Sheepeshead Pudden Chronicles, or, Adventures in Transcription

By Robin Kello
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

Fellow travelers in transcription and compatriots in the paleographic arts, allow me to share a short tale.

After the October transcribathon at the Folger, a friend asked: “Why waste a day looking at old recipes?” Yes, dear readers, you may be astonished to hear it, but there are folks out there who fail to notice the magic of the early modern manuscript.

While I do not spend time criticizing his leisure pursuits – a certain recipe of hops, barley, yeast, water, and American football – I relished the opportunity to respond. I suggested that beyond the political, ethical, and scholarly reasons to do the good work of transcription, there is joy to be found in what Amy Tigner refers to on this blog as “the treasures of the book.” The adventure of the transcribathon – our transatlantic, cross-century colloquy with Rebeckah Winche – engenders community and occasions discovery.

To transcribe Winche’s book is: to open a door that opens further doors into the past; to rethink environments both “natural” and cultural; to see a reflection of renaissance trade routes in the ingredients of remedies and recipes; to recognize an expression of the transmission of folk knowledge before the standardization of medicine; and to be given access to the views of early moderns who were not the poets and priests or sanctioned scribes and scholars of the realm, but the unofficial chronicles of the time. These recipes articulate methodologies of care, of how we used to sustain and heal ourselves.

They also offer a toad’s leg in a silk satchel to be hung around the neck, the urine of a young boy, and various recipes for “Sheepesehead Pudden.” The single-word “Sheepeshead,” the “en” that resolves the substantive noun, and the double “d,” arching forward, as secretary hand will, toward the preceding word – this language and its world are both familiar and strange. Though I do not intend to par boyle the head of sheep to make a very fine pudding, I delight in the discovery, and share it with my companions.

Then we all partake in Winche’s marvelous book, triple-transcribed, viewed and vetted, fit for consumption, with the rest of the world. In 1715, 1815, or 1915, it was reserved for the fortunate few; in 2015, the web lets us give it to the world. The cutting edge of this cutting-edge scholarly endeavor is not just in its valuable interdisciplinary import, but in the democratic nature of the digital humanities.

I am immensely grateful to have been part of the transcribathon, to be a member of the Early Modern Paleography Society at UNC-Charlotte, and to explore these early modern recipes. It is not because I am especially skilled – in a sprint, I lag – I tremble at the vowel – but because of what we find in the encounter with Winche’s world. Get to the keyboard and stare down the vowel. The adventure continues, and the treasure is shared.

Rebeckah Winche and The King’s Evil

By Jordan Ivie

Rebeckah Winche’s receipt book (Folger Vb 366) includes three recipes on page 62 that relate to the King’s Evil, one that detects the malady and two that cure it. These recipes consist of many ingredients that seem strange to the modern reader, including the leg of a live toad, turpentine, and worms; the oddest ingredient, however, was “the urine of a man childe he being not aboue 3 years old.” The recipe instructs that 3 spoonfulls of this urine be added to beeswax, turpentine, sheep’s suet, and barley flower, and then the whole concoction is boiled and formed into a plaster to lay on the patient’s sore. Putting aside any consideration of the efficacy of using urine in a remedy, the fact that it is included in a recipe for the King’s Evil says a great deal about early modern conceptions of the masculine body’s healing powers.

A remedy for the King’s Evil is already a recipe that speaks to the period’s faith in masculine curative powers. The King’s Evil, or scrofula, was commonly thought to be curable by the touch of the king (OED); therefore this malady is already charged with preconceptions related to both gender and class: the male ruler is a healer, spreading wellness to the common people. The belief interacts with the notion of using the urine of a man-child, specifically of a child younger than three years old. The ingredient is not related to class or authority, as is the general concept of the King’s Evil, but to age and gender, and perhaps the age restriction relates to purity or cleanliness. Nevertheless the common factor between the King’s touch and the man-child’s urine is gender. Rebekah Winche’s receipt book manifests the time’s preoccupation with gender and healthcare not only in this King’s Evil recipe but also in the one that follows it, which calls for a leg cut from a live frog and tied around the sufferer’s neck. Interestingly, “if it be a boy or man that is greeued then woman must kill the toade but if a girle or woman be ill then a man must kill it.” This recipe, unlike the preceding one, ascribes a degree of healing power to both men and women and highlights the idea that gender is as essential as the ingredients themselves; further, male bodies must aid in the healing of female bodies and female bodies are necessary to heal male bodies.

