Transcribathon Banquet


Please join us virtually for our 3rd annual online Transcribathon on Tuesday, November 7, where we will have a number of texts available for transcription.

In the past two Transcribathons, we have worked only on one text, Rebeckah Winche (Folger V.b.366) and then Lady Castleton (Folger V.a.600)—respectively—from start to finish. This year we are going to take a different approach: to complete several texts. Our goal is to have 10 completed texts this year, that is 10 triple-transcribed and vetted early modern recipe books that can be downloaded in a searchable pdf. We currently have a number of texts that are either partially transcribed or fully transcribed but not completely vetted.  So, in working to complete these texts we will be offering a banquet of possibilities for those interested in learning more about early modern recipes and paleography.

In terms of transcription, we will begin with the L. Cromwell recipe book (Folger V.a.8), which is one third done, and then when it is finished we will move onto Margaret Baker manuscript (Folger Va619), which is approximately two thirds transcribed.

To make an Apple pudding. Cromwell Manuscript, Folger V.a.8, F37.

For advanced paleographers interested in learning the art of vetting, we will also be offering a number of texts to be vetted, first then Mary Cruso (Folger X.d.24) then Lady Castleton, and finally the recipe manuscript written by Lettice Pudsey (Folger V.a. 450).  We are, in short, offering a kind of smorgasbord of transcribing—or a “choose your own adventure” in early modern paleography with a mix of 21st century coding.

Please save the date, November 7, and stayed tuned for more information soon.   We hope you will join us.

Amy L. Tigner, University of Texas, Arlington

Breakfast for Thought

On a standard weekday morning, I pull myself out of bed at 8:45 AM and drive to my local coffee shop: The Daily Grind. I wait in line, swipe my credit card, and receive my grandee vanilla almond milk latte with one pump of vanilla and an everything bagel with vegan cream cheese. Unlike a breakfast in the mid 1600’s, my modern breakfast is quick and easy to obtain, and I take every notion of its simplicity for granted. Today, breakfast is mainstream, easily procured, sourced from around the world and shared with people of all cultures and traditions. Globalization of products, social media and other mediums of communication have allowed for Japanese, Dutch, English, French, Italian, South American, and numerous other breakfast styles to coexist and create a fusion of elements within countries that would’ve never seen such breakfast diversity otherwise.

I began a project last fall concerning a seventeenth century recipe book kept by a woman named Margarett Baker. Through transcription of her book, I discovered numerous social and economic implications behind the practice of recipe keeping and the recipes themselves. After investigation into the scholarship surrounding the significance of early modern recipe books, my collaborator, Marissa Nicosia, and I put together a paper focusing on medicinal recipes in Baker’s book. However, the methods of analysis of these medicinal recipes are easily translatable to culinary recipes. So, my question is, what does an early modern breakfast recipe say? Let’s take a step back to the seventeenth century version of breakfast creation and globalization – a time when trade was thriving, wealth in England was accumulating, and women were beginning to find their purpose and independence through recipe creating and keeping.

The West Indies sugar trade distributed and maintained by the Dutch East India Trade Company and innumerable other raw goods increased commerce, which allowed for the rise in wealth of the middle and upper classes – this afforded leniency in the use of ingredients that were at first exclusively for the taste of the super elite. In Eating Right in the Renaissance, Ken Albala notes that “diet became one of the most powerful delineators of class” (185). People’s culinary tastes indicated the complexities of their social standing. It is interesting that for us, breakfast is a delicious meal that allows us to communicate and express our aesthetics and tastes with a wide audience via Instagram pictures and blog posts – for the seventeenth century Englishman (or rather more applicably, Englishwoman), it was a curated and intricate portrait of one’s affluence and relevance. The seventeenth century was a time of great “social mobility”, which made the desire to create some sort of order and stratification exponentially stronger; this order was largely imparted by food.

By the seventeenth century, breakfast foods consisted of mostly savory items, save the largely popular fruit preserve trend, thanks to the West Indies sugar. Luckily, we still get to enjoy the various modern offspring of the original jams and marmalades. Fresh meats were exclusively for the wealthy, who did not need to conserve money and salt or cure their meats to increase shelf life. The criteria for what foods were suitable for the privileged were quite strange: as Albala writes, “salted beef, ham, and ‘resty bacon’ are best left to rustical stomachs” and “plants [vegetables] were often assigned social meaning according to their morphology and proximity to earth” (194). Those plants that did not see enough of the sun or grew too close to the ground were deemed suitable for peasants, while fruits and grains that grew far above the soil were fit for the crème de la crème.

