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.

To Make a Selebub

Written by Marissa Nicosia

Reposted from Cooking in the Archives

The day after Christmas I opened my laptop and started transcribing a page of Constance Hall’s recipe book, Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.a.20. I did this every day for twelve days as part of an Early Modern Recipes Online (EMROC) holiday Transcribathon. I transcribed sitting next to my sister-in-law, in the early morning hours before a pre-semester faculty meeting, after yoga, and at the end of a long day of preparation for the Modern Language Association conference. It was nice to pause amidst the festivity, work, and routine to transcribe a few pages of Constance Hall’s book. It’s not that I never complete transcriptions anymore – I transcribe lots of recipes for this site and other related projects – it’s just that I usually skim physical or digital recipe books looking for recipes I’m excited to cook, rather than transcribing everything on a page, fussing over abbreviations, musing about alternate spellings, and puzzling through tricky lines. Transcribing daily reconnected me to my research for this project in a new way, honed my skills, and, of course, added many recipes to my long “to cook” list.

The EMROC blog has a wonderful post with background information about Constance Hall and her manuscript.

Hall’s lovely, calligraphic title page is dated 1672. I decided to try this recipe for “selebub,” or syllabub first because syllabubs were all the rage in the last decades of the seventeenth century when Hall compiled her manuscript. Alyssa’s “Solid Sillibib” post offers an excellent account of this syllabub craze and she includes many transcribed recipes from other manuscripts as examples of the trend. I’m also tipping my hat to Gina Patnaik and Lili Loofbourow whose epic quest to make a birch whisk to stir their syllabub over at The Awl still leaves me in awe.


The Recipe


To make selebubbe
Take 2 quarts of cream and sweet[en]
it and put it in to a bason and squise
in to lemons in to it and on of the p[eel]
put in a quarter of a pint of sack and
put in one drop of oring flower water
take out the lemon whip it with a cl[ean]
whiske and put it in your glasses halfe
this will fill seauen

Our Recipe

Since the recipe notes that it will fill seven syllabub glasses half full (serving seven), I quartered the recipe. These proportions produced a quart of syllabub. I also guessed on the sugar and used sherry for the sack.

2 c cream (1 pint)
1/3 c sugar
half a lemon: peel cut into long strips, then juiced
2 T sherry (for the sack)
1/4 t orange blossom water
Optional: extra grated zest (orange and/or lemon) to serve

Stir together the cream, sugar, lemon juice, sherry, and orange blossom water. Add the lemon peel. Let sit for 1 hour.

Remove the lemon peel. Whisk until a stiff foam forms using a standing mixer, a handheld mixer, or a whisk. Serve in small glasses or bowls.


The Results

The most decadent whipped cream I’ve ever tasted: This is my best effort at describing the syllabub. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. It’s slightly boozy, but grounded by the acidity of the lemon and the unavoidable creaminess of the, well, cream.

I want to spoon it over chocolate ice cream. I want to spread it on dense, rich cake. I want to serve it with poached or roasted fruit. Basically, I want to eat it in the least seventeenth-century way possible. I’m not especially interested in sipping or spooning it from a glass. I’m curious to see what happens with the rest of the batch over the weekend.

marissa-7 marissa-8marissa-9

Marissa Nicosia is an Assistant Professor of Renaissance Literature at Penn State University, Abington

Manus Christi Height

By Monterey Hall

Wellcome Manuscript 169, fol. 25r

As indicated by Katrina Rutz to the introduction to the Bulkeley Project, Elizabeth Bulkeley’s A boke of hearbes and receipts contains a section that tells the reader how to recognize five different sugar “heights” or boiling temperatures, a section common to many pre-nineteenth-century recipe books (Hess 225). The third height, known as manus christi height, is a bit of an enigma in the culinary history world. “Manus christi”—or “hands of Christ” in Latin—refers not only to a stage in the candy-making process, but also to an expensive medicinal hard candy that first appears in medieval recipe books and continues on until its abrupt disappearance in the early nineteenth century (Davidson 493). However, despite their shared name, manus christi the candy and manus christi the candy-making height seem to be entirely at odds with one another (493).

The vast majority of authoritative sources on pre-nineteenth-century candy-making, including The Oxford Companion to Food, refer to culinary historian Karen Hess when discussing manus christi height. In Hess’s book, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, she states that manus christi height refers to the point at which boiling sugar has reached 215°F (Hess 227). This temperature is a little bit cooler than the stage of candy-making now known as the thread stage; sugar at this temperature is used to make syrups and is characterized by the appearance of loose, non-balling threads when the sugar solution is dropped into cold water (“The Cold Water Candy Test”). It is likely the current moniker “thread stage” that led Hess to believe that manus christi height refers to this boiling temperature: the instructions for manus christi height in Washington’s cookbook read “When your sugar is at manis Christi height, it will draw betwixt your fingers like a small thrid, and before it comes to that height, it will not draw. & soe use it as you have occasion” (Hess 226). Bulkeley’s instructions read similarly to Washington’s: “When your suger is in a full sirrup let it boile till it doth drawe betwixt your fingers like athred and then it is a manuus Chrie height” (Digital Image 169/41). These along with other books describing manus christi height almost always contain a reference to it “drawing between the fingers like a thread.”

The presence of the word “thread” in most of the instructions for manus christi height probably led scholars to believe that it is the equivalent of the thread stage in today’s candy-making terminology. This would put manus christi the height at odds with manus christi the candy: hard candy requires a much hotter temperature to form, and so Hess and other scholars have postulated that manus christi candy and manus christi height are unrelated. However, Hess might have been incorrect in her original statement, and thus this postulation might also be incorrect.

Wellcome Manuscript 169, fol. 26r

Wellcome Manuscript 169, fol. 26r

The assumption that manus christi height is the same as today’s thread stage ignores the fact that instructions for manus christi height specifically state that “it doth drawe betwixt your fingers like athred” (Digital Image 169/41, emphasis added). Sugar in today’s thread stage will not draw between your fingers. It will create threads in a bowl of cold water, but those threads will not maintain their structural integrity outside of water (“The Cold Water Candy Test”). The stage in which sugar will draw like a thread in one’s hands in today’s candy-making lexicon is the hard ball stage, which falls between 250°F and 265°F (“The Cold Water Candy Test”). In this stage, “the syrup will form thick, ‘ropy’ threads as it drips from the spoon” (“The Cold Water Candy Test”), threads which would be strong enough to maintain their integrity if drawn between the fingers.

Probably the most convincing evidence that manus christi height refers to today’s hard ball rather than today’s thread stage is its position within the sugar section. Manus christi height falls in the middle of the candy-making section, just like today’s hard-ball stage falls in the middle of current candy-making tutorials. The next step to figuring out the exact temperature of manus christi height is to further explore the other stages of candy-making. If we can find recipes that refer to specific heights in the candy-making process, we will get a better idea of what these heights looked like, and consequently we will be able to more accurately correlate them with our own current candy-making stages.

Works Cited

Bulkeley, Elizabeth. A boke of hearbes and receipts. 1627. Wellcome Library MS 169.    Web. 11 April 2016.

“The Cold Water Candy Test.” The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking. National Science Foundation Exploratorium, 2016. Web. 20 April 2016.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Ed. Tom Jaine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.

Hess, Karen. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery: And Booke of Sweetmeats. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. Print.

Hopkins, Kate. Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012. Print.


Monterey Hall is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She worked with the Bulkeley manuscript during a course on Digital Research Methods in Historical Recipes with Professor Rebecca Laroche.

Transcribathon: Recaptured, Reflected, and Envisioned

By Vincent Sosko

The group transcribing work done in our conference room several weeks ago was the first such experience for all eight graduate students from the University of Texas, Arlington. Group work was no stranger to us, but never before had we taken part in a textual archeological dig within such an immense group effort. This ‘dig’ is better termed paleography, and our work with this study so far this semester prepared us for the transcribing we would do that day. Over a month or so of transcribing practice has introduced me to another element of scholarly work, given me exposure to new ingredients for cooking and new conventions of writing, and ultimately allowed me to hone my transcription skills into my own personal style of transcribing, albeit the style of a fledgling. It was not until the day of the Transcribathon that I had considered or realized that my peers were developing their own personal transcribing styles as well.

While uncovering the pages of the receipt book of Rebeckah Winche, we did so on an individual basis where each person selected their own pages and set about the act of transcribing. What our work became was anything but individual, as we held an open line of conversation about the unique remedies to bizarre maladies. Jason, Jordan, and Erin offered up the most intriguing recipes, leading Jayson to dub them the “lucky ones” for encountering those grotesque recipes we all love to read (i.e. a remedy calling for “Bearsfoot” and “pigs blader”). We also openly discussed the troubling words, flourishes, and conventions that others may have had a better sense of understanding. The debates that these struggles led to and the suggestions that came from them was where I clearly saw the very personal ways that we see the handwriting and thus the differing styles of transcribing emerged. Where one transcriber was able to see the dual application of the u/v convention that aided another transcriber who might have been flummoxed when encountering this (such as seeing “couer” and misreading cover as cower and therefore being contextually confused), there was a transcriber who had developed a routine to interpret ‘thorns’ that lent itself to others. These differing transcription styles came together to vivify paleography for me, and what we were creating was much more than an in depth collection of transcribed recipes.

This bonding we had over our work on the pages, supported by the bonding over the large variety of snacks available, provided me with a new sense of scholarly work that I have not had much exposure to yet; one in which we receive more joy and intellectual reward in the journey than in the destination. To think that the work we did within our four walls was connected to a worldwide network of the same journey helps me realize now just how the Transcribathon emulated the potential of scholarship for those who continue in academia.

Vincent Sosko, PhD student, University of Texas, Arlington