Margaret Baker’s “Goulden Water”

Written by Mikayla Boynton

When looking through multiple recipe books from the 17th and 18th centuries, one will often find similar, if not copied entries across several manuscripts. One very interesting entry is found in Margaret Baker’s 1675 manuscript titled “The goulden water other wise called; the water of life” (fol. 78r).

This recipe calls for walnuts to be collected in the beginning of June, mid-Summer, and 14 days after mid-summer. After each collection of walnuts, one must “breake them in a morter; [and] still them in a stillitory of lead” (fol. 78r), keeping each distillate separately from the others after they are prepared.

“Receipt Book of Margaret Baker,” FSL MS V.a.619, fol. 78r.

Once each of the waters is stilled separately, the final step is to combine a pint of each previously stilled water together in a “stillit tory of glasse & soe keepe it” (fol. 78v). After the recipe itself, Baker immediately explains that this water can “helpe all feuers & palsies” when one drop is added to water, cure the eyes of “all the diseases & paine” when one drop is added to each, and can even “causeth a woman to conceive childe if shee take a spoonefull in wine once a daie” (fol. 78v); furthermore, she mentions that the water can help one sleep when rubbed on one’s temples, and will cure all infirmities in the body if consumed with wine.

“Receipt Book of Margaret Baker,” FSL MS V.a.619, fol. 78v

This recipe is found in at least four additional manuscripts from the 17th century – anonymous manuscripts MS8086 and MS1325 and MS7391 credited to Venetia Digby and MS3712 credited to Elizabeth Okeover and each includes the same specific instructions seen in Baker. All four manuscripts differ from Baker’s version of this recipe in small and various ways, but each share one common difference. The first variable difference appears in two of the four manuscripts: MS7391 and MS3712, or Digby and Okeover’s manuscripts. While Baker only includes that her recipe is also called “the water of life,” these titles further explain that “it is called the water of life for its vertues” (Digby 128).

Venetia Digby, “English Recipe Book, 17th Century,” Wellcome MS 7391, fol. 128.

These two manuscripts, as well as MS8086, present the second variable difference, as they list the cures this water possesses under a separate heading titled “The Vertues” (Digby 129),

Venetia Digby, “English Recipe Book, 17th century,” Wellcome Library, MS7391, fol. 129.

whereas Baker lists them directly after the recipe without this heading. However, all of these recipes differ from Baker’s in that they give it the title, “walnut water” instead of “goulden water.”

Calling this a recipe for “walnut water” makes logical sense given the ingredients, as does including that it is also known as the “water of life,” given the multitude of uses it possesses to prolong one’s life. When one takes into account references to the “water of life” in the Bible, Baker’s decision to change the title of this recipe to “goulden water” begins to make sense as well. In the book of John from the 1699 translation of the Geneva Bible, Jesus asks a woman pulling from a well if she will allow him a drink, and after she refuses, he replies, “If thou knewest that gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee water of life” (4:10). In this verse, the “water of life” refers to the eternal love of God, and Jesus further explains that drinking this water will result in “everlasting life” (John 4:14). Subtitling this recipe the “water of life” refers to more than just its healing abilities when considered in this context, and Baker’s main title, “goulden water,” brings to mind the golden virtues of God. On the other hand, the meat of a walnut is slightly golden in color, so this change in title could also refer to the color of the water after the walnuts are distilled.

When paired with the title “walnut water,” it may not be immediately clear why the recipe is also called the “water of life,” requiring further explanation that it is “for its vertues,” then, requiring a subheading under which the author lists “The Vertues” this water possesses. The title “walnut water” immediately tells the reader the main ingredient of the recipe, but requires additional explanation to reveal the allusion in the subtitle. Thus, Baker’s decision to change the title of this recipe to “goulden water” allows her to omit the additional explanation of the subtitle, and the subheading to create a more accessible, recognizable allusion. Used in this context, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “goulden” as, “Resembling gold in value; most excellent, important, or precious,” illustrating the immense value Baker sees in this recipe. This definition also lends to the idea that the color of this water may resemble gold, while the many cures it provides resemble gold in their excellence. By changing the main title of this recipe, Baker both strengthens the Biblical allusion in the subtitle, and emphasizes the medicinal value of her recipe.