Women gained their footing in this period by keeping recipe books; as women were largely told their place was in the house, and most importantly, the kitchen, they took their place and held it well. The increase in the social importance of food allowed the early modern woman to dictate her place in the house via her culinary and medicinal skills (the early modern kitchen is often referred to as the first laboratory). Women perfected their breakfast, and general culinary skills, in the kitchen, and presented their dishes with pride and grace that allowed them to obtain male-like importance and credibility. Women as scientists in the kitchen fforded their connection to strictly male professions of chemistry and science. As breakfast became more socially important, women were able to not only make this food for their families and guests, but gift fine culinary creations to their other female friends. This luxury good gifting paved the way for strong female bonds and gave women a significant purpose and place in the seventeenth century household.

Breakfast for early modern Englishmen and women was so much more than an emblem of wealth; women were using recipe keeping as a method of progressing social feminism. They were simultaneously affirming their class status while staking out their role in a domestic environment. Women like Margarett Baker were bolstering the free market through the use of certain ingredients as well as exercising personal creativity and claiming a professional role in the kitchen   As trends changed and global influences entered, affluent women created a fusion of contemporary culinary practices, female independence, and great recipe innovation. The experiences of these early modern women and their breakfast recipes has led us to the beautiful world of global breakfast we have today. So next time you grab your early morning bagel, mid-morning Japanese breakfast tofu, or leisurely morning full English breakfast, think about the hard and revolutionary work women were doing in the early modern kitchen that came, globally, full circle to give you the next trendy post for your Instagram feed – and hopefully, you’ll be able to greater appreciate the feminist commentary from the most important meal of the day.


Rachael Shulman with Marissa Nicosia, Penn State University




What is a Recipe? DH@Guelph Summer Workshop 2017

Workshop Participants from the DH@Guelph Summer Workshop 2017: Making Manuscripts Digital are taking part of the Recipe Projects 2-month long online conversation/conference about “What is a Recipe.”

Madeline Bassnett who teaches at U. Western Onario wrote:

What a recipe is depends on how you interact with it. In my “Early Modern Food from Shakespeare to Milton” grad class, we approach recipes as texts and as things to be made, discovering in the process how our understanding of recipes depends in part on whether we teach, read, or cook them. As a teacher, I’m often concerned with helping students approach the printed or manuscript book as a whole. One of the first questions I ask my students is “what are your reading strategies for these multidimensional texts”? We think about recipe organization and genre (cookery, medicinal, household, distillation, etc.), about juxtapositions between recipes, about paratextual components such as prefaces, marginalia, and frontispieces. The sense of the whole leads us into a contemplation of parts: we hone in on one or two recipes for a close reading experience. Here, we engage in a more philosophical discussion, considering such topics as violence in the kitchen, the relationship between bodily care and the social body, the concepts of judgement, skill, and knowledge. But while these literary musings are theoretically fruitful, it’s the cooking of recipes that brings theory together with practice, and gets students to think about the recipe less as a textual artefact and more as a vital and often perplexing communication. I assess the cooking assignment through a reflection paper rather than through the success or failure of the student’s dish, and students invariably comment on the struggle to find ingredients, interpret measurements, and imagine results. Because cooking gives us a hands-on relationship with the past, it’s at this stage that students comprehend not only the otherness of the early modern period, but also the way that a recipe is a performance, allowing the past to speak to and act in the present.

Whitney Thompson and Hillary Nunn, meanwhile, decided to test the manuscript’s strange adjustments to egg numbers. Several recipes showed significant changes in the egg count, and that inspired their cooking experiment with Orange Pudding, chronicled on Twitter.


They decided to cook the recipe both ways, with Hillary making the 6-egg version and Whitney committing to the 24.

Both versions worked, but they made drastically different products:

These drastic differences made us ask not just “What is a Recipe?” but also “What is a pudding?” and, most of all, “What is an egg?” As our Twitter conversation (viewable via Storify at ) made clear, eggs have grown in the centuries since this book was abandoned. But did they shrink during the time it was in use? Why so many more eggs in the revised version? Did something in the supply change, suggesting the book’s owner moved? We’re still not sure, but we know that our modern overconfidence about egg size has much to do with our discomfort.

Kathryn Harvey of the University of Guelph Library wrote:

For the past 6 or so years, my job has primarily involved administration, so I found it a real luxury recently to delve unapologetically for a week into the world of manuscript receipt books during a digital humanities workshop at my university on “Making Manuscripts Digital: The Transcribathon Approach.” Led by Hillary Nunn (U of Akron) and Amy Tigner (U of Texas Arlington), workshop participants raised many questions as we worked our way through pages of recipes from a handwritten manuscript dating from the 1750s. How many authors did it have given all the different hands? Why were some recipes amended—some by the same hand and others by different hands, suggesting perhaps changes made by other cooks after trying the recipe?

How does a manuscript evolve when passed from hand to hand or down through the generations?

