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.
I had the opportunity to lead a directed study for a graduating student last summer. The student had been interested in taking my early modern literature class focused on early modern women’s writing, but had not been able to fit it with her schedule. As I was planning a new paleography unit based on Mary Baumfylde’s manuscript for the class at the time, the student agreed to work alongside me as a test subject for the materials I had drafted in addition to other readings and assignments. As I embarked on my task, one of my guiding questions was “What is the value in actually preparing and trying the recipes from this manuscript?” With every task, it became increasingly clear that researching, preparing, and tasting/using these recipes led us to a level of close reading and immersion that would not have been achievable without our material engagement.
Transcription, Gathering, and Planning
Transcribing the recipe “A pultis to allay paines swellings or any anguish” with the goal of actual preparation required a degree of engagement that that the many transcriptions I had previously carried out did not. Understanding the ingredients became less about deciphering the what and more about comprehending the why.
A pultis to allay paines swellings or any anguish. Take straroberrie leaves, violett leaves collumbine leaves, of and blynde nettles of each a like quantitie, boyle them in fayre water, and thicken itt with oatemell and apply itt to the place grieved as Warme as you can suffer itt.
Gerard’s Herbal addresses the topical application of both strawberry and violet leaves. According to that volume, strawberry leaves “taketh away the burning heate in wounds” and violet leaves, “mitigate all kinde of hot inflammations.” Columbine leaves are known for aiding sore throats and sluggish livers, but their topical application is not addressed. And “blynde nettles” are not nettles at all. Gerard refers to them as Archangell, or “dead Nettle,” a term used interchangeably with “blind nettle” for non-stinging nettles. As it turned out, the purple blind nettles, known colloquially as “red henbit,” is a plant very familiar to me, as it grows on the roadsides throughout my neighborhood in spring. This plant is, in fact, part of the mint family and is credited with anti-inflammatory properties both today and in Gerard’s Herbal, and so it makes sense in this poultice recipe.
The oatmeal with which Mary Baumfylde would have been familiar would have likely been “rough oats,” slightly finer than “pinhead oats,” which were cut in half and sifted to remove the floury substance.Steel-cut oats come closest to approximating this texture, so these make the most sense for preparing this recipe. In the early modern period, oats would have been cooked slowly into a porridge using only water and salt. Considering the moderate temperature of cast iron cooktops, this recipe should be done at a relatively low temperature on a gas or electric stove, so “boyle” almost certainly does not refer to rolling boil we think of today, but instead probably means something more proximate to “heat” or “cook.” By the end of my transcription, I had a plan: prepare oatmeal first, then gather all of my herbs fresh in a single morning or afternoon before compounding the poultice. It would be interesting to make a salve with these same herbs to try out the combination in a less perishable way.
I had my next significant experience of connection with the text in venturing outside, clippers in hand, to seek out the plants I would need. The first two ingredients, strawberry leaves and violet leaves, were easily obtainable in my back yard. As I searched my back yard for the wild violets that I knew grew in the shade of my Japanese Maple tree, though, I began to appreciate the fact that the plants were small in the dryness of the Pacific Northwest late summer. I thought about the early modern women stewarding the herbs that grew nearby their homes and carefully removed only a few leaves from each plant, so as not to cause undue stress and to ensure the continued health of the herbs.
Finding columbine leaves and red henbit proved trickier in late summer: I don’t grow Columbine and couldn’t find “blind nettles” in my neighborhood park where I knew them to grow in other seasons. I could have tried my luck at a garden center, but I thought of the manuscript authors and instead paid a visit to my friend Rebecca and her sprawling forested land while we searched out and (again, carefully) gathered enough columbine leaves to prepare the recipe. Alas, though, it seemed that red henbit had fallen victim to either summer heat or hungry bunnies. I don’t believe seasonal unavailability would have stopped our early modern medicine-makers, so I prepared to carry out my plan without them.
