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.

Medicine in the Granville Family Manuscript (Folger Va 340)

By Amanda Torres

With a receipt titled, “A Receipt to take away the red spots out of the Face after the small pox are gone,” one has to wonder the intention behind offering such a promise. Was this particular disease proliferated by festering spots left untreated, or was the receipt’s intent driven by cosmetic ritual, simply to rid the face of unsightly blemishes and ghastly disfigurement. First we must identify what these incremental ingredients signify or stand in for. “Tansey water” was likely derived from the tansy plant, an invasive and flowering sort. Regarding tansy, the Oxford English Dictionary states that “all parts of the plant have a strong aromatic scent and bitter taste”; therefore the plant would be better suited for medicinal application rather than ingestion.

“Sulphur vivum” means “native or virgin sulphur,” an active, bacteria-killing ingredient typically used for the treatment of skin conditions in the form of topical ointments. “Leamons” or lemons are also employed for their cleansing properties. Recurring in the Granville and Winche receipt books is the mention of “camphire,” or camphor, which The OED defines as a “whitish translucent crystalline volatile substance, belonging chemically to the vegetable oils, and having a bitter aromatic taste and a strong characteristic smell.” The OED also states it was formerly regarded as an “antaphrodisiac” and therefore used to combat venereal disease. Modern science endorses camphor for its soothing and decongestant properties.

All of these units combine to absolve a patient from the aftereffects of a horribly painful disease. Billed between a receipt for “possett” and a “plaister for the spleene,” alleviating “smallpox spots” reinforces the critical anxieties of the early modern period, as disease and plague indiscriminately conquered countless lives. The recipe’s main goal seeks not to cure the disease itself, but to create a solution for the “pustules,” or blistering pus-filled sores that covered a victim’s face and body. Sores would often leaving scarring and permanent damage, so the Granville entry remains a hopeful fix. Also important to note is the category of ingredients called for, as lemon, sulfur, and camphor are still in use today for their antibiotic properties. The use of proven antibacterial ingredients suggests a scientific understanding of how these ingredients worked, a knowledge that if not formally acquired, was established through trial and error.

My uncertainty still lies with “Cemitary water,” which seems to suggest a contaminated product, marred by disease or death. Despite these connotations relating to the nature of smallpox, I’m unsure of how this ingredient fits in with fighting against the disease. Following my primary receipt of study is “Another Receipt” which suggests a variance on treating smallpox sores. The key difference in this receipt happens with the use of “milke.” On the next page we see “An ointment to take the spotts out of the Face after the small Pox” and “A very good ointment for a tetter or any Itching.” The physical appearance of disease is aggressively targeted specifically in this set of receipts. The topicality of these receipts parallels the humoral notions of early modern health we’ve discussed, as internal strategy plays a significant role in guiding food and medicine across this period.

Amanda Torres is an MA student at the University of Texas, Arlington and a member of Professor Amy Tigner’s “Culinary Shakespeare” class.

Vetting Rewards

By Joul Smith

Vetting rewards. It may not be the sexiest part of transcribing, but scrutinizing the products of the Winche (Folger V.b. 366) transcribathon has improved my technical skills as a transcriber and re-oriented the value I place on my work with recipes. And as a graduate student whose work and study revolves around early modern English, I’m developing “skill” and “purpose” for my future profession by vetting.

At first, vetting sounds grueling and intrusive. Here’s the process: I collate the various transcriptions, determine which versions are the best, reformat them into one text that can be correctly interfaced with Dromio (the Folger Shakespeare Library’s transcription tool), edit them (by re-transcribing if necessary), then pain-stakingly tag every word that matches a specific category (And for recipes, it’s almost every other word.). In my graduate classes, this is usually the work of transcription trolls. They would sneak in after you spent hours hashing out the general spine of a difficult hand and use your hard work to finish a transcription that was only possible because of your initial dedication to the text. Then they would brag about their skills as a transcriber (Yeah. I’m still getting over it.). In the case of the Winche manuscript, for instance, a recipe for “A Drink for the Sciaticae” has a crossed out “bru,” which three highly accomplished transcribers labeled three different ways: “bri,” “bro,” and “be.” Close examination shows that the “u” matches the hand’s “u” and the line “bru one ounce of licorish brused,” seems to demonstrate an editorial thought-process—worthwhile, but now I’m the troll.

