All 248 pages with the required keyings. 314 unique log-ins with at least as many transcribers. Three continents and five countries. Thank you to all who joined us November 5 and helped make EMROC’s Fifth Annual Transcribathon a rousing success!
Especial thanks to speakers Amanda Herbert, Sara Pennell, and Anne Stobart for sharing their expertise during the event.
What is medicine like today? While the exact picture varies throughout the world, for me and many others, it is a process of expediency. Starting with a quick call to the nearby doctor’s office at my earliest convenience, I summarize my ache or ailment and within hours I get an appointment. The appointment itself entails a speedy check-in, followed by a short examination, where I sit in a room smelling of antiseptic, on a paper-covered table, while a nice man or woman in a white lab coat and gloves surveys me from head to toe. A little poking, some prodding and a couple of clarifying questions and the doctor diagnoses the problem sending me off with a prescription for my local pharmacy sure to cure me in days—simple. However, during the early modern era, medicine was not nearly as reliable or scientifically exact, but nonetheless revolutionary to the development of what the world knows today.
While transcribing an early modern recipe book, which acted as a tangible legacy and everyday manual to an early modern household, I was given the opportunity to glance back into the past. Whereas today medicine and science, especially when treating the common cold or the flu, is uniform to the public—involving labs, research, testing, FDA approval, etc., during the early modern era medicine was dependent on trial and error, often left up to each individual family and their homemade remedies. There was no common antidote or remedy, no vaccines or proper dental care, and the methods in which families treated illness and disease were wholly unique. In fact, medicinal remedies of the early modern era, were produced in kitchens concocted with chosen, personalized ingredients wielded by the lady of the house. The test subjects of these crafted treatments were those of the household, varying in ailments and illness, on whom the effectiveness of each medicinal recipe relied.
For the medicinal recipes I transcribed, each one was rated with a review of good or bad, or ingredients scribbled out and changed, as a signifier of the recipe’s personal success and the care for the smallest details. However, as I read and transcribed, it was hard to imagine anyone, especially the author’s loved ones, consuming the contents of these concoctions. In recipe 154, Convulsion Water, the ingredients are as follows:
Take one pound of Peony roots scrape ’em cleane, and slice ’em into 3 pints of white wine, let it stand Infusing in Embers all night, then strain it out very hard. To this a quarter of an Ounce of Castor in fine powder, one Ounce of Spirit of Castor, 30 graines of the moss of dead mans scull, & 30 grains of the scull of a dead man, Both the scull and moss must be beat in to fine powder, mingle these all together and shake ’em in a bottle one hour. Take of this 2 spoonful at a time 3 morning before the ffull & Change of the moon if there be Occasion as by the fits coming: and the same quantity at any other time. One spoonful is enough for a Child. 
Admittedly, I was baffled that any one of these ingredients would be implemented for medicinal healing but even more disturbed by the use of actual human remains. Despite the knowledge today that consumption of any human biproduct poses serious health risks, the threat of disease seemed even more impactful during an era of no sanitation or vaccination.
While my initial reaction was that no such remedy could ever or should ever be employed to heal any ailment or be given to any person, especially children, I eventually went on to explore what would prompt someone to consider such ingredients. I came to discover that peonies, something I had classified to be used solely as decorative flowers, actually possess anti-inflammatory properties when boiled down. Additionally, white wine is known for its capabilities in lowering cholesterol and contains important antioxidants that help protect and strengthen the body’s immune system and overall functionality.
So how exactly did the trial and error cooking-chemistry in early modern kitchens, lacking exact measurement and safety regulations, evolve into the expedient, stress-free, FDA-approved industry it is today? In fact, early modern kitchens opened the door for the modern medicine we know and overlook now. Experimentation and testing of medicinal recipe’s began in the home, specifically the kitchen, where women took great care crafting the perfect remedies. Research and development, not unlike today, involved sharing recipes amongst broader social circles all the way to nascent academic institutions. Meanwhile the effectiveness of every recipe was perfected and recorded to for future generations to use and add to. While the difference of the times seems in great contrast, the fundamentals of research and development of science and medicine have been long lasting and still relevant to this day.
