as distillation. To me, an interest in something is not the same as being an active practitioner. I for example, am interested in cricket, but I do not play and probably never will, just the same as Sarah Wigges may well have enjoyed reading and learning about Chymistry, but it is very unlikely she practised it. So when Archer goes on to state in her conclusion that instead of placing women at the fringes of Chymical discourse in Early Modern England, they can perhaps be placed at the centre, this greatly puzzles me, as much of the evidence she has collected from Wigges’ book and her other sources suggests that this was simply not the case. Women, although certainly interested in some aspects of chymistry, were not heavily involved in its practice in Early Modern England.

Political Recipes

By Sarah Osho

During my second seminar class for the digital recipes module, we discussed and debated what a recipe was and its conventional functions. My initial and general understanding of what a recipe encompassed was the transmission and exchange of personal knowledge, usually for the use of cooking. During the seminar, we also realised it would depend on the context and how the information is interpreted. This would help determine whether it was indeed a recipe. However, after reading ‘Constructing the Politics of Cookery: Authorial Strategy and Domestic Politics in English Cookery Books, 1655-1670’ by Claire Saffitz, the concept of a recipe is not a straightforward as it seems. I found the possibility of an early modern cookery book being used to spread royalist propaganda very fascinating. Who would have thought that recipes would not only be of a domestic nature but have a political dispute between the comparisons of two Queens too?

Image result for The Queens Closet Opened 1656
The Queens Closet Opened (1668)

The first section of Saffitz’s article looks at The Queen Closet Opened (1656), credited to Henrietta and Maria and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth (1664) credited to Elizabeth Cromwell.  Saffitz’s suggests these book illustrate how good housewifery and the strength of nation was seen as connected in the early modern era. Madeline Bassnett and Laura Knoppers point out that they were used as

polemical political tools in the decades before and after Charles II’s restoration to emphasize aristocratic and royalist social networks, promote courtly practices of the early Stuart era, and link the wellbeing of the national household to the monarchy.[21]

This very insightful as this indicates how both the domestic and political spheres have a connection just as the public and private ones do.  This could indicate the popularity and thereby influence it had in the early modern period. However, Saffitz argues that due to “male authorship and female subjectivity,” the attempt to merge political polemic with cookery book genre has resulted in the instability of these two texts.  Additionally, its structure conflicts its function as a practical cookery guide.

Saffitz also suggests there is an anxious tone to these two texts in the exposing and making private feminine spaces public.  The idea that William Montangu has pirated Henrietta Maria recipes, thereby ‘opening the Queen’s closet’, alludes to the idea of making her private hidden secrets, and in this case her political competence, known. As one goes through the recipes, it is apparent that the style is of a detached nature, showing how it does not contain any personal tastes and preferences in recipes and therefore no sense authorship. It reveals

a troubling tension between what is presented as a window into the private life of the Queen and her absenteeism from this space she is supposed to occupy.

This showed me how there were many more ways of reading and interpreting a recipe. If analysed closely, it can be informative in terms of tracing personality traits and the social aspects of a person or family home. Which recipes they used and from what backgrounds they originated from could be relatively useful in making social and political links.

Another aspect of the article was the idea that Henrietta Maria’s portrayal was that of an ideal queen and housewife, whereas Elizabeth is represented as a queen who was as “stingy toward her husband’s table as she is toward the nation”. Her reputation at the time was not a pleasant one amongst the poor.  During her reign 75% for the price of food increase and agricultural labour wages drastically fell as well. Knoppers stated Elizabeth was unwilling or unable to act hospitably in her role as protectoress. [29] The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth implies Elizabeth’s poor household management indicates and is linked to her incompetency as a wife and ruler, which are both damaging to England. This presents yet another way in which to interpret recipes and the authorship behind the different editions made. This book also shows me how women were conceived and judged by their domestic abilities and if inadequate, can be used against them.

To conclude, clearly recipes cannot be strictly defined in a singular sense. Their uses are never-ending and can be quite informative. Some can be used to just transmit knowledge from one family member to another, and others used to show and support a political statement.

