Recipes to Entertain in an Exeter Cathedral Library Manuscript

By Catherine Rider

Exeter Cathedral has several medieval medical manuscripts in its library, as well as a large collection of early modern printed medical books.[1] Recently I’ve been looking at the medieval manuscripts as part of a larger project on fertility and reproduction, but they contain material on numerous other topics, including many recipes. In this blog post I’ll be talking about one manuscript and highlighting the variety of recipes it contains and some of the questions it raises about recipes for tricks and illusions in particular.

MS 3521 is a miscellaneous manuscript, mainly dating from the fifteenth century, originally from the church of Ottery St Mary in Devon, UK.[2] It contains a few long works on logic and natural philosophy, but the bulk of the manuscript consists of recipes, in English and Latin. The size and format are fairly similar to this fifteenth-century recipe manuscript from the Wellcome Library in London:

L0049309 Medical Recipe Collection Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Collection of medical recipes [written in the area of Worcestershire, first quarter of the 15th century]. Coloured drawings serve as extravagant decoration for the catchwords. Medieval English oak board book binding. 15th century Medical Recipe Collection, England, 15th Century Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
Medical Recipe Collection, Wellcome Library, London. Image courtesy of Wellcome Images.

One of the interesting aspects of the manuscript for me is the variety of the contents. Many of the recipes are medical: there are recipes and charms to treat a flow of blood; to treat pains and  toothache; a charm for childbirth; and a recipe for a male complaint, ‘balloks sore and swollen’. There are also recipes for waters and oils, such as rose oil, and cosmetic recipes, for example to make hair blond. None of these are unusual in recipe collections, and as in many other medieval recipe manuscripts they are interspersed with notes on other medical topics, such as blood-letting and the virtues of herbs. Also connected to health and medicine are several recipes to keep animals healthy.

More surprising, however, is a series of recipes fairly early in the manuscript which are designed to achieve marvellous effects. On pp. 97-8 we find a series of these, in Latin: ‘To make thunder and lightning [literally, ‘flying fire’]’, a recipe which involves saltpetre, sulphur and coal; ‘If you want a flame to spring from a fish’s eyes’, ‘If you want to be invisible’, or ‘To make a candle that no one can extinguish’. These examples look as if they are designed to entertain others with spectacular tricks, but some of the recipes seem more like practical jokes which may not have been enjoyed by the person on the receiving end: ‘If you want a woman to raise her clothes’, or ‘So that a man looks leprous.’ Some of the recipes are attributed to ‘Albertus’: I have not yet had a chance to track this down but would guess that they come from a work such as the Book of Secrets or Marvels of the World attributed to the thirteenth-century theologian Albertus Magnus.

These recipes are not unique and have a place in secrets literature. Other scholars such as Bruno Roy have also noted the ways in which magic tricks – in the modern sense of an illusion designed to entertain – appear in recipe collections.[3] More recently Laura Mitchell has posted on this blog about similar light-hearted recipes in other manuscripts, including another recipe to make a woman lift her skirts  and a recipe for invisibility:  Initiatives like Mitchell’s catalogue of English manuscripts containing magic (introduced on the Recipes blog last year) may also help to identify these recipes. However, my impression is that they remain under-studied compared with medical recipes. How commonly were recipes for entertainment copied? Do they appear in some contexts more than others? Are there any clues as to how they were regarded by copyists or readers? In the Exeter manuscript, for example, they are interspersed with medical recipes without much overt distinction being drawn between recipes for different purposes, but how usual was this? Did readers ever express doubts about some of the more dubious tricks? How do they relate, if at all, to evidence of medieval stage magic, such as descriptions of tricks with cups and balls?

I hope to look at these questions in more detail at some point, but for the moment am simply keeping an eye out for other examples.

[1] On these see Peter Thomas, Medicine and Science in Exeter Cathedral Library (Exeter: Exeter Cathedral, 2003).

[2] For a detailed description of this and the other Exeter MSS see Neil Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969-2002).

[3] B. Roy, ‘The Household Encyclopaedia as Magic Kit: Medieval Popular Interest in Pranks and Illusions’, Journal of Popular Culture, 14 (1980): 60-69.

A Recipe for Learning Atlantic World History: Student Contributions

By Zara Anishanslin

Student Jose Hernandez summed up initial reaction to finding a “recipe assignment” on an Atlantic World History course syllabus: “when you first assigned the Columbian Exchange assignment, I honestly assumed that you were giving us busy work.” Once students dove into the assignment, reactions changed. As Hernandez went on to say, “once I started researching, I realized that this was a legit assignment.”

Legit indeed. The project enhanced student understanding of the Columbian Exchange as a truly transformative global phenomenon. It also provided them with new—and at times surprising— knowledge about their favorite foods.

Stefano della Bella, Cow, Diversi animali, plate 7 (Published by Pierre Mariette, ca. 1641), Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1917 (17.50.17-256), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After Europeans introduced them to the Americas, the meat of pigs and cows became staple features of creolized cuisine. Students worked on a number of such recipes. Bryan Howell researched the empanadilla, or little empanada, a pork-based dish created by culinary exchanges among Portuguese, Spanish, Native American, and Caribbean creoles. As he put it, the empanadilla “had to make a lot of trips back and forth across the Atlantic to be what it is. And what it is is freaking delicious.”

Student Cynthia Vera researched another meat-based recipe, one that she termed “a Latin spin on a European croquette.”

Recipe for Rellenos de Papa

2 pounds russet potatoes (Vera prefers the more traditionally used white potato to the sweet potatoes in the linked recipe)

½ cup cooked corn meal, with extra for dusting

1 pound of lean ground beef

¼ cup of sofrito (sauce base)

1 packet of sazon con achote

Canola oil for frying

½ teaspoon of sale


Cook ground meat and drain. Add sofrito mixture and packet of sazon con achote. Stir well over low heat to blend flavors and set aside.

Peel and boil potatoes until tender. Mash potatoes with salt and cornmeal, mix well. Place potato mixture in refrigerator to cool.

Once cool, scoop into balls, make pocket in middle of ball with your finger to place meat. Carefully press mixture back into a ball, thoroughly covering meat mixture. Dust in cornmeal, fry.

While the beef was the result of European colonization, corn and potatoes both were essential to American indigenous peoples’ diets. As Vera aptly put it, both were “ingredients of abundance” for Native Americans. And yet, Vera had never thought of the indigenous roots of what was to her a very familiar dish. As she reflected, “Growing up Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian I did not get the sense that my culture was heavily influenced by anything but other Hispanic cultures.” Researching her chosen dish, she found otherwise, and that recipes like rellenos de papa “speak volumes to the original cultures that did not allow themselves to be swallowed up, but instead were reborn into something else that has become a signature for today’s people.”

Students Jose Hernandez and Madeline Mercado also described their recipes—different variations of rice and beans —as edible reminders of how people retained culinary practices in the face of change. West Africans ate rice and beans, enslaved people of African descent were the laborers who tended rice in places like South Carolina, and West African cultivation practices and knowledge were likely integral to the crop’s success in the Americas.

Pan dulce, on display at a Staten Island bakery, Pan con Cafe. Pictured is a type of pan dulce called la concha: “El Borracho,” on the top left and “El Gusano,” top right. Photo by Sonia Martinez, 2015.

Other students found that European traditions were behind what they thought were indigenous recipes. Sonia Martinez researched pan dulce or “Mexican sweet bread,” a treat “sold everywhere, from street food stands to elaborate bakeries in the capital.” Pan dulce is an important part of Mexican holidays like the Day of the Dead, when it is eaten in the form of pan de muerto (pan dulce in the shape of crosses, skulls, angels, or tomb effigies).

