Category Archives: Early Modern

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

Aristotle’s Master-Piece Completed, in Two Parts – The Unexpected.

When we think of recipes, we think of the cookbook that we have shoved in a cupboard, ready to use if the occasion ever should call for it – though for many it never does. However, when the historian wants to examine society, the recipe book remains that useful tool which wasn’t expected. That is what we have found, and we have learned that we can tell much from the archaic spellings and even more from the sentences that those spellings form. I admit, when I began the Digital Recipe Project, I was never under any sort of illusion that I would be coming into contact with a how-to guide on making dinner. Instead, I knew there would be some strange ingredients, and medicines for diseases that have long since been forgotten, and cures for which so ludicrous it can barely be believed. You’ve heard the phrase ‘a recipe for disaster’? Well, how else do you describe the fact that the methods for encouraging pregnancy were virtually the same as those to prevent it. I could not help but feel some modicum of respect for the women who were able to master the difference, as my twenty-first century mind surely could not.  


I was even prepared to face some equally silly sounding alchemical procedures. Models to make gold from lead, or love potions. Pseudo-science to fit into a book where asking God for assistance was sometimes as important as the right medicine. A recipe, by definition, is a set of instructions in order to create something. I was expecting anything that could come into that category.


Or so I thought. Despite my readiness for the weird and wonderful, what even my prepared mind was surprised to see was the presence of a guide to create a happy relationship, out of nothing. I have to admit, when I saw the name ‘Aristotle’, I cracked a smile. I’m fairly certain the philosopher who had died almost two thousand years prior had nothing to do with this, but I like the idea that part of his great philosophical thoughts involved such a topic. Regardless, it is an interesting read, if only because of its amusing relevance to the modern reader. Also, there’s something reassuring in knowing that people were as terrible at romance in 1697 as they are now.  



Onto the text itself, of the short extract I have read, which focuses on how to… get the mood right, for a night between husband and wife. In case anyone was uncertain, the author makes it clear that ‘without copulation, there can be no generation.’ I would hope that the reader was aware of this, I’m not sure why the author has bothered to write this, unless he’s simply posturing in preparation of his recipe of love.


I have to admit that I wasn’t certain on first reading what was meant by the term ‘restoratives’, aside from the obvious. But I could guess well enough to suit my purpose, so I forged on. It makes sense, if you want to increase your chances of pregnancy, have a healthy body. It’s not like that isn’t deemed true today, with the various vitamin tablets intended purely for those attempting to conceive – though I expect the restoratives of the seventeenth century were of a more natural composition, and was probably nothing more than a good quality meal.




So, step one, get your body healthy. Simple, makes sense, easy to remember, a good rule in general. Step two, have a glass of wine, (or two, or three – depends how ‘unequal’ the ‘match’ is, I suppose) and relax, be happy. The author warns against sadness and sorrow, stating that it can prevent conception, and even if it does not, can have a poor effect on the coming child. The scientific mind is sceptical of this, because there’s obviously no way anybody could have measured this. Thus we are given a display on the importance of superstition in early modern culture – oft the resort to find reason where science has yet to provide an answer.


The author goes on to warn against excess, though, so maybe that third glass of wine would have been too many, I thought. Again, common sense seems to be the theme of the text. Too much food or drink, and you’ll become ‘dull and languid’ – anybody who likes a roast dinner can get on board with that. But what the author goes on to explain next is somewhat unusual to our thoughts, explaining that good blood creates good spirits, and allows a man to perform his ‘dictates of nature’. What comes after the act is a man must stay with his wife, so that she stays warm – here we see the importance of the humoral explanation of medicine.




Finally, the woman should be left to rest, ensuring that she keeps happy thoughts, and refrains from any coughing or sneezing or turning or generally moving at all. That seems like a test, considering how bad a mood a person can get in if they are uncomfortable in bed.


So, it seems like recipes really do cover all bases. Even the historian can be surprised, when it comes to this subject. All in all, though, how different is the early modern method of setting the mood between disparate couples to the methods which modern couples use when struggling to keep the fire of passion alive. I would imagine it’s not that different, and this marks another case of the seemingly alien early modern world being far more familiar than we could have thought.


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.

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.