 “English cookery and medicine book [manuscript], ca. 1677-1711,” Folger MS V.b.380. At lines 3–5 of the recipe, the note “Anne Western }” appears in the left hand margin.
Amanda Pickett is a Senior at Penn State – Abington, studying with EMROC member Professor Marissa Nicosia in that campus’s ACURA program.
Since mid-February, those who have been using the Folger Shakespeare Library’s digital archive LUNA, may have noticed an exciting change. In the left-hand column on the home page now appears an item “LUNA: Folger Manuscripts Transcriptions Collection.” For those who have clicked on it, out of curiosity or with the news in hand, and then submitted a search for “borage,” for example, the results are quite thrilling: more than a dozen recipe manuscript pages appear! And when one of those pages is then clicked on, its vetted transcription appears at the bottom of the data on the left of the enlarged image of the manuscript!
Through LUNA, Emily Wahl, Metadata Specialist, and Michael Poston, Data Architect, both at the Folger Shakespeare Library have made this effort to make transcriptions quickly available to users through keyword searching. There are newly vetted semi-diplomatic transcriptions of 2731 manuscript images equaling thousands more recipes from 43 different Folger collections, letters, and individual leaves. Of these, EMROC contributed to 10 manuscripts, including the longest (Cromwell V.a.8), together constituting 1051 images, well over 1/3 of images. The Folger manuscripts searchable in LUNA right now that have been a part of EMROC transcribathons or connected classrooms include V.a.20 (Hall), V.a.430 (Granville), V.a.450 (Pudsey), V.a.456 (Baumfylde), V.a.600 (Castleton), V.a.619 (Baker), W.b.653 (Anonymous), V.a.8 (Cromwell), V.b.366 (Winch), and X.d.24 (Cruso). The vetting labor has largely been undertaken by “Dromio Wrangler” Sarah Powell with help from a grant given to the Folger. What is more, Elisa Tersigni, a three-year digital postdoc on the Mellon “Before ‘Farm-to-Table'” team is tasked with strategizing on what of/how the Folger is going to share the corpus beyond the LUNA collection.
Therefore, this is not an endpoint, but rather a rousing development in the ongoing EMROC-Folger collaborative endeavor. For one, several other completely keyed manuscripts, including the Margaret Turner and Jane Dawson manuscripts finished during the 2019 transcribathon, are currently in the vetting queue and will soon be added to the LUNA collection. Within the LUNA transcriptions, there are also notable limits that the next phase of transcription sharing will seek to correct. In LUNA, italics and superscripts, i.e., brevigraphs in general, are not able to be noted in the transcriptions. Also, transcriber notes appear simply as “Notes:”, deletions are denoted in square brackets, and metadata is limited. Of course, given the difficulty and many-layers of the task, there will still be plenty of errors, and users are encouraged to contact Elisa (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any they may find, which can then be forwarded on to the LUNA directors and updated in DROMIO and the XML files directly.
Again, the searchability of the texts is of the original spelling, thus users will have to try several variations and anticipate orthographic quirkiness. Returning to the example above, “borage” yields fourteen images in the collection, but “borrage” opens up six others; if the user, however, did not anticipate the variations “burrage” (16) and “burage” (9), they would miss out on 25 more. LUNA does have an Advanced Search (accessed through downward arrow in the search window; see image) that can help with such variants through the “find any of these words” (borrage borage burrage burage) option.
For those recipe researchers who have not yet used LUNA to its fullest capacity, this new development adds a helpful tool to their workbench in creating a LUNA account and with it accessing the Media Groups capability. Within an imagined account, we can click on “Create” then “Media Groups.”