Works Cited

Anonymous. “A booke of usefull receipts for cookery, etc.” Wellcome Library, MS1325            fols.183-185.
Anonymous, “Receipt book, early 17th century.” Wellcome Library, MS8086 fol.112.
Baker, Margaret. “Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675?” Folger Shakespeare Library      MS V.a.619. fols. 78r–78v.
Digby, Venetia. “English Recipe Book, 17th century.” Wellcome Library, MS7391. fols. 128–     129.
“golden,” adj.4. OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 24 April 2017.
Okeover, Elizabeth. “Okeover, Elizabeth (& Others).” Wellcome Library, MS3712. fol.102.

Mikayla Boynton is a student at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where she conducted this research as an assignment in the course “Digital Research Methods with Historical Recipes,” taught by Rebecca Laroche.


What constitutes a diet drink?

Written by Solveig Roervik

While transcribing the Ann Fanshawe manuscript, I came upon a drink called a diet drink. Because of the way the ingredients were suspended in liquid, the recipe resembled a modern herb tea, but in two other manuscripts I transcribed, other “diet drinks” had differing methods of creation, from brewing, suspending and boiling to a combination of these. Although the OED defines “diet drink” as “a drink prescribed and prepared for medicinal purposes” (1a), the styles of preparation involved seem in practice to be vastly different. These varying approaches made me question why they were all called diet drinks, what connected them, and if the method of creation had something to say about its medicinal effects on the humoral body. Did the recipes have any ingredients in common? And how are these ingredients activated or tempered by the method of its creation? After addressing these questions, I propose that diet drinks can be said to help alleviate the conditions caused by an excess of coldness and/or dryness, and the recipes’ methods maximise the warmth and moisture of the ingredients.

The diet drinks that I found address four conditions — kidney stone, scurvy, rickets, and dropsy — by attempting to rebalance the amount of moisture and heat in the body. John Gerard explains these conditions in The herball, or, Generall historie of plantes, connecting the conditions to a possible imbalance of moisture. The stone is a hard mineral concretion, “the stone of the kidneies” (238), which Thomas Cogan recommends treating with warm and moist ingredients, like asparagus (45). Gerard goes on to describe scurvy as “that plague and hurtful disease of the teeth, gums, and sinewes, … being a depriuation of all good bloud and moisture” (401). While the dropsie seems like an outlier because it’s a condition where the body retains too much moisture, the blockage causing the extra liquid retention can be broken up by hot and dry ingredients like saxifrage, which according to Gerard causes “one to pisse freely,” releasing the extra liquid (1048). (Even though saxifrage is hot and dry, it can be used in a wet medium to release the water retention.) Humorally, conditions from kidney stone to dropsy could be balanced out with warmth and moistness, which can explain the usage of medicinal liquids in curing these conditions.

Since these conditions are linked humorally, how do the methods used affect the medicinal properties of the drinks? In the Receipt book of Margaret Baker, the “Diet drinke for the Scuruie” is boiled, increasing the level of heat of the ingredients and liquids (front endleaf 3, V.a.619).[1] Cold water itself could disrupt the balance of heat in a vulnerable body, like a body that has just exercised; Cogan instead recommends a drink with warm properties, because it’s less disrupting for the temperatures (236-237). In addition, the recipe uses wormwood, which can help with “open[ing] the liver and spleene: which vertues are chiefe, for the preservation of health” (Cogan 61). Both wormwood and boiling increase heat in the drink, and give a relief to the aching mouth caused by scurvy.