A Recipe To Life

By Faye Glover

Before The Digital Recipe Books Project I had always considered a recipe as just a set of instructions to make a food dish. How naïve! I have now realised how recipes are invaluable primary sources to studying the domestic sphere in the early modern period. Whilst food recipes from the period give historians more specific information, for instance which ingredients were favoured, for which I am sure culinary historians are grateful. Most recipe books from the early modern period include instructions for beauty regimes, medical prescriptions and household management. So besides telling us all the weird and wonderful foods contemporaries liked to make it give us a real insight in to their world.

The Johnson family recipe book is a great example of an early modern working recipe book. It contains an abundance of recipes, added between the years of 1694 and 1831. The Johnson family record numerous recipes for different foods, wines, medical prescriptions and also instructions for good housekeeping. The large volume of recipes alone tells us immediately that the Johnson family have a keen interest in note taking and passing on knowledge on such topics.

It is clear that this recipe book is a working book from the indications in the margins on most pages. Most recipes were tried and tested and this marked in the margins with either ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ or in some cases crossing out the recipe all together.


The Johnson family recipe book incorporates recipes from those they took recommendations from. For example, the some recipes are titled ‘Mrs Gardlands Way,’ showing that they family have taken advice from somebody else, although it is not clear who Mrs Gardland is. In addition, the Johnson family have a recipe titled ‘Lady Herons Plumcake.’ Although it is again unclear if Lady Heron is a friend of the family or if the recipe has even come from the Lady herself, this could indicate to the social status of the Johnson family to have such correspondences.


The recipes within the Newdigate family records differ from those in the Johnson Family’s recipe book. In class on the 17 November 2016 we looked at Lisa Smith’s transcriptions of the Newdigate family papers from the Warwickshire County Record Office. These papers included family births, deaths and correspondences as well as recipes for the household. From these recipes it would seem that the Newdigate family were not as interested in keeping notes on recipes as much as the Johnson family. There recipes were less as part of a working recipe book and instead noted down for a practical reason.

The Newdigate family records include many recipes for the garden and keeping the home, such as poisoning vermin and foxes, making ink and cementing stone. This may be because Sir Richard Newdigate the younger wrote and kept these, whereas it was a mix of men and women writing the Johnson family recipes. Lisa Smith has an interesting blog titled Tracing Recipes to Kill Vermin which explores recipes from the early modern period which deal with the issue of vermin.

The Newdigate family records do have a few interesting food recipes as well, such as the Essex method of making butter. This recipe highlights key regional differences in the preference of butter making as ‘the famous Epping Butter is all made in this manner and is more esteemed in London than any other.’

To see the extent to which women had to go to in order to prepare and preserve foods is eye opening as today we take it for granted that you can buy food already prepared and cooked. Similarly, to see how women made ointments and creams is interesting as it shows the interest they had, even two hundred years ago, in beauty regimes. The recipes for household management show the huge amount of hard work and thought which went into housekeeping in the early modern period. For this I have a newly found respect for the women keeping these recipe books.

In addition to those written by the everyday woman, some recipe books were published for the masses. Mrs Beaton’s Book of Household Management is probably the most famous example of this. Her book contains advice on almost everything, from assigning duties to domestic servants to recipes for hundreds of food dishes. Likewise Hannah Wooley’s A Supplement to the Queen-like Closet includes instructions for letter writing and for beauty regimes alongside her recipes for food!

Every recipe book tells a story. Whilst today we may think of recipe books as a guide to cooking in the early modern period they offered an extensive guide to the management of the household and professed the importance of good domesticity.

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

A Rookie Transcriber!

Having been a History student since starting school as a young child, I have never been as involved and hands on as I would’ve liked to be. There was never any opportunity to be a first hand historian, dealing and submersing myself within primary sources and documents. We would always be studying from a modern day perspective, simply learning, not involving and doing. This was exactly a reason why I chose the Digital Recipe Project,  I wanted to be more involved in History itself, I did not just want to know, I wanted to discover.

I knew that Transcribing was something I had never done, and something I had always wanted to do, but throughout secondary school, A Levels, and even through university, there was never a time where transcribing was an option.