Historians Can’t Code

On the third of November our class decided to attempt coding our transcription work. Being a history student I can’t say my knowledge of coding is anything more than minimal. Friends that do maths have often been on the receiving end of blank stares as they try to explain exactly what it is that they are doing, or how it all works. So when our teacher announced we were going to try our hand at it, naturally I was a bit concerned. Looking over the notes for the class did nothing to calm my nerves. A sea of dots and slashes made no sense to me, but even so I went to class with the determination to crack this. By the end of our lesson I definitely had, at the least, a shaky understanding of how to use it.

We were coding on the same website we transcribe on, Dromio, a Folger Shakespeare Library platform. The type of code we learnt is called XML, which is an extensible mark-up language. It essentially helps us describe a document which has been electronically converted. It makes it easy to import and export the document, as the code will always stay the same if you are moving it somewhere new. The coding means you can trace information easily, so for historians we can find things like amounts or ingredients. I’m sure you will find a lot more coherent instructions and explanations of what XML is and how you use it on any number of websites so instead this blog will write about why we used it and how I found the experience.

So why is XML coding helpful to historians? Essentially it is for ease of searching these documents. If you decided to transcribe a document into say, Microsoft Word there would be lots of details in the text that you would not be able to communicate that may be interesting to a historian looking into a document. XML allows us to make easy notes on things such as whether there are things crossed out, if there are things written in the margin, or if a word is written in shorthand. It also allows us to note things like amounts used in a recipe. This is essentially so the computer knows what kind of thing you have put in and, as Lisa put it, the document can ‘communicate’ with other documents by looking for common themes or structures.

Another benefit is that those poor suffering historians who are working on a field that is nowhere near where they live can now access the documents from the comfort of their own home. Lots of archives and libraries, such as The Wellcome Library, are now very helpfully digitizing their documents. This means a wider range of people can access this information. However without the coding involved in transcribing a document it may be hard to find the documents you need without manually searching through records that may or may not have the information you need. Transcribing with XML means lots of key information will be tagged for you, saving hours of work – Huzzah!

A very rough start to coding. My attempt at XML coding on V.a.619 Receipt book of Margaret Baker’s page 101 and 102

It was interesting, coming from a background with no knowledge of doing any actual coding. Admittedly we had a lot of help from our teacher, but I still felt like if needed I could do it myself and it definitely left me eager to try more. Leaving the lesson I decided to see if I could try and finish the coding of the transcription myself and managed to do a half decent job. There were some mistakes, for instance line breaks where there should not be line breaks, but I definitely benefited from it and actually found it surprisingly fun.

In a way it made it easier to acknowledge what the notes I was putting my transcription did. By coding in that I needed to put <amount> I knew that people would be able to search for that, rather than pressing a button and hoping I remembered to put it in. Although the system is primarily to help search and compare digitized texts in my view it actually helped me look closer at the text I was transcribing. This is actually fairly vital to a history student as many essays involve looking closely at primary sources and trying to understand them. For example, when transcribing the page there is a rather interesting ingredient involving a dead mans head. At first look it seems as though it is saying a pound of a dead mans head, but on closer inspection it says pouder (powder). This suggests all sorts of interesting things about what people did with the dead and how they were preserved, which could have been easily overlooked.

An interesting ingredient found in V.a.619: Receipt book of Margaret Baker page 101 and 102

However I am very glad that Dromio has a system in place to do this work for me. At the click of a button you can go from coding the XML yourself to a HTML, where the writing is presented without the code. This is definitely an awful lot easier to read.  While I know that I could do the coding if necessary it is an awful lot easier to let Dromio do the hard work for you. It did help me look more carefully at the things I was deliberately noting, but often the actual transcribing took a back bench to the coding. Hopefully with practice this won’t happen but for now, thank god for Dromio.

The end result of my coding. V.a.619: Receipt book of Margaret Baker page 101 and 102