Monthly Archives: May 2020

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 Old writing is often poorly spelt, written, uses odd grammar/outdated terms and sometimes words are different in the same paragraph.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.