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.

Medicine in the Granville Family Manuscript (Folger Va 340)

By Amanda Torres

With a receipt titled, “A Receipt to take away the red spots out of the Face after the small pox are gone,” one has to wonder the intention behind offering such a promise. Was this particular disease proliferated by festering spots left untreated, or was the receipt’s intent driven by cosmetic ritual, simply to rid the face of unsightly blemishes and ghastly disfigurement. First we must identify what these incremental ingredients signify or stand in for. “Tansey water” was likely derived from the tansy plant, an invasive and flowering sort. Regarding tansy, the Oxford English Dictionary states that “all parts of the plant have a strong aromatic scent and bitter taste”; therefore the plant would be better suited for medicinal application rather than ingestion.

“Sulphur vivum” means “native or virgin sulphur,” an active, bacteria-killing ingredient typically used for the treatment of skin conditions in the form of topical ointments. “Leamons” or lemons are also employed for their cleansing properties. Recurring in the Granville and Winche receipt books is the mention of “camphire,” or camphor, which The OED defines as a “whitish translucent crystalline volatile substance, belonging chemically to the vegetable oils, and having a bitter aromatic taste and a strong characteristic smell.” The OED also states it was formerly regarded as an “antaphrodisiac” and therefore used to combat venereal disease. Modern science endorses camphor for its soothing and decongestant properties.

All of these units combine to absolve a patient from the aftereffects of a horribly painful disease. Billed between a receipt for “possett” and a “plaister for the spleene,” alleviating “smallpox spots” reinforces the critical anxieties of the early modern period, as disease and plague indiscriminately conquered countless lives. The recipe’s main goal seeks not to cure the disease itself, but to create a solution for the “pustules,” or blistering pus-filled sores that covered a victim’s face and body. Sores would often leaving scarring and permanent damage, so the Granville entry remains a hopeful fix. Also important to note is the category of ingredients called for, as lemon, sulfur, and camphor are still in use today for their antibiotic properties. The use of proven antibacterial ingredients suggests a scientific understanding of how these ingredients worked, a knowledge that if not formally acquired, was established through trial and error.

My uncertainty still lies with “Cemitary water,” which seems to suggest a contaminated product, marred by disease or death. Despite these connotations relating to the nature of smallpox, I’m unsure of how this ingredient fits in with fighting against the disease. Following my primary receipt of study is “Another Receipt” which suggests a variance on treating smallpox sores. The key difference in this receipt happens with the use of “milke.” On the next page we see “An ointment to take the spotts out of the Face after the small Pox” and “A very good ointment for a tetter or any Itching.” The physical appearance of disease is aggressively targeted specifically in this set of receipts. The topicality of these receipts parallels the humoral notions of early modern health we’ve discussed, as internal strategy plays a significant role in guiding food and medicine across this period.

Amanda Torres is an MA student at the University of Texas, Arlington and a member of Professor Amy Tigner’s “Culinary Shakespeare” class.

The Very Fine Great Receipt Book of Anne Carr: The Dialogism of a Community

By Breanne Weber
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

The day after the Transcribathon, my fellow graduate students from UNC Charlotte and I spent all day in the Folger’s reading room. Surrounded by hundreds reference books, situated above the decks where rare and fragile manuscripts are preserved, and inspired by the beautiful architecture and scholarly atmosphere, we together pored over each manuscript we requested for our own projects, sharing exciting and strange finds. We spent hours in the Folger reading room that day, breaking only for a very late lunch so that we could return until closing.

AnneCarr'sBook

I spent nearly all of my hours in the reading room with the 1673 Choyce receits collected out of the book of receits, of the Lady Vere Wilkinson, begun to be written by the Right Honble the Lady Anne Carr. The names listed on the title page of this receipt book – Lady Vere Wilkinson, Lady Anne Carr, and Susana Hixon – illustrate from its beginning the collaboration that took place in the creation of this particular recipe book. I was thus unsurprised to find that the pages of this particular book were filled with different hands.

