The year 2019 ended with some exciting news. Six new recipe manuscript transcriptions have now been vetted and uploaded into LUNA’s Folger Manuscript Transcription Collections. This now makes recipes from 49 different manuscripts made searchable thanks in part to the transcription help of EMROC and its members.
Most notable is the quick availability of Folger Manuscript V.b.400, which we hope rings a bell. MS V.b.400 was the subject of 2019’s fifth international transcribathon. Over three hundred unique transcribers brought the seventeenth-century collection to transcription conclusion on November 7. Within a month, through the herculean vetting efforts of Nicole Winard, Bob Tallaksen, and Sarah Powell, the manuscript was made ready for uploading into the database. Finally, Emily Wahl, Folger Metadata Librarian, added the transcriptions to the ever-growing collection of searchable pages. Those who have encountered the anonymous manuscript do not need to be told of its unique character, and the hope is that its presence within the LUNA collection will further illuminate its position within recipe book history.
Even though EMROC did not have a hand in their transcription, there’s much to be excited about in the other five manuscripts as well. Folger MS V.a.396, the recipe collection of Penelope Jephson Patrick from 1671, has long been in the Folger’s possession and has added interest as the compiler’s husband would become Bishop of Ely in 1675. Folger MS V.a.397 was compiled by a woman named Katherine Brown in the mid-seventeenth century and contains a prayer to be recited by someone who is ill. MS W.a. 317 is an anonymously compiled eighteenth-century cookbook that contains several Indian recipes, and V.a.125 is a verse miscellany compiled by Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, that includes many pages of receipts. Finally, Folger Manuscript W.a.318, Cookery and medicinal recipes, was compiled by Dorothy Pennyman in the eighteenth century.
The variety represented within and between these various collections is seemingly limitless. Our hopes for 2020 are that new doors into historical recipes research will continue to open and that we may continue to point to the potentials here.
Last week, EMROC published a blog post called “Code Breakers,” describing the efforts of our Before “Farm to Table” project volunteers, who – like EMROC – transcribe our recipe books. This week’s blog post will be talking about our “Code Makers”: Meaghan Brown (Digital Production Editor), Michael Poston (Database Associate), and myself, Elisa Tersigni (Digital Research Fellow), who together devised BFT’s process of encoding—or what happens after the transcriptions are vetted and before they become accessible online. This blog post is meant to be a crash-course in what this in-between stage looks like and why we do it.
What is encoding?
Encoding is the process of applying code to digital texts to create machine-readable texts in order to facilitate computer-assisted analysis. Our encoding is done using Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is commonly used because it is intuitive and flexible. (More on this below.) Encoding might be thought of as functioning the same way that highlighting in a text does. Take, for example, this recipe for “An excellent medicine For any kinde of Ague”:
Let’s say we wanted to encode the recipe’s text to identify easily the title (which we will mark in red), all ingredients (which we will mark in yellow), any person’s names (in blue), and any markers of approval or disapproval of the recipe (green). The colour-marked recipe will look like this:
An XML-encoded version of this recipe might not look much different, except phrases are sandwiched between a pair of tags (a start tag, which marks the beginning of the phrase, and an end tag, which marks the end of the phrase) instead of being highlighted:
<head>An excellent medecine For
any kinde of Ague.</head> <persName>Doctor Costine</persName>
Take <ingredient>saffron</ingredient> one ounce and a halfe and
as many <ingredient>Currens</ingredient> vnwashed as will
beate itt up into a Cataplasme, beat
them well together and putt itt
in bagges of Poulter two to be
applyed one the hand wristes one the
Pulses and the other one the pitt
of the stomach: <tested approved= “yes”>probatum est</tested>
(N.B.: The above tags are for illustrative purposes only and may not reflect actual encoding.)
We use XML because it is both human readable and machine readable: the human reader can intuit that a phrase falling in between the “ingredient” tags is an ingredient. Our encoding is based on the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)’s Guidelines, which is an encoding standard that is commonly used for digital humanities projects. TEI is a consortium that collectively develops and maintains encoding standards for texts. Standards are important to ensuring that data is easily shareable and usable by other researchers for other projects. Standards also help with preservation of data, making sure that the data is useable for as long as possible.
Encoding permits computer-assisted reading. For instance, if all the recipe titles in a book are marked as “head”, we can generate a list of all recipe titles by extracting everything between the “head” tags. If recipe titles are marked in 20 different books, we can generate a single list of all recipe titles, or we can generate 20 lists of recipe titles and compare those lists against one another to see if there is any overlap between books. Or, if we mark the recipes as having some evidence of being tested and include details of whether the recipe book user expressed approval or disapproval of the recipe, we can extract all the recipes of which users approved or disapproved.
Encoding doesn’t just help users perform searches; it can also help software development. For example, if—instead of marking titles, ingredients, and people’s names—we instead marked the structure of the manuscript—line beginnings and endings, underlining, formatting—high-quality encoded transcriptions can be used to create or improve Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) software for manuscripts.
What are we encoding?
Because encoding requires interpretation, it is time consuming. And because encoding is flexible, it is prone to what is called ‘scope creep’—that is, the tendency for expectations and demands to increase over time, thereby slowing down a project. Our encoding must balance breadth (the number of manuscripts we encode) with depth (the amount of encoding we complete in one text). To strike that balance, our project began with a trial period, in which we tested how long it would take us to encode certain features, such as including both original and modern spellings in transcriptions.
Our trials helped us decide to prioritize the identification of the basic structure and details of the texts: where recipes start and end, the names of people identified in recipes, the names of locations identified in recipes, and whether recipes were tested and approved. These details will help us to do some basic network analysis to reveal some of the relationships between our recipe books: who owned them, where they came from, and whether recipes are shared across time and space.
For example, by searching the term “lady” in the Folger’s Luna Digital Image Collection, which currently has searchable text versions of some of our manuscript books, I was able to discover that variations of “Lady Allen’s water” appear in at least half a dozen of our manuscript recipe books from the 17th century: Jane Staveley’s receipt book (V.a.401), Susanna Packe’s receipt book (V.a.215), Lady Grace Castleton’s receipt book (V.a.600), and two anonymous books: V.a.563 and V.b.363. This phrase does not currently appear in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and appears only twice in print, according to searches of the Early English Books Online (EEBO) database. The ability to search quickly not only helps answer research questions but can also point researchers in to new research questions: what is “Lady Allen’s water,” from where did the recipe originate, and why is it commonly recognized in manuscript receipt books but not in print recipe books?
This builds on the work of our transcribathons—frequently organized by EMROC, often taking place in EMROC members’ classrooms—which are crucial to our project and attract the most attention on Twitter, in part because of the hilarious recipes transcribers sometimes discover in the process (see examples by EMROC members here). Readers may not realize that transcribathons are just one cog in the machine that makes these manuscripts digitally available: every page of every manuscript is triple-keyed by three transcribers; after which the transcriptions are checked for accuracy by an expert paleographer to create a single authoritative transcription; then that vetted transcription is encoded by a team, which includes myself; only after which the transcriptions are made available for teachers and researchers to use. This blog post will focus on the critical but often hidden volunteer transcribers, who dedicate hundreds of hours a year to the project; next week’s blog post will delve a little deeper into the encoding process.
A couple of weeks ago, I walked into at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Founders’ Room, where I joined three of the volunteers working on the manual transcribing of the Folger’s recipe book collection. Typing away are just three pairs of the invisible hands working to make the recipe books readable and searchable online.
Nicole Winard is the first volunteer I speak with. A retired public-school teacher and high school librarian, she has been a volunteer transcriber for three years. She’s also the Volunteer Transcriber Coordinator, which means that she corrals the Folger Shakespeare Library’s docents and other volunteers from the community, now spanning the globe. Nicole tells me that she begins each day at her kitchen table, with a cup of coffee and a transcription. When asked how many hours she spends transcribing a week, she is reluctant to answer. “My husband would be more honest about this than I am,” she says. I get her to admit to 20 hours a week on average, though I suspect it might be more.
Today, Nicole is transcribing with Anne Riordan, a retired financial analyst who discovered a love of Shakespeare on a study abroad year (coincidentally the 400th year anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth) at the University of Bristol, and Amy Thompson, a Senior Docent at the Folger Shakespeare Library and a local drama coach. Both Anne and Amy have volunteered as transcribers for two years.