Martinez was surprised to find that pan dulce “wasn’t made from native ingredients passed down from generation to generation.” Instead, it relies on wheat, a plant Spanish missionaries insisted on importing to make communion wafers.

Nicolás Enríquez (Mexican, 1704–1790) The Virgin of Guadalupe with the Four Apparitions, 1773 Mexican,  Oil on copper; 22 1/4 × 16 1/2 in. (56.5 × 41.9 cm) Framed: 25 1/4 × 19 7/8 × 1 3/8 in. (64.1 × 50.5 × 3.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, 2014 (2014.173)
Nicolás Enríquez (Mexican, 1704–1790)
The Virgin of Guadalupe with the Four Apparitions (1773), Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and several members of The Chairman’s Council Gifts, 2014 (2014.173), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg),The Witch, ca. 1500, Engraving, Fletcher Fund, 1919, 19.73.75, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg),The Witch, ca. 1500, Engraving, Fletcher Fund (1919, 19.73.75), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Another group of students focused on recipes that used ingredients that traveled east, from the Americas to Europe and, eventually, India and Asia. Some had legends attached to them. Student Ashley Olivetti delved into her grandmother’s Italian tomato sauce recipe. She found that Europeans at first feared tomatoes in part because they are part of the family Solanaceae, which includes “deadly nightshades” like belladonna, a poisonous plant that, according to Germanic folklore, witches used to summon werewolves.

Student Thomas Finn looked at vichyssoise, or French potato and leek soup, and was surprised to find that the ordinary potato has legends attached to it. When Incas from Cuzco fled before Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1476-1541), they lightened their load to travel faster under threat of puma attacks, throwing supplies into Lake Pumacocha to prevent the Spanish from using them. Among these supplies was the Incan staple ch’unu, a freeze-dried, dehydrated potato easy to carry over the long distances of the far-flung Incan empire. The Inca were allegedly on their way to the legendary city of Paititi, a never found place rumored to contain hordes of gold and silver.

Utagawa (Gountei) Sadahide, Foreigners in the Drawing Room of Foreign Merchant's House in Yokohama (9th month, 1861),  Triptych of polychrome woodblock prints Bequest of William S. Lieberman, 2005 (2007.49.131a–c), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Utagawa (Gountei) Sadahide, Foreigners in the Drawing Room of Foreign Merchant’s House in Yokohama (9th month, 1861), Triptych of polychrome woodblock prints Bequest of William S. Lieberman, 2005 (2007.49.131a–c), Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Other students looked at recipes that arose due to another farflung empire: that of the British. Student Remy Rodney researched his grandmother’s “Jamaican soup,” a dish that reflects the global reach of the British in its chicken, pumpkins, yams, and Korean dumplings. Student Harmon Chan looked at Japanese rice and potato curry. First found in Japanese cookbooks in 1872, this now popular standby in Japan had its beginnings not long before, after American Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 visit began a new era of Japanese trade with western nations including Britain.  Among the things the British introduced to Japan were curry from India and potatoes from America.

As one student put it, “food is one way people define their culture.” As students learned by researching recipes of the Columbian Exchange, food is one way people maintain old cultures and create new ones, too.

Contributors’ Bios

Harmon Chan is a History major interested in exploring the history of the United States.

Thomas Finn is a senior History major who is interested in colonial American history. His family has lived in America a long time, and in the same house on Staten Island since 1820.

Jose Hernandez is a senior History major, who is minoring in African American Studies. His interests include the Atlantic World and its importance in world history.

Sonia Martinez, born to immigrant parents, is a first generation Mexican American student. She is a senior majoring in English writing and linguistics, and minors in Spanish.

Madeline Mercado majors in Social Work and minors in Spanish. Her family background is Puerto Rican, and she is interested in the history of rice in the Atlantic World.

Ashley Olivetti is a senior American Studies major. Her family is originally from Italy and now resides in Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. Her interests include researching and writing about history.

Remiah Rodney is a sophomore of Jamaican heritage. Born in London, England, he plays soccer for the College of Staten Island.

Cynthia Vera is a Latin American senior, majoring in Latin American Studies and Psychology.




A Recipe for Teaching Atlantic World History: Food and the Columbian Exchange

By Zara Anishanslin 

Polly Platt, Map sampler (1809), Made in Dutchess County, Pleasant Valley, New York, United States, Purchase, Frank P. Stetz Bequest, in loving memory of David Stewart Hull, 2012, 2012.64, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Polly Platt, Map sampler (1809), Made in Dutchess County, Pleasant Valley, New York, United States, Purchase, Frank P. Stetz Bequest, in loving memory of David Stewart Hull, 2012, 2012.64, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Teaching (and learning) Atlantic World history can be a depressing business. It requires thinking about the causes, course, and effects of some of the more horrific events in early modern history, such as the enforced migration of millions of enslaved Africans to Europe’s Atlantic colonies. Yet Atlantic World history has its more uplifting aspects, too. After all, it is a story of creation as well as destruction. Native American, European, and African people came together in cooperation as well as conflict. Exchanges among Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans fundamentally transformed cultures, politics, economies, and—of most interest in this forum—food and recipes on both sides of the Atlantic. Chances are, whatever recipes you regularly eat, at least a few owe their existence to transatlantic exchange between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sebastiano del Piombo, Portrait, said to be Christopher Columbus (born about 1466, died 1509), 1519. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 00.18.2, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Sebastiano del Piombo, Portrait, said to be Christopher Columbus (born about 1466, died 1509), 1519. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 00.18.2, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Beginning with Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the Caribbean in 1492, plants, animals, and diseases new to Native Americans arrived in the Americas and Caribbean, while plants, animals, and diseases new to Europe and Africa, similarly, made a transatlantic journey in the opposite direction. In addition to well-known commodities like sugar, tobacco, coffee, and cocoa that traversed the Atlantic, more prosaic crops, animals, and germs crossed the Atlantic, at times accidentally. Things like pigs, cattle, horses, wheat, dandelions, rice, and smallpox travelled west; things like sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, turkeys, guinea pigs, tomatoes, and (perhaps) syphilis travelled east.  Such exchange formed the roots of the “Columbian Exchange,” as historian Alfred Crosby termed the phenomenon in his seminal 1972 book of the same name.

When the ship of French explorer Samuel de Champlain ran aground in what he called Port Saint Louis in 1605, he described seeing gardens and fields filled with beans and corn, inhabited by Native Americans who met the Frenchmen in canoes filled with freshly-caught cod.  Native American food and crops captivated the imagination of  Europeans like Champlain.  This is evident from his map of Port Saint Louis, which  took care to illustrate lushly tall fields of corn as well as items of navigational interest.

What Champlain called Port Saint Louis became better known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. Fifteen years later, English colonists who arrived there described a very different place; a depopulated community so devastated by smallpox that Native Americans “were in the end not able to help one another, no not to make a fire nor fetch a little water to drink, nor any to bury the dead.”[1] Such were the disastrous effects of the Columbian Exchange.

MaizeDeityUnknown Aztec artist, Maize Deity (Chicomecoatl),15th–early 16th century, Mexico, Mesoamerica, basalt statue, Museum Purchase, 1900, 00.5.51, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
MaizeDeityUnknown Aztec artist, Maize Deity (Chicomecoatl),15th–early 16th century, Mexico, Mesoamerica, basalt statue, Museum Purchase, 1900, 00.5.51, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

But in its focus on corn, Champlain’s map also carries (if you’ll excuse the pun) seeds for teaching other, at times much less devastating, aspects of the Columbian Exchange—in particular, its impact on global consumption patterns, cuisine, and recipes. Corn was a fundamental food staple of indigenous peoples in the Americas, important enough to embody religious meaning to cultures like the Aztecs, who worshipped both maize god, Centeotl, and goddess, Chicomecoatl, seen in the statue below holding two maize ears.

Corn held very different symbolic meaning across the Atlantic. There, along with tobacco, palm trees, parrots, and representations of Native American bodies, corn became an iconographic symbol of  exoticism, often used in maps, paintings, sculpture, and ceramics.

Jacob van Campen, Still Life with a Bowl of Corn, Artichokes, Grapes and a Parrot 1645-1650), SK-A-4254-2, Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, The Netherlands

But “Indian corn,” like many other plants and animals that traversed the Atlantic after contact, ended up on tables in Europe, Africa, and Asia as well as in paintings and maps. What does teaching and learning about the Columbian Exchange look like if, to take but this single example,  we thought more deeply about corn? What were the long-term effects of food like corn crossing the Atlantic? What does following a plant like corn back and forth across the Atlantic tell us about changing tastes in Europe and Asia, about the ability of Native Americans and Africans to retain cultural heritage through culinary techniques and ingredient choices, and about the hybrid food practices of new, creole cultures established in the Americas and Caribbean?

Students read anthropologist Sidney Mintz’s fascinating book, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (Viking, 1985) in my class. So they are well aware of the often devastating but always transformative effects of people’s desire to consume and produce an edible commodity like sugar. But the histories of life and labor on an eighteenth-century Jamaican sugar plantation can seem, like the  histories of Native Americans, French, and English in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, very far away. What would letting students look at Atlantic World history through a more personally meaningful lens do to their understanding of these faraway histories of contact and exchange? What would choosing recipes they love that are based on food that migrated transatlantically tell students not only about the past, but also about their own families and tastes? How would it illuminate the theoretical concept of creolization?

What would happen, in short, if students researched “Recipes of the Columbian Exchange”?

Recipe for the Assignment:

Choose a recipe. Although not necessary, you might want to choose one that has personal meaning to you or your tastebuds.

The only criteria to be met are that:

1) the recipe MUST be one that would not exist were it not for the Columbian Exchange and

2) it must be a recipe, with more than one ingredient

First, describe the recipe. List its ingredients, identify its name, and provide information on how it’s cooked.

Second, go into more analytical and historical detail about it. What are the environmental origins of its ingredients? Which ones are those we can trace to the Columbian Exchange? Who first made it? And where? Why is the recipe important to you? What does it tell us about the contact between peoples and the exchanges of things that characterized Atlantic World history?

Tune in tomorrow to hear students chime in on what they learned by using recipes to think about Atlantic World history.

[1] Bradford, William, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, ed. Samuel E. Morison (new York: Knopf, 1952), 271.

Van Helmont´s Recipes

By Saskia Klerk, with Sietske Fransen

Five years ago the Special collections of the University Library Leiden acquired the book and manuscript collection from the estate of J.M.H. van de Sande (d. 2010), a Dutch pharmacist. As part of the ERC-project on the writing practices of physicians, led by Volker Hess and Andrew Mendelsohn at the Charité in Berlin, I examined one of these manuscripts, now catalogued as BPL 3603. One of Van de Sande´s special interests was Paracelsus and Jan Baptista van Helmont (1579-1644). This interest would explain how this Dutch language manuscript of seventy folios came into his possession. Indeed, on the ex libris of Van de Sande´s Bibliotheca Pharmacia, the note “612.8 Helm”, suggests that Van den Sande catalogued the manuscript with other works by Van Helmont. More pencil writing on the same page reads “Van Helmont´s recepten” or Van Helmont´s recipes.

Sietske Fransen, who has researched Van Helmont and his son Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont (1614-1699) (see for example (16/10/2014) and (30/12/ 2014 ), and I decided to contribute a new series on this Dutch recipe book to The Recipe Project. It will be a great way to continue our research on this manuscript and share our discoveries, similarly to the way Hillary Nunn and Rebecca Laroche have done here. Our starting point will be to ask what the manuscript can tell us about its anonymous author or authors and their reading and writing practices.

Taking a closer look at the manuscript it is clear that it contains material from Van Helmont’s publications besides recipes. It also contains recipes from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535) and Johan van Beverwijck (1594-1647), amongst others. Its dating of ca. 1677 is based on the appearance of this date on the first page of the manuscript and correlates to the latest dates noted with the recipes.

Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden BPL 3603 fol.2r
Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden BPL 3603 fol.2r. The first recipe is for “amborstigheit”, or shortness of breath.

The recipes themselves are at first arranged alphabetically according to the affliction they are directed at. From about halfway through the manuscript, however, they are also grouped together according to the product of the recipe or its main ingredient. They are evenly and uniformly distributed over the page and leave only limited space for additions. All of the recipes are in Dutch. The initial alphabetical order as well as the little annotation space suggests that the manuscript was carefully  designed as a more or less final record of recipes.

Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden BPL 3603 (n.p.) fol.1r
Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden BPL 3603 (n.p.) fol.1r. The date “1677” can be seen at the bottom of the third table.

A few things immediately intrigued us about the manuscript. Instead of a title page, the first page contains three very basic tables: that of pharmaceutical signs; of astrological signs; and a list of conversions of Arabic to Roman numerals. On the final page we find a table entitled “explanation of characters in general use of alchemists” and one of “characters and weights of medics and apothecaries”. A question we would like to raise for further discussion is what the inclusion of such tables, says about the intention behind the compilation of the manuscript.

Furthermore, those few sources for the recipes that are named, appear to be printed books. The sources show that the compiler of the collection was a keen reader of medical works in Dutch. The popularity of these publications can be gauged from their increasing number on the market in the decades before and following the composition of the manuscript. Much less is known however about how and by whom these books were read. This manuscript promises to tell us a great deal about the practices of a reader of these publications.

Finally, it is very exciting to see texts by two contemporary physicians from the Northern and Southern Netherlands together in the manuscript. Although Van Beverwijck from Dordrecht and Van Helmont from Brussels both wrote in Dutch, they are rarely discussed together in the historical literature. This is understandable from the character of their writings.

An engraving and the beginning of a poem by Cats, illustrating the chapter "What life consists of and by what means it is maintained in health". Johan van Beverwijck, Schat der Gesont heyt (Amsterdam 1643) p. 60.
An engraving and the beginning of a poem by Cats, illustrating the chapter “What life consists of and by what means it is maintained in health”. Johan van Beverwijck, Schat der Gesont heyt (Amsterdam 1643) p. 60.

Van Beverwijck published several medical books in Dutch, most notably Schat der Gesontheyt (Treasure of Health) and Schat der Ongesontheyt (Treasure of Unhealthiness), which became very popular and appeared in many editions from the 1630’s onwards. In these publications his medical writings were alternated with poems by the famous Dutch poet Jacob Cats (1577-1660) and illustrated with engravings. The fame of these books made Van Beverwijck a household name. Van Beverwijck thus effectively adapted the medicine he was taught at university to a non-academic audience.

Van Helmont on the other hand is best known for his Latin works, such as Ortus Medicinae (The Rise of Medicine, 1648), while his Dutch medical publication Dageraed (1659) is much less known. And despite the vernacular language, this book is not as accessible as Van Bever- wijck’s publications with its poems and pictures, and was not read widely by the seventeenth-century Dutch audience.

Despite their contrasting reputations, the compiler of BPL 3603 apparently considered both authors to be valuable resources for his recipe book. The manuscript provides us therefore with an exciting example of seventeenth-century comparative reading of two authors that were thought to be read by different audiences.

We look forward to finding out more about the assembler of the manuscript as well as the way in which he used his sources. Next month, Sietske will discuss the material from Van Helmont further.


Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine