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.

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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