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.

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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.

“A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte.”

By Monterey Hall

In my previous post, I discussed Mistress Vernam and her contribution to Lady Frances Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins (https://f.hypotheses.org/879).  I had run across a single possible match for Mistress Vernam in the genealogical database Ancestry.com: the search pointed to Jess Cox, a woman who was married to John Vernam in Hardwicke, Gloucestershire in 1613 (Ancestry.com).  Despite this find, however, I was hardly closer to discovering her connection to either Lady Catchmay or seventeenth-century medical practice.

I used the result from Ancestry.com to try and locate Mistress Vernam in other contemporaneous medical books.  Unfortunately, her lack of genealogical records makes Jess Vernam’s possible medical connections difficult to pinpoint.  There are quite a few references to various doctors named “Cox” in several early modern databases; but without a record of Jess’s birth, there is no way to know if these doctors were related to her.  Rather than continuing to search for Mistress Vernam by her name, I decided to look for her through her recipes.

At the present moment, searching for recipes across texts is a messy and imperfect process due in part to the fact that we as a scholarly community are still in the earlier stages of transcribing and coding these early modern books.  As this process comes closer to completion, it will be much easier to search through them in a thorough and efficient manner.  What the Wellcome Library has transcribed into their database thus far, however, is absolutely invaluable: I was able to look for Mistress Vernam’s recipes via their titles by breaking each title into its keywords and searching for their variant spellings.

My search revealed a link between the penultimate recipe within Mistress Vernam’s medicines and a recipe in MS 373.  Mistress Vernam’s “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” instructs to “Take the gaules of swine, of an eele, & of a cocke, temper them well together with honney & fayre water & keape it in a cleane glasse, for your vsse: when you haue neade annoynte the eyes therwith” (MS184a/34)

Wellcome MS 184A/34.

Wellcome MS 184A/34.

MS 373/121 contains a nearly identical recipe called “To Clarifie the Sight”:

Wellcome MS 373/121.

Wellcome MS 373/121.

MS 373 belonged to and was written by Jane Jackson in 1642 (MS 373), meaning that it was compiled almost twenty years after Lady Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins.  Unfortunately Jackson does not give any attribution for this recipe, nor does the book contain any of Mistress Vernam’s other medicines.  Still, this find suggests one possible connection between Mistress Vernam and the wider medical community.  With this new insight, the next step would be to find out who Jane Jackson was and whether or not she was connected to Lady Catchmay and Mistress Vernam.  And if she was not, then what might Jackson and Vernam’s common source have been?

This line of inquiry is outside the scope of this post, although it is certainly one that should be pursued at some point in the future.  For now, I will leave you with this: it is likely that I missed several matches for Mistress Vernam’s recipes and thus I likely also missed several connections.  Although I only found two iterations of the above recipe in my own searches, it is quite possible that versions of “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” appear in other manuscripts beyond the two mentioned here.  I encourage my fellow scholars to look for this recipe elsewhere so that we can discover more connections between Mistress Vernam and the medical community.

As evidenced by the two recipes above, titles can vary between sister recipes both in terms of spelling and phrasing; it is simply not possible for a single person to account for every variation.  A much more detailed method of search would look not only for titles, but also for ingredients.  Searching for uncommon ingredients would help scholars to find connections between medical texts, their authors, and their contributors.  This type of search will not be possible for several years yet.  When it is possible, it will be a powerful tool for piecing together an accurate picture of the vast early modern medical community.  Searching for recipes in addition to names will allow us to see connections and relationships within the medical community that might not have been apparent otherwise.  And it will hopefully some day allow us to find out the true identity of the mysterious Mistress Vernam.

Monterey Hall, is an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and is a student of Rebecca Laroche.

Works Cited

Ancestry.com. Ancestry, 2015. Web. 10 Dec 2015.

Catchmay, Lady Frances. A Booke of Medicins, preserues and Cookerye. 1625. Wellcome Library MS 184a. Web. 2 Nov 2015

Jackson, Jane. Booke of Medical Receipts. 1642. Wellcome Library MS 373. Web. 16 Dec 2015.

Monterey Hall is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in an independent study on the Catchmay Manuscript in Fall 2015.

“Mistress Vernams Medicens”

By Monterey Hall

Mistress Vernams Medicins

Wellcome MS 184a, fol. 32r. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

Inset within Lady Frances Catchmay’s Booke of Medicens (Wellcome MS 184a) is a group of recipes attributed to one Mistress Vernam. This individual contributed thirty-two recipes to the manuscript spanning from folios 32r to 33v, making her Lady Catchmay’s single biggest outside contributor. These recipes are also prefaced by a marginal note stating “Mr:s: Vernams: medicens:” and appended by another marginal note stating “The End of Mr:s: Vernams medicens:” (Catchmay), making her the manuscript’s only contributor to be differentiated by any sort of individualized heading. And yet, despite having contributed a large amount of material to Lady Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins, Mistress Vernam appears nowhere else in any early modern database.

The sheer volume of recipes that Mistress Vernam contributed to MS 184a implies that Lady Catchmay had a great deal of respect for her. There are two possible reasons why Mistress Vernam has so many recipes within the manuscript: this collection might be a starter manuscript like those discussed by Elaine Leong; or, more likely, Lady Catchmay might have collected these recipes during the manuscript’s original compilation. The lack of other such sections in the book seems to discredit the theory that this particular collection could be a starter manuscript. If Lady Catchmay had left blank sections open for starter manuscripts, then we would expect to find several different collections like Mistress Vernam’s. Since this collection is entirely unique within the manuscript, it is far more likely that Lady Catchmay collected these recipes during the book’s original compilation.

Lady Catchmay must have had a close relationship with Mistress Vernam to have collected and included so many of Mistress Vernam’s recipes in her manuscript, but discovering the nature of this relationship has proven challenging. Mistress Vernam did not have an official title, so she could not have been of the same social status as Lady Catchmay. She might have worked in the Catchmay household, but it is difficult to say this for certain without a written record detailing as much. In order to find out what Mistress Vernam’s relationship to Lady Catchmay might have been, I looked for her in other contemporary manuscripts with the help of Dr. Rebecca Laroche. If Lady Catchmay respected Mistress Vernam enough to accumulate four whole folios’ worth of her recipes, then I thought that surely Mistress Vernam must appear in another medical text. Dr. Laroche and I searched for every variant of the name “Vernam” that we could think of on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s HAMNET catalogue, the Wellcome database, and the Luna database without finding a single hit. I continued to search for her on my own within these same databases, and I also perused the Defining Gender database with just as little success. Even a simple Google search turned up nothing. Each of these failures to find her only served to make me even more curious about Mistress Vernam’s identity.

I then turned to the database Ancestry.com to try to find Mistress Vernam in genealogical records. An individual would have to meet three criteria to be considered a match: her married name would have to be a variant of Vernam; she had to have been married within fifty years or so of 1625, the rough date of the manuscript’s original compilation (Rutz); and she had to have lived near St. Briavels, Gloucestershire, the place in which Lady Catchmay lived and likely where she compiled her manuscript (Rutz). I found many individuals that met two of the three criteria, but only one individual matched on all three. Jess Cox was a woman who married John Vernam in Hardwicke, Gloucestershire (about 25 miles from St. Briavels) on the 2nd of November, 1613 (Ancestry.com). Although there’s no way to know for certain if this is the same Mistress Vernam as the one who is referenced in Lady Catchmay’s manuscript, she is the only individual on all of Ancestry.com that matches well enough on date, place, and name to be considered a likely candidate.

Rather than giving a definite answer to the question of Mistress Vernam’s identity, however, this discovery raises even more questions. Neither Jess nor John Vernam have any other records in the genealogical database, so there is still no way of knowing precisely how Mistress Vernam is connected to either Lady Catchmay or seventeenth-century medical practice. To find out, I will have to turn to other medical texts to see if Mistress Vernam’s recipes have been accumulated by other manuscript or print compilers.

Wellcome MS 184a, fol. 33v. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

Wellcome MS 184a, fol. 33v. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

Monterey Hall is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in an independent study on the Catchmay Manuscript in Fall 2015

Works Cited

Catchmay, Lady Frances. A Booke of Medicins, preserues and Cookerye. 1625. Wellcome Library MS 184a. Web. 2 Nov 2015.
Ancestry.com. Ancestry, 2015. Web. 10 Dec 2015.
Leong, Elaine. “Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household.” Centaurus 55.2 (2013): 81-103. Wiley Online Library. Web. 3 Dec 2015.
Rutz, Katrina. “Frances Catchmay.” EMROC.hypotheses.org. July 2014. Web. 23 Nov 2015.

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