Category Archives: Non classé

A Guide to Transcribing

Transcribing is a difficult task to start and learn. Old writing is often poorly spelt, written, uses odd grammar/outdated terms and sometimes words are different in the same paragraph. If you’re looking to transcribe a larger piece of work, such as a recipe book, it has been written in by many different people – that have very different writing styles that reflect their own personalities and their situation at the time.

For most people, what puts them off of reading old texts is the handwriting. In old texts it is very rare that the authors attempted to ‘standardise’ their writing to make it easier for others to read – it often seems that it was written with the mindset that if they could read it that it was good enough. But what can be very frustrating is that in larger texts as mentioned before the writing style can vary wildly.

Two sections from the same book, showing how much the writing can change in one book alone

From the above images, for the right example, it’s a simple matter to transcribe – anybody could do it and its as easy as reading a modern printed book due to the regular and neat handwriting. What may trip people up is the occasional spelling oddity which will be addressed later.

As for the left it’s clearly more difficult. The handwriting has far more flourishes that connect some of the words, making it hard to make out where some words end. Many letters are also inconsistent in their writing and in the continuing theme are personal to the different authors. This clearly makes transcribing this type of work a significant challenge, but it is not impossible to get good at it fairly quickly.

Firstly, the best thing to do is read through the text and identify words that you can recognise to get a feel for the writing. In recipes, this often becomes words like ‘ounce’ or ‘quart’ as they are commonly used in recipes and are distinct words – ounce has no letters that require large flourishes such as d or h and the letters are normally written clearly. After that look for common letters in different words. If you’re struggling to read one word, try to look for a similar letter in a word that you can understand and apply that to the first word.

As an example of this, these two words are from a different section of the book. The first is meant to be read as ‘sliced’ and the second as ‘consumed’.

A strange quirk of this persons writing is that they wrote their c’s as an r, and their e’s look like a’s or o’s depending on how you look at it. Combined, this made it very difficult to figure out what the left was meant. If you read it without the understanding of these letters it comes across as more like ‘slirod’, which is not very helpful. The second reads ‘ronsumod’. With the second however, as the context of the word is in a recipe its not hard to realise that it is meant to be consumed. Now knowing that this person wrote their c’s and e’s in strange way it is easier to figure out the left means ‘sliced’. This can then be applied to other words that are causing trouble and can help to fill out sentences that were completely unknown. The context provided by these new words may help to figure out the rest of a sentence.

When it comes to spelling, there are some common words that are spelt differently no matter the author. They tend to spell the same word the same in their own writing, which is not always the case, but its rare that this carries over to other authors in the same book. These words are similar to modern spellings but can trip people up if they are unused to them. Common changes are e’s added onto the ends of words.

This excerpt is meant to say ‘boil it half’, but is spelt as ‘boyle it halfe’. Whilst this is quite clear when pointed out, the first word may poteninaly be read as ‘boylc’ if someone was not common with the way specfic letters are written as mentioned earlier. A way to work with unfamiliar spellings is to try to read the word and say it out loud as you do using what you think is the correct letters. If you read ‘boylc’ out loud you’ll probably recognise it sounding similar to boil, and put into the context will be able to figure out the correct word. As a general rule of thumb, most mispelt words are similar to the modern spelling with e’s added into them or doubled letters. As below, ‘pott’, ‘lett’, ‘dayes’, ‘straine’

Many of the words used in older texts are old fashioned terms as well; so even if you’re certain you’ve got the correct letters but the word is still not making sense it can be helpful to put it into a dictionary, prefereably one that has older meanings such as the Oxford English Dictionary.

Something that comes up a lot is the use of older shorthand words and symbols that can be confusing. One of the favourites is ‘ye’ which translates to ‘the’, but there is also ‘yr/yor’, ‘yt’, and ‘ym’ – your, that and them. These tend to be elevated slightly as well, placed above other words which can help to point them out while reading as shown below; ‘the fire while your’.

A common letter/symbol that can cause confusion is a long s that appears some words. Whilst it may seem like an f it is actually just a different way of writing the short case s that crops up occasionally; it is more common in handwritten formats and whilst the rules are fairly uncertain the general format is that the long s usually goes before a short case s in the middle of end of a word.[1]

[1]  West, Andrew (June 2006), “The Rules for Long S”, <>

An example from the US Bill of Rights in ‘Congress’

In conclusion, transcribing can be a difficult and time-consuming process if you attempt to tackle a piece of writing that is particularly difficult to make out, although not all old texts are like this. However, if you approach the writing with an open mind and go through it word by word, attempting to become very familiar with the authors style of writing, and referring to other parts of their writing and outside works you will be rewarded with access to first-hand accounts that can provide many opportunities to learn about the past.

(All images, aside from the last, were taken from various pages of EMROC Va429 ‘Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750)’[1]

[1]Anna Maria Wentworth, (1725) “Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750” <>, (Retrieved 10th March 2020)



West, Andrew (June 2006), “The Rules for Long S”, <>


Wentworth, Anna Maria, (1725) “Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript], ca. 1675-ca. 1750” <>, (Retrieved 10th March 2020)