Although I wanted to take part in transcribing, I was very apprehensive, and thought it would be very difficult to get to grips with. I remember visiting Essex Record Office in my first year as an undergraduate, and we had a swift talk about palaeography and transcribing. This lesson did make me feel apprehensive about Transcribing, I thought it would be very challenging, like there was some kind of important strategy which you needed to know in order to transcribe correctly.

However, looking back, I shouldn’t have been so fearful of this, I knew I wanted to transcribe, but I just didn’t know how. Like what Tracey mentions in her blog, the use of thorns, abbreviations, and superscripts were the most daunting elements of transcribing. I understand now that once you grasp a hold onto these features, they aren’t so confusing as one thinks. The two hour palaeography lab really boosted my confidence, not only did it break down the features of transcribing, such as the ones I mentioned, but it made me realise that I wasn’t on my own, there was a lot of people who hadn’t done any transcribing before either.


Superscript from Margaret Baker’s recipe book.

The recipe book we looked at was that of Margaret Bakers’, and at first, although I knew a bit more about transcribing, I still found it intimidating. Despite this, I was very excited to get stuck in,  and even posted a picture to a social media platform: snapchat, to express my excitement!



The palaeography lab was very useful, Lisa taught us what to look out for, and ways to help you if you have hit a ‘palaeography brick wall’ one could say. We had to be very careful, as early modern households would normally interchange letters (for example ‘s’ and ‘f’); something that Margaret Baker, had frequently done within her recipe book. We also learnt a few tips if we did get stuck, such as looking back at the reading to find similar letters in a word, if you are not understanding it. Also, reading the word in the accent which they would have had, would help us understand a word or sentence, as they normally wrote phonetically, for example Baker wrote spelt ‘rowle’ instead of ‘roll’ and ‘fower’ instead of ‘four’.

blog-rowle-image blog-fower-imagePhonetic spelling of ‘roll’ and ‘four’.


Transcribing was still quite daunting, maybe because it is so easy to slip into modern spelling and grammar, and this therefore could lead to incorrect transcribing. Due to this, transcribing was a slow and careful process, something that needed a lot more focus and careful analysis than I expected! Even with this careful focus, I still almost transcribed ‘sugger’ as ‘sugar’ and ‘chickinges’ as ‘chickens’. Luckily, reading over my transcription a good 4 times, prevented me from making this modern mistake.

Transcribing made me feel so involved, I didn’t feel like I was being taught about Early Modern households and recipes. I felt like I was peering through a window of their own home, reading through the exact recipes, warts and all, which they would have relied on all them hundreds of years ago. I felt like a professional Historian; I always think of people dealing with old documents as professionals, further adding and discovering historical information, but here I was, a third year History Student, doing it all myself, and I couldn’t help but feel like an important part of an interesting and important project!

I wasn’t just transcribing a document of a few recipes, but I was developing my knowledge about Early Modern Households. In Bakers’ recipe book, it goes from ‘To make a bake puddinge’ to ‘To make a french dish’ and then ‘to destroye fleaes’. It makes me think that nowadays, we only see a recipe book as a universal source for cooking food dishes. But it seems in Early Modern households, it was more like a household bible, referring to it for not only baking or cooking but even to keep their houses clean.


Maybe living this modern, 21st century life, we become blinded to the self-sufficiency of the past, an idea which is quite depressing. There was no retail or convenience store to quickly ease your house of insects, and no supermarket to buy your Sunday night desert, But why would you want to when you can spend your own time baking good food and making household conveniences for your own family. After all, nothing beats a home-made apple pie!

By Florence Hearn


Accent in Transcription

When it comes to reading, many students, and indeed many people in general, can definitely say they are pretty well practised. When it comes to reading texts from several centuries back, however, there are far fewer that are versed in the art. And it is something of an art. Just as the painter must learn the brush strokes, and the many details of creating his or her masterpiece, the historian must learn how to read once again, almost as though it was for the first time.


Perhaps this is something that can be sympathised with, by a painter who has lost use of his right hand, and now must learn with his left. Many of the practises are still the same, but both the painter and the historian must tackle the problem from a different angle, and learn the habits once again. After all, some of the language used, alongside spellings that might seem alien to the modern reader, must be adopted by the historian, in order to truly understand what is being written in a text, and what the words truly mean.


