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.

Health as Goodness, Not Wellness

By Jonathan Powers

While contemporary discussion of “health” revolves around one’s dietary and physical habits, recipe-writers of the 16th and 17th centuries held a much more serious understanding of health and its preservation. To be “healthy” was not a physical matter, but a spiritual one: to have “health” often meant aligning oneself with God and abdicating sin. The word “health” was also used analogously with a Christianized notion of salvation, which stipulates that belief in Jesus Christ’s divinity and message yields entry into heaven. This analysis explores how receipt-writers discussed the concept of health, which will provide a better sense of what the authors originally meant to convey when they wrote about sustaining one’s health during this time period. Maintaining health was exceedingly more important to these writers than our current standards of preserving health – doing so was a matter not just of wellness or sickness, but of salvation or damnation of the soul itself.

Although health is currently understood as “Soundness of body; that condition in which its functions are duly and efficiently discharged,” (“health, n.1”) the meaning of health for writers of the 16th and 17th centuries referred more to “Spiritual, moral, or mental soundness or well-being; salvation” (“health, n.4”). Here, the OED demonstrates that our modern understanding of health is that which is constricted to the body, to the “soundness” of the body; but the archaic definition of the word illustrates a transcendence of the corporeal to the spiritual, in such a high degree that having “health” means having salvation – a spiritual, Christian sense of salvation. One example of the importance of health in this context derives from Anne Wheathill’s A Handful of Wholesome (Though Homely) Herbs, in which she prays that “Wherefore in thée my hart shall be joifull, and in thy saving health, which is thy sonne Christ our Saviour and redéemer” (Wheathill sig. B5r). The phrase “saving health” occurs three times in this text, while the word “salvation” or words referring to God often appear alongside the word “health.” This treatment of “health” indicates a heavily spiritual connotation drawn from the word. In this passage, “thy saving health” is equated directly to Christ and his status as savior.

Wellcome MS 169, fol. 23r, Digital Image 38.

Wellcome MS 169, fol. 23r, Digital Image 38.

Health not only constitutes salvation, though, but also represents a spiritual notion that one must strive for, to retain a connection with God. In her A Booke of Hearbes and Receipts, Elizabeth Bulkeley includes a recipe titled “A Speciall meanes to preserve health.” This recipe provides metaphorical directions that exemplify how one can develop a better connection with God. In the format of a recipe, the text instructs readers to undergo a variety of spiritual experiences to become more Christ-like, so that they can:

rise from syn willinglie, take vp Christes Crosse
boudlie, stand to gut mornfullie, bere it pacient,,
lie & rest thankefully & then shalt thou lyve ever,,
lastinglie & come to heaven safelie vnto whiche
place hasten vs lord speedilie Amen / (MS Digital Image 169/38).

Preserving health, here, illustrates an end goal of acquiring salvation and entry into heaven. Throughout this recipe, readers are called to commit themselves to various acts of worship in order to relinquish worldly desire and vice for the end goal of attaining redemption. These acts are represented as if they were ingredients in a recipe, with materials such as a “quart of Repentance of Ninyvie” or a “spoon of faithfull prayers,” and the recipe not only confirms a spiritual understanding of the word “health,” but also serves as a creative way of instilling guidance for those who want to preserve their spiritual salvation (MS 169/38).

It is also important to contextualize this analysis with the fact that many recipes of this time, including recipes in Bulkeley’s manuscript, were meant to stave off the plague. Due to a limited understanding of the plague at the time, people were often led to believe that this disease was the result of God exacting punishment upon sinners of the world. In having this belief, the relationship between one’s moral purity and one’s physical health becomes much clearer and more intimately intertwined. By preserving one’s moral sanctity, one would be alleviated from a divinely inspired punishment against humanity and would thus be able to survive during the plague. By indulging in sin, though, one risked being struck down with the life-threatening Black Death.

