Recipes in space (domestically speaking…)

By Sara Pennell

General Research Division, The New York Public Library. "The Kitchen Companion and House-keeper's Own Book ... [Cover]" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1844.
General Research Division, The New York Public Library. “The Kitchen Companion and House-keeper’s Own Book … [Cover]” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1844.
What spaces do recipes occupy? They occupy a distinctive place on the page and might take up a few inches of shelf-space, when bound together. But these textual traces are only the runes of practice; as such, while they survive in one textual dimension for us to recover as historians, they occupied space and travelled through it in being transmitted, written out or printed, and of course, made.

In two recent posts, the spaces in which recipes might have materialized have been touched upon. Rachel Rich reported on how dishes realized from recipe books might have sat on imaginary and real Victorian dining tables, in dining rooms that were the recommended place for eating, where domestic space afforded such luxuries. William Cavert took us into seventeenth-century London commercial breweries, to think about the consumption of coal as a hidden ingredient in recipes for beer production.

But the kitchen, the space which one might associate most with recipes and their creation/recreation, is surprisingly absent from the majority of blogposts here. The ‘kitchens’ tag is applied to only three other posts – including one on the technology transformations of the mid-Victorian kitchen; and one on twentieth-century Louisiana creole cuisine. The word ‘kitchen’ crops up in other blogs, but mainly as an unexplored descriptor: ‘kitchen workers’, or as a caption to an image, ‘a kitchen interior’. Recipes have come to embody, but as importantly hide, the physical space of the kitchen. Indeed some authors use ‘kitchen’ to mean cuisine, as in the food culture of a period or place, rather than primarily thinking of it as a space and material assembly.[1]

BEKcoverSerious histories of the kitchen as a domestic space are thin on the ground, at least for Britain before 1800, which may explain in part why recipes have so often been decoupled from where they might be made. In my new book, The Birth of the English Kitchen, 1600-1850 (Bloomsbury, 2016) I’ve reunited recipes, food processing and ‘kitchen physic’–as well as childcare, leisure and domestic religion–with the room which we so glibly call today ‘the heart of the home’. In this way, my book is less about food than it is the spatial stories of the kitchen and how these discourses developed circa 1600 to 1850. Many do involve food and eating, especially in non-elite households without dining rooms, but there are also architectural, technological and cultural strands to unpick.

The distinctions we can make between types of recipe–distilling and brewing, veterinary, dyeing, cosmetic and medical, conserving and preserving–are as much about spaces as processes. Householders’ social status and geography, as well as the ends of production (for home or for commerce?), profoundly influenced where a recipe might be realized: kitchens of different sizes and sophistication, stillrooms, closets and larders, apothecary shops and cookshops, dye houses and breweries…

Even within domestic households, different types of recipes were practised in different spaces. What came out of a kitchen in an aristocratic house like Ham House (Surrey, National Trust) was not the same as what issued from its purpose-built stillroom (still in existence), or its meat larder, as surviving seventeenth-century inventories of equipment kept in these rooms document. (2) And these spaces tell very different stories about the environmental conditions  and technological requirements of production: the stillroom on the ground floor, light but north-facing, well-ventilated to take off the fumes from the charcoal stoves (listed in the inventories); the kitchen at basement level, possibly located there not only as a nod to continental architectural aesthetics, but also to aid delivery of water from the local spring.

The energy transition to coal that William Cavert discusses, was also a domestic revolution. Cooking hearths were transformed by burning coal instead of wood, peat or other fuels. What did this then mean for adapting early modern recipes? Coal ranges meant different hearth arrangements and the potential for new cooking kit, too. Mechanical roasting jacks and flat-bottomed sauce- and stewpans were not just harbingers of culinary shifts, but of technological reorganization. What was elaborate and aspirational for the seventeenth-century well-to-do classes (e.g. instructions for pastryworks or other baked confections), became commonplace by the late-eighteenth century. The later print and manuscript recipes for biscuits and cakes signaled the renaissance of home-baking–fuelled (literally) by the incorporation of ovens into ranges or as separate features in middling kitchens.