We all have our own struggles with transcribing documents of an archaic nature, but perhaps, rather than railing off several issues with the task of transcribing itself, it would be better to simply conclude that manuscripts are occasionally difficult to read, even in modern English. The fact that the language in the texts historians tackle routinely is different in many ways simply exacerbates this issue, up until the printing press is more widely in use, or documents are readily and conveniently transcribed on the internet, easily accessed by the modern historian. However, the issues with the language often make me note the similarities, too.


It is easily understood, on the most part, why modern English is constructed on the page as it is. A single, uniform type allows persons from wherever in the country, and even the world, to understand the text. This draws attention to the fact that early modern societies did not have such a globalised language to ascribe to, and many individuals would not know life far outside the county within which they were born and raised. I’ve often wondered if the English language is perhaps the most diversely spoken in the world. There seems to me to be more variation in the spoken accent ranging from the south – for example, my home county of Suffolk – to Scotland – for example, Edinburgh – than there is ranging from the East coast of the United States to the West coast. This difference in accent is not perceived in modern written text, due to the adoption of the standardised English language. From this post, I could as easily be from Ipswich as from Edinburgh.


And yet, in the texts of early modern England and Scotland, one can almost hear the accent come through the page. The word is written phonetically, in a language that could be easily understood by those in your locality, but perhaps more difficult to understand for a very distant reader. Of course, I’m not assuming that it would be so difficult to read a Scotsman’s book as it would be to read one in French, but there does seem to be a discernible difference. Whilst I could likely read a text from my county, or those surrounding in Essex and Norfolk with a degree of ease – assuming I’m given some legible handwriting – the meaning of words may take a little more concentration, as well as the way in which language is used. After all, it can take a bit of effort to simply translate a Tweet, written by a Northerner.


To conclude this post, I would like to suggest what I consider to be at least a contributing factor in why the modern English language developed, and was standardised. Most writing their manuscripts, be they family recipe books or anything else, often did not expect their work to see outside their own family, and friends. They almost certainly did not expect their work to be broadcast across the nation, and it’s perhaps more than doubtful that they thought historians would look at their pages with such interest, as we do. Therefore, the phonetic language and the implied knowledge of the locality makes sense, when reading these texts. When methods of disseminating knowledge with ease came into being, and were more accessible to the people, perhaps a standard form of English was required, to allow the knowledge of Suffolk to be learned in Edinburgh, and elsewhere. Of course, this is likely also the case across the world. I don’t claim to be knowledgeable in the regional variations of accent in other countries to any extent, but I would guess that any phonetic differences in the written word fizzled out at around the same time as the written word gained the ability to be spread with more ease and haste.

Good Housekeeping


I’m md15914530033sure my mother never imagined that her well used Good Housekeeping’s Cookery Compendium (1952) would ever feature in a blog. I’m equally sure she had absolutely no idea what a blog was or how it had become  part of  21st century communication. Suffice to say her cook book, my blog and recipe books of the past  are as similar as they are different. Language and its presentation may be the common medium through which their ideas are expressed but what is actually being communicated is potentially exclusive; inclusive; multi-layered; of their period and timeless. That’s a highbrow explanation of a sample of books and blogs I hear you say? Not necessarily. Along with my fellow students, also grappling with the concept of what constitutes a recipe, my ideas, have drastically changed.


Blogs, for example are recognised as cutting edge modern communication and could not be further from an early modern recipe book if they tried. Sure about that? What about both being conversational; making use of speech and language contractions?  Similarly, my mother’s 1952 compendium- low on conversation and high on instruction- also finds a parallel in the modern blog where the writer needs to impart information concisely within prescribed word counts. As a firm believer in the idea that history is not a foreign country but the idea of ‘us in retrospect’ constrained only by relatively primitive technologies, it becomes possible to see how we, through texts such as Castleton and Baker are connected irrespective of time. With this in mind transcribing Bakers recipes as part of EMROC becomes a personal experience, especially her medicinal scripts. The realisation that the early modern woman and I have always been synchronised at the point we recognise medicines  need to be used means that we are closer than we think. That our ancestral counterparts actually had to produce many of their own prescriptions as opposed to purchasing them, as I do, seems to me a nominal difference. Knowing this, the acceptance of how Baker’s ‘warm musk desolveth wyndynes’ and the importance of being able to identify exactly where a fore-rib of beef is located on a cow, appears less ludicrous, now  reimagined as a continuation of family provision and domestic knowledge over time.



