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.

EMROC’s Coming Up Roses in 2016

By Rebecca Laroche


Once again, EMROC enters a new term filled with exciting discoveries and steady progress toward our collective goals. Through our teaching and research, we look to transcribe, vet, and tag as well as present our findings and our progress in various conferences in North America and Europe. This work reinforces EMROC’s aims in forging links between individual and collaborative research and connecting both with our energizing classrooms.

This semester, three EMROC members are linking the project with their classes. At North Carolina State University, Maggie Simon is integrating recipes from Constance Hall’s collection into a discussion on country house poems in her course “Delighting in Disorder: Seventeenth Century Poetry and Prose.” The unit abuts another on verse miscellanies, and she anticipates that the juxtaposition will fit nicely with considering other types of manuscript transmission, collaboration, and compilation. In a course entitled “The Global History of Food, 1450–1750,” Lisa Smith at the University of Essex considers with her students how recipes fit within global culture as commodities and as transmitted texts as they transcribe into DROMIO. Concurrently, Rebecca Laroche appropriately connects her online students with Digital Humanities questioning as they explore recipes from Margaret Baker’s and Elizabeth Bulkeley’s collections. Combined, these courses are engaging the minds of more than sixty students with EMROC’s purpose and goals.

Students previously energized by their classroom experience continue to “spread the love.” On April 8, members of the Early Modern Paleography Society (EMPS) at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte who participated in the fall International Transcribathon, will be hosting the first student-run transcribathon. They are looking at the recipe book of Lettice Pudsey (Folger v.a.45) as their possible focus. Continue to monitor this space for further details.

While graduate students at the University of California-Davis, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas-Arlington chip away at the transcriptions of Catchmay, Hall, and Granville this spring, research assistants at the Max Planck Institute, the University of Essex, and the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs will be vetting and tagging the Winche manuscript completed during fall’s transcribathon. The goal is to get the transcription fully database ready as a model for other texts that are reaching triple-keyed closure.

In these first months of 2016, it is clear that EMROC has fully entered the scholarly conversation. Early in January, Rebecca Laroche participated in a roundtable at the Modern Language Association about the “Myth of Post-Canonicity,” highlighting EMROC’s potentials within the larger Digital Humanities arena, while Elaine Leong presented research on paper as an ingredient for “Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge” project, research that she was able to complete because of the St. John and Winche transcriptions. Hillary Nunn has organized a recipes team for the “Networking Early Modern Women” day for the revisions of the Six Degree of Francis Bacon DH venture and has attained a place at the Folger’s “Digital Agendas” roundtable on Scholarly Conversations & Collaborations as part of the Renaissance Society of America’s April meeting in Boston. She and Jennifer Munroe have been invited to represent EMROC at the Shakespeare Association’s Digital Showcase in New Orleans at the end of March and have also committed to sharing EMROC’s work at a conference on cookbooks in New York City in May.  Speaking to the German Shakespeare Association in April in Bochum, Amy Tigner will discuss EMROC’s work and its connection to early modern culinary gardens.

As CFPs and course schedules circulate for the 2016-17 academic year, the collective can only anticipate that its efforts will grow and its presence will intensify. The logic of the task is so clear, the feedback from classes and presentations so positive. With many thanks to all who participated in the collective in 2015, all look to continuing this work with enthusiasm and dedication. If you would like to be a part of the conversation, EMROC now has a listserv; just send an email to contactemroc@gmail.com with the expressed desire to join.




The Snail’s Touch: Prescribing Mollusks in Early Modern Receipt Books

By Vincent Sosko

When perusing through the pages of an historical receipt book, a transcriber will encounter many perplexing headings to the various recipes for food and medicine. Those recipe titles that inevitably make the transcriber stop scrolling and their jaws drop in a simultaneous expression of repulsion and intrigue are the ones that stir up the most discussion and research (typically resulting in many odd Google searches for herbs we are not familiar with or things we never thought could be ingredients). On page 8 of Rebeckah Winche’s receipt book, the simple heading “Snail Water” is the cause for one such instance of repulsion, intrigue, and rapid Google searching.

The recipe gets off to a foreboding start when it calls for “a peck of garden snails” that the preparer will “wash in a great bowle of beere” so that they may be cooked in “charcole … till thay be dead.” This seventeenth century barbeque only becomes more entertaining when we add in “a quart of earth wormes” that will be stamped together with the beer-cleansed snails. And with the title of this recipe only stating the end product and not describing any sort of usage or purpose, a reader of this might think this beverage to be just a common spirit of another age. Of course, if the transcriber were to look on the opposing page and see the heading of a recipe saying, “A Drinke for the Plague when it first seses any one,” they might come to the understanding that they are not in the section of the receipt book covering libations.

Winche’s “Snail Water” recipe never actually gives an ailment that this remedy could be attempting to cure though. Historians have identified the use of snails in a number of medical therapies, mostly antiquated, but still some having modern relevancy. One use has been for dermatological treatment of wounds or warts, and this use is still seeing some interest in contemporary medicine (see Steve Thomas’s vivid study using slugs and snails to treat skin lesions). Another broad category of conditions that snails have been linked to treating deals with brain malfunctions and blood-related diseases. Today, neuroscientists are exploring the possibilities of snail venom in decreasing the brain’s reception to addictive drugs. What this broad category ultimately relates to is a disease that this Winche recipe may possibly be aiming to remedy – consumption, or as we call it today, tuberculosis.

From that original combination of garden snails and earthworms, the recipe instructs the preparer to create a base mixture in a “great bras pot” upon which the snail-worm blend will lay. This mixture brings together many handfuls of various plants (“rosemary flowers,” “bearsfoot,” “wood bittony,” etc.) that are present in many other recipes in the Winche collection, and that all hold curative powers. All of these ingredients are met with “3 gallons of the strongest Ale” before they receive some additional herbs and are distilled overnight. The potential use for this “Snail Water” hinges on a couple of interpretations, with the most equivocal issue coming the morning after distillation.

Once the concoction produced has stood in a “limbeck,” or alembic (a stilling vessel) overnight, the preparer should “put fier under it & receve the water.” When a transcriber takes on the task of vetting this recipe, they are faced with the choice of tagging the word “receve” as either a production method, where the water is drained from a boiling process and could be an ointment, or as an administration statement, where one is instructed to drink the water as is. If this instruction is a production method, then we could see this as a medicine for skin lesions and other wounds. But if it is indeed an administration statement, then drinking the water directly after it has been boiled will lend this recipe to being an internal treatment for consumption. The fact that the heading atop this recipe simply describes it as water would lead many to side with the latter therapy. A further examination of the listed ingredients could help ‘clear the waters’.


Vincent Sosko is a PhD student at the University of Texas, Arlington and a member of Professor Amy Tigner’s “Culinary Shakespeare” class.

Works Cited

The following sources provided the supplemental medical information contained in this commentary. The recipe discussed comes the scanned image “page 8 || page 9” from the “Receipt book of Rebeckah Winche” in the EMROC collection.


Archivistkira. “Snail Water? Did I read that right?” What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!.

University Libraries, Virginia Tech, September 30, 2011. Web. 25 October 2015. https://whatscookinvt.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/snail-water-did-i-read-that-right/

Bonnemain, Bruno. “Helix and Drugs: Snails for Western Health Care From Antiquity to the Present.” PubMed Central. National Center for Biotechnology Information, January 28, 2005. Web. 26 October 2015.

Thomas, Steve. “Medicinal use of terrestrial molluscs (slugs and snails) with particular reference to their role in the treatment of wounds and other skin lesions.” World Wide Wounds. Medetec Medical Device Consultancy Cardiff, July 2013. Web. 26 October 2015.

Wrathall, Janet. “Snail-Water Information Sheet: A modern analysis of Snail Water.” The Garret. Web. 25 October 2015.

Yuhas, Daisy. “Healing the Brain with Snail Venom.” Scientific American. Nature America, Inc., December 19, 2012. Web. 25 October 2015.