DifferentHandwritings

Such collaboration permeates the text, as each page details various recipes, from medicines to cakes to drinks. Many pages list several different versions of the same recipe, such as how to make “sugar cakes” (the second recipe labeled “another sort of sugar cakes”). The recipes are often labeled according to contributor, in a similar fashion to those spiral-bound church cookbooks filled with recipes for Jell-O Salad and mushroom soup-based casseroles: Anne Carr’s receipt book contains “The Lady Trevors way of preserving grapes green in jelly” and a recipe “To dry plumms naturally – Mrs Harringtons way.” Labeling the recipes with the names of their creators or contributors not only serves to distinguish between similar foods or medicines, but it also illustrates the collaboration and community that surrounded the creation of such recipe books. For Anne Carr, or any reader of this book, to distinguish between the nearly identical recipes for making grape preserves, she needs to know those women who contributed the recipes.

In Anne Carr’s book, there are sometimes annotations – inserted either by the writer herself or by another reader – which also help guide readers to choose specific recipes over others. For instance, “The Countesse of Lincolns way of makeing pancakes” is qualified with the phrase “which she used to make for the King & Duchesse of York.” Clearly, if the Countess of Lincoln made them for the King, her pancakes must be worth making! In a similar fashion, other contributors qualify their recipes in their titles: page 43 features a recipe for “a very fine great cake” while another, earlier page describes how “to make Apricock Cakes the best way.” Not all of these qualifications are necessarily good, however; one recipe, for “damson wine,” contains an added annotation in a different hand: “the worst in the world.”

WorstintheWorld

Through their titles and annotations, these contributors to Anne Carr’s recipe book provide their authority on these subjects – gained through the experience of trying these recipes and sharing their thoughts with others. They participate in a continued dialogue, encouraging future readers to either try a particular recipe or stay clear from it. They assume others will use these recipes to make their own version of the Countess of Lincoln’s pancakes or to modify the worst damson wine in the world. Their words are a continuous call-and-response, hearkening back to their own personal experiences of developing these recipes while simultaneously anticipating the needs and desires of future readers. These women have built, across cultures, continents, and time, a community that still thrives today.

As for our postmodern transcription community, we have a wonderfully glorious responsibility: to further the legacy that these early moderns have left behind. To keep this community alive, we need only open, read, and share the magic found within the fragile pages of these manuscripts.

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.

Transcribing Teamwork

By Kailan Sindelar
Graduate Student, UNC Charlotte

It’s a rule of mine that I travel with as little technology as I think is appropriate. It’s a rule that has kept me from being distracted by day-to-day electronic procrastinations and responsibilities when I am in a new, exciting place. Without thinking twice, I left my laptop at home and headed out to Washington DC with my fellow grad students from UNC Charlotte. It wasn’t until we were somewhere in Virginia that I realized I might actually need my own laptop for the Transcribathon. Having never been to the Folger Shakespeare Library before, I had pictured a library much our own campus (which offers a large number of laptops for rent). Since this was not the case when I arrived to the Transcribathon, Robin Kello was kind enough to let me transcribe with him. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I became quite the handicap when we started doing Sprint competitions. Poor Robin was considerate enough to let me confirm his transcriptions before committing them to the keyboard. While we certainly weren’t the fastest transcribers as a team, we did make a good team.

As we went through transcribing together, during a sprint or not, we collaborated on every word. We took extra care to confirm or question each other’s initial interpretations of the handwriting. We also shared surprise at recipes that took a turn for the unexpected. Sheapshead Puddin was our favorite. It’s a recipe that sounds so colloquial, yet obviously from a foreign time. The kind of collaboration and mutual enjoyment from encountering the unexpected is exactly the kind of experience we strive for in our meetings in the Early Modern Paleography Society, which is a transcription club we have created on campus. While our mutual collaboration may not be fast, it allows us to compare impressions and learn how our peers interpret the same handwriting that we see. Transcribing in group allows us to learn with each other and share our reactions to what we transcribe. Watching, and being a part of, the mass collaboration that took place at the Transcribathon was inspiring. Our group walked away happy and encouraged by the amount of work that can be accomplished when so many people collaborate.