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.


Foalefoote: Defining Ingredients Contextually

Written by Tristan McGuin

It is frequent when transcribing and analyzing older recipes that we come across a word that we do not readily recognize. Whether it be a word that is no longer used frequently, or a word that we know but appears to be used in a seemingly bizarre sense, it is important that we find a solution to the word in order to better understand the recipes and their historical framework that helped construct them. On top of this, some words have multiple definitions and it takes contextual understanding of a recipe to figure out the appropriate definition for the word. Luckily, with continually developing advances in technology, we have many online databases available to us to begin our journey into learning more about specific ingredients.

Such an instance of confusion appears early on in the transcription of Mistress Corlyon’s “A Syropp for the Coughe of the Lounges.” Corlyon’s syrup calls for many different ingredients stating, “of Scabies, three good handfulles, and halfe so much of Foalefoote, and the like quantity of Sinicle, the like of Pennyroyall” (Corlyon, fol. 169). One’s first thought is likely some variation of the question, ‘what are all of these ingredients exactly?’ We surely do not use scabies, foalefoote, sinicle or pennyroyall in modern recipes. Or do we? Let’s take a look at foalefoote.

The first step we need to take in unfolding the mystery of this ingredient would be to look up the definition of the word since we are not readily familiar with it. Often, a simple Google search is not helpful enough as Google has a tendency to show us search results for current, contemporary versions of the words. This is where we can turn to incredibly detailed databases such as the Oxford English Dictionary online to provide further insight. Running the word ‘foalefoote’ through the OED turns up no specific results. However, ‘foalfoot’—for which foalefoote is an obvious variant spelling—turns up three different definitions. Here is where it becomes incredibly important that the reader has a genuine understanding of the context and other details of the recipe in order to begin narrowing down which definition could be the correct one. To begin, because we know Corlyon’s works were published in the 1600’s, we must look for definitions that fit this timeline before moving any further. The very first definition provided fitting this criteria is “coltsfoot, n.” (foalfoot, n.1.) first used in a1400 and the second is “asarabacca, n.” (foalfoot, n.2.) first used in 1538. Obviously, we must dive even deeper as these words still appear foreign and don’t quite give us the answer we are looking for yet.

Upon clicking the links provided for these definitional words, we find even more definitions. We see that asarabacca is a plant, “sometimes called Hazelwort, used formerly as a purgative and emetic, and still as an ingredient of cephalic snuff.” (asarabacca, n.1.) This is interesting because the definition provided clearly states that this is an ingredient for medicines. However, it is used in medicines that are laxatives or that cause vomiting. We can likely already eliminate this as the contextual definition for Corlyon’s syrups as we should know just from reading her recipe that this is a recipe to aid in respiratory issues and not digestive ones.

Asarabacca (left, also known as Hazelwort) and Coltsfoot (right, also known as Tussilago).

Now to look into ‘coltsfoot’ where we can find three additional definitions. The first matching our criteria states that coltsfoot is “a common weed in waste or clayey ground” (coltsfoot n.1.) with leaves and yellow flowers. The second definition tells us that it is “Applied to other plants allied to the preceding, e.g. fragrant coltsfoot n.,  sweet coltsfoot Nardosmia (Petasites) fragrans and palmata. or resembling it in leaf, etc.” (coltsfoot, n.2.). It appears we have hit a dead end in our search. But we have actually failed to look into coltsfoot enough.

Under the first definition of coltsfoot we can find two subdefinitions of n.1. that state the leaves can be smoked or infused as a cure for asthma. Knowing that asthma is a respiratory issue, we can piece together that this is likely what Corlyon used for her respiratory medicine. Eureka! We have found what we are looking for! With this definition, we can return to other general search engines to find further contemporary details on this plant, leading us to a final and deeper understanding of foalfoot as an ingredient in Corlyon’s syrups.


“asarabacca, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
“coltsfoot, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
“coltsfoot, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
Corlyon, Mrs. “A booke of such medicines as have been approved by the speciall practize”         of Mrs. Corlyon [manuscript]. Ca. 1660. Folger MS V.a.388.
“foalfoot, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
“foalfoot, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
Photo 1: N.d. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 10 May 2017        <>.
Photo 2: N.d. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 10 May 2017.<>

Tristan McGuin 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.

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.

This is How My Grandmother Cooks: Manuscript Recipes in the Composition Classroom

By Samantha Snivley

This past summer, the relationship between early modern recipes and teaching undergraduates was on everyone’s mind at the “Teaching Early Modern Recipes in the Digital Age” workshop at Attending to Early Modern Women. How could we bring manuscript receipt collections into our classrooms, and what could students learn from them?

Manuscript recipes raise questions of form, genre, and purpose, and these questions are key to undergraduate writers’ development of academic writing skills. Most of the ideas proposed in June were intended for literature or history courses, but as a graduate student teaching a standardized composition syllabus, I wanted to know: What could manuscript recipes teach an introductory composition course about writing?

I ran the experiment this winter in my UWP001: Expository Writing class, and it turns out that manuscript recipes are perfect texts to think with in a composition classroom. I incorporated selected manuscript recipes into a unit on rhetorical analysis, and a day on “Genre” seemed most germane for my class to discuss the ways that manuscript recipes intricately combine genre and form with audience concerns. I wanted my students to realize that formal, generic, and linguistic choices are vital to constructing rhetorical messages.

I used two recipes from the Wellcome Library’s digital collections: a recipe for “biskett bread” from the 1686 recipe book of Elizabeth Godfrey & others (MS 2535, folio 14) and a recipe for “ginger bread cake” from the 1699 manuscript of Edward & Katharine Kidder (MS3107, folios 19 and 20). I paired this with a recipe for “French Bread” from Hannah Woolley’s 1672 The Exact Cook (142).


However, it would be cruel to make a group of undergrads read 17th-century handwriting, so I transcribed the manuscripts for our discussion. I then asked my students: Based on these texts, what are the formal conventions of a recipe? How does the genre change over time, or among rhetorical situations? And what do these genre conventions suggest about audience expectations and expertise?

My students were bemused by the diction, phrasing, and imprecision of the 17th-century recipes, but quickly inferred audience expectations from the genre conventions they observed. They noted that the form of a manuscript recipe required a variety of literacies in its audiences, and from there were argued that manuscript recipes also assumed a body of experiential knowledge acquired prior to reading the recipe.[1] We then discussed the reciprocity of this relationship: if you can infer qualities about the audience from a text, how might a writer use genre conventions to interact with their audience?

At first, my students had some difficulty articulating the complex way that recipes both required and contributed to a shared culture of experiential knowledge. They found the injunction in Woolley’s recipe to “let not your Oven be too hot,” odd in a text intended to teach its audience a new skill. However, they were able to navigate this question by retracing these ideas through their own experiences interacting with recipes. A number of students noted that “this sounds like the way my grandmother describes her recipes/makes her food,” and we discussed the way that genres function as a contract between writer and reader.

Using recipes to think about the ways an audience for a piece of rhetoric is partially determined by form was a productive exercise for my composition students. Not only were they able to watch a genre develop and change over time—thereby realizing the social nature of written genres—they were also able to think about their own abilities to control and work with genre conventions to further their own rhetorical message.

Samantha Snively, Graduate Student, University of California, Davis

Works Cited

[1] Wendy Wall describes this as “kitchen literacy” in “Literacy and the Domestic Arts.” Huntington Library Quarterly 73.3 (2010): 383-412.