Although Baker is our prescribed transcription project when you read around our subject it becomes clear just how much involvement women had in household management, aspiring to both proficiency and accomplishment.  As with the 1950’s novice housewife many women upon marriage found themselves charged with the running of a home, wellbeing of a partner and subsequent children and until the present day, where convenience foods and laboursaving devices prevail, these women had to provide largely from scratch. Even early modern gentlewoman Alice Le Strange who married in 1602 and, though not quite cooking and cleaning herself, found she needed to organise those whose labour supported the family estate. By trial and error she perfected her accounting, enabling her to both display agency and sustain control.



Interacting with us on levels beyond that of accounting, the language of the Johnson Recipe Book is both definitive and ambiguous. Culinary and medicinal recipes in different hands are evidence of gendering, with knowledge exchanged by several members of the household or possibly generations over time. Efficacy markings throughout the manuscript, plus text struck through, illustrate how the author interacted and experimented with the text. Inclusion of newspaper cuttings also shows awareness of current ideas which the author is prepared to filter into her own findings.  As a repository for personal and collected information perhaps this was both a private and communal workbook? As the latter, inscriptions in Greek speak of possible inclusions by educated men and the mention of a Lady Gresham and Sir Francis Prugen speak of elite social networking or at least social aspirations.


Sir Richard Newdigate         (1644-1702)

If not social aspirations, then social affirmations appear in the Newdigate family papers. Loose papers kept by what appears to be a dysfunctional family disclose genealogical information plus dark family secrets compounded by the erratic state of mind of its patriarch, who used both carrot and stick to manage a small army of  servants. A family with a social position to protect, among recipes to treat ‘obstinate scurvy’  make butter ‘the Essex way,’ prescriptions for vetinary cases’ and ‘directions for  making ‘indian glue,’ there are receipts telling of a ‘a method  for cementing stone…’ a collection of books in Italian and French, plus a collection of ‘ coins and Italian marble.’  


Times may change but a need for remedies, control and the desire to improve are constant. That’s why I include  my mother’s Good Housekeeping Compendium alongside the Johnsons and Newdigates of this blog. Never having to use outlandish ingredients or administer an estate the size of a small country, she did however, like them, feel the need to establish her domestic identity. The similarities between herself and mistresses Johnson and Newdigate range over three hundred years the only real difference being that mum was now buying into a growing consumer culture with its own definitive need for effective household management. Among the recipes for rock cakes and how to make lump-less custard Good Housekeeping promoted thrift and economy in the form of buying sturdy kitchen equipment and polishing utensils weekly to prolong their life and so save money.


In her time, and in her own way mum too experimented; physically with ingredients and mentally in her personal assimilation of the knowledge she received, leaving annotations on the pages of the family’s favourite recipes. The precise layout and colour presentation of my mother’s 1952 book is vastly different to those of the early modern housewife, but how to effectively pickle an egg  could well have been the result of earlier experimentations perfected by women like mistress Johnson. Alternatively, advice on thrift may have had roots in the accounting processes of Alice Le strange. I too, as a young child, claim involvement with the recipes in mum’s book, notably by scribbling ‘Thes one’ and ‘That one’ (this one/that one) across the pictures of my favourite cakes.  I  doubt however,  my involvement within the conversation of recipes, will ever be going down in history.

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The Stories in the Recipe Book

By Lisa Smith

Some time ago, Carla Nappi posed an intriguing series of questions over at The Recipes Project :

Reading through this text, I began to think deeply about these recipes as literary objects. What if we understand a recipe not just as a kind of text, but also as a form of storytelling? If a recipe does tell a story, what kind of story might that be? And how might understanding recipes in this way change the way we read and experience them?

