From bloodstone to fish soup: iron recipes

By Marieke Hendrikksen

In my research on the use of metals in eighteenth-century medical chemistry, iron has a special place. Unlike other metals, which were increasingly regarded as dangerous, iron remained a safe bet in blood-related diseases. However, up until the early nineteenth century, this understanding was not so much based on a chemical understanding of iron, but on the ancient principle of sympathetic medicine, in which a cure is associated – often materially – with the body part or disease it treats. An excellent example of this is bloodstone.

From antiquity onwards, the terms ‘lapis haematites’ and ‘bloodstone’ were used to refer to minerals or precious stones spotted or streaked with red, or red in colour, used as pigments by artisans and medicinally in the treatment of hemorrhage, or as a charm against injury or bleeding. Most descriptions seem to refer either to what is now known as heliotrope, a form of chalcedony, or more commonly to hematite, an iron oxide. Whereas in hermetic alchemical texts ‘blood’ often refers to the transforming arcanum, now commonly believed to be a form of mercury, bloodstone occurs predominantly in pharmacopeia and is clearly linked to blood because of its blood-like pigments. A quick test in my back yard shows how easy it is to yield ‘blood’ from bloodstone:

Grinding some chips of bloodstone gives a rusty red powder...
Grinding some chips of bloodstone gives a rusty red powder…
Result after adding some water.
Result after adding some water.

By the early eighteenth century, bloodstone was routinely listed in city pharmacopeia as a mineral that had to be stocked in the apothecary shop. Its association with and supposed influence on the blood was implied by its use in recipes for styptics, without reference to its iron-like nature. This does appear in more detailed sources in Latin though. The Amsterdam physician Stephen Blankaart for example described it in his 1701 Opera medica, theoretica, practica et chirurgica (Volume 1) as ‘dark red stone, like the name perhaps suggests coagulates the blood. It appears in long streaks, like wood, and can be split into sharp needles. It is found in the veins of iron mines and can be consumed by rust.’ 

Recipe for 'cookies' to cure excessive periods and bleeding hemorrhoids, consisting mainly of red ingredients. From Wouter van Lis's Pharmacopoea.
Recipe for ‘cookies’ to cure excessive periods and bleeding hemorrhoids, consisting mainly of red ingredients. From Wouter van Lis’s Pharmacopoea.

A clear example of how bloodstone was understood and applied by early modern apothecaries can be found in Wouter van Lis’s bilingual 1747 Pharmacopoea Galeno-Chemico-Medica, which gives information in both Latin and Dutch on the same page.[1] Van Lis gained a doctorate in medicine from Utrecht University in 1745 and probably authored this book to capitalize on his previous experience as an apothecary while he set up a practice as physician in another city.

Van Lis lists Bloodstone as a semi-metal, but he also refers to the origins of its name: ‘Bloodstone has a Rock- Earth- and Metal-like nature. Because of its paint that resembles blood, or because it is a styptic, it is called Bloodstone.’ In the chapter ‘Medicinal biscuits and stones,’ two recipes are listed for cookies containing bloodstone: they are said to cure heavy menses and bleeding haemorrhoids, as well as bloody stool. These two recipes are clearly based on sympathetic rather than chemical principals; they contain predominantly red ingredients, like coral and red flowers.

Ironically, anaemia caused by iron deficiency is still the most common nutritional health problem in the world today. I was fascinated to learn that health researchers are battling anaemia in rural Cambodia with reusable ‘lucky iron fish’ that are added to boiling soup or rice. The small amounts of iron released during cooking ensure the sufficient intake of iron. A vital part of the success of the ‘fish’ is its shape: fish is both a staple in the local diet, and a symbol of luck in Cambodian culture. Not exactly sympathetic medicine in the early modern sense, but this shows how important cultural understandings of materiality still can be in ensuring the correct use of medicinal substances and dietary supplements.

Just one final note–although iron, especially in small amounts, is essential and one of the more harmless metals for humans, an overdose can be poisonous. Like always, the dose makes the poison.