It is this latter question which made me recall a manuscript receipt book donated a few years back to the University of Guelph’s Archival and Special Collections. Begun in Glasgow in 1822 and added to until the 1920s. Although begun in Scotland, it migrated to Canada with the family, and it is the evolution of this book that interests me most. One owner of the book in the early 1900s clearly had an interest in wedding cakes—pictures as well as recipes—evidenced by all the newspaper clippings pasted on top of beautifully scripted recipes.

Why paste them over the recipes when there were so many blank pages that could have been used? Then later, in the 1920s The manuscript also gives evidence of a wide range of interpretations of what a recipe is. Visible early entries tend to provide both ingredient lists as well as some type of instruction, as in the recipe for Albert Cakes; however, later recipes apparently added in the 1920s provide only lists of ingredients and possibly some commentary (e.g., “all right” as seen in this last image, a recipe for Vanilla Bars). A paleological “excavation” of this intriguing manuscript using multi-spectral imaging would no doubt peel back the various layers and raise even more questions about what is a recipe?


What constitutes a diet drink?

Written by Solveig Roervik

While transcribing the Ann Fanshawe manuscript, I came upon a drink called a diet drink. Because of the way the ingredients were suspended in liquid, the recipe resembled a modern herb tea, but in two other manuscripts I transcribed, other “diet drinks” had differing methods of creation, from brewing, suspending and boiling to a combination of these. Although the OED defines “diet drink” as “a drink prescribed and prepared for medicinal purposes” (1a), the styles of preparation involved seem in practice to be vastly different. These varying approaches made me question why they were all called diet drinks, what connected them, and if the method of creation had something to say about its medicinal effects on the humoral body. Did the recipes have any ingredients in common? And how are these ingredients activated or tempered by the method of its creation? After addressing these questions, I propose that diet drinks can be said to help alleviate the conditions caused by an excess of coldness and/or dryness, and the recipes’ methods maximise the warmth and moisture of the ingredients.

The diet drinks that I found address four conditions — kidney stone, scurvy, rickets, and dropsy — by attempting to rebalance the amount of moisture and heat in the body. John Gerard explains these conditions in The herball, or, Generall historie of plantes, connecting the conditions to a possible imbalance of moisture. The stone is a hard mineral concretion, “the stone of the kidneies” (238), which Thomas Cogan recommends treating with warm and moist ingredients, like asparagus (45). Gerard goes on to describe scurvy as “that plague and hurtful disease of the teeth, gums, and sinewes, … being a depriuation of all good bloud and moisture” (401). While the dropsie seems like an outlier because it’s a condition where the body retains too much moisture, the blockage causing the extra liquid retention can be broken up by hot and dry ingredients like saxifrage, which according to Gerard causes “one to pisse freely,” releasing the extra liquid (1048). (Even though saxifrage is hot and dry, it can be used in a wet medium to release the water retention.) Humorally, conditions from kidney stone to dropsy could be balanced out with warmth and moistness, which can explain the usage of medicinal liquids in curing these conditions.

Since these conditions are linked humorally, how do the methods used affect the medicinal properties of the drinks? In the Receipt book of Margaret Baker, the “Diet drinke for the Scuruie” is boiled, increasing the level of heat of the ingredients and liquids (front endleaf 3, V.a.619).[1] Cold water itself could disrupt the balance of heat in a vulnerable body, like a body that has just exercised; Cogan instead recommends a drink with warm properties, because it’s less disrupting for the temperatures (236-237). In addition, the recipe uses wormwood, which can help with “open[ing] the liver and spleene: which vertues are chiefe, for the preservation of health” (Cogan 61). Both wormwood and boiling increase heat in the drink, and give a relief to the aching mouth caused by scurvy.

In the “Diett Drinke” recipe in the Ann Fanshawe manuscript, the ingredients were not boiled, but rather suspended (7, MS7113). The herbal tea is a delivery mechanism for hot and dry ingredients to clear the blockage causing the dropsie. Gerard says the herb Galingale, which is included in the recipe, “help[s] the dropsie”, where Galingale “[is] of an heating and drying qualitie” (31). This diet drink is the only one I came across that doesn’t require any sort of alcoholic beverage, like ale or wine, which is interesting as wine is said by Cogan to be “hot in the second degree… and it is dry according to the proportion of heat” (238). Why would water be used, with its coldness, instead of using wine which has the hot and dry qualities needed to cure a dropsie? Here, humorally hot ingredients are delivered by a cold vector, implying a mixture of cold and hot ingredients can also be curative for this condition.


