Category Archives: Herbs

Baker’s many Agues

By Abbie Burnett

As a class we have been drawing to the end of our recipe books project. Our website exhibition on Margaret Baker’s seventeenth century manuscript has launched, and I am certainly proud of how far we have come and how much we have learnt about the digital world of early modern recipes.

Baker’s manuscript has offered us many topics to research and explore, and it was after a last leaf through of its pages on the Folger website that I realised a recipe title reoccurred numerous times: “For An Ague”.  I personally have transcribed pages in which an ague recipe is featured, however I did not realise then that variants of this recipe were not just included once or twice, but eleven times throughout the manuscript. 

Receipt Book of Margaret Baker folio 38r, ca. 1675, MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library

So, what is an ague? It is not a word in which I was familiar with, at first I thought it may have been a miss spelling of the word ache, but this seemed unlikely as Baker includes recipes for aches within her book and so she is obviously aware of its spelling. So I searched for the term ague in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to discover that an ague was a form of feverish sickness, most likely to be malaria. According to this article, the term ague remained in common usage in England until the nineteenth century. My curiosity about these recipes was truly ignited; Malaria- in England?!

This then begs the question, why would Margaret Baker, who we know to have lived in the midlands of the UK, require so many recipes to treat Malaria? Today malaria is common in warmer environments close to the Earth’s equator. The Centres of the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  sites locations for highest transmission of the disease in Africa south of the Sahara and in parts of Oceania. You wouldn’t contract it in England- one benefit o
f living on such a rainy island.

This map shows an approximation of the parts of the world where malaria transmission occurs in the 21st-century.

For Baker living in seventeenth-century England, this does not seem to be the case. The inclusion of eleven recipes to treat an ague suggest that the disease was frequently affecting her or someone within her social circle. Baker even includes a recipe to treat a pregnant woman with an ague.

Receipt Book of Margaret Baker Folio 81r, ca. 1675, MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library

Looking into the history of this disease I discovered an article on the British Medical Journal website titled Malaria in the UK: past, present, and futureFrom it I learnt that the disease was once indigenous to the UK, (and may once again be due to global warming but that’s an issue for another blog post…). It was only in the late nineteenth century, when the use of antimalarial drugs and improvements in the standard of living, that transmission of Malaria declined and eventually disappeared in England. Other evidence of agues prior to the nineteenth century can by found by looking to the famous William Shakespeare. Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1616 and included agues in 8 of his plays! In the Tempest, one character diagnoses another with an ague and attempts to treat him with alcohol:

“. . . (he) hath got, as I take it, an ague . . . he’s in his fit now and does not talk after the wisest. He shall taste of my bottle: if he have never drunk wine afore it will go near to remove his fit . . . Open your mouth: this will shake your shaking . . . if all the wine in my bottle will recover him, I will help his ague.”[1]

Alcohol and opiates were commonly used to suppress the shaking fevers of malaria. Interestingly, the recipes that Baker includes to treat an ague differ quite a lot. Some recipes include alcohol as their main ingredient, like this one on (f.66v) made of simply the ‘white of 2 new leade eggs… and putt to it a spounefull of aqua vite’ to be mixed well and drunk before the ‘fite douth come’. While others include more varied ingredients such as this one on (f.75r) with a mix of herbs, plants and medicinal waters, and then created by a more complicated methodology- distilling.  However there are some common ingredients in baker’s ague recipes. These include; liquor/ ‘aquavitie’, ‘reddest sage’, ‘eall’, and ‘ealder buds’.  A couple of Baker’s recipes are specifically for ‘quarten’ agues, the OED defines this as a fever  that reoccurs every fourth day. This was surely a very unpleasant form of Malaria, which Baker would have been keen to heal.

Receipt Book of Margaret Baker Folio 105v, ca. 1675, MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library

The fact that Baker had eleven recipes to deal with the problem of agues suggests that not one individual recipe was particularly effective in curing malaria. It is possible that once the patient stopped taking their medicine their symptoms returned. Alternatively, Baker’s family may have been especially susceptible to agues or many different strains of the disease may have plagued them. This would have been common knowledge to Baker’s friends and neighbours, and may explain why a recipe was contributed by John Reedman “for an ague all though thay have had it longe”.

Receipt Book of Margaret Baker Folio 126r, ca. 1675, MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library

The inclusion of ague recipes in Baker’s manuscript have helped reveal another aspect of the seventeenth-century world in which she existed. I am glad to have had that last leaf through of its pages. I’m sure whoever next takes up the task of continuing our work on Baker will continue to expose parts of her world this way. They will discover as I have, that her recipe book is much more revealing than it at first appears.  

[1]Paul Reiter, ‘From Shakespeare to Defoe: Malaria in England in the Little Ice Age’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal 6 (2006). 

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.

Bibliography

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

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.