Foalefoote: Defining Ingredients Contextually

Written by Tristan McGuin

It is frequent when transcribing and analyzing older recipes that we come across a word that we do not readily recognize. Whether it be a word that is no longer used frequently, or a word that we know but appears to be used in a seemingly bizarre sense, it is important that we find a solution to the word in order to better understand the recipes and their historical framework that helped construct them. On top of this, some words have multiple definitions and it takes contextual understanding of a recipe to figure out the appropriate definition for the word. Luckily, with continually developing advances in technology, we have many online databases available to us to begin our journey into learning more about specific ingredients.

Such an instance of confusion appears early on in the transcription of Mistress Corlyon’s “A Syropp for the Coughe of the Lounges.” Corlyon’s syrup calls for many different ingredients stating, “of Scabies, three good handfulles, and halfe so much of Foalefoote, and the like quantity of Sinicle, the like of Pennyroyall” (Corlyon, fol. 169). One’s first thought is likely some variation of the question, ‘what are all of these ingredients exactly?’ We surely do not use scabies, foalefoote, sinicle or pennyroyall in modern recipes. Or do we? Let’s take a look at foalefoote.

The first step we need to take in unfolding the mystery of this ingredient would be to look up the definition of the word since we are not readily familiar with it. Often, a simple Google search is not helpful enough as Google has a tendency to show us search results for current, contemporary versions of the words. This is where we can turn to incredibly detailed databases such as the Oxford English Dictionary online to provide further insight. Running the word ‘foalefoote’ through the OED turns up no specific results. However, ‘foalfoot’—for which foalefoote is an obvious variant spelling—turns up three different definitions. Here is where it becomes incredibly important that the reader has a genuine understanding of the context and other details of the recipe in order to begin narrowing down which definition could be the correct one. To begin, because we know Corlyon’s works were published in the 1600’s, we must look for definitions that fit this timeline before moving any further. The very first definition provided fitting this criteria is “coltsfoot, n.” (foalfoot, n.1.) first used in a1400 and the second is “asarabacca, n.” (foalfoot, n.2.) first used in 1538. Obviously, we must dive even deeper as these words still appear foreign and don’t quite give us the answer we are looking for yet.

Upon clicking the links provided for these definitional words, we find even more definitions. We see that asarabacca is a plant, “sometimes called Hazelwort, used formerly as a purgative and emetic, and still as an ingredient of cephalic snuff.” (asarabacca, n.1.) This is interesting because the definition provided clearly states that this is an ingredient for medicines. However, it is used in medicines that are laxatives or that cause vomiting. We can likely already eliminate this as the contextual definition for Corlyon’s syrups as we should know just from reading her recipe that this is a recipe to aid in respiratory issues and not digestive ones.

Asarabacca (left, also known as Hazelwort) and Coltsfoot (right, also known as Tussilago).

Now to look into ‘coltsfoot’ where we can find three additional definitions. The first matching our criteria states that coltsfoot is “a common weed in waste or clayey ground” (coltsfoot n.1.) with leaves and yellow flowers. The second definition tells us that it is “Applied to other plants allied to the preceding, e.g. fragrant coltsfoot n.,  sweet coltsfoot Nardosmia (Petasites) fragrans and palmata. or resembling it in leaf, etc.” (coltsfoot, n.2.). It appears we have hit a dead end in our search. But we have actually failed to look into coltsfoot enough.

Under the first definition of coltsfoot we can find two subdefinitions of n.1. that state the leaves can be smoked or infused as a cure for asthma. Knowing that asthma is a respiratory issue, we can piece together that this is likely what Corlyon used for her respiratory medicine. Eureka! We have found what we are looking for! With this definition, we can return to other general search engines to find further contemporary details on this plant, leading us to a final and deeper understanding of foalfoot as an ingredient in Corlyon’s syrups.

Sources

“asarabacca, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
“coltsfoot, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
“coltsfoot, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
Corlyon, Mrs. “A booke of such medicines as have been approved by the speciall practize”         of Mrs. Corlyon [manuscript]. Ca. 1660. Folger MS V.a.388.
“foalfoot, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
“foalfoot, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2017.
Photo 1: N.d. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 10 May 2017        <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Asarum_europaeum#/media/File:Asarum_Michels1.jpg>.
Photo 2: N.d. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 10 May 2017.<https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Tussilago_farfara#/media/File:Huflattich_2008-2-23.JPG>

Tristan McGuin is a student at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where she conducted this research as an assignment in the course “Digital Research Methods with Historical Recipes,” taught by Rebecca Laroche.

The 1st Annual EMPS Transcribathon

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 1.30.15 PM

The officers of the Early Modern Paleography Society at UNC Charlotte have been (very) busily preparing for our first annual EMPS Transcribathon!

The Transcribathon will take place on Friday, April 8th, 2016 from 10 am – 3 pm EDT. Our main headquarters will be on the campus of UNC Charlotte, in the Student Union rooms 340C&F, but if you can’t make it to Charlotte, we’d love for you to participate remotely! As of right now, we have transcribers planning to participate both nationally and internationally – from Colorado Springs to Berlin!

Our main goal is to completely transcribe an anonymous 18th century manuscript recipe book that the Folger has set aside for us. We’ll need all the help we can get, so we welcome all participation, whether it’s for the entire day or just half an hour.

We also have various activities planned throughout the day to attract potential new transcribers: there will be games, transcription sprints, and prizes, as well as a panel discussion about the importance of transcription, early modern recipes, and what it’s like to grow ingredients and cook from the recipes we transcribe (among other topics) with panelists from UNC Charlotte, UC Colorado Springs, and UNC Chapel Hill. We’ll also have plenty of coffee and snacks throughout the day and will be meeting afterwards for a wine social at the Wine Vault across the street from campus.

In preparation for the event, our university greenhouse grew angelica, seen below in its abundance:

Angelica

And we got together to candy the angelica for the event, so if you come, you’ll be able to taste:

AngelicaCooking

Angelica2Cooking

If you have any questions or would like to circulate our flyer to your contacts who might like to participate, feel free to send me an email: bward30@uncc.edu.

You can also stay up-to-date on the happenings by “liking” our page on Facebook (facebook.com/empsociety) and following us on Twitter (@empsociety)! Or, for the event, you can use #empstranscribathon2016.

“A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte.”

By Monterey Hall

In my previous post, I discussed Mistress Vernam and her contribution to Lady Frances Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins (https://f.hypotheses.org/879).  I had run across a single possible match for Mistress Vernam in the genealogical database Ancestry.com: the search pointed to Jess Cox, a woman who was married to John Vernam in Hardwicke, Gloucestershire in 1613 (Ancestry.com).  Despite this find, however, I was hardly closer to discovering her connection to either Lady Catchmay or seventeenth-century medical practice.

I used the result from Ancestry.com to try and locate Mistress Vernam in other contemporaneous medical books.  Unfortunately, her lack of genealogical records makes Jess Vernam’s possible medical connections difficult to pinpoint.  There are quite a few references to various doctors named “Cox” in several early modern databases; but without a record of Jess’s birth, there is no way to know if these doctors were related to her.  Rather than continuing to search for Mistress Vernam by her name, I decided to look for her through her recipes.

At the present moment, searching for recipes across texts is a messy and imperfect process due in part to the fact that we as a scholarly community are still in the earlier stages of transcribing and coding these early modern books.  As this process comes closer to completion, it will be much easier to search through them in a thorough and efficient manner.  What the Wellcome Library has transcribed into their database thus far, however, is absolutely invaluable: I was able to look for Mistress Vernam’s recipes via their titles by breaking each title into its keywords and searching for their variant spellings.

My search revealed a link between the penultimate recipe within Mistress Vernam’s medicines and a recipe in MS 373.  Mistress Vernam’s “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” instructs to “Take the gaules of swine, of an eele, & of a cocke, temper them well together with honney & fayre water & keape it in a cleane glasse, for your vsse: when you haue neade annoynte the eyes therwith” (MS184a/34)

Wellcome MS 184A/34.

Wellcome MS 184A/34.

MS 373/121 contains a nearly identical recipe called “To Clarifie the Sight”:

Wellcome MS 373/121.

Wellcome MS 373/121.

MS 373 belonged to and was written by Jane Jackson in 1642 (MS 373), meaning that it was compiled almost twenty years after Lady Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins.  Unfortunately Jackson does not give any attribution for this recipe, nor does the book contain any of Mistress Vernam’s other medicines.  Still, this find suggests one possible connection between Mistress Vernam and the wider medical community.  With this new insight, the next step would be to find out who Jane Jackson was and whether or not she was connected to Lady Catchmay and Mistress Vernam.  And if she was not, then what might Jackson and Vernam’s common source have been?