[1] Van Lis, Wouter, Gualtheri van Lis Pharmacopoea Galeno-Chemico-Medica… = Meng- Schei- … / Wouter van Lis Meng- Schei- En Geneeskonstige Artseny-Winkel (Amsterdam: Jan Morterre, 1747).

Exploring Six Degrees of Francis Bacon in Beta

By Hillary Nunn

Since the beta version of Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (SDFB) debuted in September, users have been joyfully exploring early modern social networks with the interface’s easy-to-use tools and color-coded illustrations. The much anticipated launch opens up The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in a new way, allowing users to focus on relationships as much as the individuals involved in them. SDFB’s visualization tools map social connections running through English society between 1500 and 1700, hinting at how ideas and influence traveled within the larger culture. In short, SDFB is a fantastic new means of tracking the people involved with early modern recipes.

While the ODNB routinely names a person’s associates, its entries cannot fully show how those connections linked individuals together in wider networks. Reading that Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent – whose famous “powder” appears in scores of recipe books (11/02/2014)– traveled in the same circles as John Florio, Samuel Daniel, and Queen Elizabeth I, for example, is impressive, but her social network becomes even more intriguing when we can see how she can also be linked to not just Queen Henrietta Maria, but the cookbook author Robert May (21/12/2012). Her entry in the ODNB doesn’t tell us that.


SDFB’s usefulness for less prominent recipe writers, however, is currently limited, largely because only 6% of the people included are women. In addition, a name needs to appear five times in the ODNB subset of 13,000 entries in order to be represented in SDFB (See the Help page). As Project Director Christopher Warren outlines in a forthcoming DHQ article, the digital tools used to extract names from these entries cannot always pick out individuals when they’re identified solely by title or relationship. As a result, Elizabeth Grey’s SDFB network does not reveal a direct connection to her accomplished sister Aletheia Howard, countess of Arundel when I initially called it up; instead, it shows Howard and Grey as linked only through male associates (who are not family members).

Using Howard as a point of entry into the project highlights one intriguing feature of the SDFB interface – its “relationship confidence” slider. My first search for Howard, with the default “Likely to Certain” confidence measure, resulted in this image:


Adjusting the level of certainty, however, yielded two direct connections, to King James I and Sir Henry Wotten, and a slew of secondary connections.

This underrepresentation of women is a concern to SDFB’s makers, who already have plans to help rectify the situation, and their beta encourages users to add relationship information through the “Contribute” button. In fact, I’ve already added the Grey-Arundel connection, and a few others, and the process is straightforward. All that is required is that users create a free account and supply a reference for their addition.

So, while the SDFB may not currently represent all the relationships recipe readers want to know about, it can in the future. As Warren points out in DHQ, the immensity of the SDFB project means that it can never be as detailed as smaller scale efforts humanists might undertake by hand, but these large and smaller projects can improve one another. SDFB already serves as a valuable tool for envisioning the networks that early modern writers operated in, and will only grow more useful, with our help, in the months and years to come.

First Monday Library Chat: New York Public Library

Founded in 1895, the New York Public Library (NYPL) is the largest public library system in the US, serving more than 17 million patrons per year. NYPL holds nearly 10,000 archival and manuscript collections, comprising over 50,000 linear feet of material in nearly every format imaginable. Today I am talking with Thomas Lannon, Acting Charles J. Liebman Curator of Manuscripts in the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the NYPL.


Can you give us a broad overview of the scope of recipe books in the NYPL?

This is a difficult question to answer, but I could say the NYPL holds over 80,000 items, which includes over 15,000 cookbooks, over 25,000 menus, plus periodicals, prints, rare books and manuscripts related to culinary studies.

Any broad overview of NYPL’s culinary collections is difficult to prepare and quickly turns into a crowded list. Such a list might include references to standard American cookbooks such as American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796), with its recipes for Indian Pudding and Apple Pie, and the 1824 edition of The Virginia House-wife by Mary Randolph, among the holdings. European cookbooks begin with the 14th century manuscript of the Forme of Curry and also include early printed books such as Platina’s De Honest Volupata et Valetudine (1498), Girolamo Ruscelli’s The Secrets of Reverende Maister Alexis of Piemont (1558), and Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747.) My language skills would be tested to list the continental works of French gastronomists such as Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and Auguste Escoffier. And I have a hunch the German baroque cake designs in Neues saltzburgisches Koch-Buch (1719) are worth looking into. As the 19th century hit and its insatiable spirit for invention carried the day, The Library collected pioneering works on food technology and professional newsletters on food products, preservation and the manufacturing industry.

Also worth mentioning in an overview is the Whitney Cookery collection, primarily English works, including some of the rarest recipe books held at The Library. A gift from the estate of Helen Hay Whitney, a copy of The Good Hous-wives Treasurie (London, 1588) is among its highlights. I mentioned the Forme of Curry, the earliest English manuscript at The Library, is also from the Whitney Collection. The manuscript, Dissertations on Cookery, by Mary Ellen Meredith, daughter of the Romantic poet Thomas Love Peacock and first wife of the Victorian poet George Meredith is another resource to consider. In sum, there are 17 manuscript recipe books in the Whitney Collection composed between the 14th and 19th centuries and include manuscript receipt collections associated with Joane Yate, Lady Anne Morton, and Hester Denbigh.

Whitney Recipe 13
Whitney #13, Collection of Medical and Cookery Recipes. Inscribed: Mary Bromehead her book given her by Aunt 1761

Additionally, The Library has great resources on alcoholic beverages. The Liebmann collection of American historical documents relating to spirituous liquors boasts 226 manuscript items relative to the production and use of whiskey, rum, and brandy in the United States between 1665 and 1910. We’ve also recently added important new acquisitions documenting the long history of libations in New York City. The Henry Günther material on brewers’ guilds includes the Protokollbuch of the Vereins der Vereinigten Braumeister der Stadt New-York, or minute book of the Master Brewers Association of New York. Through this unique volume we can trace the founding of the German-American beer guild, its constitution, by-laws, meeting minutes, and discover a member list. This should be viewed by anyone interested in the story of lager beer in America.

We’ve also recently added the records of DuVivier and Co., a New York City-based importer and distributor of wine and spirits founded in 1856. DuVivier & Co. were the first to import brands such as Perrier-Jouet, Hennessy, John Walker & Sons, Jameson, Plymouth Gin, Guinness Stout, and Bass Ale into the United States. The DuVivier and Co. records are a large archive, over 75 volumes, and include accounts, operations journals, and salesman books. The operations journals are particularly interesting as they show how DuVivier not only imported alcohol, but created apéritifs in various combinations. Through these journals, researchers will be able discover recipes and formulas for many popular spirits found in fin de siècle New York City barrooms.

Cider Brandy Recipe
“Cider brandy” from Operations Journal, Vol. 38. Duvivier & Co. Records

How are these materials dispersed between different collections across The Library? I know you’re in Manuscripts and Archives, but are there other divisions we should consult within the NYPL?

Indeed, materials related to cookery are spread out over several collections, or locations within The Library. I think this fact is often overlooked and people assume there is some room dedicated to culinary material. Naturally, any library presents a challenge to the curious.

With tools like OCLC WorldCat and ArchiveGrid available freely over the internet, researchers should be able to locate anything held in most libraries. Locally, at NYPL there is a catalog for printed material as well as for unpublished, archival collections. If someone is looking for a specific periodical, it will likely be cataloged and anyone should be capable of locating it. The key to real achievement is to learn how to determine in a catalog record where some item is held, i.e. the item location.

Could you highlight a few recipe-related materials found in the NYPL’s Manuscripts and Archives Division?

I’d like to highlight here a few items which have only recently been made available to research in hopes that new researchers will emerge as a result of this blog post:

The Tolley baking records document the career of the Tolley family in American commercial baking industry. John W. Tolley and his son Albert E. Tolley were prominent bakers during the early part of the 20th century and affiliated with the Continental Baking Company and most importantly with the Ward Baking Company. The Ward Bakery Company had bakeries in several northeastern cities. For example, one of Brooklyn’s largest commercial bakeries was located on Pacific Street and Vanderbilt Avenue. The building was knocked down for the creation for the Barclays Center, but in the 1920s it produced millions of loaves of bread that would roll down their assembly line to feed the roaring suburb.

Tolley Baking Records
Tolley Baking Records

The Tolley baking records include the recipe books of Albert E. Tolley. The recipe for Ward’s Fine Bread is held in his Complete Set of Formulas Used in Eastern Bakeries 1924-1925. This recipe book includes an index of every major product created by the Ward Baking Company and tells the story of the rise of industrial baking in the United States.

With projects like What’s on the Menu?, the NYPL is also at the forefront of digital library initiatives. Do you have any new digital projects that may interest our audience?

With support from the The Polonsky Foundation, The New York Public Library is currently digitizing upwards of 50,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material. The Early American Manuscripts Project will allow students, researchers, and the general public to revisit major political events of the era from new perspectives and to explore currents of everyday social, cultural, and economic life in the colonial, revolutionary, and early national periods. The project will present on-line for the first time high-quality facsimiles of key documents from America’s Founding, including the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

George Washington's Small Beer Recipe
George Washington’s notebook as a Virginia colonel, “Recipe for Small Beer”


Drawing on the full breadth of The Library’s manuscript collections, we also hope to make widely available less well-known manuscript sources, including business papers of Atlantic merchants, diaries of people ranging from elite New York women to Christian Indian preachers, and organizational records of voluntary associations and philanthropic organizations. Over the next two years, this trove of manuscript sources, previously available only at The Library, will be made freely available through

We’ll be featuring the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey this month. Can you tell me more about the NYPL’s involvement with this project?

The Manuscript Cookbooks Survey is a database of pre-1865 English-language manuscript cookbooks. In compiling this database, the Survey team aims to give culinary historians, food writers, and others enhanced access to these important, fascinating materials, which too often lie neglected in our libraries, historical sites, and other public institutions. I encourage people to use the survey to find cookbooks in libraries and likewise I hope more libraries can include their records in the Survey. The project includes a database that can be browsed by institution and most of NYPL’s manuscript cookbooks can be found there. All credit goes to the team who created the database, including Principal Researcher Stephen Schmidt.  

Cake Recipes
Recipes for cakes from Matilda Livingston Rogers’s cookbook.

I’m sure our readers would love to use your materials! Are there links to digitized resources? What fellowships are available?

The NYPL’s Digital Collections platform features hundreds of the thousands of digital items, including 18,000+ menus that were digitized as part of the What’s on the Menu? project. Researchers can also stay up to date on archival collections which have been digitized.

The Library offers short-term fellowships for scholars interested in accessing material which has not been digitized. The purpose of the fellowships has been to alleviate travel cost and offer support for individuals needing to conduct on-site research in the Library’s special collections. In the last two years we offered additional fellowships for food studies with support from the Pine Tree Foundation.

If you have any questions about the NYPL’s recipe collections, you can email Thomas Lannon at

An intriguing invitation

This in from the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective, happily coinciding with The Recipes Project‘s Digital Humanities month…

winche sample pageA seventeenth-century recipe book. Twelve hours. 208 pages. And transcribers from around the world.

Our goal? Using the Folger Shakespeare Library’s online transcription platform, we’ll collaboratively produce a searchable transcription of Rebeckah Winche’s recipe book in twelve hours.

On 7 October, please join the Early Modern Recipe Online Collective (EMROC) for our first annual Transcribathon. We will have transcription groups working at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the University of Essex, the University of Akron, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Texas Arlington, with other individuals joining in virtually throughout the day.

Along the way, participants will virtually meet scholars from around the world, have the opportunity to participate in a series of transcription sprints, and emerge from the day with a line for their CV—all from their own home, classroom, or office! NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY – we’ll walk you through the coding and offer pointers on the handwriting.

Even if you don’t want to transcribe, you can still join the fun in other ways.

For more information see here. To join us, email Lisa Smith (

Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine