Summer Recipes: A Recipes Project Round-up


Belgian Summer.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Belgian Summer. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Amanda E. Herbert

Here in the southeastern US, the summer weather is sweltering, and it seemed like the perfect time to dig into the Recipes Project Archives for some posts on how best to survive the hottest (northern hemisphere) months of the year.

I’ll start with Sally Osborn’s post about how to make your own ice house.  In the eighteenth century, fashionable women and men created these structures in order to provide their households with ice centerpieces and ice cream year-round.  If only I’d thought to start this project over the winter…

Many of our authors have written posts about swimming and bathing.  Colleen Kennedy explored scented baths in the Renaissance in two posts, “Dipping Your Toes,” and “A Sweet Bath.”  Katherine Allen wrote of floating in the pools at Bath in her post on eighteenth-century spas.

Gardening, another popular summer activity, has also been a central theme for many of our authors.  Daniel Trambaiolo discussed the cultivation of ginseng in his post on the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century East Asian herbal tradition.  Jane Draycott talked about Cato’s ancient-world flower gardens in her recent “Flower Power” post.  In one of the Recipe Project’s earliest posts, from 2012, Helen King discussed the ways that red plants were used to cure the green sickness.  And if you find yourself slapping at summer insects in the garden, I can recommend Stefanie Gänger’s post on Medicine and Malaria in Late-Colonial Lima, which will help to put any modern mosquito troubles in perspective.

Best wishes to all of you for cool breezes, shady green spaces, and lots of ice cream.

First Monday Library Chat: Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford

Welcome to the August 2015 edition of the First Monday Library Chat. This month, Sarah Wheale, Head of Rare Books at the Bodleian Library, guides us through the rich recipe-related holdings at the Bodleian and updates us on the exciting changes happening in Oxford.

While all our readers are familiar with the Bodleian and its treasures, many might be surprised at your very rich holdings of manuscript and printed recipe books. Could you tell us a little more and perhaps share one or two gems with our readers? ­­

Recipes occur in many of our collections, whether early or modern, manuscript or printed. They range from our earliest English cookbook from 1381, to Mrs Beeton’s The book of household management (published in parts between 1859 and 1861). The Library holds the papers of Martin Lister who published an edition of the Roman cookbook De arte coquinaria (1705), and wrote about the food habits of the Parisians in his late 17th-century journals. We hold a manuscript containing the recipes used by Ralph Ayres when the cook at New College in the early part of the 18th-century, and the Friedmann-Braun archive contains a handwritten recipe book given by Gertrude to her new daughter-in-law as a wedding present in 1927. There are all sorts of unusual cookbooks from the 19th– and 20th-centuries in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera which are often aimed at encouraging the use of new gadgets and foodstuffs. As a library of legal deposit we have thousands of British cookery books dating from 1824 onwards, and we are actively collecting pre-1850 cookery and home economics books – and have just purchased a copy of The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table (1759) with a recipe for gingerbread written in at the back.

The majority of our early modern recipes are not culinary at all but for a myriad of other things, including medicines, salves, remedies, cosmetics, magic potions, chemicals, inks, dyes, explosives, inextinguishable fire, and even cleaning products. Often they are described quite briefly in our various online catalogues with tantalizing entries such as “some French recipes for preserving vines against murrain’” (MS Bodley 733).

For historians of science, it is almost impossible to talk about the Bodleian Library without thinking about the Ashmole collection. Could you give us an idea of the scope of the recipe texts within the Ashmole collection?

Elias Ashmole collected books and manuscripts related to many subjects, but particularly chemistry, astrology, astronomy, and kindred topics. The collection contains a few culinary recipes, including a 15th century English manuscript of sauce recipes, but the greater number are medical, magical and alchemical. His manuscripts are full of recipes for elixirs, compounds and tinctures, with the most interesting in the casebooks of Simon Forman and Dr Richard Napier. There are some 80,000 consultations recorded between 1596 and 1634, including many recipes, allowing us to judge their efficacy in some cases.

A digital copy of Willam Black’s A descriptive, analytical, and critical catalogue of the manuscripts bequeathed unto the University of Oxford by Elias Ashmole is available via our online catalogue, SOLO.

MSS Ashmole 234, 226, 195, 219, 236, 411

MSS Ashmole 234, 226, 195, 219, 236, 411

I had the pleasure of working in the new Weston Library and was in awe of the new building. It’s been an exciting few years for the Bodleian. Could you tell us a little about the changes and what this means for readers who want to consult manuscripts and other early material?

For our readers it means that operations for special collections are now much more centralized with most of our staff, collections, services and library users all in one place. The landmark exterior of the New Library remains but what were once staff offices, a handful of specialist reading rooms and 11 floors of stack has been entirely transformed.

There is a dedicated special collections library with three reading rooms. There are teaching and seminar spaces, a cafe, the Visiting Scholars Centre and the Centre for Digital Scholarship all onsite. The new state-of-the-art stack houses many of our collections and the gallery and open-stack areas have increased space for reference materials. There are also new spaces for visitors on the ground floor – two exhibition galleries, a café and a shop all set around the wonderfully light and airy Blackwell Hall.

John Cairns, Oxford photographer, Oxford University,

John Cairns, Oxford photographer, Oxford University,

What tips can you offer to help users find recipes via your catalogue or finding aids?

Our printed holdings from all periods are searchable via SOLO.  Not only can you search the Bodleian’s collections but also those of most of the college, departmental and faculty libraries of the University too.  As you might expect with such large holdings the work to add and upgrade our records is an ongoing process so do see our webpage for detailed tips and guidance, particularly if you are working on pre-1920 printed collections as entries in the catalogue can be quite brief.

Manuscripts are catalogued separately and there are a variety of published catalogues and online databases to help researchers navigate the collections. Again there is extensive help online.

The best tip I can give is to encourage everyone to email us and tell us a bit about what you are looking for.

For those of us living afar, could you tell us a little more about how we might be able to consult your holdings via digitization schemes or virtual exhibitions?

We have been digitizing special collections since the 1990s and there are several ways to gain access to our holdings remotely. Digital. Bodleian is the main gateway, and there are thousands of individual images available via Luna We also have some of our exhibitions available online, including our current show, Marks of Genius. SOLO also holds full digital copies of many 19th century printed items created as part of the Google Books projects.

 Finally, can you highlight one or two of your favourite items?

One of my favourite items in the Library is a recipe for a plague cure. It was published by Roger Dixon, an apothecary at the Sign of the Holy Lamb and Ink-bottle in Water Lane, London, during the devastating outbreak in 1665. This small handbill, entitled A directory for the poor, against the plague and infectious diseases gives Dixon’s own recipe for a cordial made from sage, rue, angelica, Virginia Snakeroot and saffron which would “by sweat throw out the malignity of the distemper”.   He adds a further recipe for an ‘outward application’ against the plague, and another for a drink against ‘all malignant feavers’.

John Johnson Collection Patent Medicines 2 (53)

John Johnson Collection Patent Medicines 2 (53)



Swimming in Broth: Medicated Baths in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Bottle of medicinal water, France, 1928 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images.

Bottles of medicinal water, France, 1928
Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images

Amanda E. Herbert

In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, mineral waters were considered to be wonderful cure-all medicines. The waters were taken both internally and externally, with some patients drinking them and others choosing to swim in mineral pools. We’ve explored these water cures in a few different Recipes Projects posts (see here and here). Mineral or spa waters were exceptionally popular, and thousands of Europeans flocked to hot spring cities each year, seeking relief from everything from dandruff to gout.

In order to take advantage of the trend, some enterprising medical practitioners even devised recipes for “artificial” or “manufactured” waters. A pamphlet held at Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library describes one early modern doctor’s efforts to capitalize on the mineral water craze. In 1782, Dr. Rhodomonte Dominiceti wrote a pamphlet about his own experiments in replicating the effects of spa and mineral waters. His Dissertation on the Artificial medicated Water Baths (London, 1782) served as both a description of his methods and an advertisement for his business.

Apparatus for making mineral waters, 1783. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Apparatus for making mineral waters, 1783.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Dominiceti used “three different sorts of water, viz. Rain, New River, and Spring Water” as the base for his concoctions. He believed that each type of water had different properties, meaning that “the choice of which [water to use] is of the utmost importance…for the cure of many complaints.” Dominiceti then “impregnated” the rain-water, river-water, or spring-water by adding “medicinal substances (found by experience salutary)” to each. He was cagey about exactly what these medicinal substances were – undoubtedly Dominiceti didn’t want other doctors and medical practitioners stealing his secrets – describing them merely as “the Effluvia of Liquid Balsams, and Essences” in one part of the pamphlet, and “various Vegetables and Mineral Substances” in another. For those patients who wished to bathe in the artificial spa waters, Dominiceti reassured his clients that the mysterious medical baths would, at the very least, be gentle on their skin, as they might contain “sweet oil” and “mucilage,” as well as “Virgin Milk made with Balsam and Milk.” One bath was even comprised of “Veal, or other Broths.”

As unappealing and malodorous as a veal broth bath may have been, Dominiceti worked hard to convince readers of the efficacy of his methods. He boasted that a “Captain of the army in the East-Indies” who had been taken ill after “having lain in damp sheets” was cured using his methods. Another man, a “Major-General officer of his Majesty’s forces lately come from America,” who had fallen ill with “a cold he took at Mud-Island [e.g., Fort Mifflin/Fort Island Battery, in Philadelphia PA]” was cured by Dominiceti in only three weeks’ time. Women, too, received cures from Dominiceti’s artificial waters, such as “a young lady…[who] got a cold in the passage of the Opera-house waiting for her carriage” and who was, through the doctor’s help, apparently “quite recovered, and now remains in a most perfect state of health.” By claiming as his patients war veterans, travelers afflicted with “exotic” and dangerous foreign diseases, and fashionable and wealthy citizens, Dominiceti attempted to establish his credentials as both a respectable man and an effective doctor – and to make his fortune in the highly competitive mineral water medical marketplace of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Nicander’s snake repellant recipe. Part 2: pastoral horror and rustic remedies

By Molly Jones-Lewis

Today we return to Nicander’s snake repellant recipe, this time with a new focus: the dramatic setting where calm countryside hides a range of dangers, and the protagonist whose life is so full of bloodthirsty snakes that he resorts to covering himself in rose-scented snake goop.

Additionally, the rose oil of antiquity was made with a quantity of salt, which would have acted as a preservative. Source: Wikipedia

Additionally, the rose oil of antiquity was made with a quantity of salt, which would have acted as a preservative. Source: Wikipedia

There is something very odd about the world Nicander is showing us: the poetry’s style, vocabulary, and allusions to mythology are the product of elite, urban culture under Pergamene court sponsorship (see here for more on King Attalus, who was Nicander’s patron). And yet, the poet seems to be writing advice for an audience that goes on frequent walks through snake-infested paths, sleeps in snake-infested places, and threshes their own wheat frequently enough to need large batches of snake repellant. Granted, it is plausible that ancient elites could have been concerned about snake encounters while travelling, or when spending nights at rustic estates. However, the sort of person who would be looking up snake lore in Nicander’s poetry would not be doing so on his threshing break!

This is where genre comes into play: Nicander is writing a kind of poetry in which rustic protagonists in rural settings are expected. In antiquity, didactic poems concerning nature were usually written as if meant to help outdoorsy farmers, no matter how urbane the actual author and audience. But Nicander’s world comes with a key difference – a clever subversion of pastoral fantasy: Nicander’s narrator is leading us not through an orderly rustic landscape, but through a snake-infested scorpion-encrusted tour of horrors.

A rose as illustrated in the Anicia Dioscorides, a 6th century copy of an ancient pharmacy manual. Source:

A rose as illustrated in the Anicia Dioscorides, a 6th century copy of an ancient pharmacy manual.

This is where the non-snake ingredients of the recipe — the deer, wax, and rose oil — come into play. First, the roses. Theophrastus, a philosopher and botanist predating Nicander, mentions that rose oil is so useful for covering up other smells that perfume merchants on the point of losing a sale would overpower their customers’ ability to smell properly by wafting rose oil at them.[1] One can imagine that the end product of a snake-and-deer soup could benefit from the odor masking properties of rose oil! Additionally, the rose oil of antiquity was made with a quantity of salt, which would have acted as a preservative. [2] The presence of salt also accounts for the puzzling “Finely ground” grade mentioned in the recipe.

Deer marrow is also an apt addition. While not a rare species, deer are a rural creature available primarily to country folk and those in cities wealthy enough to buy game meat. Even then, getting fresh deer marrow (as Nicander specifies) would give an urban druggist difficulty.[3] Deer antler was regularly used in smoke-screens against snakes, and Dioscorides, an author of the first century CE, maintains that the marrow also can drive off wild beasts. So here too an ingredient that is in keeping with the pharmacy of the ancient world also adds a thematic touch of rustic flavor to the poem’s setting.

Nicander’s wax is almost an afterthought, a common ingredient likely added for consistency’s sake. Beeswax, then as now, could make a runny mixture (like snake-deer-rose stew) into a more workable topical lotion.

So what should we make of Nicander’s recipe?  This sort of poetry was the ‘infotainment’ of its day. He entertains and educates by making connections to stories and images that are familiar to his audience, much the same way that Neil DeGrasse Tyson uses stories, myths, and animation technology in his Cosmos series. Although not himself a scholar of toxicology, Nicander worked from texts written by the experts of his time, and natural philosophers of subsequent generations treated the Theriaca as a reliable source.[4]

As for the recipe itself, there is no way to know whether anyone actually wandered the ancient Mediterranean countryside looking for mating snakes to toss into their next batch of snake repellant, but Nicander gives clear directions that include the elements one expects from less literary recipes. There are probably traces of actual folk practice inspiring the passage, but it’s nearly impossible to say which elements those are.

Nor should one try to divorce the elements of Nicander’s recipe from each other; on the contrary, there is therapeutic value in reading a finely crafted recipe, even if you never whip up your own batch. Everything about this passage is tailor-made to grasp an elite audience’s attention, first by creating a sense of urgent horror as a familiar setting devolves into a poisonous nightmare, then provide comfort in the form of human knowledge and power.

The recipe itself is therapy via fantasy for human beings who have had it with all these snakes on their plains.

[1] Theophrastus De Odoribus 10

[2] Theophrastus De Odoribus 8.

[3] See Dalby Food in the Ancient World, p. 114.

[4] Scarborough discusses the full range of sources in “Nicander’s Toxicology