Importance of social media in the creation of Old Timey Winey

After I leave University, I hope to go into the marketing profession, looking mainly at social media marketing. So being one of the individuals on this project in charge of the Old Timey Winey social media accounts, was the perfect way to get an insight into what I will be doing in the future. The name of our project needed to be clear in its intentions so we came up with ‘Old Timey Winey.’ This was perfect as it described exactly what we wanted to do, which was recreating both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink recipes from the Early Modern period, from the EMROC website. Part of the project was a social media outlet, we considered various outlets such as a YouTube channel, but in the end, we decided on just Twitter and Instagram.
Social media was a big part of this project. We were relying on Twitter and Instagram to highlight our project and gain attention. Setting up our Twitter account was important because many historians use Twitter as their preferred social media platform, including the various history lecturers at the University of Essex, therefore following them first would gain attention to the project if they followed us back. Twitter was also a good outlet to use as it allows us to post up to 4 pictures on one post and write a short and snappy comment to go along with it due to the 280 character limit. The character limit means that our pictures needed to be sharp and interesting, and the caption needed to be attention-grabbing.
Twitter allows you to retweet and like other people’s posts. By following similar projects such as, @Rare_Cooking and @EMRecipes who followed us back, we have automatically gained more following. If one of these accounts, or any account who follows us retweeted our posts to their high number of followings it gains attention to our account and hopefully means some of their followers follow us too. Following similar projects also gives us an insight into how our profiles should look.
Instagram is very different from Twitter. We were able to get the same handle (@OldTimeyWiney) on both platforms so we could easily link our profiles together. Instagram is a photo central platform, which also has Instagram stories so we are able to post our recreations including our raspberry wine. Instagram is also good because we do not have a word or character limit, therefore we are able to post a caption with the pictures, and then post hashtags to also bring attention to the project.
We also had the task of creating a blog site. This blog site would be used to show all of our recipes and the process behind them, showing the original recipes and the way that we were able to transcribe them and then modernising it. The blog would go alongside our Twitter and Instagram going into more detail about why we chose a certain recipe and showing the step by step process, as some of our recipes took a couple of weeks. (Above image: our blog site)
Hashtags (#) are essential to a social media post. An article from Jenna MacDonald from 2017 on the importance of using hashtags as a way to grow a brand states that they are vital as they make your content viewable by anyone who has an interest in your project because it goes beyond your own following and you are more likely to gain an audience from using them than not. When writing our hashtags, we are able to see if anyone that we follow, follows a certain hashtag.
Instagram is also a good outlet to use as we have set the profile up as a business profile, meaning we are able to see insights on our post and also our profile. Insights on our posts allow us to see how many people it attracted, and we can see how and where people are seeing our posts. Our insights on our Instagram posts show us how many people have seen our post, and how many who haven’t followed us have seen them. As you can see from the picture below, 7 people have found our post through hashtags, and whilst this does not seem much for a new and smaller account, it is 10% of the people reached was through hashtags highlighting their importance.
Instagram stories are also a great reason we chose Instagram as a chosen platform. When we were deciding if YouTube should be one of our platforms and decided it would be too much, we realised that we could incorporate the video side of a YouTube channel on Instagram through Instagram stories and Instagram Live. Instagram Live would have allowed us to Livestream trying our beverages to see how they tasted, and we would promote this Livestream on our personal accounts to bring in more followers to the page.
Social media was also perfect for our audience. Our main audience was university students, as university students and alcohol go well together! Additionally, a survey from the Independent in September 2019 revealed that British student spends an average of 55 hours a week on social media compared to just 14 hours on university work. This figure shows us that university students are our perfect audience for our social media platforms.
Once our recipes were transcribed, we had the job of modernising them so that we could more easily follow the recipes to re-create. We had a few issues along the way to do with the fermentation of the wines, however by snapping these failure shots it provided the perfect Instagram shot to show the reality side, that it has not been easy to make these recipes.
Overall social media has been a huge part of this project and we are happy that our platforms are growing in following and we aim to keep it updated with our various recipes.

Our current social media profiles. Instagram and Twitter (25/3/20)

Combatting Coughs in Eighteenth-Century England.

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

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

A garden snail, Sourced by Martyn Cox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Newton, H, ‘Children’s physic: medical perceptions and treatment of sick children in early modern england, c.1580-1720’, Social History of Medicine, 23, 3 (2010)
  • Medindia Content Team, Medicinal Uses of Liquorice (Licorice) / Yashtimadhu, Medindia, <>, [accessed 12:03, 26/03/2020]
  • Osborn, Sally, Cough Cough, 18th Century Recipes, <>, [accessed 11:53, 26/03/2020]
  • Osborn, Sally, Health in the 18th Century, Eighteenth Century Recipes, <>, [accessed 13:01, 27/03/2020]
  • Paneck, Dr, 18th Century Medical Treatments: The Cough of the Lungs, Living History W, <>, [accessed, 10:42, 26/03/2020]
  • Smith, Lisa, Suffering from Colds in the Eighteenth Century, Sloane Letters Project <> [accessed 10:38, 26/03/2020]
  • Unknown, Maidenhair Fern, Natural Medicinal, <>, [accessed 12:21, 26/03/2020]
  • Unknown, ‘Used With Constant Success’: Animal Ingredients in Eighteenth-Century Remedies, and their Success in the Beauty Industry, <>, [accessed 11:20, 26/03/2020]


  • 1. Lisa Smith, Suffering from Colds in the Eighteenth Century, Sloane Letters Project <> [accessed 10:38, 26/03/2020]
  • 2. Dr. Paneck, 18th Century Medical Treatments: The Cough of the Lungs, Living History W, <>, [accessed, 10:42, 26/03/2020]
  • 3. Unknown, ‘Used With Constant Success’: Animal Ingredients in Eighteenth-Century Remedies, and their Success in the Beauty Industry, <>, [accessed 11:20, 26/03/2020]
  • 4. Sally Osborn, Cough Cough, 18th Century Recipes, <>, [accessed 11:53, 26/03/2020]
  • 5. Medindia Content Team, Medicinal Uses of Liquorice (Licorice) / Yashtimadhu, Medindia, <>, [accessed 12:03, 26/03/2020]
  • 6. Unknown, Maidenhair Fern, Natural Medicinal, <>, [accessed 12:21, 26/03/2020]
  • 7. Ibid., <>
  • 8. Newton, H, ‘Children’s physic: medical perceptions and treatment of sick children in early modern england, c.1580-1720’, Social History of Medicine, 23, 3 (2010), p.466
  • 9. Osborn, Cough Cough, <>
  • 10.Ibid., <>
  • 11. Newton, H, ‘Children’s physic: medical perceptions and treatment of sick children in early modern england, c.1580-1720’, Social History of Medicine, 23, 3 (2010), p.468
  • 12. Sally Osborn, Health in the 18th Century, Eighteenth Century Recipes, <>, [accessed 13:01, 27/03/2020]

The dark side of female alliances

In the early modern period many women lived in a homosocial world. Gendered activities such as cooking, looking after children, medicine making were used by women to create and maintain female alliances.[1] These activities allowed them to advance female education and knowledge, in addition to gain financial and social advantage.[2]

The importance of female alliances

When thinking of early modern women, people tend to picture obedient women working around the household and raising kids. Even if I ever thought about friendships between women, stereotypes made me think their conversations were mostly meaningless gossiping. Amanda E. Herbert’s book made me realise that there is a deeper side to female alliances.

Two women gossiping
Image credit:

Elite women’s manuscript diaries are important primary sources when it comes to looking for evidence of female collaboration and cooperation. As Herbert argues these alliances are important for historians to understand early modern women’s life much better, as this gives their life another perspective.[3] Linda A. Pollock further argues that the ‘notion of sisterhood’ was a successful way to restore women’s agency and culture.[4] But even though most of these relationships were positive, some alliances broke down. Laura Gowing in Common bodies argues that not all female relationships were positive, but these relationships were essential to their everyday life.[5] Women made alliances with people outside of their class too. For example the kitchen was a space where servants and the elite socialised. Their conversations were not always high-minded, they laughed together while working, also exchanged secrets and gossips.[6] From my point of view this is the most popular image of early modern female alliances.