The second diet drink found in the Fanshawe MSS, “A Receipt of a Diet Drink for the Stone” (78, MS7113) contains fewer herbs compared to the previous recipes: only ashen keys, parsley, saxifrage roots, and malt (which is helpful as the recipe goes through a brewing process). Saxifrage is explained by John Gerard as “hot and dry in the third degree”, helping it “break… the stone in the bladder and kidnies” (1048). Like saxifrage, the process of brewing itself increases heat and dryness, showing the doubling effect of ingredients and method, which relates to the condition it was to alleviate. And there is still more doubling in the recipe’s methods, as the drink is first boiled, then brewed in the sun — building methodological heat upon heat from the ingredients, which is opposite to the previous diet drink.

The most complicated recipe of the group is a brewed “diett Drinke for the Ricketts” found in the Receipt book of Rebeckah Winche (74, V.b.366). This recipe has an interesting addition of large raisins, “reasons of the sunne”, which according to Cogan are hot and moist, channeling the heat of the sun into the ingredients themselves (109). It is a rather complicated process to make this drink: first it is boiled, then brewed, some of it is then consumed, before being bottled and brewed a second time. As it is consumed at different stages of fermentation, the drink experiences variations in alcohol content. Cogan explains how levels of hotness and moistness vary with age, as wine is usually hot and dry in the second degree, but “if it bee very old, it is hot in the third degree, and must, or new wine is hot in the first” (238). Both ingredients, like raisins, and the methods, like brewing, build upon themselves to increase the heat in the drink.

Based on these recipes, I propose that diet drinks can help alleviate the conditions caused by an excess of coldness and/or dryness, where the recipes’ methods maximise the warmth and moisture of the ingredients. While one of the recipes uses hot ingredients in a cold medium, the other recipes build the heat and/or wetness in the ingredients upon the heat produced in the methods. Although the definition of diet drink is focused on its medicinal purposes, I would argue that diet drinks are also focused on correcting the imbalance of heat and/or moistness in the body.

Works Cited

Baker, Margaret. “Receipt book of Margaret Baker.” LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection. Ca. 1675. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Cogan, Thomas. The Haven of Health. Fourth Edition. London: Anne Griffin for Roger Ball, 1636.

“ˈdiet-drink, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 4 April 2017.

Fanshawe, Lady Ann. “Recipe book of Lady Ann Fanshawe.” Wellcome library. Ca. 1651-1707. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Gerard, John, et al. The herball or Generall historie of plantes. London: Printed by Adam Islip Joice Norton and Richard Whitakers, 1636.

Winche, Rebeckah. “Receipt book of Rebeckah Winche.” LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection. Ca. 1666. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

[1] Instead of cold water, Cogan recommends alcohol or drinks with warm properties like a “hot posset” as “they use in Lancashire” (236-237). Cogan also talks about the boiling of whey, and how clarifying milk affect its properties (255). Boiling could also at the period be a way to check the purity of a liquid, like water, where clean water had “little skim or froth in boyling” (237).

Solveig Roervik is a student of Dr. Nancy Simpson-Younger at Pacific Lutheran University.

EMROC News from the Renaissance Society of America Conference

By Hillary Nunn

The Renaissance Society of American conference this spring showcased a fantastic series of presentations involving EMROC members and their research. Recipes were a real presence during the Chicago meeting, as were digital projects involving domestic texts.

First thing on April 1, The Society for the Study of Early Modern Women sponsored “Mobile Knowledge in Early Modern English Recipes.” Edith Snook (University of New Brunswick) detailed Lady Grace Mildmay’s access to plants – and cures – from the Americas, while and Madeline Bassnett (University of Western Ontario) traced Ann Fanshawe’s collection of Spanish recipes during her years as a diplomat’s wife. Lyn Bennett (Dalhousie University) offered a preview of her book Rhetoric, Medicine, and the Woman Writer, 1600-1700 (forthcoming from Cambridge later this year), detailing the ways that recipes helped women like the Countess of Exeter establish authority within a patriarchal world.

So, in short:

In the session that followed,
“Glimpsing Women’s Experience through Early Modern Recipe Manuscripts,”
Marissa Nicosia (Penn State Abington) helped audiences understand the complexity and appeal of a recipe for Portugal Eggs. After my own discussion of water in EMROC texts, Katie Walker from the University of North Carolina addressed recipe books as satire, concentrating on Cromwell’s allegedly overly homely wife as depicted in a recipe book attributed to – but most likely completely separate from – her household.

Later in the day, Maggie Simon (North Carolina State) offered a fantastic discussion of recipe transcription with the Dromio interface in The Phenomenality of Digital Transcription. In her panels, part of a series entitled New Technologies and Renaissance Studies, Maggie outlined her students’ experiences working with EMROC texts, highlighting the ways that transcription helped her students feel more at home with early modern texts.

Hillary Nunn is Professor of English at the University of Akron.