Screenshot 2015-11-02 12.14.35

Yet in the end, vetting stretches my capabilities and makes me a better student of early modern English, paleography, and the digital humanities. For example, I want a researcher to authentically experience “two pailefuls of pumps water” in Winche’s “How to dry Meats Tongues,” but the “pailefuls” is spelled strangely and the hand hardly helps. Furthermore, the “s” in “pumps” could be an “e,” but it’s unclear. I firmly believe it’s an “s” because it matches what seems like the speech pattern indicated in the heading: “Meats tongues.” Put it all together, and we have a unique measurement, “pailefuls” and an intriguing kind of ingredient “pump’s water” that all needs to be tagged through overlapping features that preserves the original text. At junctures like “pumps,” vetting isn’t a straight-forward, objective activity, despite our solid principles and rigorous criteria. For you worriers, I put on my graduate-level-expertise hat and marked it as an unclear “s” which responsibly renders an accurate and authentic version of Winche’s recipes for future researchers.

As you can see, there is fruit in this exercise (sometimes literally), and it isn’t just the result of correcting transcription. Sure, it sharpens my paleographic eye, increases my early modern recipe lexicon, and improves my ever-expanding digital skill. But when I correct a milestone overlap in TEI syntax, I’m not just fixing XML, I’m transferring the knowledge of the Winche manuscript to those who want and need it but can’t access it easily or at all.

Joul Smith, Graduate Student, University of Texas, Arlington

Research, Recipes, and the Transcribathon

By Amy Tigner


Last week, EMROC organized a Transcribathon, in which some 90+ students and scholars in Germany, the UK, Ireland, Canada, the US, and Australia transcribed the 17th century recipe manuscript of Rebeckah Winche, a new acquisition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, over a 12- hour period. We were all connected electronically, communicating which pages we had transcribed and tweeting about interesting discoveries we had made about the manuscript. Though this was a virtual experience globally, it was also brought transcribers together in physical spaces, as in nearly every location students and scholars sat together for this common pursuit.

Being in a room of people transcribing one manuscript is exciting, as we collectively begin to reveal the treasures of the book. I with several other members of EMROC and some of our graduate students sat in the basement board room of the Folger Shakespeare Library transcribing with Folger librarians and other interested paleographers. Througout the day, people would often comment on some strange ingredient or recipe or they had just encountered. And, as the day progressed, more and more scholars and students began to discuss what interested them—what they were in particular trying to find out about this manuscript, about early modern recipes or seventeenth-century culture more generally. What we were experiencing was ground level collaborative research. Our eventual project is to have a searchable database, so that scholars all over the world can do a word search through multiple manuscripts to conduct research. However, building a database takes a great deal time and the colossal effort of many; in the meantime, the transcribathon itself functions a bit like a living, small-scale database.

For example, early on in the transcribathon, Hillary Nunn told me that she was transcribing a recipe for chocolate, or “Chocolet,” as the manuscript spells it. As I have had a long interest tracing in recipes for chocolate as they travel from the Mexico to Spain to England and then back to colonies in the New World, I was very excited to see this recipe. In the seventeenth century, chocolate was something that was a drink rather than something to eat; eating chocolate in solid form in candy or other sweet recipes does not appear until the eighteenth century. Winche’s recipe was interesting, however, because it was not a recipe for a drink per se, but for preparing and storing chocolate that would eventually be ground up into water, milk, or perhaps even wine. According to the recipe, the chocolate would not be fit to use for three months.


Something else interesting in the recipe was the inclusion of seemingly unusual ingredients: ambergris and musk. Both of these were used in perfumes; ambergris comes from the secretion of sperm whales and musk comes from the glandular secretions of musk deer. As strange as it seems, such perfuming of chocolate was not uncommon in the period: recipes both from Earl of Sandwich’s manuscript (c.1668) and from Penelope Jephson’s receipt book, dated 1674, both call for ambergris and Sandwich’s recipe also suggests musk and civit (another perfume from the glandular secretion of the civit cat). Although it seems odd to us to put these exotic perfumes into chocolate, current chocolatiers are also adding seemingly incongruous aromatic ingredients to chocolate: lavender, rose petals, bacon, wasabi, curry powder, and cayenne pepper, to name only a few.

Amy L. Tigner, University of Texas, Arlington