Failure of connecting with others

Herbert mentions how women had their own sex to help out when it came to “household task and domestic emergencies”, so the loss of these relationships could be a huge disadvantage.[7] In addition Pollock argues that women who broke law or breached morality could be weaker and left without much support.[8] Most early modern women turned to these alliances for advice when they had a medical/financial difficulty, as they were taught to reach out to others when feeling isolated or lonely. They turned to these relationships in times of emotional distress or loss.[9] Like many other women, Sarah Savage relied on her friend’s support. But her Nonconformist actions prevented her from participating in the alliance-building and social activities that most (Anglican) women attended, as Nonconformist women experienced social exclusion.[10] Furthermore, she chose not to engage with other women, as she thrown upon female alliances. Savage avoided the traditional alliance building activities, she rather spent time alone with her books. Interestingly, she enjoyed spending time with women whom she considered to be of lower status.[11] There is no wonder that women like Savage found it difficult to connect with the other women and create alliances, as people associate the most with those who are very similar to them, moreover, they connect easier. Even though it seems like she was alone, she still received some help from others (servants) when she became ill (neighbours), and when she gave birth.
Failure to create female alliances could be dangerous when it comes to domestic abuse. If a mistress treated her servants badly, it was more likely that they would not help her when she was abused by her husband. [12] This example shows that even though marital violence was not happening in every single household, if women did not have their safety net to help them and support them, their life could be much more difficult. Falling as a victim to marital violence made women more vulnerable, especially without help. In addition, alliance was really important when looking for witnesses in the case of divorce/court appearance.

‘The Bottle’ (1847) by George Cruikshank
Image credit: Hulton Archive—Getty Images

Another example can be childbirth and pregnancy. Pollock argues that childbirth was a tribute to female networks.[13]The experience of pregnancy and childbirth was depending on the help women could receive from the people around them. These life events are usually painted very positive, but Pollock mentions how women were afraid of childbirth, so a familiar space and familiar faces could be calming factors when it came to the actual delivery.[14] Conflicts took place in the birth chamber, which could make the experience for the mother worse. In addition if a child was illegitimate, the community refused to help, so therefore the failure to connect with others would leave the mother even more vulnerable and completely alone.[15]
These two examples show how a woman in early modern England without her safety net would have a more difficult life experience. The failure of connecting with other women- similarly to Sarah Savage could lead to a very lonely, more boring life where the woman depended mostly on herself.  

Why focus on the negatives?

I think a question that I have to think about when it comes to this topic is, why did I first focus on the positive sides of female alliances? I think one of the reasons for this are the limited sources and coverage on the topic. When it comes to this topic I find there are more secondary literature on the positive sides of female alliances rather than the negatives. Not everyone had a positive experience, but those women could be from a lower class where writing skills were not taught. Herbert even mentions in her book that most of the sources she used were elite women’s diaries, letters, and recipe books. Even though there were female alliances between different classes, those in lower ones either did not know how to read and write and/or had no time to record their life. From my point of view those who were more likely to live a harder life (lower class women) might have had a more negative experiences but there is so much less left behind. It is important to look at both sides, because it tells us so much more about women’s experience from the early modern period.

This image from my point of view showcases women working together in harmony. This could be a positive example of female alliances. Image credit:

To conclude female alliances were not fully positive, as there were some difficulties when women could not connect with others. If they failed to build a safety net in cases such as childbirth (especially illegitimate) or marital violence, women were exposed to greater danger. My main take away from the HR650: The Early Modern Household Project module was that whatever I believed about early modern times was not always necessarily true. There are so many stereotypes about how early modern households, female alliances and relationships in general looked like, but the truth does not always fall behind these stereotypes.

The current situation (COVID-19) and the library closure created some difficulties when it came to researching this blog.


Foyster, Elizabeth, Marital Violence: An English family history, 1660-1857 (Cambridge, 2005).

Herbert, Amanda E., Female alliances; gender, identity, and friendship in early modern Britain (New Haven, 2014).

Pollock, Linda A., ‘Childbearing and female bonding in early modern England’, Social History, 22 (1997).


[1] Amanda E. Herbert, Female alliances; gender, identity, and friendship in early modern Britain (New Haven, 2014), p. 174

[2] Ibid. p. 2

[3] Ibid. p. 5

[4] Pollock, Linda A., ‘Childbearing and female bonding in early modern England’, Social History, 22 (1997), p. 286

[5] Herbert, p. 4

[6] Ibid. p. 82

[7] Ibid. p. 169

[8] Pollock, p. 287

[9] Herbert, p. 184

[10] Ibid. p. 169

[11] Ibid. pp. 174, 179

[12] Elizabeth Foyster, Marital Violence: An English family history, 1660-1857 (Cambridge, 2005), p. 188

[13] Pollock, p. 288

[14] Ibid, p. 292

[15] Ibid, pp. 299,302

Early Modern recipe books for when you’re not ill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Remedy to Cure all Ills

A Remedy to Cure all Ills

If there is one thing in life people can agree on it is the magical medicinal properties of chicken soup. From sniffles to full blown flu this simple recipe is credited for helping alleviate many symptoms and is thought of as the ultimate cure – alongside more modern cold and flu tablets that it is.

Chicken soup has a long history, its recipe changing through the centuries with different family versions claiming to be the best. The humble cure all started in the form of a broth or jelly in the 18th century and later moved to using the broth to make the soup we all know today. These recipes are not always indicated as ‘medicinal’ in cook books – however there is evidence that they were used to cure ills.

Taken from an 18th Century cook book this recipe for ‘Cock Broath’ uses ivory shavings believed to have medicinal properties. It is an ingredient we would not see in modern recipes, due to the lack of proof of its medicinal properties – despite still being used in many Chinese medicines.

The phrase ‘ivory shavings’ gives a modern audience the image of thin sliced curls of stiff ivory – inedible and surely adding a crunch to the broth. However, this was not the case. Ivory was expensive and every part of it was valuable, including the dust produced from carving it into fine sculptures. This dust had multiple uses, and its popularity in Europe came from its uses in stiffing straw hats. It might be presumptive to state a link here, but it is also plausible as to why the dust was more common in cooking then we might think, given ivory’s price.