Her questions came to mind after our seminar on ‘What is a Recipe?’–a seemingly simple question with a vastly difficult answer. Recipes were more than a set of instructions. They were forms of narration, at their most authoritative within the context of experience or case histories (Gianna Pomata), and a space for translation between people and cultures (Carla Nappi). Recipes included implied knowledge; not everything was written down. When transmitted, words, ingredients and measurements might gain or lose meanings. Expertise came from the ability to interpret recipes for specific situations, not simply to reproduce an outcome.

woolley-supplement-titleThe excerpts from Hannah Woolley’s A Supplement to the Queen-like Closet (1674) further complicated our answer. Alongside recipes for food, medicine and beauty, Woolley included detailed instructions for cleaning chimneys, examples of letter-writing, and an account of how to make a ‘pretty toy’ to catch flies (complete with ingredients, process and usage). The line between recipes and other didactic writing was clearly blurred. They share, after all, a common function of providing instructions.

But… if you took a step back from the individual parts, could you read the whole recipe book as a story—or, maybe even a recipe—in itself? Rachel Rich, for example, suggests that nineteenth-century print recipe books drew readers into narratives by casting them in the role of heroine. Dramatic tension came from the endless potential for the reader’s failure.

The Queen-like Closet also reveals tensions between the recipe’s narrative and instructional functions. Woolley framed her expertise—particularly her medical know-how—in terms of experience. In the foreword, she emphasised that she only included ‘such things as I have had many years Experience of, with good success’. She also provided cases of successful cures, demonstrating her authority and efficacious remedies.

Woolley also put herself in the role of heroine. For example, one case entailed her raising the dead.

A man taken suddenly with an Apoplexy, as he walked the Street, his Neighbours taking him into a house, and as they thought he was quite dead, I being called until him, chanced to come just when they had taken the Pillow from his Head, and were going to strip him.

She forced him to drink a remedy, rubbed and chafed him, opened the window and ‘in a little time he came to himself and knew every one.’ Although he only lived ten hours more, he had enough time to prepare for a good death by making peace with God and putting his affairs in order (14).

Heroism appears in other ways in the Queen-like Closet. Julia Lupton, for example, interprets the book in terms of being a form of ‘shelter writing’—the discourse of housekeeping, particularly in the face of hardships. Many of Woolley’s cases or examples referred to the daily hardships visited upon women: from medical assistance for an abused woman to a sample letter breaking the news of a child’s death. Woolley’s urban middling-sort audience could aspire to becoming heroines—or, at least, excellent, upwardly-mobile housewives… if they followed her instructions.

Therein lies the rub; where judgment was required in more complicated cases, Woolley ‘dare not therefore adventure to teach, but only those things wherein People cannot easily Erre.’ If successful outcomes in using Woolley’s book came purely from reproducing what was written down, rather than exercising good judgment in the interpretion of what was written, were these recipes merely a set of instructions? And to what exactly were the readers aspiring?

Considering the whole, we might read A Supplement to the Queen-like Closet in three ways.

  1. A collection of useful knowledge that could teach women how to keep house. Good judgment was not necessary for success, as each section should be easily reproduced. (Or, according to ‘An Advertisement’ in the book, Woolley’s remedies could even be purchased directly from her!)
  2. One large recipe for the life success of aspirational housewives, in which each ‘recipe’ or recipe-like entry is only one step. In this way, it wouldn’t matter if the individual parts were merely reproducible instructions, as the end goal was to become a housewife who had learned good judgment through her own practice of Woolley’s advice.
  3. A story in which heroines—Woolley, suffering women, or the reader—attained success in re-establishing domestic harmony. Within the story, each recipe performed a particular function: offering the perfect dish, healing neighbours, cleaning dark chimney corners, or putting one’s best cosmetically-enhanced face forward.

woolley-addressPerhaps recognising the tension in her text, Wolley added that ‘for many other things which I cannot in few words relate, if any Person will come to me, I will satisfie them to their content’. Those who wanted a deeper knowledge than instructions could seek it out; their story did not have to end with this book.

Knowledge dispensed, Woolley wished her readers ‘all the happiness I may’ (200). She was clear, though, that the success or failure was entirely up to the reader:

Ladies, I hope your pleas’d, and so shall I be,

If what I’ve Writ, you may be gainers by:

If not, it is your fault, it is not mine,

Your benefit in this I do design.

A fourth narrative, then: the expert passing on her knowledge step-by-step, with the potential for the recipient’s failure. Rachel Rich concludes that recipe books did not always have a happy ending, but at least with the Queen-like Closet, there were a range of possible endings–from the merely useful to the expert with good judgment.