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.

“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 (  I had run across a single possible match for Mistress Vernam in the genealogical database the search pointed to Jess Cox, a woman who was married to John Vernam in Hardwicke, Gloucestershire in 1613 (  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 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, 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.

EMROC’s Coming Up Roses in 2016

By Rebecca Laroche


Once again, EMROC enters a new term filled with exciting discoveries and steady progress toward our collective goals. Through our teaching and research, we look to transcribe, vet, and tag as well as present our findings and our progress in various conferences in North America and Europe. This work reinforces EMROC’s aims in forging links between individual and collaborative research and connecting both with our energizing classrooms.

This semester, three EMROC members are linking the project with their classes. At North Carolina State University, Maggie Simon is integrating recipes from Constance Hall’s collection into a discussion on country house poems in her course “Delighting in Disorder: Seventeenth Century Poetry and Prose.” The unit abuts another on verse miscellanies, and she anticipates that the juxtaposition will fit nicely with considering other types of manuscript transmission, collaboration, and compilation. In a course entitled “The Global History of Food, 1450–1750,” Lisa Smith at the University of Essex considers with her students how recipes fit within global culture as commodities and as transmitted texts as they transcribe into DROMIO. Concurrently, Rebecca Laroche appropriately connects her online students with Digital Humanities questioning as they explore recipes from Margaret Baker’s and Elizabeth Bulkeley’s collections. Combined, these courses are engaging the minds of more than sixty students with EMROC’s purpose and goals.

Students previously energized by their classroom experience continue to “spread the love.” On April 8, members of the Early Modern Paleography Society (EMPS) at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte who participated in the fall International Transcribathon, will be hosting the first student-run transcribathon. They are looking at the recipe book of Lettice Pudsey (Folger v.a.45) as their possible focus. Continue to monitor this space for further details.

While graduate students at the University of California-Davis, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas-Arlington chip away at the transcriptions of Catchmay, Hall, and Granville this spring, research assistants at the Max Planck Institute, the University of Essex, and the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs will be vetting and tagging the Winche manuscript completed during fall’s transcribathon. The goal is to get the transcription fully database ready as a model for other texts that are reaching triple-keyed closure.

In these first months of 2016, it is clear that EMROC has fully entered the scholarly conversation. Early in January, Rebecca Laroche participated in a roundtable at the Modern Language Association about the “Myth of Post-Canonicity,” highlighting EMROC’s potentials within the larger Digital Humanities arena, while Elaine Leong presented research on paper as an ingredient for “Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge” project, research that she was able to complete because of the St. John and Winche transcriptions. Hillary Nunn has organized a recipes team for the “Networking Early Modern Women” day for the revisions of the Six Degree of Francis Bacon DH venture and has attained a place at the Folger’s “Digital Agendas” roundtable on Scholarly Conversations & Collaborations as part of the Renaissance Society of America’s April meeting in Boston. She and Jennifer Munroe have been invited to represent EMROC at the Shakespeare Association’s Digital Showcase in New Orleans at the end of March and have also committed to sharing EMROC’s work at a conference on cookbooks in New York City in May.  Speaking to the German Shakespeare Association in April in Bochum, Amy Tigner will discuss EMROC’s work and its connection to early modern culinary gardens.

As CFPs and course schedules circulate for the 2016-17 academic year, the collective can only anticipate that its efforts will grow and its presence will intensify. The logic of the task is so clear, the feedback from classes and presentations so positive. With many thanks to all who participated in the collective in 2015, all look to continuing this work with enthusiasm and dedication. If you would like to be a part of the conversation, EMROC now has a listserv; just send an email to with the expressed desire to join.