In Chinese culture, ivory is said to help sore throats and consumptive fevers, and is even said to change colour when it touches poisoned food, and more – all of which are myths. That’s not to say that they were originally, a myth today may have been truth in the 18th century and the medicinal properties of ivory easily accepted. Medicine was still based on humoral theory, and aliments were treated as single symptoms. With further digging we could find out whether ivory was attributed to a certain humour – but for now, most information on ivory is that it’s trade is currently banned.

Ivory aside, jellies were often used as medicinal cures. One used by Henry Baker was a ‘black current’ jelly for a sore throat that he had been given by a vicar. Baker praised the effects until he noticed that it had stopped working so well, and complained to his friends of it. They told him that it he shouldn’t use an old batch and needed a fresh one for it to have an effect again – and lo and behold, upon making it fresh he once again praised its effectiveness.

Now granted, black current jelly isn’t the same as chicken soup, but what we are seeing in Barkers story is the faith people had in medicinal jellies. Not only has Baker recommended the jelly, which we see in cook books with marks or ticks by ‘proven’ recipes, he has also identified that medicinal potency is linked to the age of the jelly. We see this today in the (maybe) famous line from films – ‘eat it while it’s still fresh’.

We wouldn’t think of eating a chicken jelly today to cure a cold, as we often associate jelly as being cold whereas chicken soup is ‘hot and hearty’. A black current jelly on the other hand would still be normal to eat for a sore throat. It’s not that jellies have lost their place as cold foods – more that our taste buds have changed since cold meat jelly.
But what’s all this got to do with chicken soup though I hear you ask? The answer: chicken soup didn’t start off as chicken soup – first we see it as broths and jellies.

Moving into the 19th century, we see a chicken broth tailored to ‘invalids’ in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management that uses a fowl “unsuitable for eating”. Previously, cook books had been mixed with food and medicine recopies, Mrs Beeton’s book split the medical food recipes from everyday in her section for ‘invalids’. This split indicates the acknowledgement of the need to tailor recipes, and we see chicken broth clearly associated with the sick, and not just as a recipe used for a multitude of dishes.

Although not specifically chicken, Mrs Beeton also discusses the need for beef tea and jellies to be readily available for the sick. She does not know the full nutritional value of using beef tea and jellies but is using advice given by Florence Nightingale to support their effectiveness.

Just like today, the magical healing powers of chicken soup are endorsed by one well-known name, and backed up by word of mouth. The origin of the success of chicken soups is unclear – however it is clear that it has been a cure for a long time. Despite the headlines associated with chicken soup as a ‘cure all’ there isn’t medicinal evidence to fully support this. There are many health pages advocating its benefits and easily a few thousand plus will attest that it can cure a cold.

In reality, chicken soup is the personification of home and health. From its beginning as broths and jellies to the soup made from these original bases, chicken soup has been present in the household for several hundred years. Its association with comfort helps build the image of a home cure that people claim has worked for them time and again. As we are yet to find a better medicinal cure I believe it is safe to say chicken soup will continue to be the remedy to cure all ills.



Baker, Henry ‘Some Observations concerning the Virtue of the Jelly of Black Currents, in curing Inflammations of the Throat. By Henry Baker, F. R. S., Philosophical Transactions, Vol. 41 (1739-1741), pp. 655-60

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, electronic <> [accessed 24th January 2020]

Chaiklin, Martha, ‘Ivory in World History- Early Modern Trade in Context’, History Compass, Vol. 8, no. 6 (2010), pp.531-32


Wei, Clarissa, ‘The Myths of Medicinal Ivory’, KECT, < > [accessed 24th January 2020]

Another Trip into Early Modern Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Alcohol: Luxury or necessity?

Alcohol  has been a staple in our everyday lives throughout history all the way to present day, with  a healthy average of one drink per person per day, even with half the world’s population being non alcohol consumers. In fact the oldest firm evidence found of alcohol brewing was in 7000BC Jiahu China. Here evidence was found of famers fermenting rice, grapes, hawthorn berries and honey in clay jars. However, evidence has shown that alcoholic beverages have been invented independently on different continents at different times. Of course consumption habits are influenced by cultural and religious norms meaning, its highest consumption was in European countries. Here patterns in drinking behaviour were largely universal, this meant that sharing a drink was seen as a sign of social solidarity and heavy drinking was only acceptable for men not women.

Alcohol has had many different uses throughout time which was influenced by European expansion, social developments and scientific discoveries. 

Alcohol as medication

The active ingredient common in all alcoholic drinks is ‘yeast’. This is a single celled organism which eats sugar and excretes carbon dioxide and ethanol, this is the process of fermentation. The ethanol which is produced is toxic to other microbes that compete with them for sugar inside a fruit. This provides an antimicrobial effect benefit for the drinker, meaning that alcohol can fight bacteria inside the body and encourage the health of the immune system.

Alcohol as a dietary staple

The consumption of beer provided calories as well as essential vitamins to many diets which were often poor and lacked nutrition. B vitamins such as folic acid, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin were all present in ancient brews, which helped aid healthy development. Before the sanitation of the modern world, beer was also a more sterile way of hydration than water. Here getting drunk was just a bonus of a ‘healthy’ life. Alcohol could also be contained in wood or clay containers without spoiling so it was good for transportation and may have been the only source of hydration on ships and other lengthy travels.

Alcohol as a status symbol

Wine was primarily drunk by the elites, this is because ingredients to make wine were not easily accessible eg grapes so wine was usually imported which increased its costs. Alcohol such as beer and mead would most often be drunk by the peasantry as this was much cheaper to make, with easily accessible ingredients and it would often be home brewed.

Alcohol as social glue

Alcohol was seen as a necessary component of a marital bond which could arouse affections, symbolize their union and consummate their marriage. Alcohol was also a part of business and social relation building

Alcohol for men and women

Unlike men, women’s alcohol consumption was less readily acceptable and only in moderation. Alcohol could heat a woman’s passions and lead to inappropriate masculine behaviour. If members of the opposite sex were not married and shared a drink, this could be a symbol of inappropriate sexual play and could be labelled as disorderly behaviour. Women with drinking problems could expect no support from the state, while men were expected to drink in order to conduct business effectively and to uphold their masculine reputation.

Alcohol as the inciter of violence

Drinking becomes a problem if it threatens the stability of the household or if it has the potential to burden the rest of the community. This meant that as long as the individual households were up and running and the head of the household was able to work, then there was no need for the authorities to get involved in these affairs. However, if the household members failed to live up to the demands of their estate and lacked order and discipline, then neighbours and authorities had the right to interfere and restore domestic harmony.

Alcohol was a by product of civilisation due to amounts of excess grain, need for caloric intake and the human desire for mind altering substances. Alcohol distillation began in Europe in 12th century Italy in the school of Salerno which was a medieval medical school, the most important of its kind. Alcohol distillation was used for medical uses such as aiding digestion and to stimulate conviviality. Alcohol distillation is the boiling and vaporisation in order to achieve a higher concentration of alcoholic content. English parliament promoted the production of gin in order to use the surplus of grains and raise taxes. This lead to the flooding of markets with cheap spirits and by 1733 the London area alone was producing 11 million gallons of gin a year. This number however saw a decline by the end of the century due to a growing stigmatisation towards drunkenness.

As we can see here, alcohol has been a steady part of our history, which can explain our attraction to it till this day. However, it has had many different uses throughout time and only in most recent years has it been enjoyed for its intoxicating effects.


B. Ann Tlusty, Drinking, family relations and authority in early modern Germany, journal of family History article, Jul 2014

Andrew Curry, National Geographic (magazine), Our 9,000 year love affair with booze, Feb 2017, accessed 18/03/2020

Alcohol problems and solutions, Alcohol in the 18th century: European expansion, accessed 19/03/2020


            Transcribing an Early Modern Household Recipe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. stradomskyte&dir=Transcribathons/EMROC/Va429

Aqua Mirabilis

On page five of the V.b.400 “receipt manuscript” a recipe for “Aqua Mirabilis” appears. Aqua Mirabilis can be translated from latin in two ways: the ‘miracle water’ or ‘the wonderful water’. Either way, the name promises something spectacular. To get this miracle water you will first need to take “gallingale cloves cubebes ginger melitele grains cardinomum mace nutmegs of each one graine, the juce of celendac half a pint”. Cloves, ginger, cardamom, mace, and nutmeg are all relatively common spices used in modern cooking but not medicine. “Gallingale” is spelt “galangal” nowadays and is “The aromatic rhizome of certain Asian plants… of the ginger family, used in cookery and herbal medicine”. “Cubebes” are just “cubebs” and are “The berry of a climbing shrub Piper Cubeba or Cubeba officinalis, a native of Java and the adjacent islands; it resembles a grain of pepper, and has a pungent spicy flavour, and is used in medicine and cookery.” “melitele” is “melilot” which is “Any of the genus Melilotus the dried flowers of which were formerly much used in making plasters, poultices” and “celendac” with a little respelling is “celandine”: “Its thick yellow juice was formerly supposed to be a powerful remedy for weak sight.”

Aqua Mirabilis title from vb400

So together these spices and juices, with three pints of water and white wine, make a remedy? Well first you have to distil the ingredients for 24 hours, or more if possible. Then you separate the water from the leftover herbs and you burn that leftover matter into ashes. Then you add rainwater to those ashes, let it sit for two days, drain the water and keep it, add more rainwater to the ashes and let sit again. Finally you drain the water away, throw away the ashes, mix the reserved waters and let them sit over a fire until the water evaporates until you have salt leftover. Mix these crystals with the first water reserve and that is your spirit. Your aqua mirabilis.

According to the book “The virtews are these”:This water can “disolveth the swelling in the lunggs”, “tongues [that] be wounded or perished it mightily composeth them”, “he that useth thy water shall not need to be lett blood”, “it expelleth the Rhum and filleth the stomack, it conserveth a good colour and youth in his estate, it also preserveth the memory, it destroyeth the palsie of the tongue and limbs” and even better “ if one spoonfull be given to one att the point of Death… it retrieveth them” What an incredible miracle cure! Of course, if it did do these things we’d still be using it nowadays and it has sadly become obsolete. I was however interested to find a recipe that I had never heard of for something supposedly so incredible, and was curious to see if anyone else wrote about this concoction or it was a one-book recipe. Surely someone else would have been using this? Both the OED and British History websites list account for Aqua Mirabilis with use going back as far as 1673. In both of those descriptions the same less complex recipe is followed from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. This 1755 dictionary that lists Aqua Mirabilis as “The wonderful water, prepared of cloves, galangals, cubebs, mace, cardomums, nutmegs, ginger, and spirit of wine, digested twenty-four hours, then distilled. It is a good and agreeable cordial.” The benefits are not touted as much as in the recipe book but the inclusion in a dictionary means that it was a popular enough remedy around that time to make its mark and have the approval of the author.

Definition from Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary

Aqua Mirabilis also appears in the 1677 Pharmacopoeia translated by William Salmon, still claiming to cure a great many ills, John Locke kept a recipe in his notes that is likely he got from the Pharmacopoeia, and The Lady Sedley’s Receipt Book from 1686 includes a recipe for aqua mirabilis that is “very close to the original prescription”. More interestingly,The Countess of Kent’s Choice Manual of rare and select secrets of physick and chirurgery has two different recipes for aqua mirabilis. The first recipe calls for “Take three pints of White wine, one pint of Aqua vitae, one pint of juice of Salandine, one drachm of Cardamer, a drachm of Mellilot flours, a drachm of Cubebs, a drachm of Galingal, Nutmegs, Mace, Ginger and Cloves, of each a drachm, mingle all these together over night, the next morning set them a stilling in a glass Limbeck.” The second recipe goes as such; “Take Galingall, Cloves, Quibs, Gin∣ger, Mellilip, Cardamonie, Mace, Nutmegs, of each a drachm, and of the juyce of Salledine half a pint, adding the juyce Mints and Balm, of each half a pint more, and mingle all the said Spices be∣ing beaten into pouder with the juyce, and with a pint of good Aqua vitae, and three pints of good White wine, and put all these together into a pot, and let it stand all night being close stopt, and in the morning still it with a soft sire as can be, the still being close pasted, and a cold still.”

Recipe from Elizabeth Gray’s manual

These two recipes are pretty similar to the manuscript one, but most importantly both recipes contain sections of the “virtues” of aqua mirabilis and the Countess of Kent’s list of virtues is almost identical to v.b.400. “This Water dissolveth swelling of the Lungs, and being perished doth help and comfort them, it suffereth not the bloud to putrifie, he shall not need to be let bloud that useth this water, it suffereth not the heart burning, nor Melancholy or Flegm to have dominion, it expelleth urine, and profiteth the stomack, it preser∣veth a good colour, the visage, memorie, and youth, it destroyeth the Palsie. Take some three spoonfuls of it once or twice a week, or oftner, morning and evening, first and last.” Is it possible that both of these receipt books copied down the recipe from the same or similar sources? How interesting that two recipes can have almost identical wording from two seemingly unrelated sources.

So there you have it, aqua mirabilis, the wonderful water, the miracle tonic, guaranteed to save you from death! Willing to give it a try?


Kent, Elizabeth Grey, Countess of, “A choice manual of rare and select secrets in physick and chyrurgery collected and practised by the Right Honorable, the Countesse of Kent, late deceased ; as also most exquisite ways of preserving, conserving, candying, &c. ; published by W.I., Gent.”, Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership, 2011, <;view=fulltext>, sections 5, 6, 7, [accessed 24/01/2020]


“Page View, Page 152.” A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: December 6, 2012.

Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl. “Aqua – Aqua mirabilis,” in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton: University of Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online, accessed January 23, 2020,

“aqua mirabilis, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

“celandine, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

“melilot, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

“cubeb, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

“galangal, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed January 26, 2020).

There is no Distinction Between Cooking or Medicine in Early Modern Cookbooks – Why?

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[1]. 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.

[1] ‘Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript]’, (ca. 1675-ca. 1750), <>. P. 15-17

‘To Whiten Cloth’ – a recipe for whitening cloth using household materials. ‘Cookery and medicinal recipes [manuscript]’, (ca. 1675-ca. 1750),<>, P. 17

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’.[1] 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.[2] 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.

[1]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

[2] David Cressy, ‘Literacy in Seventeenth-Century England: More Evidence’,The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 8, No. 1, (Summer, 1977), p.148

The wife of the house is explaining what needs to be done to a servant near the back of the image. Frontispiece from William Augustus Henderson, The Housekeeper’s Instructor, 6th edition, c.1800.

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.[1] 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.

[1]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.

Literacy rates of all women in Norwich showing that 89% were illiterate, this was common across England at the time. David Cressy, ‘Literacy in Seventeenth-Century England: More Evidence’,The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 8, No. 1, (Summer, 1977), p.1448

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.



What Makes a Good Husband: An Early Modern Take

What makes a good modern husband? Most people take the classical view; a husband is supposed to be the breadwinner, the one who works the 9-5 job and supports the family. Occasionally they might do the odd job around the house, but more conservative people will say the sole realm of the husband is the workplace. A more modern take is that while a husband is still expected to work they are also supposed to take an active role in the household – playing an equal role with the housewife in a less rigid men and wife family system.

The early modern husband was encouraged to be far more. Part geologist, meteorologist, chef and carpenter, the early ideal early modern husband should be at least familiar with all of those on top of their farming duties. The ‘English husbandman drawne into two bookes, and each booke into two parts.’ by Gervase Markham, written in 1613, attempted to show the contemporary readers what the ideal husband should strive to be. With advice on ‘how he shall judge and foreknow all kinde of weathers and other Seasons of the yeare’[1] and ‘of several parts and members of the ordinary Plough, and of the joyning of them together’[2] Markham’s book is full of practical advice that while it may not make the average farmer an expert it would at least help to familiarise themselves  with the necessary basics of these areas.

[1] Gervase Markham, English husbandman drawne into two bookes, and each booke into two parts. , (1613), p 4

[2] Ibid p.5

 ‘Farmers harvesting crops’ , Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress. 1486

It is important to note however that most of the population at the time were illiterate[1] – the average peasant farmer would not be able to read or perhaps even own such a book. Markham himself states that ‘this title of Husbandman is not tyed onely to the to the ordinarie Tillers of the earth’[2]. Only small landowners were expected be true Husbandmen and could become this idealised version of the term. Ordinary workers were not expected to reach such lofty heights. The term Husbandmen is applied to the master of the house rather than the modern meaning of a married man[3], but it is very unlikely that a literate man who independently owned his own land would be a bachelor. As such Markham’s book still serves as a guide for the ideal husband regardless of what term is used. The agricultural elements and the actual educational portions of the books might have been shared with the workers on the farm who could not access the book due to either poverty or illiteracy, but is very unlikely they would be interested or perhaps even shown the sections on etiquette or the ‘election of friends’[4], as it was not necessary for the common peasant.

[1]David Cressy, ‘Literacy in Seventeenth-Century England: More Evidence’,The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 8, No. 1, (Summer, 1977), p.144

[2] Markham, English husbandman, p. 10

[3] C. S. Partridge, ‘Tabular lists from Mr. Redstone’s Calendar of Bury Wills.’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, Vol 13, (1907)

[4] Markham, English husbandman, p.4

David Cressy, ‘Literacy in Seventeenth-Century England: More Evidence’,The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 8, No. 1, (Summer, 1977), p.1448

What all this points to is that the 17th century English society was, naturally, deeply focused on agricultural matters. There is a short section in Markham’s book explaining ‘The Duties and Vertues appertayning to the Husbandman’[1], but only two pages are devoted to what kind of personality and relationships the ideal husbandman should have. The rest of the book is entirely devoted to agricultural matters, primarily related to farming crops and other food sources but in the second portion of the book there are instructions on ‘Of the Adornation and Beautifying of the Garden for Pleasure’[2] which shows that although there was this large focus on production of food there was a growing part of the English higher class that were interested in growing the show gardens that became popular across the 18th and 19th century. Markham’s book can thus be seen as almost an example of the public interests of the time alongside what the society thought of as the ideal husbandman.

[1] Markham, English husbandman,p.4

[2] Ibid p.8

Example of an English pleasure garden
‘ The Grand Walk’, Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1751

A later chapter of the book would help the ideal husbandman to ‘make Grapes grow as big, full, and as naturally, and to ripen in as due season, and be as long lasting as either in France or Spain.’[1] The rather obvious attempts to invoke a sense of patriotism about growing grapes that can rival continental ones is an interesting chapter in the book. Although this is a nice example of the classic anti-foreign mindset that was well established in English society at the time[2], it is rather strange to see it in the context of growing grapes; and in the guide for how to be a good husbandman at that. What this can show is how deeply this element of wanting to be equal or better than the European powers was held by the high educated society. Markham was a member of the nobility rather than being a member of the lower social classes[3] and as such would have been aware of this mood. By extension, this guide to be the ideal husbandman again can act as a guide for not only how to be a good early modern husbandman but also as a way to see the opinions of society at the time.

[1] Markham, English husbandman, p.8

[2] Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain, (2013)

[3] Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Markham, Gervase”. Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 73

‘Evil May-Day’ riots against foreign communities in London in 1517 London Apprentice, 1852

It’s hard to say what the expectation is approaching a book like this. Most people would not expect there to be such a diverse amount of knowledge, all of it being needed if someone wanted to be the ideal early modern husbandman. On reflection it shouldn’t be a surprise however. The modern idea of a good husband still applies somewhat; that they are the breadwinner and the man of the house who works their 9-5. Early modern England took it a bit more literally and expected the early modern husbandman to be the one making the bread himself, and Markham’s book would be there to help establish what the ideal husbandman to be.


Chisholm, Hugh, ‘Markham, Gervase’. Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.), (1911, Cambridge University Press.)

Cressy, David, ‘Literacy in Seventeenth-Century England: More Evidence’,The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 8, No. 1, (Summer, 1977)

Markham, Gervase, English husbandman drawne into two bookes, and each booke into two parts, (1613)

Partridge, C. S., ‘Tabular lists from Mr. Redstone’s Calendar of Bury Wills.’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, Vol 13, (1907)

Winder, Robert, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain, (2013)

Venison or Chocolate

Gifting food in Early Modern England vs Present day

Missed an anniversary? No idea what to get someone for Christmas? Need to make up with a friend? What to do? Simple answer- food! Giving food as a gift has long been a tradition for any occasion. It is either a gift from the heart or can be quick easy option to make someone happy in a rush to find a gift. The meaning behind gifting food has come to hold a far different meaning than it did in the early modern period. This leaves us with the question of has the meaning of gifting changed diachronically? By looking at the importance of gifting food in the Early Modern period, we can compare whether our meanings behind gifting food is still as significant to our society.

Try to cast your minds back to the 16th and 17th century. Life is far different from our own and food is, in some households, meticulously recorded in Account books. In these account books, gift giving appears to be centered around seasons, particularly during New Year, where a rise of gifts are recorded.[1]

This is not unlike our own society at Christmas, but intentions behind the food are not the same. Today we gift and receive to families and friends, in the Early Modern period the biggest group of gift givers are marked as unidentified and must be, according to Felicity Heal, assumed to be tenants.[2] A large number of gifts from the ‘unidentified’ are recorded as capons and peahens items that would be gifted as part of the custom of providing ‘boon’ hens, used to show they expected entertainment in return.[3] Today, we do not give gifts with the expectation of receiving something in return, rather to show our gratitude, which we are grateful for if reciprocated.

Figure 1- Fruit Basket

Throughout the year there are entries of other food types ranging from meats of high-status members of society to fruits from poorer tenants.[4] The differing in food groups is due to societal labelling and seasonality, two things we do not see in a modern society. Two main labels that gifts were separated in to were ‘dietary’ and ‘hierarchy’.

Figure 2- Deer Meat Cuts

Taking venison and capons as the example, we can look at how they are broken down due to an emphasis on what was acceptable to eat in accordance to one’s status and humour.[5] Capons were a common gift from tenants to higher status land-owners and were an example of one of the more nutritional birds, whilst venison, also one of the healthier examples of meat, was gifted from one higher status member to another. [6] Both foods meet the dietary requirements; it is the accessibility of the meats separates them by class.

In comparison, chocolate is a highly gifted item in a modern society that is seen to go against health recommendations and can be gifted across all classes. Whilst certainly less defined than in the early modern period, for the purposes of comparison we will assume that there is still somewhat a visible class system determined by wealth. Gifting chocolate does not reinforce a hierarchy as it is accessible to all, whilst venison does as only members of higher status in the hierarchy can obtain and gift it to those of equal status. In gifting chocolate within a modern society we see a focus on convenience rather than the symbolic intention of gifting in the early modern period.

Origins of gifting come from the hunter gatherer society, where the animal would have distributed; the highest quality section of meat would go to the hunter then as more is given out on a first come first serve basis the portions decrease in quality.[7] By the early modern period and definitely by today there is no longer a hunter gatherer society there is instead a consumer society. It is the growth of the consumer society today that has led to the removal of seasonality in the modern period. Better methods of preservation at the end of the 17th century allowed for easier commercialisation of food items but it did not affect the seasonality of when it was possible to gift them.[8]

Fruits, like berries, would only have been available in the summer months, whereas now they are available year-round. Removing seasonality also removes the foods significance as there is no anticipation to receive it. You can still gift a readily available food item but it holds less meaning. Why? Because without seasonality fruits lose their excitement that was built up waiting for them to be in season. The same can be said for sugars and spices which were originally was only available to high classes is now available to all. There is no longer seasonality of food thanks to both consumerism and shops holding items all year round, in contrast you would have to wait for certain foods in the early modern period. Consumerism today has taken away some significance of gifting certain foods.

Figure 3- Chocolate

Gift giving has changed a lot since the 1500’s evolving alongside society with tastes in gifts changing with trends and availability of new technology. The one staple gift is food even though this has also changed to fit society its basis is still the same. Food is universal and essential to life, it can be used as a last-minute gift or one carefully thought about and lovingly homemade for someone. Some of the meaning behind gifting food has changed, as does everything in society, but I do not think you can say the significance has. Whether it’s a thought through gift or mass-produced item the sentiment behind it and in receiving it stays the same. Today you may prefer to receive chocolate over venison and chocolate is easier to come by then going hunting but both items held the same significance in their own time period. It is safe to say that although the meaning behind gifting food has altered there is no alteration in the importance of receiving it or motives of giving.


Berking, Helmuth, Sociology of giving, (Nottingham Trent, 1999), trans. by Patrick Camiller

Heal, Felicity, ‘Food Gifts, the Household and the politics of Exchange in Early Modern England’, Past and Present, No. 199, (May, 2008)

Heal, Felicity, The Power of Gifts, Gift-Exchange in Early Modern England, (New York, 2004)

Thirsk, Joan, Food in Early Modern England, Phases, Fads, Fashions 1500-1760, (Kings Lynn, 2007)


Figure 1-

Figure 2-

Figure 3-

[1] Felicity Heal, ‘Food Gifts, the Household and the politics of Exchange in Early Modern England’, Past and Present, No. 199, (May, 2008), p. 49

[2] Ibid p. 49

[3] Ibid p. 50

[4] Felicity Heal, The Power of Gifts, Gift-Exchange in Early Modern England, (New York, 2004), p. 36

[5] Felicity Heal, ‘Food Gifts, the Household and the politics of Exchange in Early Modern England’, Past and Present, No. 199, (May, 2008), p. 57

[6] Ibid p. 57

[7] Helmuth Berking, Sociology of giving, (Nottingham Trent, 1999), trans. by Patrick Camiller, p. 65

[8] Joan Thirsk, Food in Early Modern England, Phases, Fads, Fashions 1500-1760, (Kings Lynn, 2007), p. 133

Le Strange ways of living: An analysis of Jane Whittle and Elizabeth Griffiths work.

When exploring the literature produced by Jane Whittle and Elizabeth Griffiths, one can sense the imagery that these two prominent historians in their field present about Seventeenth-Century life as an upper-class citizen. Following the activities of Lady Alice Le Strange, the two authors break down the household management that Le Strange exhibits into differing sub-sections. During this blog post, I will emulate this structure and give insight and analysis to the literature. Before we break down this text, one thing that is important to know is who exactly wrote this text, and what are their values hold approaching their research. 

Figure 1: A portrait of Alice Le Strange, found on the Eastern Daily Press website

Griffiths admits on her page from the University of Exeter that the Le Strange family, especially Alice had been of interest to her since 1981 when she was researching projects for her Ph.D. With her research, Elizabeth acknowledges, not being complete yet, we as readers of her work can see the passion and dedication to the project that she has spent 38 years on. Therefore, one can assume that with such dedication to one specific area of study, Griffiths factually will be very accurate and knowledgeable about the source.

Professor Jane Whittle on the other hand, also teaching at the University of Exeter, specializes in economic development, work, and gender. This is definitely something to keep in mind whilst reading her contributions to this chapter as the economics of the household and the roles of each of its members are the central theme of this literature

Books and Accounts

Figure 2: A ‘good’ housewife, A 17th Century pamphlet, taken from Martine Van Elk

Immediately when reading this section of the chapter, Whittle and Griffiths commend Alice’s ability to take accounts, even tipping her superiority of management over her husband, tokening her as systematic. This is something that many historians in the field wouldn’t hasten to agree to, with some historians such as Tim Lambert implying that such ‘Gentlewomen’ having multiple roles in comparison to the traditional view of a housewife, even running the household over a steward when the husband was away on business. Although Alice would take on many roles within the household, the main reason for her heavy involvement in estate management is suggested to be her interest in it. But during the chapter, our historians suggest that Alice’s service in the books didn’t necessarily mean she had the power within the estate, due to some women being forced into accountancy by their patriarchal husbands as the marriage was an essential mechanism for survival in this period. With the pair working together in harmony, this brings us onto our next sub-heading.


Although Alice’s books are a vital part of the Estate Management of Hunstanton manor, the roles of running the household and estate expand further than the books that she kept. Being a smaller estate than what would be typical of people of the Le Strange’s income. Alice and her husband Harmon were able to manage the entire estate without the cost of ‘high-income servants’ such as stewards. They also didn’t have many servants, making sure their live-in servants had multiple roles such as the coachman also brewing beer. Many servants found themselves as a close member of the family as they would tend to their family all hours of the waking day, Olivia Harris suggests in her literature that 27% of servants were ‘Collateral Kin’. Showing that although there were vast differences in their social status and class, servants were valuable to upper-class families and they held a lot of knowledge about each of the family members. Something that can prove this is by watching Downton Abbey, the relationship that this show indicates between the Master and Servant is one that can grow to be personal and intimate.


Figure 3: A Godly Form of Household Government, by John Dod and Robert Cleaver. Found on Worthpoint

In this sub-section of the chapter, our authors focus on Alice’s marriage with Harmon and how they would seek literature to form a stable and ‘ideal’ marriage. John Dod and Robert Cleaver’s ‘A Godly forme of Household government’ is suggested to be found within their personal collection. The importance that strikes me with this book is that Dod and Cleaver’s material suggests distinct roles within the ‘Micro-government’ of the family. It also commanded the views of marriage for this period, implying that patriarchy was the ideal form of sustaining a healthy marriage. This is interesting to look at from a historians perspective as the whole chapter, Whittle and Griffiths commend Alice Le Strange on her integral role within the estate management, but with the mention of Dod and Cleaver, a learned historian would realize that although she undertook such important roles, the free will was not her own and it was not her decision to take control. Alice was granted these roles from Harmon, she didn’t adopt them. This is further proven by Whittle and Griffiths using the wording of ‘Delegation’ to imply the hierarchy within this household.

Final Thoughts.

I want to finalize this blog post with a thought, with what we have explored within this chapter, how much control did Alice really have? Sure, she controlled many aspects of the estate, for example, keeping the books and accounts, therefore overseeing control of the finance of the estate. But was this not all her own merit? Due to the puritan devotion to patriarchal hierarchy, can we really say that Alice was in complete control? Whittle and Griffiths convey the message that Alice was happy with her many duties but continuously chose to use the words ‘earnt’ and ‘delegated’. So, is the life of Lady Alice Le Strange one of a pioneering woman taking control of the estate and having power, or was her power bestowed upon her by a ‘higher being’?

• Downton Abbey, Robert cheats on Cora, <>/ , [accessed 12:15, 08/11/2019]
• Exeter University, Elizabeth Griffiths, <>, [accessed 11:42, 08/11/2019]
• Exeter University, Jane Whittle, <>, [accessed 11:50, 08/11/2019]
• Gardiner, Jean, Encyclopedia of Political Economy, (1999), Vol. 2, p843
• Harris, Olivia, Households and Their Boundaries, History Workshop, No. 13 (Spring, 1982), p148
• Hepburn, Louise, New book chronicles the work of a very organised Norfolk woman, <>, [accessed 16:29, 08/11/2019]
• Lambert, Tim, Life for Women in the 1600s, <>/, [accessed 12:03, 08/11/2019]
• University of Worchester, John Dod and Robert Cleaver, A Godly Form of Household Government (1598), <> , [accessed 12:40, 08/11/2019]
• Van Elk, Martine, Discover ideas about Moreton Hall, <>/, [accessed 15:55, 08/11/2019]
• Whittle, Jane and Griffiths, Elizabeth, Consumption and Gender in the Early Seventeenth-Century Household: The World of Alice Le Strange, (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp.26-48
• Worthpoint Editor, RARE 1630 PURITAN JOHN DODD & ROBERT CLEAVER A GODLY FORME HOUSEHOLD GOVERNMENT, <> , [accessed 15:50, 08/11/2019]
• Wrightson, Keith, We are never far from where we were, <>/, [accessed 13:20, 08/11/2019]

Treating a cough … Early Modern style!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

³Ibid, p.216