The presence of three separate recipes on this page show the prevalent fear and perhaps the common occurrence of the King’s Evil in the early modern period, and, while one recipe does give both men and women roles in the healing process, the use of the King’s touch and the urine of a man child as remedies suggest that early moderns put a great deal of faith in the male body’s ability to heal both sexes; somehow, health and vitality are not only inherent in maleness but also transferrable, able to overcome even the most dreaded and debilitating diseases.

Jordan Ivie, Master’s Student at the University of Texas, Arlington and student in Professor Amy Tigner’s graduate class, “Culinary Shakespeare”


Observations about EMROC’s 2015 Transcribathon

By Erin Adwell

EMROC’s interactive Humanities Transcribathon project proved highly engaging and illuminating both sociologically and literarily. During the event, I transcribed three pages of recipes from Rebeckah Winche’s receipt book, while sitting with a group of fellow graduate students at the University of Texas, Arlington. Because most ingredients were familiar, the transcription was relatively straight-forward. The ease by which I transcribed these recipes can be attributed to practicing receipt transcription through Cambridge University’s English Handwriting 1500-1700: An online course. By transcribing alone and in small groups then reviewing the work with classmates, I gained valuable experience with problematic letters, such as Hs and Ws, which helped during the Transcribathon.

While transcribing Winche’s recipes I was finally able to move beyond the letters to begin constructing meaning for the first time. I began paying attention to the content and processes described in the recipes. Although, the ingredients on the pages I transcribed were familiar and consisted primarily flowers like Rosemary, several of my classmates encountered strange ingredients. For example, one classmate transcribed a recipe that included the “urin of a man chile,” which was intended to cure the “King’s Evil.” A simple Google search of “King’s Evil” produced images of large, scabby boils on the skin, so I can understand how desperate people would have been to cure the condition. These recipes help elucidate the harsh reality of life during the seventeenth century.

King's Evil Scrofula

The most memorable of the recipes that I transcribed from Winche’s receipt book was for Agua Mirabilis. Agua Mirabilis is not listed in the OED; however, Merriam-Webster explains that it is a distilled cordial of old pharmacy made of spirits, sage, betony, balm, and other aromatic ingredients. An interesting note precedes the recipe, saying that Richard Marns “makes a water which helps children from Convultions and sends directions with it.” This information provided context for the recipe’s origin and aroused my interest in Winche’s life. I looked up Richard Marns’s name in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, but the search wielded no results, which was disappointing. Following the Transcribathon, my knowledge of Winche’s personal life remains limited to my own inferences. I look forward to reading her fully transcribed recipe book to learn more about her world.

Erin Adwell, Graduate Student, University of Texas, Arlington


Transcribathon: Recaptured, Reflected, and Envisioned

By Vincent Sosko

The group transcribing work done in our conference room several weeks ago was the first such experience for all eight graduate students from the University of Texas, Arlington. Group work was no stranger to us, but never before had we taken part in a textual archeological dig within such an immense group effort. This ‘dig’ is better termed paleography, and our work with this study so far this semester prepared us for the transcribing we would do that day. Over a month or so of transcribing practice has introduced me to another element of scholarly work, given me exposure to new ingredients for cooking and new conventions of writing, and ultimately allowed me to hone my transcription skills into my own personal style of transcribing, albeit the style of a fledgling. It was not until the day of the Transcribathon that I had considered or realized that my peers were developing their own personal transcribing styles as well.