My day of gathering was deeply satisfying and connecting, both to the land and plants of my own yard, neighborhood, and my friend’s land, and to the women who wrote and read Mary Baumfylde’s book.
The transcription and planning process for my student, Kynna, was similarly broadening. She chose to prepare the recipe “How to Make Cheese Cakes.”
To Make Cheese Cakes Take 6 qrts of new milk and one part of cream Sett it as you do a cheese but in stead of – Warming the milk putt in as much hot water As will make it fitt & when it is com’d brek itt & pour it in to a Cloth & whey it between two & when the whey is very well draind take the curd & breake it with a pound of fresh butter some mace & a pound of suger, the yelks of 14 Eggs & whites of 8. Make Them upon plates in a very good puff past When they are risen & craterd they are enough.
This recipe is different because the ingredients were all relatively familiar to us: milk, cream, hot water, butter, mace, sugar, and puff pastry. However, there were some immediate procedural questions that Kynna had to understand in order to move forward. The recipe begins by instructing the cook to take the quantities of new milk and cream and “sett it as you do a cheese.” From reading Ruth Goodman’s How to be a Tudoras part of the class, she knew that cheesemaking was part of the daily household routine. . However, it was during one of our early meetings that I guided her to picture something akin to cottage cheese or ricotta (not cheddar) as the product these women were making daily. Kynna observed that the experience made her realize how much rich knowledge the writers of the Baumfylde took for granted, and how much homesteading knowledge has been lost.
Kynna proceeded to research early modern methods for making basic cottage cheese in the library before confidently moving forth with her gathering and preparations. She also did some calculations and downscaled the recipe to 2/3, not having a kettle in her kitchen that could comfortably hold the requisite six quarts of milk and one quart of cream, plus an unknown amount of boiling water to make the cheese curdle. At this point, she expressed some concern over the final line of the recipe: “when they are risen and craterd they are enough.” She wondered whether she would know when they were sufficiently risen and catered, and precisely what “catered” meant, but moved toward her recipe preparation phase with a spirit of adventure nonetheless.
Compounding the poultice at the stove with my 8-year-old son was the quickest and easiest part of my endeavor. First, we chopped the leaves I had gathered and measured one packed tablespoon of each type: strawberry, wild violet, and columbine. The next time I make this recipe I hope to use red henbit as well, and I will probably double the amounts I gather in order to also infuse some oil for a salve.
Next, we measured one cup of water and combined it with the chopped leaves on the stove over medium-low heat.
And then we waited for the heat to slowly bring the liquid to a simmer.
When a simmer was achieved, we added 1 and 1/4 cups of “oatemell.” I used cooked steel cut oats, as discussed above, because this type of porridge would have been on hand as the base for daily porridge in the early modern household.
We mixed these together with the heat still on.
After a few minutes to thicken, we spread the warm mixture thick on brown paper.
And applied it to “the place grieved” (an insect bite on my son’s arm) “as warme as [he could] suffer it.” My patient pronounced the remedy “weird,” but soothing. After a few minutes, some of the redness and itchiness had abated.
I dried a bundle of my carefully obtained columbine leaves in the event that they’re not available next time I want to make this recipe.
In her own kitchen, Kynna made cheese for the first time.
She proceeded to strain the cheese and mix up her cheesecake mix as instructed in the recipe.
She decided to bake them in a variety of pans to see which would best work as the “plates” the recipe calls for, and put them in an oven set to 325 degrees, figuring that by the afternoon (cheesemaking time), and after all the breads were baked, the temperature of the typical early modern oven would be on the lower side.
Kynna let them bake 20 minutes and then checked every three minutes after that, knowing they would finish at different times because of their different sizes. She was delighted when the smallest cake first appeared puffed and pocked with an uneven surface that looked like tiny craters: “risen and cratered.” As each cake took on this appearance, she removed it from the oven and set it to cool.
She explained her relief afterwards: “‘risen and cratered’ sounds vague, but it perfectly describes what it looks like when it’s done.” The cheesecakes came out quite delicious: less sweet than the cheesecakes to which we were both accustomed, but a nice, fluffy texture; creamy; and slightly lemony from the mace.
These experiences have given us both a unique and moving connection to the material culture of the period. I gained an appreciation for the plants I used, the community that brought them to me, the intensive planning and comprehension that goes into even a very simple and seemingly straightforward recipe, and the joy of preparing an old-fashioned remedy that brought some comfort (and levity) to my kiddo. It is notable to me, as someone who has studied the material culture of the period and prepared many recipes in the past, that the process of moving from handwritten manuscript to completed recipe engendered a deeper experience than transcribing one recipe and preparing another, exercises I’ve done many times. Kynna was moved in a similar way, working in her kitchen to comprehend and recreate the intricacies of cheese-making and baking practices that early modern cooks took for granted: “After doing the recipe, I knew I could read the words and trust that, when the time came, I would know what to do.” Our Baumfylde authors and readers were resourceful chemists, healers, and artists. By inhabiting this manuscript, Kynna and I understood and became these things too.
If your child was knocking at death’s door, wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to cure them, even if the treatments were potentially dangerous? Folger MS W.a.87 (early 18th century) shows the great lengths parents went to cure their children of serious ailments. With several pages detailing strong purges for children based on Galenic theories of evacuative medicine, Folger MS W.a.87 is important because it records invasive treatments that were losing popularity in the mid- to late-17th century.
The recipes for purges in this manuscript are modeled after the treatments the eminent physician Dr. Walter Harris (1647-1732) used on his young patients. These include purges of children who were “pale,” “refused any kinds of Nourishment,” and suffered from “Vomitings, greene stooles, & gripnings [sic]” (Folger MS W.a.87., fol. 106, 108, 109). A prominent member of the Royal College of Physicians and frequent critic of Paracelsan and Helmontian medicine, Dr. Harris wrote De morbis acutis infantum (1689), translated into English as A Treatise of the Acute Diseases of Infants (1693),in which he records his observations of many seriously ill children successfully treated by his methods. Several of Dr. Harris’s observations were copied into manuscript W.a.87; several other pages of this manuscript seem to be translated or paraphrased from Harris’s work.
A Chile, 10 mounts ole breeding teeth, fall into a Losensse
& had 40 or 50 Stooles in a day, & was almost dead. I gaue her
dose of pouder, whith cousisted cheifly of Chalk & Coral, [e]ach
20 graines every fourth hour att l[e]ast, but in the begininning
I gaue itt oftner, till the Violence should abate; On the
third day I cleansed her body whith a Rubarb purge,
I repeated the same pouders 2 days more & reneued the
purges, & She was perfectly Cured.
(W.a.87, fol. 110, 150409).
In this observation, (also found on pages 122-124 of A Treatise of the Acute Diseases of Infants) Harris’s purge seemed to save the life of the ten-month-old child. Harris’s frequent administration of the dangerous powders contrasts with, for example, gentler purges attributed to Dr. Lour (possibly Dr. Richard Lower) in the cookbook of Hester Denbigh. Dr. Lour recommends giving medicine only “once in two days or twice in a day if need be” (NYPL Whitney MS 11, fol. 20).
The general procedure for purging children, recommended by Harris, is as follows:
The Evening before you give the purge, lett the Chile have
a Glyster of Milk and Sugar with a few grains of Salt.
If the Chile bee not restored to health & ease, Rest a day
and then give the pouders againe, as before, two days, & then
Give another purge then rest a day _ and so repeate the
pouders & purgnig 4, 5, or 6 times if need requires / –
(Folger MS W.a.87, fol 104, 150406)
This basic procedure is modified by Harris to suit the children’s different symptoms.
