Reading someone else’s handwriting can be a daunting task in any occasion, however, when coupled with old italic handwriting and phonetic spelling the text in front of you may even appear as completely unreadable at first glance. trust me, we’ve all been there! luckily for you I have put togethere some of the most important rules to follow when reading old handwriting. so whether you’ve got an essay due or you simply enjoy looking at old recipes then look no further.
First of all, it is important to look at the text as a whole, this is due to the phonetic spelling which was followed by most people. There was also no standardised spelling of the English language until the 18th century so noting the date of the text can help with identifying specific words. Try to identify the different letters which may sometimes occur in random order. it is also helpful to find out where the text was written as regional accents affected the spelling of words. Sounding out the word in the accent of the author can both fun and helpful so don’t be shy. Identifying the type of text you are looking at can also help to predict which phrases or words are likely to appear. However, if you struggle to identify the word straight away, you can label it as a question mark and come back to it later.
Once you’ve had an initial look at your chosen document you may have identified some emerging patterns between the letters, here are some things to look out for: The writing of ‘Y’ and ‘I’, ‘I’ and ‘J’, ‘U’ and ‘V’, ‘S’ and ‘F’. In the example below you can see what looks like a long ‘f’ in the writing style of ‘please’ and ‘of’. Although these letters look awfully similar they represent ‘S’ and ‘F’ where appropriate so its important to be careful.
Another important thing to know is the meaning of superscript letters which is represented with a single letter followed by a raised smaller one such as this ‘Wt‘. these are just a shorter way of writing a word with ‘Wt‘ meaning ‘with’, ‘Wth‘ meaning ‘which’, and ‘Mr’ meaning ‘master’. The example below shows how the word ‘which’ may appear in the text.
Thorn is also important to look out for which is represented by letters such as ‘Y’ which stands for ‘TH’, ‘Ye‘ which stands for ‘THE’ and ‘Yt‘ which stands for ‘THAT’. The example below shows how the word ‘THE’ could be represented in your chosen document. However, it may not be clear straight away which thorn is being used, therefore, it is important to keep coming back to the text with a fresh perspective for further analysis.
In sources such as recipes, account records, town registers etc numbers can be represented in Roman numerals as the standard ‘I’=’1’, ‘II’=’2’. However, when written in English documents these numbers may look more like ‘j’=’1’, ‘ij’=’2’ etc. This will depend on your particular document. If you’re looking at a will or a similar type of document then understanding the money calculations which were used is a useful tool to have. A Pound is marked by ‘li’/’£’ and is equivalent to 20 Shillings. A Shilling is marked by an ‘S’ and is equivalent to 12 Pennies. A Penny is marked by a ‘d’ and is equivalent to 2 Halfpennies.
The above example however, shows that there wasn’t a standardised way of writing anything, so to fully understand a text you will have to play around with it, maybe even ask your friend to look over it too, just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. However you choose to tackle this task, make sure to take your time and don’t give up! Happy transcribing.
A Doctor, a Herbalist, and a Chef – the early modern ’cookbooks’ have a common theme in that there is very little distinction or separation between the recipes; a recipe for making a Sweetmeat cake would be next to a solution for heat in the face, followed by how to whiten cloth using methods found at home. Similar to how a husbandman was expected to be proficient in many different roles in Graham Markham’s book, the wife of a family was expected to be more than just someone who cooked or was simply the mother of the family as is the case for some modern thinkers. However although this is an impressive collection found in almost all of the early modern cookbooks for women, what it actually shows is that early modern women did not really make the special differences that modern society puts between medicines and cooking; instead they saw it all together as one area of knowledge. How far this was the case and why are some important questions that may help to give insight on the values and mind set of early modern housewives.
An early modern wife, as according to Gervase Markham again, was expected to be proficient in main areas of work and expected to be a part time doctor and be able to draw out bones, be able to create medicines ‘for any consumption, and, as some attitudes sometimes never, still be expected to cook ‘puddings of all kinds’. Similar to Markham’s book on what it took to be a good husband, this is a daunting list of things that one woman was supposed to know how to do but again, there are similar considerations to Markham’s other book. Firstly, it is quite unlikely that whoever owned the book would be expected to remember all of it and never touch the book again; rather it is meant to be used as a reference book that can be used when needed and that the reader would only needed a passing knowledge rather than having the detailed understanding that an actual expert would have. Also, it is unlikely that the average housewife would have access to a book like this and that it would be read by middle class petty landowners wives instead. One of the largest things to consider is the literacy rates of women of the time that were almost always lower than similar classed men, often around 90% of illiteracy in most areas. As such the book would have had to have been read to the wives by either their educated husbands or local educated men, and then most likely read to the poorer women that worked for the wife, and by extension her household. All together what these considerations mean is that Marham’s attempt at creating a ‘cookbook’ similar to others at the time did not draw a line between medicine and foods as described earlier; he instead packaged it all together in a way that can provide a refence guide for middle class housewives of the time rather than creating separate books for cooking, herbal remedies etc.
Gervase Markham, The English hous-wife containing the inward and outward vertues which ought to be in a compleat woman … a work generally approved, and now the fifth time much augmented, purged, and made most profitable and necessary for all men and the general good of this nation, (1653), pp. 4-5
 David Cressy, ‘Literacy in Seventeenth-Century England: More Evidence’,The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 8, No. 1, (Summer, 1977), p.148
With the plainer and more common household cookbook, this lack of separation between cooking and medicines is more noticeable and organic. Household cookbooks tended to be things that were passed down through families, with each generation adding new recipes they have found or editing older ones. But across these generations there is still no distinction between cooking for eating and cooking for medicinal or household purposes. Its not until 1853 with Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton that the idea of what a modern cookbook is set down, the idea of a reference book that is solely just for foodstuffs with measures and detailed instructions. Before this the majority of cookbooks were still collections of all types of recipes that were vaguely worded. Even going into the more ‘rational’ minded eighteenth century where there was a greater interest in the professionalisation of areas of study such as medicine cookbooks were still including medicinal recipes. This shows that even though there is definitely a shift towards having a book that is solely about cookery there is still some aspect of the earlier mindset of not separating the cookbooks, only keeping all types of work in the kitchen together.
Hannah Glasse The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, (1747), p.328
An explanation for this lack of separation however could be one of convenience. Households passing down these cookbooks were simply writing down what they knew worked and what they assumed their families would need to know. They were unlikely to want to leave behind a large number of books all written on separate subjects; they are likely to have preferred to keep it all together for cost, time, and accessibility reasons. Cost wise, it was far cheaper to get one big book of blank pages that could be added to over time rather than a large number of separate books. Time wise it took significantly less time to write short recipes in one book rather than separating them. As for accessibility the issue of illiteracy rates in women shows up again, as it would be easier to get somebody to read out a small section of one cookbook that was needed at the time rather than reading out verses from various books. Despite this however, the fact that even though printing and literacy rates went up which made it far easier to produce these cookbooks, mass produced and handwritten cookbooks continued to make no distinction between cooking food and creating medicines.
Overall one of the most common elements of early modern cookbooks that could be found in the homes of middle-class housewives was that they were a jack of all trades book. In it would be recipes for food, medicines, and basic first aid. This shows that for the most part there was no real distinction between the preparation of food and the preparation of medicines; they were essentially the same business and it was expected for women to be able to do both. While there are some explanations that this was more due to practicality rather than cultural reasons, the fact that it endured for so long suggests that this is not the case for all cookbooks.
There is a time in everybody’s life when they move out from their parent’s house and start their adult life. Cooking and starting a recipe collection is a key part (for some) of becoming an adult. While reading Elaine Leong’s and Amanda E. Herbert’s articles it struck me that there are many things in common with early modern people and with us – modern people. Family recipes, cookbooks were an essential part of their lives, but from my experience it is still important to many today.
Early modern women’s shared labour, attempt to cooperate/collaborate can be seen in household inventories, guidebooks, prescriptive texts and manuscript recipe books. What I found really interesting is that women did not just get advice from their closer group within their class, but also from below their class. Mary Chantrell is a perfect example to this, as she noted that one of her recipes were from a laundress, and another had been approved by an older woman.They trusted those who had experience and wisdom, no matter their class. According to Herbert, examples such as this one prove that elite women contacted and worked with women of all kinds both within and outside their homes. Recipes allowed them to share their knowledge about ingredients and materials, also about how to negotiate with male shopkeepers, which means seeking other women’s advice was a tool to advance their female independence too.
Manuscript recipe books
Manuscript recipe books were handwritten books, including lists of ingredients and step-by-step instructions for making food, cosmetics, handicrafts and medicines. Women shared advice and knowledge within these books to a range of women; it could be to relatives, servants, neighbours. In addition, they defended female education, knowledge and space against the male physicians and authors. Recipes were the main platform for saving information and knowledge for the future in the early modern household. Many gathered recipes alone, but most times they borrowed the recipes from their friends, family members and neighbours (the closer the person the more reliable the recipe was). Some recipes were passed onto next generations. If they lent their book to someone else, they could communicate on the margins of the pages, as that was a place for more information or adaptions to be shared.