This line of inquiry is outside the scope of this post, although it is certainly one that should be pursued at some point in the future.  For now, I will leave you with this: it is likely that I missed several matches for Mistress Vernam’s recipes and thus I likely also missed several connections.  Although I only found two iterations of the above recipe in my own searches, it is quite possible that versions of “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” appear in other manuscripts beyond the two mentioned here.  I encourage my fellow scholars to look for this recipe elsewhere so that we can discover more connections between Mistress Vernam and the medical community.

As evidenced by the two recipes above, titles can vary between sister recipes both in terms of spelling and phrasing; it is simply not possible for a single person to account for every variation.  A much more detailed method of search would look not only for titles, but also for ingredients.  Searching for uncommon ingredients would help scholars to find connections between medical texts, their authors, and their contributors.  This type of search will not be possible for several years yet.  When it is possible, it will be a powerful tool for piecing together an accurate picture of the vast early modern medical community.  Searching for recipes in addition to names will allow us to see connections and relationships within the medical community that might not have been apparent otherwise.  And it will hopefully some day allow us to find out the true identity of the mysterious Mistress Vernam.

Monterey Hall, is an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and is a student of Rebecca Laroche.

Works Cited

Ancestry.com. Ancestry, 2015. Web. 10 Dec 2015.

Catchmay, Lady Frances. A Booke of Medicins, preserues and Cookerye. 1625. Wellcome Library MS 184a. Web. 2 Nov 2015

Jackson, Jane. Booke of Medical Receipts. 1642. Wellcome Library MS 373. Web. 16 Dec 2015.

Monterey Hall is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in an independent study on the Catchmay Manuscript in Fall 2015.

Transcribathon continues

Welcome to #transcribathon all those who have now joined us or will be shortly joining us from the University of Saskatchewan, University of Texas Arlington, Pacific Lutheran University, and the University of Colorado (Colorado Springs), as well as independent scholars from Ottawa, Calgary, and Australia!

The University of Saskatchewan crew

The University of Saskatchewan crew

We are going to be on a roll for our last three #transcribathon hours.

Back to school….

By Elaine Leong

Welcome to the 2015-16 academic year!

Time flies. It’s hard to believe but the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) enters its fourth year this September. Since our launch in 2012, nearly 80 students have transcribed over 900 pages across 5 campuses. In classes such as Lisa Smith’s ‘Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe’, Jennifer Munroe’s ‘Thinking Green: Eco-Approaches to Texts’, Amy Tigner’s ‘Recipes for Literature/Literature of Recipes’ and Rebecca Laroche’s ENGL 3200 course, students have worked collaboratively to transcribe the recipe books of Johanna St. John, Anne Fanshawe, Jane Baber, Frances Catchmay and Elizabeth Bulkeley. In their endeavors, they were ably aided by student research assistants working with Elaine Leong at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Hillary Nunn at The University of Akron. More information on teaching transcription in the classroom, including sample syllabi, can be found here.

The 2015-16 academic year proves to be an exciting one for EMROC. Firstly, we’re making the big move and joining forces with Heather Wolfe and the Early Modern Manuscripts Online team at the Folger Shakespeare Library. We have been working hard over the summer to prepare for our move. On the University of Colorado Colorado Springs campus, Kat Rutz and Monterey Hall, have been helping us make the transition into DROMIO by uploading images of Wellcome manuscripts and testing out the transcription interface. In early October, we will celebrate the move with an international cross-time zone transcribathon. More news on that coming soon – watch this space!

As always, the new academic year brings a new group of undergraduate and graduate student members to EMROC. This fall, nearly 70 students will be transcribing the Catchmay, Corlyon, Grenville, Bulkeley and Fanshawe recipe books on four campuses across the United States. We’re delighted to welcome Nancy Simpson-Younger and her students at Pacific Lutheran University who will be working on sections of the Corlyon manuscript as part of the course ‘The Book in Society’. Cheers to a great semester of teaching, learning and transcribing.

Finally, led by Kailan Sindelar and Breanne Weber, enterprising students on the Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina have started the ‘Early Modern Paleography Society’. With Jennifer Munroe as their faculty advisor, EMPS members will travel to Washington D.C. to join the October transcribe-a-thon and continue to bring recipe texts to life over the coming academic year. Starting October, EMPS members will also be chronicling their adventures in transcribing on this very blog, so check-in periodically to see how they’re doing.