Purges were still common in the eighteenth century, but the purges Harris describes are only for worst-case scenarios in children whose last resort depended on an intensive cycle of clysters, powders, and cordials, followed by a day or two of rest. Although the powders vary based on the symptoms, they include ingredients such as crab claws, oyster shells, bezoar stone, similar to recipes for Gascoigne’s powder found in many recipe books (fol. 100-101). These ingredients helped to absorb the excess moisture which Harris believed was endemic to children: “The Nature of Children is moist and all Moisture is apt to degenerate into Sournesse” (W.a.87, fol. 100).
Other physicians believed the delicate nature of children would make routine preventative purges inadvisable which is no doubt why these recipes repeatedly stress the need for safety. Practitioners of chemical medicine thought it was important to find treatments that reduced a child’s discomfort level, instead of providing treatments that induced more pain. Gentler treatments included bathing infants in wine and stimulating a bowel movement by rubbing the stomach (Astury 87). According to historian of medicine Hannah Newton, “Johann Dolaus cautioned that ‘Children cannot bear Purging’” (70). But when it comes to acute and potentially deadly illnesses, the author of W.a.87 copies Harris’s claim of “uspeakable [sic] Successe in Curing Children by purging Only which I practiced 7 years togeather” (Folger MS W.a.87, fol. 100). Practitioners may have considered all other options before intentionally putting a child’s body through further pain. However, when parents are desperate, these concerns may go out the window.
Physicians, such as Dr. Harris, and parents with a deathly sick child deemed purging and other invasive treatments appropriate. Physicians and parents no doubt worried about children’s fragile bodies suffering extra trauma, but the medical histories found in Folger MS W.a.87 showed very dire situations. The illnesses observed by Dr. Harris were in fact any parent’s worst nightmare. This manuscript is important evidence that parents could have reason to trust in seemingly dangerous purges that were disfavored by other physicians if it meant their children getting well again.
Victoria Kuhr is a junior English major at Mount St. Mary’s College. She did this research for the Mount’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program with Professor Rob Wakeman.
Astbury, Leah. “‘Ordering the infant’: caring for infants in early modern England.” In Conserving Health in Early Modern Culture: Bodies and Environments in Italy and England. Ed. Sandra Cavallo and Tessa Storey. Manchester University Press, 2017. 80-103.
Harris, Walter. A treatise of the acute diseases of infants. To which are added, medical observations on several grievous diseases. Written originally in Latin by the late learned Walter Harris, M.D. Fellow of the College of Physicians at London, and Professor of Chirurgery in the same College. Translated into English by John Martyn, F.R.S. Professor of Botany in the University of Cambridge. London, 1742. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. New York Public Library. 25 May 2018
Newton, Hannah. The Sick Child in Early Modern England, 1580-1720. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Folger MS W.a.87, early eighteenth century
NYPL Whitney MS 11, Cookbook of Hester Denbigh, 1700
EMROC member Marissa Nicosia was recognized for her teaching and mentorship of undergraduate researchers with the 2018 Abington College Faculty Senate Outstanding Teaching Award. At the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities poster session her students were awarded the 2018 Blue Ribbon prize for an Arts and Humanities Project and the library’s Information Literacy Award.
Early in the fall 2016 semester, a student approached me after class to ask if I “had an ACURA” project. In the parlance of my home institution, Penn State Abington, “ACURA” is an acronym for the thriving Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities program. This program fosters student and faculty research collaborations that are a hallmark of our small, undergraduate-focused campus. At first I was stumped: I didn’t have an ACURA project planned and the program seemed to be dominated by science and social science research. But I thought about my research process for Cooking in the Archives, the ongoing transcription work of EMROC and Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO), and my colleagues’ stories about working on recipes with undergraduate students in the classroom and beyond. Why couldn’t I run an independent study about recipes that would be useful for students, for me, and for the community at large? I designed and launched a research project entitled “What’s in a Recipe?” which has become a multi-year collaboration with four students.
Here is a link to the syllabus for the 2017-2018 version that I discuss in what follows. At Penn State Abington, this ACURA project counts for one course credit in the fall and two credits in the spring. Students and faculty meet by appointment and projects take radically different shapes depending on the topic and the discipline. I’m planning to redesign this course next year to include more DH instruction through a collaboration with Heather Froehlich and other colleagues at the library.
The first thing I asked students to read was a Student Collaborators’ Bill of Rights. We talked about the fact that their labor contributed to an international digital humanities project and that they could (and should) utilize the information that they were generating for their own scholarly pursuits. Then we spent the fall semester reading crucial background articles and a recipe manuscript from the Folger Shakespeare Library collections. Over the past two years we have worked on two seventeenth-century manuscripts of medical and culinary receipts owned and compiled by gentlewomen named, respectively, Margaret Baker and Mrs. Corlyon. Although this might seem like a straightforward activity, as EMROC readers likely know, seventeenth-century handwriting is far more difficult to decipher than modern cursive. After accessing online resources on paleography—the study of historical handwriting—students worked with me and with one another to master the handwriting in the manuscript and type up transcriptions of large sections of the book. In addition to participating in the transcription project and learning about recipe books in general, during the spring semester each student also developed a personal research project. The readings for the second half of the course are tailored to what students were curious about at the end of the fall semester. Students have tested recipes for healthful foods and cosmetics, investigated perfumed gloves and humoral theories of sleep, and considered Baker’s self-fashioning as a healer and collector in her manuscript. You can read what they have to say about their experiences here and here.
I’m pleased that ACURA funding supported a trip from Philadelphia to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC each year so that the students could consult the original manuscript that they had been working with, see other recipe books for comparison, and discuss their research topics with curators and scholars at the library. Turning the pages of the manuscript that they had scrutinized and deciphered online was simply electrifying. Students reported that this experience of handling rare materials and engaging with the broader scholarly community was equal parts transformative and informative.
Working with students on this shared project has forced me to ask questions about recipes that I would never have asked if I had simply continued my research alone. Since my research is focused on food – specifically, recipes for dishes that sounds so tasty that I want to recreate them in my kitchen – I often skim over the recipes for plague water, face cream, salves, perfumes, and restorative broths that fill early modern recipe manuscripts. But my students were curious about these recipes, and drawn in by their questions I became more curious, too. I tried one of Margaret Baker’s possets and I’m planning to make some “sweet bags” of potpourri when the weather turns cooler. As I continue to research manuscript recipes, I’m excited to work alongside my students and see where both my interests lead them and their interests lead me.
In a new undergraduate course at Bowdoin College about health and healing in the early modern Iberian world, we dedicated a unit of our semester to studying recipes from the period, as curative and culinary, considering questions such as access to ingredients, location of preparations and intended makers and recipients. We began our unit with introductory materials from selections from Carolyn Nadeau’s Food Matters (2016) and Michael Soloman’s Fictions of Well Being (2010). We then spent a class session in Special Collections for some hands-on work. Although we did not have any examples of Iberian recipe books on hand, the college is fortunate to possess a 1662 copy of The queens closet opened: incomparable secrets in physick, chyrurgery, preserving and candying, allowing students to handle the palm-sized edition of this widely popular 17th-century English recipe book, commenting on the materiality of the book, the contents of the recipes and connections with cabinets of curiosity as well as the gendering of medical practices. In anticipation for this visit, students also spent time with the virtual paleography tutorial preparing them for their first encounters in transcription during this visit.
Bowdoin’s resourceful librarian Marieke Van Der Steenhoven curated a selection of manuscripts in English, offering a variety of hands and examples of types of documents with early material from the collection. Some of the documents included a French-to-English translation of Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713); A 1772 court notice for the trial of Ansell Nickerson who was “charged with the crime of murder, committed upon the High Seas”; A revolutionary war letter from Jacob Gerrish to L. Jewett dated November 23, 1778 regarding troop provisions and movement around the Boston area; and a 1727 land deed for the township of North Yarmouth, Maine. Along with our hands-on help, students consulted tips on transcription using selections from this guide.
Thanks to advice from colleagues in EMROC, I learned about the Granville manuscript as a source of information that would allow us to think about recipe circulation in the Iberian context, while also demonstrating ties between England and Spain and the global circulation of ingredients and preparations. The goal of the class was to introduce students to the history and content of this particular recipe collection, but also to provide space for some hands-on practice with digital transcription.
Here is one of the recipes, “receta para agua de ambar” or recipe for amber water, from the Granville MS, fol. 106r.
Below are some student responses to the transcription experience:
Francesca-Beth Haines: “From transcribing the two recipes I chose, I found that although the transcription was, at times, quite difficult and perplexing, it was very satisfying to figure out the word or words that were actually written… I learned to be patient and open-minded through this process. This was an eye-opening experience where I participated in something I never thought I would, and I was able to gain additional respect to those who perform these transcriptions because they can be very arduous.”
Hannah Zuklie: “Transcribing today was especially interesting because each recipe reminded me of the Lentils (Carolyn Nadeau) reading we did earlier in the semester, and it made clear that the Granvilles had access to privileged foods like steak, not to mention chocolate from the Americas.”
Cordelia Stewart: “Transcribing with DROMIO was an incredibly rewarding experience. While the process of transcribing requires patience and persistence, the omnipresent knowledge that every word decoded contributes towards a huge project of sharing is super fulfilling. It was a particularly empowering exercise as a Spanish-speaking female to work on transcribing recipes from historic Spanish-speaking females.”
Grace Mallett: “I learned the importance of understanding the context of the time period in which the manuscripts were written. With this background knowledge, illegible words will be much more clear and transcription is much more seamless. Furthermore, I feel like this experience truly allowed me to sense the history of the manuscripts. Seeing the original text / paper was very powerful and made my experience feel extremely authentic.”
Tessa Westfall: “I had so much fun decoding and transcribing the Early Modern recipes! It felt like I was a real detective, uncovering what people hundreds of years ago were interested in. It was so remarkable to me that even though the textual expression looked so different, the recipes I was working on could easily be found in a contemporary cookbook. The whole experience was a very exciting coalescence of past and present, old and new, and I felt really lucky to have contributed to the project.”
Catherine Call: really liked the transcription class. It was fun, and like a puzzle. It reminded me of a religion class I took last year when we read excerpts from the Dead Sea scrolls and looked at the actual pieces they came from– this exercise (and looking at how tiny and faint the Dead Sea “scrolls” were) reminded me of how much work goes into making information available.
Sabrina Albanese: I really enjoyed transcribing the recipes. It thought it was interesting to know that we are able to be part of something bigger than ourselves and actually help out others studying recipes. It was like a puzzle trying to figure out what the writing was saying but it was fun!
Diego Villamarin: I appreciated having a class in Special Collections and Archives prior to the digital transcription. Getting the hands on experience with a peer reminded me the goal of our work. Also, working in a group allowed us to cover a larger span of the paper, since we covered each other’s weaknesses and we had the second pair of eyes to check over our transcription of the text. The individual work with EMROC in the library computer lab offered a hands-on experience that had a more immediate contribution since our transcriptions were sent immediately and were awaiting more transcriptions in order to ensure accuracy. Working in the presence of our peers certainly gave the feeling and rush of taking part in a “transcribe-a-thon”. With your and Marieke’s help, a lot of the common mistakes and hurdles were overcome. The experience gave me a new appreciation for the work that is done to make the papers and texts that I read legible and accessible.
 For a compelling introduction to this recipe book, see Opening the Queen’s Closet: Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Cromell, and the Politics of Cookery (Laura Luner Knoppers, Renaissance Quarterly 60.2 2007)
Margaret Boyle is an Associate Professor in the Romance Languages and Literature Department, Bowdoin College.