Women were proud of these collections, and noted which recipe was from whom. Recipe books were worthy enough to mention in inventories, moreover, their value made them to be the perfect gift. Mothers gave them to their children to guide them, especially to help their daughters to become a proper housewife. Recipe books, especially when given as a gift, had a ‘starter’ portion, which was quite helpful from my point of view. This ‘starter’ collection could be inherited or copied by the owner of the book. 
Female alliances and recipe sharing in the modern world
Montserrat Cabré’s blog about recipes and emotions made me think about how giving recipe book as a gift was more an act of love, rather than just to a guide to become a housewife. Cabré argues that recipes connect women and generations, furthermore she adds it created a space for conversation. Food and dishes that the whole family loves always brings back nice memories, so passing on this knowledge is not only a help of survival, but an act of love too.
When I was reading the articles by Leong and Herbert, it surprised me how similar early modern recipe book traditions and my family’s traditions are. My mother has been collecting recipes for sixteen-seventeen years at this point. Her collection consists of two notebooks, they have both printed and handwritten material, a mix of everything. Similar to early modern examples, my mother wrote adjustments to her recipes too, especially to the ones which she collected from others. When I decided to move to the UK from Hungary, my mother gifted me a notebook with my favourite recipes inside of it, which is basically the ‘starter’ portion of my collection. I think this is the most interesting similarity, as ‘starter’ collection as a whole was a completely new information to me. I never thought it was a way to gift recipe books, I just thought it was something clever my mother did.
Early modern recipe books were not only useful for everyday life, for example in Anna Cromwell’s situation they came handy when emigrating to the Americas. These recipes helped her to adapt to the new ingredients and dishes. I would like to think that in a way I was in a very similar situation to Anna Cromwell when moving to England, as my mother’s gift helped me adjusting to the new environment and helped me feel like I am home. Using my mother’s gift as a guide I had to adapt to different ingredients and spices. Obviously my situation was not as drastic as back then, but between countries there are very significant differences when it comes to basic ingredients like milk and flour (even salt is less salty here than back home!) and recipes needed to be adapted to achieve a similar result as back home.
To have another example from today’s world, my mother’s friend received a recipe book from her mother too. But this one looked more similar to the early modern ones because it did not only have food recipes, but also tips and tricks when it came to the household. For example it had advice on what to do when someone was expecting guests, what to do when red wine spills on the table and so on. In a sense it is very similar because its purpose was to prepare the daughter to become a knowledgeable ‘housewife’. I think these two examples show that we still have female alliances in a way, as the knowledge sharing/recipe collecting tradition never changed, only the time and space.
Ever since I received my gift I have been adding new recipes and adjustments to it. Early modern wives, daughters even male members of the household did the same thing; they expanded their collections, wrote adjustments next to recipes. It was very interesting to see how similar early modern examples were to my case, because my family never knew about ‘starter’ collections until I read the articles by Leong and Herbert. Hopefully I will be able to carry this tradition, which has been around since the early modern times.
Herbert, Amanda E., Female alliances; gender, identity, and friendship in early modern Britain (New Haven, 2014).
Leong, Elaine, ‘Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household’, Centaurus, 55 (2013).
The moment I got this assignment I knew I wanted to reconstruct a historical recipe: I love cooking so historical reconstruction is a particular interest of mine. I decided to reconstruct the recipe for “Blanch Creame” from folio 13 verso of manuscript Va429. I chose this recipe because it seemed a relatively simple recipe that would be easy to follow and I had, perhaps naively, assumed that it would be easy to assume what the result would be.
To make things easy I used my transcription of the recipe finished in class.
“To make a blanch Creame
Season a pinte of the thickest Creame with Rose water and Suger set it to boile then take the whites of 10 Eggs doe away the treads beat them with a little could creame then stirr them into your creame when it boiles upp and stirr it continually untill it comes to curd then take it up and passd – it through a haird sive beat it with a spoone till it be could and then dish it”
I then did some research on what kind of dish I should be aiming for: I knew it would be a sweet dish since it involved cream, sugar, and rosewater but I wanted to be sure in terms of consistency and ingredients. My searches for “blanch creame” did not turn up anything so I instead focused on “blanch” on the OED. I assumed it would refer to the cooking process but instead this was the definition:
“blanch, adj. Obsolete exc. Historical. 1. White, pale. Chiefly in specific uses, as blanch fever, blanch powder, blanch sauce. Obsolete. 1475 Liber Cocorum (Sloane) (1862) 28 (heading) Blaunche sawce for capons. 1584 T. Cogan Hauen of Health cxxvi. 110 A verie good blanch powder, to strow upon rosted apples.”
From this I learnt that the ‘blanch’ referred more to the colour of the sauce than the cooking process and I was able to make my first important decision. I would usually use unrefined brown sugar to cook with to maintain historical accuracy but I chose to use a white sugar so as to preserve the colouring it was named after. I then did some research as to what a “creame” could be, starting with Marissa Nicosia and Alyssa Connell’s blog “Cooking In The Archives”. Cooking In The Archives became an invaluable source for me throughout this recipe reconstruction, from the research stages to the cooking.
I looked for any “cream” recipes on the blog and found two recipes that came in the most useful: “Rashberry Cream” and “Snow Cream”. Snow Cream involved large amounts of cream flavoured with rosewater, and the Rashberry Cream involved boiling cream with sugar and eggs until thickened. Neither were exactly what I was looking for, but they helped me to decide on rudimentary measurements for my recipe. I had intended to reduce the volume of the recipe like Marissa usually does but I ended up making the full 1 pint of cream, 10 egg whites recipe.
Here is my reconstructed recipe for “Blanch Creame”.
1 Pint Cream 10 egg whites 1 tbsp sugar 1 tsp rose water
1: Combine cream, sugar and rose water in saucepan. Set on a medium-low heat to boil. 2. Separate egg whites and yolks, removing the “threads” from the whites 3. Beat eggs with a little leftover cream 4. Pour in eggs to boiling cream and mix quickly until thick 5. Pour into basin and mix until cooled
6. If not happy with taste or consistency, put in pastry case and bake into a more appealing tart.
As you can see, something happened at the cooking stage of the creame. The biggest problem with reconstructing historical recipes is that so much of the recipe is presumed knowledge: what constituted “seasoning” the cream and what was a “curd”? As I was unsure how the recipe would taste after cooking I added 4 tbsp extra sugar and about 5 tsp of rosewater as I cooked. I boiled and stirred the mix until it thickened to a point where I did not think it would thicken anymore – , was that a curd? A quick look at a Lemon Curd recipe advised far slower cooking than my recipe but I was using many more eggs so I stuck to my keeping it on high heat after boiling. I tried to pass the mix through a sieve but it was far too thick; I gave up and left it lumpy.
Beating it as it cooled didn’t seem to have any effect on the texture so I popped into the fridge and let it set overnight. The next day the cream had thickened into a custard texture that tasted very sweet and also strongly of rosewater. People did enjoy it, surprisingly enough, and here are a few of their comments:
M said that it “tasted weird and was not very good by itself. The texture was like a cheesecake filling and very sweet”.
D said that the texture was “the weirdest” but he liked the light flavour.
S said that he thought it would be “good with strawberries” and reminded him of a filling for cake or French pastries.
This focus on it as a filling led to a moment of inspiration, and with a trip to Tesco a pastry shell was procured and the rest of the filling put in it. 20 minutes in the oven and what came out was a floral custard-y tart that was completely finished over three days. So, a success in the end.
Writing this up has helped me come to a few conclusions if I ever wanted to make this recipe again: first, I added far too much sugar and rosewater. Second, I should have cooked it slower especially when adding the eggs. Third, I should have the effort to put it through the sieve a little at a time and beat it afterwards. Finally, I think serving it with fruit would have been a nice accompaniment.
It was both fun and frustrating to make a recipe that I had no outside help on: I couldn’t google other recipes to double check or ask anyone else, and I had no pictures or outside information to know what I was aiming for. In the end it was a fun experiment and I hope to make more historical recipes soon.
I came across a recipe for ‘A plum cake’ by lady Backs in Debora Branch’s recipe book dating back to 1725 and I felt inspired to recreate it. However, while studying the ingredients list, I have found that it is not as straight forward as it appears to be. This meant that after some considerable research, some minimal adaptations had to be made to the original recipe, but I did follow the methodology as in scripted.
2 pound of flour – 907g
Quarter pound of sugar – 113g
Half an ounce of mace- 14g
11 eggs- 8 whites
Quarter pint orange flower- 142ml
Half pint of ale yeast- 284ml
Pound and a quarter of butter- 566g
3 quarters of a pint of cream- 426ml
3 pounds of currants – 1.360kg
Firstly I have to address the fact that although this is a plum cake, the ingredients list does not contain any plums. The recipe does however call for 3 pounds of currants, so I took the liberty of looking up the definitions of the two in the oxford dictionary which I have demonstrated below.
‘Plum is the edible fruit of the tree Prunus domestica (family Rosaceae), which is a fleshy drupe of variable size, usually having purple, red, or yellow skin with a dull powdery bloom when ripe, a sweet pulp, and a flattish pointed stone. Of the many varieties, the sweeter and juicier kinds are used as dessert fruit and are dried as prunes, while more astringent types are used in cooking and in making jams and alcoholic drinks.’https://0-www-oed-com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/view/Entry/146028?rskey=qVeI43&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid
Currants on the other hand are raisins or dried fruit prepared from a dwarf seedless variety of grape, grown in the Levant; much used in cookery and confectionery. currants can also be a small round berry of certain species of Ribes called Black and Red Currants. Currants were introduced into English cultivation some time before 1578, when they are mentioned by Lyte as the Black and Red ‘Beyond sea Gooseberry’. They were believed at first to be the source of the Levantine currant; Lyte calls them ‘Bastarde Currant’, and both Gerarde and Parkinson protested against the error of calling them ‘Currants’.https://0-www-oed-com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/view/Entry/46089?redirectedFrom=currant#eid7552580
In this case, as well as with other plum cake recipes of the time ‘Plum cake’ refers to a wide range of cakes made with either dried fruit (such as currants, raisins, or prunes) or with fresh fruit. Plum cakes made with fresh plums came with other migrants from other traditions in which plum cake is prepared using plum as a primary ingredient.https://bakeryinfo.co.uk/news/archivestory.php/aid/1848/18th_Century_plum_cake.html
I also came across another ingredient referred to in the recipe as ‘orange flower’, unsure of what this was I consulted similar recipes for plum cake at the time as found a couple of examples of an ingredient called orange flower water such as the example shown below and is most likely referring to orange ‘blossom’ water.
Orange Blossom Water was a very popular flavoring in the 18th and 19th centuries in American and English cookery. It is derived from the distillation of orange flowers from the Seville Orange tree or other varieties of orange trees. The use of orange blossom water in cookery comes to the west from North Africa, The Middle East, and the Mediterranean. The flavour of this distilled water is flowery but not too overpowering.http://atasteofhistorywithjoycewhite.blogspot.com/2014/10/cooking-with-orange-flower-water-orange.html
Because I couldn’t get my hands on orange blossom water I instead opted to use the zest of 3 oranges, although it may not have achieved the same effect, neither of the ingredients is too overpowering so I don’t think it strayed too far from the original outcome.
Another error that I encountered was that the original recipe calls for ‘ale yeast’ this would be easily accessible in an early modern household because it was common to brew your own beer at home. However, I instead used bakers yeast in my cake because it more readily accessible in supermarkets today. this meant that instead of using half a pint of ale yeast I used 14 grams of bakers yeast as this was the correct quantity per the amount of flower I used and I mixed that into half a pint (284ml) of water to create a similar effect.
lastly, the recipe calls for mace which I did not have and doesn’t specify how much nutmeg and cloves to use so because mace and nutmeg have a very similar flavour, I used 18 grams of nutmeg to make up for the two. Along with 4 grams of cloves which I ground up into a powder.
In the end I mixed all the dry ingredients together and then all the wet ingredients together before throwing everything into one big.. big bowl and combinng it all together. I let it proof twice to let it rise, this was done before and after I added all my mixed dried fruit and I left it to bake on 180c for 45-50 mins before turning the oven down to 110c for an extra 10-15 mins. I took my cake out of the oven and let it cool down completely before serving.
When we think of Christmas, most of us will think of the massive amounts of food we have left over at the end of the day. If you are like my family one joint of meat is not enough, we typically having gammon, turkey and beef. But just what did the Georgians feast on at Christmas and how similar is this to what we eat today?
After the English Revolution (1642 to 1660) Christmas was made illegal in England under the rule of radical Puritan, Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell banned the festivities as the Puritans believed that “excessive eating, drinking, and partying” were sinful acts and that the day should instead be a sober day of reflection.After his death, the monarchy was reinstated, with King Charles II on the throne. Christmas was back!
Georgian Christmas spanned much longer than in the Medieval and Tudor period or than our own festive period today. Beginning on St. Nicholas Day, December 6th, to Twelfth Night, January 16th. The month-long celebration included attending church, exchanging presents, lavish get-togethers and parties.
Christmas in this period saw large feasts, parties and get-togethers, meaning the quantity of food needed was massive. A lot of the food preparation was thus done in advance. Dishes like boiled puddings were something the kitchen staff and cooks could prepare around a week beforehand without them going bad. Cold food was also something that was customary.
Some dishes the feasts included were turkey or goose, venison but this was mainly eaten by the gentry, Christmas pudding, mince pies, twelfth cake, which is like modern Christmas cake, soups, cheese and a whole array of other meats and vegetables.
As Christmas is a time for festivities and parties, many in the Georgian era consumed a lightly spiced ale with honey from large drinking bowl. The Wassail bowl was passed around the dinner table from guest to guest. The Anglo-Saxon term “weas hael” is what the Wassail Bowl was traditionally toasted to – meaning “for your health”.
Mince pies have always been a popular item to eat around Christmas time. Today, the average Briton consumes an average of 27 mince pies at during the Christmas period. However, mince pies haven’t always been the sweet treat we know them as today.
Traditionally, mince pies did contain mincemeat, typically being beef or mutton but in this period the type of meat would depend on the household income. These mince pies were a savory dish, rather than a sweet. Something strange about the mince pies is that during preparation an old tale demands that the mixture should only be stirred anti-clockwise. Also, the shape had great significance. They were an oval shape to represent the manger baby Jesus slept in. Around Christmas, stars were put on top of the mince pie to represent the star that led the shepherds and kings to Bethlehem; this is something we still see today.
When looking at King
George III’s Christmas Day Menu and many of the other menus for this festive
period, “minced pyes” are a popular item incorporated into the daily feasts. You
can see “2 dishes of minced pyes” at the bottom of the image to the right.
If you are interested in baking your own
traditional Georgian mince pies, you can find a recipe put together by the
National Trust here.
Christmas pudding was regularly referred to as plum pudding within the Georgian era as one of its main ingredients was plum. Christmas pudding was traditionally made with chopped up pieces of meat, but within the Georgian period, suet was used instead. Again, like mince pies, plum pudding is something that frequently appears on King George III’s royal menus.
If you would like to make
your own Georgian Christmas pudding this year take a look at the recipe below.
A boiled Plum Pudding – Hannah Glasse (18th-century recipe)
“Take a pound of suet cut in little pieces not too fine a pound of currants and a pound of raisins storied eight eggs half the whites half a nutmeg grated and a teaspoonful of beaten ginger a pound of flour a pint of milk beat the eggs first then half the milk beat them together and by degrees stir in the flour then the suet spice and fruit and as much milk as will mix it well together very thick Boil it five hours”. – Hannah Glasse [
I Hope you have enjoyed reading about
Georgian Christmas dishes and get to try out the recipes. Happy baking!
In the modern world, spending time in the kitchen and developing new methods and recipes for cooking has somewhat diminished – with many preferring the sociability and immediate readiness presented by restaurants and fast-food establishments. With so much choice and a wide-range of cuisine styles, it is easy to see why but whilst we are spoilt for choice, are we depriving ourselves of the same choices and styles in our own kitchens?
Elaine Leong’s article on collecting knowledge has made me consider what culinary secrets my family may hold, if any and why such knowledge has not been passed down to me as readily as it may have been for a first-born daughter in an early modern household. Leong explains that the family worked as a collective and that no one member was exempt from contributing to the pages of what would become a family book, dedicated to food recipes and medicinal recipes for the curing or relief from ailments but also of lineage and family history.  Whilst I can’t imagine my parents keeping such records, as they too prefer the efficiency of modern-day dining and have the luxury of modern healthcare, I thought of my nan, who seems to always be hand-preparing food for our visits.
Upon speaking with her, I soon came to the realisation that whilst early modern households preferred the handwritten sources of knowledge, my Nan retained hers internally. When I questioned her on any potential family recipes passed down from her mother and Nan she simply replied with “It’s all in my head. I remember because I watched my mother do it so often, it just became something ingrained.” To my surprise she also told me that she had never measured anything and that written recipes, because of their reliance on measurements, were better thought of rather than written down – as by reading them, you felt restricted to follow them precisely. Instead she judges her quantities based on visual appearance – something else she attributes to watching her mother closely in the kitchen. All the recipes she then went on to give examples of tended to be those of the dessert type – puddings and cakes.
When I questioned her further on why she had never
passed down the knowledge to my mother, she simply replied that it was because
she didn’t need it and had never asked or showed an interest in collecting the
knowledge. My mother, whilst she cooks many fresh and homey meals, does not
tend to make things such as bread and puddings from scratch – which is mainly since
they are so cheaply and readily available in the supermarkets pre-made.
Modern-day families tend to be working families now, with each member absent
from the house daily, going about work and education. When and if the entire
family does reside in the same room at the same time, time is very much of the
essence and so in respect of my mother’s household, there simply isn’t the time
to invest so much in to baking and dessert making.
Only a few hours after the initial conversation with my Nan, I received another call from her – correcting her early notion that every recipe she had was mentally retained as she had a digitally kept version of a recipe for Irish Soda Bread passed down from my granddad’s side of the family. It had come in to her possession after a distant family member had come across the recipe in his ancestors’ collections and had transcribed it digitally to distribute to those members of the family that lived too far from him to be able to verbally communicate. Upon glancing at the recipe, I suddenly came to a realisation about my own habits of collecting information.
Whilst I have already mentioned my awareness of my Nan hand-preparing food, I personally, had never asked for her advice when preparing food, myself. The digital format of the soda bread recipe was so familiar to me that I realised that I had spent a great deal of time looking up recipes through search engines, rather than collecting it generationally and I had done so naturally and without thought. With everything so readily available via the internet and with the devices connected to the internet being so vast and numerous, I had flocked to them for the answers to my questions, rather than speaking with the people in my family. As a product of my time, I also tend to buy ready-made ingredients from the supermarket and much of my daily food is plucked from the depths of my freezer. Whilst I cannot change my past actions, glancing over the surface of the potential culinary secrets of my family has made me determined to give use to my kitchen and to make the most of the knowledge that could be available to me, if I only I could stray from the convenience of the internet and verbally and physically communicate with those around me.
Today we have the world at our finger tips. We can order products or goods online and have them delivered right to our front doors. We can pop to the shops and have fruits and food goods from around the world available to us. If we want to try something new, we have endless resources to help us find the best recipes. The accessibility we have to recipes today has removed the importance of cooking advice and recipe books being passed down, edited and improved through the generations; now we simply go onto the internet or the shops and buy or find the best recipe that suits us. The lack of exclusivity of recipe books today in comparison to the seventeenth century has inspired me to follow a recipe and record the results. From this experiment I hope to discover if there is something to be said for the almost casual formatting of recipes and the smells and flavours people in the seventeenth century experienced and if the same can be created in a twenty-first century kitchen.
make lemmon Marmalad’ is a recipe from John and Joan Gibson’s medical recipe
book. The first entry to this book was 1634 and the last 1717. It was
interesting to find food recipes alongside recipes for medicines, however home remedies
were often used when a doctor was not available therefore it comes as no
surprise to find recipe ‘To make Lemmon Marmalad’ in the same book as a recipe for
‘if ye be swelld & ye humor hott’. The three hands in
this recipe book belonged to John Gibson, Joanne Gibson and Joanna Gibson, this
is an example of recipe books being used by the family and handed down through
the generations. Adding to this often, the author would be credited alongside
the recipes, for example, ‘given me by Lady Davey 1717’ shows the exchange of recipes
and the relationship between women.
The format and way this recipe reads is different to the format seen in today’s recipes. There are no titles for ingredients, equipment and method. There are no measurements of time and heat. The general lack of specific information in the recipe shows the possibility such details were not needed in the seventeenth-century. This gives insight to the difference in the requirements of a recipe book then and what are needed now. The recipe reads as a list of instructions therefore when trying to gather ingredients and the appropriate equipment for the recipe, I had to read the recipe several times. Terms used such as ‘put it to’ made the instructions unclear and hard to understand what the method required me to do. As a result, although this is a relatively simple recipe, the re-reading and lack of guidance made this recipe fairly difficult to follow. The ingredients are interesting as quantities and types were not provided. For example ‘Take green apples’ it does not say how many apples or the type (regular or cooking?) of apples to use. This could have resulted in a different tasting marmalade each time this recipe was followed therefore the consistency of this recipe’s results come into question. Did this recipe produce the same marmalade every time? The lack of specific details in the recipe could not have guaranteed this lemon marmalade would have always reliably been the same. The recipe would likely have been interpreted differently each time therefore producing difference in the taste and texture of the marmalade depending on the quantities of ingredients used by different people. I also wondered ‘why am I using apples in lemon marmalade?’ Sugar was expensive in the seventeenth-century therefore using apples as a sweetener for the marmalade can be a justification. The availability of lemons may have also contributed to the use of apples in lemon marmalade as lemons were likely imported and so apples were easier to come by in volume. I suggest apples were used to add to the texture, sweetness and volume to the lemon marmalade. The lack of clear instructions and precise ingredients present the idea the availability of flavours, ingredients and equipment would have encouraged the motion to use whatever was available to those following this recipe.
Overall, the aroma in the kitchen was very pleasant and sweet, especially when boiling the apples. Due to the lack of explicit measurements and quantity of ingredients, it took three batches to find the right lemon, sugar and apple ratio to make an edible marmalade. The result was a syrup-like, particularly sticky, tangy and sour marmalade with a bitter sweet aftertaste. The experience of reading and following a seventeenth-century recipe has been interesting as it has shown relative difference in the understanding and requirements of recipes between the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 recipesno 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. https://sites.google.com/prod/view/uoebakerproject/beauty
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.
 Anne Stobart, Household medicine in Seventeenth Century England, p.29.
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.
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.
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.
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’ and that it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that kitchens were ‘distinctive yet integrated spaces in the majority of households.’ 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. 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. 
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.
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. 
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.
It was a revelation to me to find that curry was part of eighteenth century cuisine. I had not seen it in Baker and, my curiosity aroused I looked to the Essex Record Office to see if this phenomena of east meets west was something I could see locally. I wasn’t disappointed. With access to digital images on the their SEAX website I found Mrs Elizabeth Slany’s recipe book.
The ERO has a blog featuring an overview of Slany’s recipes which also points to an article in Essex Countryside magazine dated February 1966 written by Daphne E Smith who judges Elizabeth to be ‘a most efficient housewife who nurtured her family with care.’ Smith also assumes that the recipe book was started in preparation for her forthcoming marriage. However the 1715 date on the fly leaf is a full eight years before Elizabeth married Benjamin LeHook in 1723 so if true it was quite a lengthy engagement.
With Benjamin a London agent it is probable Elizabeth did not reside in Essex . However, her eldest daughter did, marrying into the Wegge family of Colchester. As the ‘hand’ within the book changes halfway through it can be assumed it was she who entered the ‘currey’ recipe, giving me the local Essex location I was looking for.
I admit, realising the recipe was probably the daughters not her mothers did dilute my first ecstatic light-bulb moment of ‘I’ve discovered curry in England as early as 1715 !’ into ‘stop jumping to conclusions and analyse, you’re a historian!’ However, on reflection it was just as exciting to realise young Elizabeth’s ‘currey’ was realistically contemporary with Hannah Glasse’s inclusion of this hot and spicy dish in her book The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Easy 1747.
Madhur Jaffrey, in the introduction to her book Curry Nation dismisses Glasse’s recipe as little more than a spicy gravy, consisting of pepper and Coriander seeds which were to be ‘browned over the fire in a clean shovel’ before being beaten to a powder. At this point the rice was added during cooking. Nevertheless, it gave the women who cooked these exotic dishes a connection to Britains growing empire. It also gave the recipients of such meals a way to ‘virtually tour’ the wider world. Though such recipes were effectively Anglicised claims that they were ‘true’ Indian dishes seems not to have been questioned.
Inevitably the taste and composition of the dish gradually changed, as seen in subsequent editions of Glasse’s book plus by the end of the century a commercial curry powder blend had became available. Bickham, in his study of C.18 culinary imperialism, Eating the Empire tells us how curry recipes were included in mass produced affordable cookery books. Aimed at a lower to middling sorts these women would have used curry powder for convenience buying it from grocers shops who in turn sourced it directly from spice wholesalers or from larger shops.
Elizabeth LeHook’s receipt book lists two curry recipes and the first does appear to be a glorified stew consisting of 2-3 Lbs of mutton and onions. She then recommends it be thickened with ‘the curry stuff’ plus to add the juice of two lemons, some salt and cayenne pepper, adding a note at the end,
NB. 2 large spoonfuls is be sufficient for a curry of two pounds and so in proportion – add to the curry powder about a fifth of turmeric.
Her second recipe calls for chicken , lamb, or duck to be prepared in the same fashion, stewing the meat in enough water to see it become tender. Shallots or onion are added. Then the gravy is strained off, thickened with a tablespoon of ‘the powder’ and returned to the pan so everything stews together for a further half an hour or,
‘until it is of a proper thickness to be sent to the table’.
Rice was then to be served up as usual.
Elizabeth Slany’s connection to the empire is still visible over the page. Here she tells us how to make a Turkish pilau. Interestingly as featured in my previous post Methods of Measurement and Delight , Elizabeth uses money as a visual aid stating the pound of mutton required should be cut up small about the size of a crown piece.
On the opposite page are instructions as to the Chinese way of boiling rice. This reflects on the importance eighteenth century housewife’s placed on authenticity or at least the pretence of it, in connection with their perceived social status. The process was simple, the rice being washed in cold water then boiled in hot until soft. It was then left in a clean vessel to blanch until snow white and as hard as crust. By then it had apparently become an excellent substitute for bread!
To find the exotic in Essex was gratifying and I was fortunate to have found what I was looking for in one of the few recipe books in the ERO to have been digitalised. It was not a groundbreaking discovery; after all I hadn’t found curry in 1715 had I ? But, I had found local evidence of what we, as HR650 students had been seeing in recipe books far grander than Elizabeth Slany’s. If nothing else its a testament to shared domestic knowledge and the proof of domestic involvement in what was then a new and expanding British empire.
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.
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
‘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
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.
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.
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.
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.