While these texts provide compelling evidence for the spiritual connotation derived from the word “health,” the word was still fairly versatile and retained its current definition in other usage. In her analysis of Caterina Sforza’s Experimenti, Meredith Ray points out that “[a]t the turn of the sixteenth century, Caterina recorded over four hundred recipes for beauty and health,” and further discusses how Sforza’s manuscript focuses on the physicality of beauty and health (Ray). Thus, health retained its current definition in other usage during this time, while the largely spiritual dimension of the word has greatly dissipated as the centuries have progressed. Despite the evolved nature of this word and its multifaceted use, the important takeaway is that many authors of the 16th and 17th centuries utilized the word “health” in a far different way, equating the word to salvation. Understanding the contextual cues of this word in reading literature of this time period will enable individuals to better distinguish if the text is discussing matters of the body, of the soul, or both.

Works Cited

Bulkeley, Elizabeth. A Booke of Hearbes and Receipts. 1627. Wellcome Library MS 169.   22  Apr. 2016.

“health, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016.

“health, n.4.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016.

Ray, Meredith K. “‘The Alchemist’s Desire’: Recipes for Health and Beauty from Caterina         Sforza.” The Recipes Project. 03 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.

Wheathill, Anne. A Handful of Wholesome (Though Homely) Herbs. London, 1584. Women  Writers Online. Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. 22 Apr. 2016.

Jonathan Powers just received his B.A. in English from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in a course on Digital Research Methods in Historical Recipes.

Madnesse, Misfortune, and a Quart of Earthworms

By Robin Kello
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

How do you treat madnesse or frensie? Readers of Edward Littleton’s seventeenth-century A book of receipts which was given me by several men for several causes, griefs and diseases may consult page 77. There they will find a brief remedy that involves placing a boyled roote to the head to drain out the water of madness, then letting the blood from the middle of the forehead.

The day after the transcribathon, my colleagues from UNC-Charlotte and I spent the afternoon in the Folger stacks, and I had the good fortune to read through Littleton’s manuscript. What I found there is a genre-defying compendium of cures, hundreds of pages of secretary hand that inspired in this reader a Giddines in the head.

Littleton’s Book of Receipts charts a wide-ranging constellation of afflictions and curatives, giddily jumping over what have become standardized borders between the physical and mental. No matter what ails you, chances are there are answers to be found here.

You may or may not, however, believe in those answers. On a loose-leaf sheet from Littleton’s manuscript, we find advice that, to a twenty-first century reader, is more astrological than medical. It begins with certaine clymactericall years in a mans life, lists the perilous days of the each month, and then concludes with the suggestion to be especially careful on a few dangerous mundayes, on which you should not begin a journey or any business. Why does misfortune reign on those Mondays? The first Monday in September, out in a field, Cain slew his brother Abel. On the last Monday in December, Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ.

These manuscripts illustrate the ingredients available in early modern kitchens and gardens and a manner of looking to the environment for techniques of care, but as in Littleton’s star-haunted tiptoeing through certain dangerous days, they also show us a portrait of the supernatural beyond the natural and a notion of the spirit in the matter that surrounds us.

Remedies may rest and answers may be found, Littleton suggests, in the grass beneath our feet or the fires in the sky. Another loose-leaf page contains a long list of ingredients lacking a title and a process. It begins with 2 Good handfulls of Anjelica 2 of Saladine and concludes with the following rhetorical flourish: A peck of Garden Snails and a Quart of Earth Worms. Whether this impressive list of herbs and creatures is to be boiled or baked, or whether it is good to eat or good to treat is unclear. Perhaps it is simply a shopping list, like the one the Clown in The Winter’s Tale takes to the woods in preparation for the sheep shearing feast, where he is then robbed blind by the disguised Autolycus.

At the sheep shearing, Polixenes tells Perdita that there is “an art / Which does not mend nature, change it rather, / but the art itself is nature.” Polixenes suggests that nature and artifice, both products of creation, are one. The lines we draw in the dirt to separate one category from another are easily washed away. Manuscripts such as Littleton’s, in giving us a view of the world of those before us, force us to rethink the stability of the boundaries not just between the culinary and the medicinal but between art and nature, and the sciences and the humanities.

They also show us how little some things have changed. We are frenzied. We suffer from griefs and diseases, and we are still looking for answers in texts and kitchen cabinets, flora and fauna, roots and stars.