“The American Scholar”

ByTaryn Dollings
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

Ralph Waldo Emerson describes “The American Scholar:”

“He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation […] Long must he stammer in his speech; often forego the living for the dead. Worse yet, he must accept, – how often! Poverty and solitude.”

My copy of Emerson’s speech is highlighted and punctuated with “Yes!” and “I feel that!” and “Life of a grad student!” So often we sit, as I am now, alone in our dark chambers, pouring out thoughts and words onto a glowing computer screen.

The Transcribathon this October was a welcome change, and my first experience with what I felt to be hands-on scholarship on a large scale. The Early Modern Paleography Society at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte holds regular meetings where we work to transcribe receipt books as a group, puzzling over conventions and rejoicing over the many different names for peaches. However, the energy in our cozy little room at the Folger Shakespeare Library was different. Through our collaborativethe Trello board, I could see the other students and professionals faculty across America and the rest of the globe ticking off keyings of the manuscript of Rebeckah Winche. Someone would occasionally pipe up about an odd ingredient, or we would pause to marvel at the amount of sugar and butter that went into an early modern dessert. Tweets about strange recipes were shared from scholars near and far.

Beyond the exciting sense of community, there was a satisfaction that we were doing something tangible and lasting. Because of our work at the Transcribathon, scholars across the world will have access to the receipt book of Rebeckah Winche. At the end of the day, we got a glimpse into the vetting process, where transcriptions were overlaid so that our more experienced colleagues could compare interpretations and determine how the manuscript would be digitally preserved. It was rewarding to think that we were enabling others to study the same work that had delighted us all day.

Our fun didn’t end with the Transcribathon. My fellow travelers from UNCC and I were able to return to the Folger the next day to study manuscripts, letters, and even printed books with newspaper clippings pasted inside. As quietly as we could, we crowded together, sharing our discoveries and questions.

So, I have concluded that Emerson may in fact be wrong. We do not have to forego the living for the dead. Our best work happens through active collaboration, and I look forward to sharing in that collaboration throughout my studies and career.


The Community of the Transcribathon

By Breanne Weber
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

A few weeks ago, an international community gathered together with one purpose: to transcribe a 17th-century recipe book. I was one of the graduate students from UNC Charlotte fortunate enough to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Transcribathon on-site at the Folger Shakespeare Library. It was an incredible experience for me, especially since I am particularly interested in early modern book history.

The thing that most astonished me about the Transcribathon was the sense of community. Though I am merely a second-year master’s student, I immediately felt at-home, welcomed with open arms by leading scholars in their respective fields.
The atmosphere in the basement room at the Folger was charged with excitement. It was by no means a solitary experience: the room was filled with transcribers exclaiming over delicious recipes (like cheesecake and butter-filled pancakes), reading aloud tweets from transcribers at remote locations, and deliberating over nearly illegible or really strange words or phrases (“does this recipe really call for an ounce of unburied man’s skull?”). Though we each transcribed individually, there was certainly a communal sense of purpose and an excitement about our work. Even the transcription sprints, while creating some competition among transcribers, fostered the community – we all worked in unison on the same page and later projected our transcriptions on the screen, each person taking a turn to read a line and see our communal progress.

The best part of the day, though, was when Dr. Heather Wolfe, the manuscript curator at the Folger, brought the Winche manuscript into the room. To see in-person the very pages we spent the entire day transcribing digitally was a surreal experience; we all gathered around the manuscript, asking questions and finding the pages that we had already transcribed. As Dr. Wolfe showed us the pages of the manuscript, our post-modern, technological world collided with the 17th century world of Rebeckah Winche in a very real way. It was almost as if Winche herself was present in the room with us.
I’m so grateful to have been given this opportunity to participate in the Transcribathon. The sense of connection and common purpose made transcription even more real and important to me than it already was. And, as a result of this amazing experience, the officers of the Early Modern Paleography Society (EMPS) have decided to host our own Transcribathon in the spring in order to provide an opportunity for others to experience this community like we have. These avenues for connection are so important to the work that we do. After all, that’s why recipes are so important: they bring people together.