You’ll thank me later

In my previous post, I presented a comic parody of an ancient eye-remedy. That recipe, created by the comedian Aristophanes, was too horrid to be true. Yet eye-remedies were far from pleasant in the ancient world. Witness the achariston, the ‘thankless’. There are various recipes for acharista (that’s the plural of achariston) preserved in ancient medical writings. The following one, transmitted by Galen, is representative of this lovely (not) type of medicament:

Oculist stamp  Roman Britain, 1-4 century CE, Kenchester  Herefordshire This stamps bears the inscription: 'Titus Vindacius Ariovistus',  Source: British Museum

Oculist stamp
Roman Britain, 1-4 century CE, Kenchester
Herefordshire
This stamps bears the inscription: ‘Titus Vindacius Ariovistus’,
Source: British Museum

The so-called ‘thankless’ against persistent flows of tears. Physicians who used it, in Egypt only, were succefsul, especially when using it on rustics: cadmia, 16 drams; acacia, 8 drams; burnt, washed copper, 8 drams; opium, 4 drams; seed of tree heath, 4 drams; myrrh 4 drams; gum, 16 drams. Take up with water. Use with woman’s milk.  (Galen, Remedies according to Places 4, 12.749 Kühn).

It is fair to say that this remedy, before curing any flow of tears, would have made the eye cry some more. Each of the ingredients, taken separately, might have had a beneficial effect on the eye, but this remedy just goes for the rather brutal approach of accumulating as many unpleasant ingredients as possible. Thankfully, perhaps, the remedy had to be applied with woman’s milk,a very mild product, which midwives still recommend today for a baby’s sticky eyes.

These ingredients were crushed in a mortar, mixed with a small amount of water, then moulded into ‘lozenges’ and dried. These lozenges were light and easy to carry around. When a physician needed to apply the medicament, he (or the patient) crushed one of the lozenges and mixed it with a liquid – here woman’s milk. The remedy was then applied to the eyelids. Not that this particular recipe specifies any of this… One needs to have read quite a few ancient eye recipes to fill in the gaps left by Galen.

This recipe, on the other hand, gives some interesting and unusual details. The remedy was used ‘in Egypt only’. Eye-ailments seem to have been common in the land of the Nile, and eye-remedies are recorded in hieroglyphs on papyri from the Pharaonic period, going as far back as the second millennium BCE. By the time of Galen (second century CE), Egypt was a Roman province, whose elite spoke Greek (yes it’s all rather confusing). The ‘physicians’ mentioned in the recipe above were probably Greek-speaking, although it is not possible to exclude the possibility of Egyptian-speaking physicians.

Eye-shaped votive. Roman period.  Source: Wellcome images

Eye-shaped votive. Roman period.
Source: Wellcome images

The recipe also specifies that the remedy was particularly successful when used on ‘rustics’. The ancients believed that ‘rustics’ and members of the elite required different types of medicaments. Where peasants could cope with harsh, but very effective remedies, rich people, softened by their luxurious ways of life, needed milder concoctions.

Thankless eye-remedies did not just exist as texts in recipe books; they are also attested archaeologically. Ancient oculists used stamps to mark their medicines (the ‘lozenges’ I described above). Numerous stamps have been preserved. Some of these carry the inscription ‘acharistum’ (the Latin form of the Greek word achariston). One can just imagine a mother telling her reluctant child suffering from an eye disease: ‘You will thank me later’… or perhaps not!

Baking a Pumpion Pye (c. 1670)

Last year, I was invited to a Thanksgiving potluck and I thought this might be the ideal time to try out a 17th century pumpkin pie recipe. I read early modern perfume and aromatic recipes often for my own research, but had not tried my hand at reconstructing a recipe. Inspired by the many recreated recipes of Rebecca Laroche (amongst others, especially Hillary Nunn, Amy Tigner, and Amanda Herbert‘s use of recipe reconstruction in the college classroom), I thought this might be the perfect time to try my hand at making a pie from scratch following a Renaissance recipe. I began with a recipe from Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion (c. 1670) “To Make a Pumpion Pye” (the steps are embedded in the pictures below), and rolled up my sleeves.

I had a few reasons for attempting this project: I hope to recreate some early modern perfumes and thought this might be a good practice round. My classroom assignments are experiential, whether having students operate an old printing press to make broadsides or blocking scenes from a Shakespeare play in an outdoor ampitheatre. So, I thought I should try my hand at this same sort of praxis, especially if I hoped to one day assign recreating perfumes and cosmetics in the classroom. Finally, and most pressing at the time, I needed to bring a dish to the potluck.

A few caveats: Despite my interest in the idea of early modern recipes, I don’t do much recipe-dependent baking at home. I cook on-the-stovetop meals that I make by following my nose and adding a dash more of this or that.

TAke a pound of pumpion and slice it, a handful of time, a little rosemary, and sweet marjoram stripped off the stalks, chop them small, then take cinamon, nutmeg, pep|per, and a few cloves all beaten,

STEP 1: “TAke a pound of pumpion and slice it, a handful of time, a little rosemary, and sweet marjoram stripped off the stalks, chop them small, then take cinamon, nutmeg, pepper, and a few cloves all beaten,…”

Two medium pumpkins added up to around one pound. Because the very first step states to “slice it,” I cut the lid off of the pumpkin, hollowed it, and extracted as much of the pulp from the rind as possible.  From this first step, I realized that unlike the measurements of modern recipes, early modern recipe measurements is often intuitive (also see Kayla Perkins’ recent post on “Quantities in Recipes“). Less surprising, there are no indicated temperatures or bake times.

also ten eggs and beat them, then mix and beat them all together, with as much sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froise, after it is fryed let it stand till it is cold,

STEP 2: “…also ten eggs and beat them, then mix and beat them all together, with as much sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froise, after it is fryed let it stand till it is cold,…”

My second issue was encountering several unfamiliar terms: froise and caudle. Using EEBOI  discovered that “froise” was listed in several “dictionaries of difficult terms” with variant meanings as either a “Pancake of Eggs,” “a Pancake [with bacon intermixt],” or an “omlet.” With these definitions in mind, I created a crepe/omelet/pancake hybrid (and added currants based on a modern “Welsh froise” recipe I looked at online). 

layers pumpkin pie

STEP 3: …then fill your pye after this manner. Take sliced apples sliced thin round wayes, and lay a layer of the froise, and a layer of apples, with currans betwixt the layers. While your pye is fitted, put in a good deal of sweet butter before you close it….

The next step called for “filling the pie.” Yet, I couldn’t figure out exactly what this meant. If I was supposed to prepare a traditional piecrust, there was no recipe throughout Woolley’s other pie recipes in the Gentlewoman’s Companion. (Ken Albala, noted food historian, offers some yummy early modern coffin (pie crust) recipes.)

If I was supposed to repurpose the pumpkin shell for the pie, that was also unclear. I did have a large clear casserole dish which allows us to nicely see the layers.  I interpreted that the froise and some sliced apples could serve as the bottom layer/crust.

"When the pye is baked, take six yolks of eggs, some white wine or verjuyce, and make a caudle of this, but not too thick, cut up the lid, put it in, and stir them well together whilest the eggs and pumpion be not perceived, and so serve it up."

STEP 4: “…When the pye is baked, take six yolks of eggs, some white wine or verjuyce, and make a caudle of this, but not too thick, cut up the lid, put it in, and stir them well together whilest the eggs and pumpion be not perceived, and so serve it up.”

I simmered “some white wine” on the stove and added egg yolks to make a caudle. They immediately poached and smelled horrible. I tried to modify my mistake by consulting Woolley’s own “almond caudle recipe” and replaced the wine with almond milk in my second attempt. My caudle still smelled was rancid and I had to toss it. Lesson Learned: Trust your nose.

Overall, I learned a lot through this experiential process about ingredients and measurements, baking vocabulary, pre-prepared foods, and following all steps. The end result was rather tasty. Because of the heavy spices of nutmeg and cloves, and the general weight of the dish due to the eggs, it tasted much more like a savory pumpkin quiche-stuffing hybrid than a dessert. The casserole pan returned home empty (always a promising sign). I would try this recipe again (after conquering caudle!).

Fresh from the oven baked Pompion Pie!

Fresh from the oven baked Pumpion Pie!

 

 

 

 

Reading How-To Workshop

Simone Zweifel, Tillmann Taape

“Reading How-To. The Uses and Users of Artisanal Recipes” took place at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin on 19 and 20 September 2014. Organised by, Sven Dupré, Elaine Leong and Doris Oltrogge, the workshop investigated artists’ and artisans’ uses of “how-to” writing. Broadly defined, this included any text which tells its reader how to do something – from medical recipes to treatises on art.

As Sven Dupré emphasised in his introduction, artisanal knowledge was often passed on through oral traditions, and learnt by doing. In the workshop, recipes and other how-to texts were rarely the predominant source of knowledge, and certainly never the only one. Rather, they are in dialogue with physically performed practices. This raises the kinds of questions the conference sought to address. Why did people write down recipes? Who wrote them down and who read them? And, finally, is there a clear category of “how-to”, and what kinds of writing does it encompass?

Pamela Smith opened the workshop by presenting a broad variety of “how-to” books and their readers. Although artisans might seem like an obvious audience, it turns out that they owned more devotional books than “how-to” texts. The latter were, however, very popular with elite readers such as monks scholars and estate owners. Artisanal and elite readers read “how-to” in different ways – to brush up their technical vocabulary and hone their ability to judge works of art, for spiritual reflection, or simply to improve their reading skills..

 

One of the books Pamela Smith referred to: Leonard Digges, A booke named Tectonicon, […]. Leonard Digges. London, F. Kyngston, 1605. Online on: https://openlibrary.org/books/OL23282093M/A_booke_named_Tectonicon_brieflie_shewing_the_exact_measuring_and_speedie_reckoning_all_manner_of_la.

One of the books Pamela Smith referred to: Leonard Digges, A booke named Tectonicon. London, F. Kyngston, 1605. http://tinyurl.com/o9hbs4t

Thinking about the authors of books as readers, Montserrat Cabré showed that compilers of medieval recipe collections were aware that their authority as writers was bound up with their competence as readers of how-to texts. To be taken seriously as authors and compilers, they needed to present themselves as good readers.

The act of reading was clearly an important issue in the early modern period, but how can we reconstruct it? Fortunately, readers sometimes left clues in the form of annotations. In her extensive research on artists’ recipes, Sylvie Neven identified three categories of readers’ annotations. While some functioned as reading-aids, others represent readers’ and users’ personal responses to the text, and some had no apparent relation to the text at all. Annotation, then, does not necessarily mean active engagement with how-to. Deborah Krohn illustrated this in her study of annotated copies of a popular Italian cooking manual. She suggested, however, that it is possible to distinguish more active readers because the pay more attention to the specific technical details of recipes.

 

L0023705 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. A kitchen. From: Bartolomeo Scappi. Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi. Tramezzino, Venice 1570, Table 2. © Wellcome Images

A kitchen. From: Bartolomeo Scappi, Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi. Tramezzino, Venice 1570, Table 2. © Wellcome Images

Several of the papers enriched our picture of early modern reading and annotation practices by focusing on one particular reader. Peter Jones illustrated how Walter Hamond, a member of the Barber-Surgeons’ Company in the seventeenth century, went about reading a fifteenth-century manuscript on surgery by John (of) Arderne (1307-c. 1378). Hamond’s numerous notes reveal how he modified instruments and recipes according to his own practical experience, but also his dismay upon realising that his medieval colleague was rather better paid for the same surgical operation.

Ardernes pictures were often copied in later editions. This image of the use of crutches is from a 15th-century manuscript.  From: Power, D’Arcy (Ed.), De Arte Phisicali et de Chirurgia. London 1922, plate XI. (c) Wellcome Images

Ardernes pictures were often copied in later editions. This image of the use of crutches is from a 15th-century manuscript. From: Power, D’Arcy (Ed.), De Arte Phisicali et de Chirurgia. London 1922, plate XI. (c) Wellcome Images

Rudolf Gamper‘s paper on Sebastian Schobinger’s handbook of alchemy described an even more involved reader. This manuscript, written between 1602 and 1610, is organised around a core text, Isaac Hollandus’ Opus saturni, which describes the process of turning lead into gold. Schobinger’s comments and elaborations are meticulously keyed to the numbered paragraphs of the Opus saturni. They draw on other manuscript or printed texts, but also on knowledge obtained from local experts and on Schobinger’s own experience, thus representing a kind of practical exegesis.

In contrast, Hanna Murphy showed that readers of how-to were not always predominantly interested in its practical content. The notebooks of Georg Palma (1543-1591), city physician of Nuremberg, show that he was more interested in the origin of the recipes than in the technical details of artisanal processes. Palma’s reading of “how-to” books thus document not so much his medical practice as the way he read his way through his medical library.

In addition to individual practitioners and scholars, reading how-to could be a collective phenomenon. In the sixteenth century, medical recipes were all the rage at the court of the Electors Palatine, as is testified by the large collection of recipe books which Karin Zimmermann introduced. Sheila Barker discussed another lively environment in which recipes played an important part, namely the Medici pharmacy in grand ducal Florence. Analysing the trajectories of artisanal recipes, she showed that they could function as a social currency among courtiers, be obtained by subterfuge, or rise from humble artisanal beginnings into the Medici’s recipe collection.

 

The recipe book of duchess Dorothea Susanne von Sachsen-Weimar from the collection of the electors Palatine, 1573. Heidelberg University Library, http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg182.

The recipe book of duchess Dorothea Susanne von Sachsen-Weimar from the collection of the electors Palatine, 1573. Heidelberg University Library, http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg182.

Several of the papers further problematised the issue of what counts as a how-to text. Barbara Tramelli showed that the treatise De colore by sixteenth-century Italian painter Gian Paolo Lomazzo discusses ingredients for pigments and production techniques, but not in enough detail to allow readers to actually make their own. Steven Johnston explained that instructions for making things could be embedded in objects as well as texts. As an example, he presented a “two-foot-rule” which was not only a physical yardstick, but also embodied a set of rules for the construction of ships. Finally, Daniel Jütte introduced us to early modern cryptography manuals as yet another kind of how-to books.

These diverse case studies brought a good insight into the variety of so called how-to books. But what exactly do we mean by this term? And is a recipe book still how-to, even if its main interest is not in describing procedures, as seems to have been the case with some of the presented books? These questions made for a rich concluding roundtable discussion. Alternative terms were suggested, such as “rules” or “pragmatic literature”, and ways of defining how-to subjected to scrutiny. It became clear that more research will be necessary to establish whether people read how-to books differently from other books, and whether the process of reading thus defines how-to as a category.

Mrs. Corlyon’s Pimple Cream: A Toxic Topical

By Jennifer Sherman Roberts

Reading an early recipe book can be an emotional roller coaster. There’s disgust (“’Snail water’? With real snails? Eww”), delight (“’A pudding of pippins’? That’s like something out of The Hobbit!”), and dismay (“NO! Do not drink the cordial of horse dung! Don’t do it!”).

Most of these emotions arise from the awareness of historical difference, the sensation of reaching across time through these documents and sensing the foreignness of the past.

More often, however, are the prosaic moments, when you think, “Oh, well of course they had to worry about THAT, too.” Headaches. Cooking up extra fruit from the harvest. Toothaches.

And pimples. Ah yes, they also had to deal with pimples.

Salve for pimples on the face. Ms, 14th century, Vienna. Wellcome Library, London.

Salve for pimples on the face. Ms, 14th century, Vienna. Wellcome Library, London.

In Mrs. Corlyon’s A Booke of Diverse Medicines, we find a “A medicine to cure a face that is Redd, and full of Pimples.” It seems unique to me in that similar recipes address redness of the face (perhaps rosacea) or claim to cure pimples or boils, but they are not often treated together. The reason might be the different humoral imbalances thought to cause each: a red face would arise from an excess of blood, while the pus from a pimple or boil would develop from too much phlegm.

Mrs. Corlyon’s recipe, however, attempts to treat both at the same time. For curing the redness in the face, she advises, “Take two penny worthe of quicksilver [mercury], putt it in a little glasse add thereto so much fasting Spitle as will serve to kill it, then shake them well together, and the quicksilver when it is killed will looke like duste.”

The concept of “killing” the quicksilver and turning it to dust confused (and intrigued) me. I wonder if perhaps the potassium present in saliva reacts with the mercury to form a precipitate? It might look similar to the reaction in this video “How to Make the Pharoah’s Serpent” around 4:55.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PC3o2KgQstA

Obviously, the chemicals used in that experiment are purer, but perhaps something similar might have happened in this recipe? (At any rate, and completely off topic, do keep watching the video to see what happens when mercury thiocyanate is ignited—it is one of the coolest and most disturbing things I have ever seen!)

The quicksilver dust is then to be ground with bay oil and made into an ointment used morning and evening for two weeks. The quicksilver, with its cold and dry properties, would balance out the heat and moistness of the excess blood in the skin.

"Cures for red face and pimples." A book of diverse medicines, Mrs. Corlyon. MS.213 Wellcome Library, London.

“Cures for red face and pimples.” A book of diverse medicines, Mrs. Corlyon.  MS 213. Wellcome Library, London.

The recipe then tells us that for a week before using the ointment, the person being treated should have been drinking a special brew: 10 gallons of beer to which is added half a pound of madder (a plant often used in dying cloth red, but also valued as a medicinal with hot and dry properties). This was to be drunk in the morning and evening and “at divers times.” The addition of the madder would balance the phlegmatic humor in the body that was causing the pus to form pimples.

Mrs. Corlyon also advises the person being treated “keep close in [their] chamber” as their skin will actually look worse during the treatment, “untill such tyme as the humor be killed that is betwixt the fleshe and the skinn.”

At first glance, this recipe seems ridiculous. Who would smear mercury on their face and stay drunk and locked in their chamber for two weeks in order to get better skin? But then, don’t we still do this with chemical peels and other kinds of non-surgical cosmetic treatments? At least in Mrs. Corlyon’s recipe, the patient has sufficient beer to drink to lessen the pain.