In the “Diett Drinke” recipe in the Ann Fanshawe manuscript, the ingredients were not boiled, but rather suspended (7, MS7113). The herbal tea is a delivery mechanism for hot and dry ingredients to clear the blockage causing the dropsie. Gerard says the herb Galingale, which is included in the recipe, “help[s] the dropsie”, where Galingale “[is] of an heating and drying qualitie” (31). This diet drink is the only one I came across that doesn’t require any sort of alcoholic beverage, like ale or wine, which is interesting as wine is said by Cogan to be “hot in the second degree… and it is dry according to the proportion of heat” (238). Why would water be used, with its coldness, instead of using wine which has the hot and dry qualities needed to cure a dropsie? Here, humorally hot ingredients are delivered by a cold vector, implying a mixture of cold and hot ingredients can also be curative for this condition.


The second diet drink found in the Fanshawe MSS, “A Receipt of a Diet Drink for the Stone” (78, MS7113) contains fewer herbs compared to the previous recipes: only ashen keys, parsley, saxifrage roots, and malt (which is helpful as the recipe goes through a brewing process). Saxifrage is explained by John Gerard as “hot and dry in the third degree”, helping it “break… the stone in the bladder and kidnies” (1048). Like saxifrage, the process of brewing itself increases heat and dryness, showing the doubling effect of ingredients and method, which relates to the condition it was to alleviate. And there is still more doubling in the recipe’s methods, as the drink is first boiled, then brewed in the sun — building methodological heat upon heat from the ingredients, which is opposite to the previous diet drink.

The most complicated recipe of the group is a brewed “diett Drinke for the Ricketts” found in the Receipt book of Rebeckah Winche (74, V.b.366). This recipe has an interesting addition of large raisins, “reasons of the sunne”, which according to Cogan are hot and moist, channeling the heat of the sun into the ingredients themselves (109). It is a rather complicated process to make this drink: first it is boiled, then brewed, some of it is then consumed, before being bottled and brewed a second time. As it is consumed at different stages of fermentation, the drink experiences variations in alcohol content. Cogan explains how levels of hotness and moistness vary with age, as wine is usually hot and dry in the second degree, but “if it bee very old, it is hot in the third degree, and must, or new wine is hot in the first” (238). Both ingredients, like raisins, and the methods, like brewing, build upon themselves to increase the heat in the drink.

Based on these recipes, I propose that diet drinks can help alleviate the conditions caused by an excess of coldness and/or dryness, where the recipes’ methods maximise the warmth and moisture of the ingredients. While one of the recipes uses hot ingredients in a cold medium, the other recipes build the heat and/or wetness in the ingredients upon the heat produced in the methods. Although the definition of diet drink is focused on its medicinal purposes, I would argue that diet drinks are also focused on correcting the imbalance of heat and/or moistness in the body.

Works Cited

Baker, Margaret. “Receipt book of Margaret Baker.” LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection. Ca. 1675. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Cogan, Thomas. The Haven of Health. Fourth Edition. London: Anne Griffin for Roger Ball, 1636.

“ˈdiet-drink, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 4 April 2017.

Fanshawe, Lady Ann. “Recipe book of Lady Ann Fanshawe.” Wellcome library. Ca. 1651-1707. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Gerard, John, et al. The herball or Generall historie of plantes. London: Printed by Adam Islip Joice Norton and Richard Whitakers, 1636.

Winche, Rebeckah. “Receipt book of Rebeckah Winche.” LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection. Ca. 1666. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

[1] Instead of cold water, Cogan recommends alcohol or drinks with warm properties like a “hot posset” as “they use in Lancashire” (236-237). Cogan also talks about the boiling of whey, and how clarifying milk affect its properties (255). Boiling could also at the period be a way to check the purity of a liquid, like water, where clean water had “little skim or froth in boyling” (237).

Solveig Roervik is a student of Dr. Nancy Simpson-Younger at Pacific Lutheran University.

God in the Recipe

Written by Jana Jackson

The diverse uses of an early modern woman’s private space in the home, often termed her “closet,” are reflected in the writing she produced. A good Protestant woman, for example, was encouraged to take notes in her Bible and to also keep a commonplace book containing personal religious musings: “[Readers] were also trained to compile their own collections [of religious thoughts] on bound or loose-leaf pages, either following the subject headings of a trusted authority or devising a scheme that met their particular needs” (Sherman 75). These commonplace place books also contained recipes, both culinary and medicinal. In addition, women compiled “receipt books,” to prove their competency in domestic responsibilities. In keeping with the non-bifurcation of religion from quotidian life in the early modern period, some of these receipt books contain references to God, Bible verses, and other religious marginalia in addition to recipes.

Many extant receipt books, of course, contain no sermon notes or other spiritual prose. However, it is not uncommon for God to be included within the medical receipts even in these texts. Frances Catchmay’s manuscript is an excellent example of the frequent occurrence of God within a receipt as an essential ingredient for achieving the promised efficacy. In a receipt to cure the plague, for example, she instructs the reader to drink a “draught”of malmosey & treacle till he leave casting. . .and after give the patient adrawght of bournt malmsey without treacle, & so cast him into asweate, & let him be after kept very warme, & by the grace of god [italics mine] he shall have helpe (22r). Likewise, Mary Granville’s rendition of “Doctor Burges” plague water includes the phrase “under God trusting” to support her assertion that “this never did faile either man woman or child” (41r).

Cookery and medicinal recipes of the Granville family, MS V.a.430 Folger Shakespeare Library

Certainly, the desperate crisis of the descent of bubonic plague on a town makes exhortations to God, even among the non-religious, in the physics of plague waters understandable. Kevin Killeen, in fact, asserts that it was not uncommon for doctors to flee from infestations of the plague, leaving behind less wealthy citizens and, presumably, female domestic practitioners anxiously dispensing their homemade physic (194). Additionally, the plague was often viewed by early modern Protestants as a curse from God in punishment of sin, thus reinforcing the view that healing the disease cures both the body and soul (194). But “God as ingredient” occurs in receipts for less catastrophic (or contagious) diseases as well. For example, Margaret Baker’s receipt titled “For the fallinge downe of the mother” concludes with a claim that “it will help by the grace of god” (57r). These early modern Protestant women frequently acknowledge that without God’s help, physics treating a variety of diseases will fail.

The Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, MS V.a.419. Folger Shakespeare Library

God was, therefore, often thought to be a highly efficacious “ingredient” in early modern physic. A woman was extolled as truly pious if she demonstrated her faith in every aspect of her life, including, of course, the imitation of Christ achieved through healing the sick. Additionally, it contributed to the credibility of the value of the receipt itself. Arguably, male physicians were more likely to incorporate domestic physic into their own medical practices if the contributor was a pious woman who understood her place within the cultural/religious patriarchy.[1] Therefore, “God in the recipe” accomplished two important functions for an early modern Protestant woman: It “proved” her piety, and it lent authority in the male-dominated medical profession to her domestic medical practice.


Jana Jackson is a graduate student at the University of Texas, Arlington

Works Cited

Baker, Margaret. Receipt book of Margaret Baker. MS V.a.619. Folger Shakespeare Library, 1675(?). Web.

Catchmay, Lady Frances. A booke of medicens. MS184A. Wellcome Library, 1625(?). Web.

Grenville Family. Cookery and medicinal recipes of the Granville family. MS V.a.430. Folger Shakespeare Library, c.a. 1640. Web.

Killeen, Kevin. “Powder for Padlocks: The Rhetoric of Thanksgiving and the Politics of Flight in Caroline Plague.” Literature and Popular Culture in Early Modern England. Eds. Matthew Dimmock and Andrew Hadfield. Great Britain: MPG Books Group, 2009. 193-207. Print.

Sherman, William H. Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England. Philadelphia, PA: U of Pennsylvania P, 2008. MLA International Bibliography. Print.

[1] See, for example, Richard Banister’s encomium of Lady Grace Mildmay in his “Letter to the Reader” in A Treatise of One Hundred and Thirteen Diseases of the Eyes by Jacques Guillemeau.