While uncovering the pages of the receipt book of Rebeckah Winche, we did so on an individual basis where each person selected their own pages and set about the act of transcribing. What our work became was anything but individual, as we held an open line of conversation about the unique remedies to bizarre maladies. Jason, Jordan, and Erin offered up the most intriguing recipes, leading Jayson to dub them the “lucky ones” for encountering those grotesque recipes we all love to read (i.e. a remedy calling for “Bearsfoot” and “pigs blader”). We also openly discussed the troubling words, flourishes, and conventions that others may have had a better sense of understanding. The debates that these struggles led to and the suggestions that came from them was where I clearly saw the very personal ways that we see the handwriting and thus the differing styles of transcribing emerged. Where one transcriber was able to see the dual application of the u/v convention that aided another transcriber who might have been flummoxed when encountering this (such as seeing “couer” and misreading cover as cower and therefore being contextually confused), there was a transcriber who had developed a routine to interpret ‘thorns’ that lent itself to others. These differing transcription styles came together to vivify paleography for me, and what we were creating was much more than an in depth collection of transcribed recipes.

This bonding we had over our work on the pages, supported by the bonding over the large variety of snacks available, provided me with a new sense of scholarly work that I have not had much exposure to yet; one in which we receive more joy and intellectual reward in the journey than in the destination. To think that the work we did within our four walls was connected to a worldwide network of the same journey helps me realize now just how the Transcribathon exemplified the potential of scholarship for those who continue in academia.

Vincent Sosko, PhD student, University of Texas, Arlington

Vetting Rewards

By Joul Smith

Vetting rewards. It may not be the sexiest part of transcribing, but scrutinizing the products of the Winche (Folger V.b. 366) transcribathon has improved my technical skills as a transcriber and re-oriented the value I place on my work with recipes. And as a graduate student whose work and study revolves around early modern English, I’m developing “skill” and “purpose” for my future profession by vetting.

At first, vetting sounds grueling and intrusive. Here’s the process: I collate the various transcriptions, determine which versions are the best, reformat them into one text that can be correctly interfaced with Dromio (the Folger Shakespeare Library’s transcription tool), edit them (by re-transcribing if necessary), then pain-stakingly tag every word that matches a specific category (And for recipes, it’s almost every other word.). In my graduate classes, this is usually the work of transcription trolls. They would sneak in after you spent hours hashing out the general spine of a difficult hand and use your hard work to finish a transcription that was only possible because of your initial dedication to the text. Then they would brag about their skills as a transcriber (Yeah. I’m still getting over it.). In the case of the Winche manuscript, for instance, a recipe for “A Drink for the Sciaticae” has a crossed out “bru,” which three highly accomplished transcribers labeled three different ways: “bri,” “bro,” and “be.” Close examination shows that the “u” matches the hand’s “u” and the line “bru one ounce of licorish brused,” seems to demonstrate an editorial thought-process—worthwhile, but now I’m the troll.

Screenshot 2015-11-02 12.14.35

Yet in the end, vetting stretches my capabilities and makes me a better student of early modern English, paleography, and the digital humanities. For example, I want a researcher to authentically experience “two pailefuls of pumps water” in Winche’s “How to dry Meats Tongues,” but the “pailefuls” is spelled strangely and the hand hardly helps. Furthermore, the “s” in “pumps” could be an “e,” but it’s unclear. I firmly believe it’s an “s” because it matches what seems like the speech pattern indicated in the heading: “Meats tongues.” Put it all together, and we have a unique measurement, “pailefuls” and an intriguing kind of ingredient “pump’s water” that all needs to be tagged through overlapping features that preserves the original text. At junctures like “pumps,” vetting isn’t a straight-forward, objective activity, despite our solid principles and rigorous criteria. For you worriers, I put on my graduate-level-expertise hat and marked it as an unclear “s” which responsibly renders an accurate and authentic version of Winche’s recipes for future researchers.

As you can see, there is fruit in this exercise (sometimes literally), and it isn’t just the result of correcting transcription. Sure, it sharpens my paleographic eye, increases my early modern recipe lexicon, and improves my ever-expanding digital skill. But when I correct a milestone overlap in TEI syntax, I’m not just fixing XML, I’m transferring the knowledge of the Winche manuscript to those who want and need it but can’t access it easily or at all.

Joul Smith, Graduate Student, University of Texas, Arlington