Illustrated frontispieces in printed English recipe books from the late seventeenth century onwards fed readers ideas about ‘dream’ kitchens. Few illustrations represented real kitchens–although there is one honourable exception in the mid-nineteenth century [3], just as few menus in the same books necessarily recorded what was actually eaten at elite or middling tables. But the frontispieces themselves are a recipe for the reader: they propose what spatial and equipment ingredients made ‘the compleat housewife’ of the early eighteenth century and the modern systematic housekeeper of the early nineteenth century.

As with all recipes, the reader had to contribute something to the creation of these spaces in real life. Alongside the food preparation and other work that occurred in the kitchen, the aspiring housewife needed to accommodate architectural constraints, technological challenges, domestic service (where it could be afforded) and other household occupants–lodgers, children, dogs and even the odd parrot!  The kitchen may have been the cookery book’s idealized home, but in this crowded space, recipes and their realization were (and are) only one of the ingredients in its spatial story.

To understand recipes as practical texts, therefore, we need to think not only about the words on the page, but also about the spaces and materials that enabled (or no less importantly, inhibited) their making.

[1] E.g. Hannele Klemettilä, The Medieval Kitchen: a Social History with Recipes (Reaktion, 2012).

[2] These are fully transcribed in Christopher Rowell, ed., Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage (Yale, 2013).

[3] George Scharf’s c. 1850 sketch of the publisher John Murray’s kitchen (now in the British Museum) became the frontispiece to the publisher’s 1850 edition of Eliza Rundell, A New System of Domestic Cookery.

Dr. Sloane’s Advice in the Recipe Manuscripts of Henrietta Harley

By Lucy-Anne Judd

As part of my research exploring regional examples of receipt book manuscripts, I was intrigued and excited to discover here in Nottinghamshire further evidence of individuals recording the advice of Dr. Hans Sloane in local manuscripts such as those of Henrietta Harley (1694-1755), Countess of Oxford and Mortimer.

Henrietta Harley was the daughter of John Holles (1662-1711), 1st Duke of Newcastle (of the second creation) and Margaret Cavendish (1661-1716). In 1713, she rebelled against the wishes of her mother to marry Edward Harley (1689-1741), who later became Earl of Oxford. As a result of three generations of female inheritance along the Cavendish line in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, she became an heiress to great wealth, including the estate of Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire.

Welbeck Abbey was significant in her life; she spent much of her childhood there, retired to it after the death of her husband, and then began restoring and preserving the estate she fondly regarded as ‘the Ancient Seat of the Cavendishe Family’.[i]  As part of this endeavour to restore Welbeck, Harley embarked upon her very own recipes project, and in 1743 set about compiling three ornate, separately-bound manuscript recipe volumes, with a total of 254 individual receipts. Amongst them, there are three medicinal recipes attributed to Sloane; one for a cold, another for a ‘Violent Cough’ and one described as ‘A Copy of S[i]r: Hans Sloans p[re]scription for a Tetterish Humour’.[ii]

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was a London doctor (of Irish birth) and botanist, as well as a prolific collector and compiler of recipes. Upon discovering recipes attributed to him in the Harley receipts, I began to explore his connection to the household in more detail and to question how Lady Harley came to adopt them into her own collection.

It might have been easy to identify this as an example of fluidity of recipes between print and manuscript, but further investigation highlighted that there were direct social interactions between Sloane and the Harley household, which would have facilitated the sharing of recipes between the two and which, I felt, warranted further exploration.

Subsequent local archival research uncovered evidence of at least three possible mediums for recipe transmission from Sloane to Harley:

  1. Sir Humfrey Wanley worked for the Harley’s establishing the Harleian Library, and had also previously worked for Hans Sloane. As a result of this mutual connection, there survives written correspondence from Wanley to Sloane which thanks him on behalf of Lord Oxford for sending a selection of his manuscripts. These donated manuscripts offer one possible source of the three Sloane-attributed receipts which appear in Henrietta’s medical volume.[iii]
  2. Evidence indicates Sloane was also directly involved in the medical treatment of members of the Harley family with a surviving document dated 1726 recording a fee of 30 guineas paid for inoculations performed.[iv] This supports a view that, in particular, the receipt highlighted as ‘A Copy of S[i]r Hans Sloans p[re]scription for a Tetterish Humour’, which has the initials ‘HS’ copied below and a date of May 1716, would have been copied directly from a prescription issued by Sloane. This theory is also in line with the recipe in question being more chemical in nature than is commonly found in the rest of the content.Hans Sloane - Tetterish Humour
  3. In 1741, correspondence from Henrietta Harley’s daughter, Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, to her husband’s tutor, John Achard, indicates a visit to Sloane’s home with the specific intention of Achard ‘rummag[ing]’ Sloane’s collection in the hope ‘that [hers] will be much the better for it’.[v] As this only slightly predates the instigation of the Harley volumes, this attempt to rifle Sloane’s collections is a very likely source of the three highly prized recipes; two of which feature in the opening three folios of her volume of medical recipes.

In exploring correspondence and household documents in greater detail, we therefore find that there are a range of possible explanations for the presence of the Sloane-Harley recipe sharing connection which has been found in the recipe manuscripts of Henrietta Harley.

A connection via Edward Harley’s librarian, Sir Humfrey Wanley, subsequently led to the direct employment of Sloane in the treatment of the Harley household, and instigated a relationship that extended to subsequent generations through Henrietta’s daughter, who continued to actively seek and revere the expertise of Sloane. By exploring regional receipt book examples, we find we are able to gain increasing insight into the way that the advice of notable individuals such as Sloane, was disseminated into the domestic manuscripts and practices of provincial areas such as Nottingham, in the early modern period.

[i] [N]ottinghamshire [A]rchives, DD.5P.6/1/1

[ii] [U]niversity of [N]ottingham [M]anuscripts [A]nd [S]pecial [C]ollections, Pw V 123-125

[iii] British Library, Sloane MS 4044, ff. 178-179 (June 23, 1716)

[iv] UNMASC, Pl F1/3/2/13

[v] UNMASC, Pw C 47

Midsummer Folly

By Lisa Smith

A woman with shears holding a sheep; representing June. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
A woman with shears holding a sheep; representing June. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year–and, this year in a rare event, it coincides with the Strawberry (full) Moon! This gives you a bit of extra light, assuming you’re not out jumping bonfires, to catch up on your internet skiving. To this end, I put out the call on Twitter for posts for a ’roundup’.

Thony Christie obligingly pointed out the accidental seasonal nature of my tweet, as Roundup is a weedkiller:

One very diverting read, which I spotted on Twitter, is A Handbook of Weather Folk-Lore (1873). (Alas, I lost the tweet and can’t remember who shared it. Apologies!) From this handbook, we learn that the slightest bit of rain on Midsummer’s Day (June 24) will ruin hazelnuts, walnuts and corn, although apples, pears or plums will not be affected.

Saints John and Paul as protectors against storm, thunder an Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Saints John and Paul as protectors against storm, thunder an
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been noticing an unusual amount of thunder this month. Troubling. For you see:

Thunder in June signifieth that same year that the woods shall be overthrown by winds, and great raging shall be of lions and wolves, and so like of other harmful beasts (101).

I hope that sheep aren’t too harmful, because we’re also at peak sheep-shearing season. Tamsin Lewis sent in this description of a sheep-shearing feast from a seventeenth-century ballad.

C17 Sheep Shearing FestivalFor those of you struggling with the font…

With wild Curds and Custards,/ with Chees-cakes and Pyes,/ With Sider and Sugar,/ Cream and Strawberries,/ Green Tanseys and White-pots,/ with Fish, Fowl, and Beasts,/ Our table is spread at a Sheep-shearing Feast./ And when are filled we laugh and lye down:/ Embrace one another,/ and give a green Gown.

An allegory of plenty: a scene of sheep-shearing with a corn Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
An allegory of plenty: a scene of sheep-shearing with a corn
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Sounds delightful, and most in keeping with the season!

With the long days and summer sun, be sure to treat yourself right. But I’m sure this rather horrible remedy (not suitable for vegetarians) to treat freckles (courtesy of the Royal College of Physicians, London) is not the answer. And if you suffer from hayfever, as this post from our archives shows, there are some other remedies you might want to avoid…

L. Fuchs; De historia stirpivm commentarii insignes (1542). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
L. Fuchs; De historia stirpivm commentarii insignes (1542). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Poppies are out for their brief moment in the sun, looking all blowsy and beautiful. In this post, which is a visual treat, an artist looks at historical depictions of poppies.

Garlic is also coming into season. Editor Amanda Herbert spotted this blog post by Fredrika Jacobs at Pulcinellapasta on a short history of garlic’s uses, with a recipe for garlic soup.

With summer in full bloom, bees are buzzing busily. And, in Grantham, going to the pub. Joanne Major tells us about the history of a pub with an intriguing living pub sign… a beehive!

If the post on garlic hasn’t already given you some ideas for summer cookery, this Metro article about 1970s foods might provide inspiration for your summer dinner parties.  Who wouldn’t want jellied spaghetti loops?

Some good news tweeted by The Casebooks Project: ‘OUR LARGEST RELEASE TO DATE: Napier’s casebooks 1610–1620 and 21 volumes of colour images. 48,000 cases now live.’ It is very easy to while away your time playing with The Casebooks Project, where you can look at the medical cases of two early modern medical astrologers. There are intriguing details about patients, astrological charts, and more.

If you haven’t already discovered the blog #FolkloreThursday: Public Folklore in Action and their Twitter account @FolkloreThurs, you should check them out. They just celebrated their first anniversary last week! There are lots of wonderful folklore posts on their blog and, on Thursdays, you can follow #FolkloreThursday on Twitter for all sorts of folklore tidbits.

Mark your calendar for July 22. Our regular contributor Rachel Rich will be  talking about nineteenth-century cookbooks on British Muslim TV’s ‘Sister’s Hour’. This will be streamed online at and still available on the Sister’s Hour page afterwards for subscribers.

A group of children are stealing food from a picnic they have found under a tree. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
A group of children are stealing food from a picnic they have found under a tree. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Last, but not least, you might fancy checking out our new, slowly growing, YouTube channel, Historical Recipes. We have a few playlists and subscribe to some channels that might interest you. (And RP contributors: if you fancy trying your hand at a video post for us, do let us know!)

Happy summertime playing to you!

Describing Seething Meat in the New World

By Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Building on my last post on picturing New World foods in Thomas Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, I now turn to the textual descriptions of those foods.

After listing a number of food items and comparing them to similar English ingredients, Hariot commented briefly on various aspects of Virginia Algonquian life. As any modern travel writer might do, he covered primarily positive aspects of what he saw and explained several agricultural practices of the Algonquians.

John White, White Indian man and woman eating; on rush mat, eating maize from a large round flat dish. Image Credit: British Museum.
John White, White Indian man and woman eating; on rush mat, eating maize from a large round flat dish. Image Credit: British Museum.

The following passage concerning maize or Indian corn–“corn” was an English word for grains in general–describes the grain and ends with the particulars of making a pap or mush (p. 13, online edition and this transcription):

PAGATOWR, a kinde of graine so called by the inhabitants; the same in the West Indies is called MAYZE: English men call it Guinney wheate or Turkie wheate, according to the names of the countreys from whence the like hath beene brought. The graine is about the bignesse of our ordinary English peaze and not much different in forme and shape: but of diuers colours: some white, some red, some yellow, and some blew. All of them yeelde a very white and sweete flowre: beeing vsed according to his kinde it maketh a very good bread.

Wee made of the same in the countrey some mault, whereof was brued as good ale as was to bee desired. So likewise by the help of hops therof may bee made as good Beere. It is a graine of marueilous great increase; of a thousand, fifteene hundred and some two thousand fold.

There are three sortes, of which two are ripe in an eleuen and twelue weekes at the most: sometimes in ten, after the time they are set, and are then of height in stalke about sixe or seuen foote. The other sort is ripe in fourteene, and is about ten foote high, of the stalkes some beare foure heads, some three, some one, and two: euery head containing fiue, sixe, or seuen hundred graines within a fewe more or lesse.

Of these graines besides bread, the inhabitants make victual eyther by parching them; or seething them whole vntill they be broken; or boyling the floure with water into a pappe.

Not only did Hariot describe the flora and fauna of this new world, he took pains to learn how the Virginia Algonquians prepared some of their food. The next passage forms the headnote to De Bry’s elaboration of John White’s original watercolor, “The Seething of Their Meate in Potts of Earth” (p. 54, online edition and this transcription).

Their woemen know how to make earthen vessells with special Cunninge and that so large and fine, that our potters with lhoye wheles can make noe better: ant then Remoue them from place to place as easelye as we candoe our brassen kettles. After they haue set them vppon an heape of erthe to stay them from fallinge, they putt wood vnder which being kyndled one of them taketh great care that the fyre burne equallye Rounde abowt. They or their woemen fill the vessel with water, and then putt they in fruite, flesh, and fish, and lett all boyle together like a galliemaufrye, which the Spaniarde call, olla podrida. Then they putte yt out into disches, and sett before the companye, and then they make good cheere together. Yet are they moderate in their eatinge wher by they auoide sicknes. I would to god wee would followe their exemple. For wee should bee free from many kynes of diseasyes which wee fall into by sumptwous and vnseasonable banketts, continuallye deuisinge new sawces, and prouocation of gluttonnye to sarisfie our vnsatiable appetite.

The differences between John White’s original drawing in the 1588 text and De Bry’s 1590 rendition in a later edition, which I discussed in my previous post, leap out at the viewer. But Hariot’s words serve to paint a more realistic picture.

While such early material must indeed be taken with a grain of salt, Hariot and White’s contributions offer a glimpse into a world seen by few Europeans of the time.

Modern translations of the excerpts follow below.

1. Pagatowr is a kind of grain. It is called maize in the West Indies; Englishmen name it Guinea wheat or Turkey wheat, after the countries from which a similar grain has been brought. This grain is about the size of our ordinary English peas and, while similar to them in form and shape, differs in color, some grains being white, some red, some yellow, and some blue. All of them yield a very white and sweet flour which makes excellent bread. We made malt from the grain while we were in Virginia and brewed as good an ale of it as could be desired. It also could be used, with the addition of hops, to produce a good beer. The grain increases on a marvelous scale-a thousand times, fifteen hundred, and in some cases two thousand fold. There are three sorts, of which two are ripe in ten, eleven, and, at the most, twelve weeks, when their stalks are about six or seven feet in height. The third one ripens in fourteen weeks and is ten feet high. Its stalks bear one, two, three, or four heads, and every head contains five, six, or seven hundred grains, as near as I can say. The inhabitants not only use it for bread but also make food of these grains. They either parch them, boiling them whole until they break, or boil the flour with water into a pap.

2. Their women know how to make earthen vessels with special cunning and that so large and fine, that our potters with their wheels can make no better: and then remove them from place to place as easily as we can do our brass kettles. After they have set them upon a heap of earth to stay them from falling, they put wood under which being kindled one of them takes great care that the fire burn equally round about. They or their women fill the vessel with water, and then put therein fruit, flesh, and fish, and let all boil together like a gallimaufry [hodgepodge], which the Spaniards call olla podrida [burgoo]. Then they put it out into dishes, and set before the company, and then they make good cheer together. Yet are they moderate in their eating whereby they avoid sickness. I would to god we would follow their example. For we should be free from many kinds of diseases which we fall into by sumptous and unseasonable banquets, continually devising new sauces, and provocation of gluttony to satisfy our insatiable appetite.

Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine