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.
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