Nicole, Anne, and Amy describe themselves as “like the women in The Bletchley Circle”—the British women who, in WWII, secretly worked as codebreakers. They share a love of crosswords, puzzles, and sudoku. When asked why they volunteer so much of their time to the project, they cite a combination of scholarly interest and personal satisfaction. They are afraid that “ink on paper is being lost” today and want to preserve that information in a new form. They also want to give voices to the women of the past: Nicole says, “so much of what we have here [at the Folger Shakespeare Library] is men. A library dedicated to seventeenth-century writing—it’s hard not to be [man-focused]!” They describe the work as “addictive” and “fascinating,” allowing them a window into the past: “You feel like you’re part of the family when you read a recipe and know what [a mother] gave [her] 10-year-old for the plague. You feel like you’re in the room with them.” They derive joy from learning and contributing to a cause. Still, they are aware of that they are providing a valuable and specialized service at a bargain rate. Amy says of the Bletchley women, “they picked them because they could get women cheaper … we’re pretty cheap, too!”
The transcribers living in the DC area regularly meet to transcribe together in person, typing side-by-side and working on problematic sections of manuscripts together. Other volunteer transcribers include Dr. Elisabeth Chaghafi, a Professor at Tubigen University in Germany; Dr. Robert (Bob) Tallaksen, a semi-retired professor of radiology at West Virginia University, and the team’s Latin expert; the mostly anonymous transcribers of Shakespeare’s World; and the whole crew at EMROC. Since the transcribers work all over the world, most of the conversations happen over email. The emails often relay what Nicole calls the “ews and ahs” of the recipe books. This past week’s emails included a recipe for what one should take “For an Inflammation in the Throat, from swallowing a Wasp in a Draught of Beer.”
Today, as they are transcribing a different recipe found in the same volume, they are discussing what the recipe ingredient “man’s flesh” could possibly be. “Maybe it’s an herb that looks like a penis,” one offers. They all laugh.
The work is fun, but it is scholarly work nonetheless: for instance, in transcribing the recipes, they sometimes find words not currently listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) or find instances of words or phrases that pre-date those recorded in the current OED entries. For instance, Bob submitted the word “deege” (probably meaning “a small amount”) to the OED as a possible new word and found a use of “Jesuit’s bark” (in The Conclave of Physicians, 1686) that pre-dates the OED’s current entry by 18 years.
The transcribers have also helped the Folger’s Cataloguers refine the dating of the recipe books by noting internal evidence of contemporary events. For instance, when Nicole transcribed Katherine Brown’s Medicinal and cookery recipes (c.1650–1662, call number: V.a.397), she found written in the margins, “A plot against king Charles” (fo. 42v), “the king to be beheaded to morrow” (fo. 82v), and “Kill him” (fo. 2r). And code breaker is not just a metaphor for this group: Amy discovered that Katherine Packer’s receipt book (1639, call number: V.a.387) contained a code in which some recipes were written. Together, Amy and Heather Wolfe, the Folger’s Curator of Manuscripts and Associate Librarian for Audience Development, broke the code. Amy then made a key and transcribed the coded pages.
103. an excellent [b]rew
and apro[v]ed caudle to cleans
ye wombe after a childbirth or
take rie and beate it as you
doe wheat for forminty and boil
it in smale ale to a caudle
sweeten it as y[ou] like it wth
suger and drinke of it morning
and at . 4 . of the clocke in
ye afternoone and at night
wn you goe to rest as much as [you]
can drinke at a draught an
if occasion be oftener. /-
[ Transcription by Amy Thompson]
If you’re reading this article and wondering how you can join Puck’s Circle—that’s what I’m calling the Folger’s version of The Bletchley Circle—please contact Heather Wolfe at hwolfe [at] folger [dot] edu. If you’re new to paleography, have no fear: Heather is teaching a new series of Practical Paleography workshops beginning on Tuesday, October 1 at 2:30 P.M. Workshops will run at the Folger Shakespeare Library every Tuesday in October for about an hour.
This digitization project did not start with the BFT project, nor will it end with the project. We’re hoping that digitization will continue as our collections grow through continued acquisition. Please follow us on Twitter at @FolgerLibrary and @FolgerResearch to learn more, including when we’ll be hosting our next Transcribeathon.
We’d love for you, dear Reader, to join!