If we were to create a group called “Borage,” we would then make sure that it was the active group by toggling along the bottom of the screen, and then we could conduct a search for the variants above. Having done so, we could click on the plus sign up at the right and have all images deposited in that group for later analysis or we could add individual images as we sorted through them. The possibilities are endless.
In an email with the author, Heather Wolfe, Folger Curator of Manuscripts, wrote that “The LUNA collection doesn’t preclude a searchable corpus, which is what Elisa and Meaghan Brown [Digital Production Editor] are thinking through right now. We welcome all suggestions and feedback” (feedback may also be sent to ETersigni@folger.edi). For those of us in the EMROC Steering Committee two limitations of the LUNA transcription collection stand out, and the hope is that these will soon be redressed. Without downloadable files, data analysis, for which there is so much potential in recipes work, is limited. Most significantly, however, transcription attributions are not yet possible as was promised through the DROMIO platform. EMROC will, in the meantime work to maintain an up-to-date transcribers list. If you have had a connected classroom and its members need to be added to the website or if you yourself have contributed to a transcribathon and do not find your name in the list of transcribers, please let EMROC know at email@example.com; with last year’s push, it has been difficult to keep up with the transcription activity given the many hats of the those on the steering committee. Know that it is the main purpose of this site to record the work of the collective that is making these research breakthroughs possible. Do also keep an eye to this page for updates as manuscripts are added and other advancements occur.
In just a week’s time the University of Toronto will be hosting EMROC! Rebecca Laroche will be in town, bringing the study of recipes, women’s writing, and paleography to the U of T. Please add these events to your calendar, and consider coming to one or both of them if you are in the area, and transcribing remotely Friday if you are not.
Thursday, March 1, 2pm: Research Talk (UTSG, Jackman Humanities Building (170 St. George St., Toronto), room 616) — Prof. Laroche will give a talk entitled “‘Infinite Variety’: Case Studies in Early Modern Recipes Research.” This talk will think about the methodologies and payoffs of working with early modern recipes books, and highlight some fascinating findings that have emerged out of the EMROC’s project to transcribe large numbers of recipe manuscripts.
The talk will be followed by a Q&A, and then an informal coffee hour with graduates, who will have an opportunity to share their own work and ask questions.
The recipe book we will be transcribing is written in seventeenth century hand, which is fairly easy to read; we will have people on hand willing and able to give crash courses in paleography, and to help you learn the ropes of the transcribing program Dromio. No previous experience assumed or necessary! Though if you want to prep you might see any of the three handouts (a list of transcription conventions; a list of Dromio commands; and an “alphabet” documenting letter forms used in the manuscript we will be transcribing). Feel free to stop by for as much or as little of the event as you want. Coffee and food will be provided all day during our transcribing.
We will be transcribing pages from a manuscript owned and compiled by Margaret Turner, Folger MS Wa112, which includes both recipes for the kitchen and “cures for man and beast” (https://tinyurl.com/yde6p4ts)! If you would like to participate in the transcribathon from afar, go to this site http://transcribe.folger.edu/, select EMROC, and click on “TurnerWa112”. We’ll be working 10am-4pmEST.
Please email the local organizer Prof. Liza Blake at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re planning on attending the coffee hour on Thursday, so she can order coffee accordingly. She is also happy to answer any questions over email before the event.
When looking through multiple recipe books from the 17th and 18th centuries, one will often find similar, if not copied entries across several manuscripts. One very interesting entry is found in Margaret Baker’s 1675 manuscript titled “The goulden water other wise called; the water of life” (fol. 78r).
This recipe calls for walnuts to be collected in the beginning of June, mid-Summer, and 14 days after mid-summer. After each collection of walnuts, one must “breake them in a morter; [and] still them in a stillitory of lead” (fol. 78r), keeping each distillate separately from the others after they are prepared.
Once each of the waters is stilled separately, the final step is to combine a pint of each previously stilled water together in a “stillit tory of glasse & soe keepe it” (fol. 78v). After the recipe itself, Baker immediately explains that this water can “helpe all feuers & palsies” when one drop is added to water, cure the eyes of “all the diseases & paine” when one drop is added to each, and can even “causeth a woman to conceive childe if shee take a spoonefull in wine once a daie” (fol. 78v); furthermore, she mentions that the water can help one sleep when rubbed on one’s temples, and will cure all infirmities in the body if consumed with wine.
This recipe is found in at least four additional manuscripts from the 17th century – anonymous manuscripts MS8086 and MS1325 and MS7391 credited to Venetia Digby and MS3712 credited to Elizabeth Okeover – and each includes the same specific instructions seen in Baker. All four manuscripts differ from Baker’s version of this recipe in small and various ways, but each share one common difference. The first variable difference appears in two of the four manuscripts: MS7391 and MS3712, or Digby and Okeover’s manuscripts. While Baker only includes that her recipe is also called “the water of life,” these titles further explain that “it is called the water of life for its vertues” (Digby 128).
These two manuscripts, as well as MS8086, present the second variable difference, as they list the cures this water possesses under a separate heading titled “The Vertues” (Digby 129),
whereas Baker lists them directly after the recipe without this heading. However, all of these recipes differ from Baker’s in that they give it the title, “walnut water” instead of “goulden water.”
Calling this a recipe for “walnut water” makes logical sense given the ingredients, as does including that it is also known as the “water of life,” given the multitude of uses it possesses to prolong one’s life. When one takes into account references to the “water of life” in the Bible, Baker’s decision to change the title of this recipe to “goulden water” begins to make sense as well. In the book of John from the 1699 translation of the Geneva Bible, Jesus asks a woman pulling from a well if she will allow him a drink, and after she refuses, he replies, “If thou knewest that gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee water of life” (4:10). In this verse, the “water of life” refers to the eternal love of God, and Jesus further explains that drinking this water will result in “everlasting life” (John 4:14). Subtitling this recipe the “water of life” refers to more than just its healing abilities when considered in this context, and Baker’s main title, “goulden water,” brings to mind the golden virtues of God. On the other hand, the meat of a walnut is slightly golden in color, so this change in title could also refer to the color of the water after the walnuts are distilled.
When paired with the title “walnut water,” it may not be immediately clear why the recipe is also called the “water of life,” requiring further explanation that it is “for its vertues,” then, requiring a subheading under which the author lists “The Vertues” this water possesses. The title “walnut water” immediately tells the reader the main ingredient of the recipe, but requires additional explanation to reveal the allusion in the subtitle. Thus, Baker’s decision to change the title of this recipe to “goulden water” allows her to omit the additional explanation of the subtitle, and the subheading to create a more accessible, recognizable allusion. Used in this context, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “goulden” as, “Resembling gold in value; most excellent, important, or precious,” illustrating the immense value Baker sees in this recipe. This definition also lends to the idea that the color of this water may resemble gold, while the many cures it provides resemble gold in their excellence. By changing the main title of this recipe, Baker both strengthens the Biblical allusion in the subtitle, and emphasizes the medicinal value of her recipe.
Anonymous. “A booke of usefull receipts for cookery, etc.” Wellcome Library, MS1325 fols.183-185.
Anonymous, “Receipt book, early 17th century.” Wellcome Library, MS8086 fol.112.
Baker, Margaret. “Receipt Book of Margaret Baker, ca. 1675?” Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.a.619. fols. 78r–78v.
Digby, Venetia. “English Recipe Book, 17th century.” Wellcome Library, MS7391. fols. 128– 129.
“golden,” adj.4. OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 24 April 2017.
Okeover, Elizabeth. “Okeover, Elizabeth (& Others).” Wellcome Library, MS3712. fol.102.
Mikayla Boynton is a student at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where she conducted this research as an assignment in the course “Digital Research Methods with Historical Recipes,” taught by Rebecca Laroche.