Elisa Tersigni is the Digital Research Fellow for Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, Folger Shakespeare Library. Find her on twitter @elisatersigni.
Though all of Jane Dawson’s recipes are fascinating, perhaps one of the most curious ones involved the medical use of moles for hair loss and hair growth. This interest was noted by multiple people during the Fall EMROC transcribathon:
Why this connection between moles and human hair? I decided to look a little deeper to see what I could find out.
My transcription of the two mole-based recipes, which you can see on the manuscript page here, consists of the following:
to Expell haire in any part of the bodey
Take a mole & lay her in water to be soaked so long till, she shall have noe hair is Left on her; wththis water anoint [the] place from wchyou would expel [the] haire & afterwards wash it with Lye maid of Ashes, & then rub it with a linen cloth, if you shall see [the] haire retorne; wash twise or thrise in [the] aforesaid manner & it will [illegible] expel [them] & by noe means can be maid to renew againe.
To recover Haire in any part of the body
Take [the] blood of a mole & anoint the part; two or 3 times therewith that you wod have the haire to increase on; [the] blood being warme; as it comes from [the] mole being newly killed; it will wond[er]fully renew & bring hair to the admiration of all men (Dawson 21)
The first recipe implies a distinct link between the removal of the hair of the mole and the removal of human hair, which suggests that the recipe works according to the doctrine of sympathies. Connections such as these between the ailment and the cure for said ailment were common in the seventeenth century:
In the tradition of seventeenth-century herbalists … there was a sympathy between certain plants and certain ailments, or parts of the body, which could be recognized by its distinctive ‘signature’. Thus any herb which resembled the form of eyes, for example – such as eyebright, the scabious or the marigold – was said to be useful in the healing of eye complaints. Such connections were part of a complex web of correspondences and sympathies connecting macrocosm to microcosm. (Harrison 41)
If early modern herbalists connected the characteristics of ailments with the physical appearances of herbs, the same thinking might apply to animals. Just as herbs resembling eyes were said to treat blindness, so too might the hair of a creature be said to assist with ailments concerning the hair of humans.
Perhaps the most notable feature of a mole is its blindness. Edward Topsell in his 1658 book The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpentsincludes a segment on moles in which the following visual can be found on page 388:
Though this illustration implies that moles have easily visible eyes, they would have been hidden under a layer of fur:
Despite the mole’s eyeless appearance, it seems to have been relatively well-known that moles possessed eyes underneath their fur, as evidenced in Topsell’s illustration. The fur covering the location of the eyes might have been viewed as excess. Thus, it follows that individuals wanting more hair might look to the mole to inspire their own hair growth. Similarly, the process of removing the mole’s hair could become associated with the removal of hair in general, resulting in a ritual wherein the human hair is “anoint[ed]” with the removed mole hair in hopes of stimulating the expulsion of excess hair.
As for the origin of Dawson’s recipes, one likely source is Topsell’s aforementioned book, which includes Dawson’s cure for excess hair almost word for word. The similarities suggest that Dawson directly came into contact with Topsell’s book herself or through a source that had copied from the book. Unlike the resemblance in the hair removal texts, the recipes concerning hair growth show significant differences. Topsell’s book utilizes the burnt skin of the mole rather than the blood: “For the renewing, and bringing againe of those haires which are fallen or decayed, take a mole and burne her whole in the skin […]” (Topsell, 502). This use of burnt skin may ultimately refer back to Dioscorides, who originally used porcupine and hedgehog skin in his recipes for hair growth. Though there are other differences in components, Topsell’s version keeps the idea of using a creature’s skin as a main ingredient.
Medicinal recipes are changed as they pass from one individual to another, with information being added, removed, or altered. It is therefore likely that Dawson’s curt recipe may have originally been a part of a longer one that was altered as time passed—perhaps passing through word-of-mouth, or being copied from an acquaintance or friend’s own personal medicinal cookbook. It is evident that Dawson pooled together knowledge from multiple people, suggesting that the medical care they could expect had a direct correlation to both the knowledge and the quantity of the people they knew.
Interestingly, there is one source that includes both of Dawson’s recipes. Joannes Jonstonus’ 1678 book reads: “the [mole’s] blood brings hair … the water wherein a Mole hath been, and left hair, restores hair.” (Jonstonus 91). There is one crucial change from Dawson’s version: the fur of the mole is said to promote hair growth rather than hair loss. An intriguing dilemma would arise if an early modern person came into contact with these two recipes claiming opposing results. Though the publication status of Jonstonus’ book would imply that it was Jonstonus’ version rather than Dawson’s that would have been in more frequent use, this would likely depend on a variety of factors, including the book’s distribution and popularity.
Though an analysis of the mole recipes mentioned beforehand allows for a better understanding of Dawson’s own recipe, it should be noted that these recipes are likely only a fraction of early modern recipes concerning moles and hair. Numerous others exist, and further analysis of those versions could bring to light a more thorough and complete understanding of this unique remedy.
Dawson, Jane. Cookbook of Jane Dawson. Folger ms. Vb.14.
Harrison, Mark. “From Medical Astrology to Medical Astronomy: Sol-Lunar and Planetary Theories of Disease in British Medicine.” The British Journal for the History of Science,vol. 33, no. 1, Mar. 2000, pp. 25-48. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4028064
These are not vanilla wafers. These are not chocolate wafers. These are, I learned as I read the recipe, a different type of sweet. Might Dawson have been using an alternative definition? The Oxford English Dictionary defines wafers as we would today, describing them as “light, crisp cakes” or, in religious contexts, the Eucharistic host (Wafer, 1.a, 2). Dawson’s wafers lack a crucial wafer ingredient: flour. My sous chef and I forged ahead undaunted, but aware that making candy without a thermometer is challenging. More challenging still was our very un-English weather in North Carolina: 78 degrees, 84 percent humidity, and a falling barometer predicting rain. In short, not great candy making weather.
A few things caught my eye as I re-read: removing the wafers from paper using water, and the utter lack of any guidance in terms of the amount of sugar or lemon juice to be used. In the era of parchment paper, Silpats, and any number of nonstick sprays prying items off the pan is generally evidence of our own lack of preparation. For early cooks, however, options likely would have been more limited. Wetting the “rong side” of the paper to release something on its surface seemed like a practical trick that could be applied in other projects. I took the lack of guidelines for amounts as the chance to cook just using my eyes and the feel of the ingredients as we scooped and stirred.
The sugar left me with just a comparison for guidance- “the thickness of hunny.” In the first attempt, I imagined this as runny honey: my first mistake. The ratio of liquid to sugar was far too high. I cooked the juice of a lemon with sugar combined to the “runny honey” consistency in a small, non-stick pan over medium heat on an electric stove. Since I didn’t consider that this might be referring to a butter mint-style candy wafer, I skipped immediately to candy cooked to the hard ball (read: very clear and crisp) state. It is impossible to make this type of candy without boiling the mixture, so after a quick check of the OED to be sure I wasn’t missing some past definition of boil, I chose to ignore that direction. Perhaps she meant not to let it scorch?
This first attempt was a failure, as with the low amount of sugar, the mixture was a thick syrup and would not harden.
Effort two used the same mix but with longer cooking, this time in a metal spoon over the heat (I took Dawson rather literally here, to my peril!). No crisping and still a syrupy mess.
I decided to massively increase the sugar to more of a crystalized honey texture.
Bingo. The third wafer, also made in the spoon, took on some color and had a toffee-like consistency on the paper. Progress. For the next one, I let it go much longer, taking on a distinct golden color. My hope was to judge it to be at the hard ball stage. It’s possible to do this by putting a bit of the mix into cold water to see if a firm ball forms, but I got a bit distracted at this stage and forgot to check. Instead, knowing it takes a while to reach the appropriate temperature, I just let it boil significantly longer, to good effect. The third wafer was truly a crisp caramel sheet, which could be bent and its paper support pinned to give it a curve. This fourth wafer was so nicely crystalized that it slipped rather easily off the parchment lining, though I did paint some water on the back to help it along. This strategy seems promising with sweet foods.
I’m struck, in retrospect, with how much making this recipe today relies on analogy. Because I didn’t have the wafer candy Lisa used as a referent, I ended up with only my knowledge of grain-based wafers to go on, which was completely unhelpful. Since so much is left to prior knowledge, finding the right contemporary model to bridge this lack of period knowledge was crucial. While what I made was edible, tasty even, I think I’d use Lisa’s technique were I to try them again!