All posts by colleenkennedy

Colleen Kennedy is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the Ohio State University. Her research includes Renaissance drama, sensory history, histories of smell, early modern philosophies of the body, performance history, and the use of aromatic stage props. She is currently working on her dissertation called “Comparisons Are Odorous,” a study of representations of body odor in Renaissance literature.

A Perfumed Recipe on the Early Modern Stage (Part 1)

By Colleen Kennedy

This is the first part of a two-part reading of the pomander recipe depicted in Thomas Tomkis’ allegorical Jacobean comedy, Lingua: or, the Combat of the Tongue and the Five Senses for Superiority (1607)[1]. Below, I consider how this perfume recipe has an immediate effect and affect on the audience. In my next installment, I consider the gendered implications of this same passage.

Theatre historian Sally Barnes argues that in our modern deodorized world and theatre, that there is a real dearth of attention paid to what she terms “‘olfactory effect’ in theatrical events—that is, the deliberate use of ‘aroma design’ to create meaning in performance” (68). Holly Dugan claims “a sixteenth-century stage devoid of smell is anachronistic.”[2] Within the playhouse, the intensity of and types of smells would vary from amphitheatre to hall playhouse. The larger structure and open roof of the Globe Theatre allowed for many smells to disperse and waft away, but within a smaller enclosed space odors would linger in the air.

Tiffany Stern reports on the smoky conditions of the Jacobean Blackfriars Theatre, a “delicate haze” but also a “confusion of smoke from candles and tobacco, and smells—again from tobacco, but seemingly also from the perfumes that Blackfriars plays so often demand” (45).[3] The new Sam Wanamaker Theatre, a reconstruction of the Blackfriars Theatre, with its “oak-framed construction” has already been denoted as sensuous space, “striking for its smell and warmth, its irregularities and warps, for its closeness to nature.”[4] Dominic Droomgale, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, relishes the “intimate and sensual” qualities in a recent interview on The Duchess of Malfi: “In our virtualised world of high technology, with no physicality or smell to it, it’s great to be in a tiny room with people that you can see and almost reach out and touch, telling you a rich and complex story.”[5]

With these concepts of the aromatic theatre, I turn now (to what I believe may be) the only recipe performed on the Renaissance stage and experienced by the audience members. In the course of the play Lingua, each of the personified five senses must appear in front of a jury (consisting of Common-Sense and some of the inner five wits) in his attempt to win the crown and robe of the supreme sense. When Olfactus, the Sense of Smell, presents his show he is accompanied by a group of seven boys all carrying sweetly scented items—two carry casting bottles, two more “with censors of incense,” and one boy each carrying flowers, herbs, and ointments.

Olfactus’ aptly named page Odor shares a recipe for creating a pomander:

 “Your only way to make a good pomander is this:

Take an ounce of the purest garden mold, cleansed and steeped seven days in change of motherless rose-water, then take the best labdanum, benioine, both storaxes, ambergrease, civet, and musk, incorporate them together, and work them into what form you please.”

Venetian woman with pomander

We can imagine that in the original performance space at Cambridge University, the room must have been redolent with sweet aromas and thick with the smoke of the censors. The sweet odors of incense and the recipe for the pomander in Tomkis’ play are especially fraught aromas of the Renaissance, with both religious and medicinal connotations.[6] Incense was considered a Catholic ritual of the old “smells and bells,” no longer practiced in the more austere Anglican Church.[7]  And the fragrant pomander, composed of spices and resins contained in a small rounded container, was one of the most ubiquitous of plague remedies. Held to the nose, the sweetly scented materials filtered out the miasma of the plague. That is, these aromas could save one’s body or soul.

Olfactus (like all the senses) must describe where he resides in the body and how he benefits the body (microcosm) and soul (psyche). The sense of smell, he argues, is the most important sense as it “refines wit and sharpens invention/ And strengthens memory.” The use of incense, he further exclaims, “makes man’s spirits more apt for things divine.”  Performed onstage, the incense and pomander recipe create exactly the sort of ambient environment that Olfactus promotes.

This innovative use of incense and a performed pomander recipe could immediately resonate with Tomkis’ audience. Tomkis innovates in other ways, composing in English rather than Latin for example,  allowing for a more immediate accessibility for non-University students to understand his works. And in another play Albumazar, a character uses a telescope to look across England, but he is truly commenting on the clothing trends of the audience, collapsing space and breaking the fourth wall.

The use of incense functions in a similar metatheatrical way when we know that the sense of smell was usually conceived as a mediating sense, unlike vision and hearing with the object perceived from afar or the senses of taste and touch that call for immediate proximity. Tomkis directs the incense to waft through the space uniting his allegorical characters and his audience as they smell the same sweet fragrances and are told that it will “refine wit,” an especially proper effect in a University setting.

Smelling incense on the stage can alter the audience’s engagement of the performance. Unsurprisingly, Olfactus is ultimately awarded the “chief priesthood of Microcosme, perpetually to offer incense in his Maiesties temple” (M3v).

Notes


[1] Thomas Tomkis, Lingua: or the Combat of the Tongue, and the Five Senses for Superiority. A Pleasant Comedy. (London: 1607. Old English Drama Students’ Facsimile Edition, 1913).

[2] Holly Dugan, “Scent of a Woman: Performing the Politics of Smell in Late Medieval and Early Modern England,” Journal of Early Modern Studies 38:2 (Spring 2008): 230.

[3] Tiffany Stern, “Taking Part: Actors and Audience on the Stage at Blackfriars.” Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance, eds. Farah Karim-Cooper and Tiffany Stern (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2013), 35-53.

 

[4]Rowan Moore, “Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – review.” The Observer. 11 Jan. 2014.

[6] Holly Crawford Pickett, “The Idolatrous Nose: Incense on the Early Modern Stage” (in Jane Hwang Degenhardt and Elizabeth Williamson, eds. Religion and Drama in Early Modern England: The Performance of Religion on the Renaissance Stage. Surrey: Ashgate, 2011: 19-39). Holly Crawford Pickett studies the controversy over the use of the liturgical use of incense in the Tudor and Jacobean periods, and the use of staged incense in Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women as well as in Ben Jonson’s Sejanus.

[7] See Jonathan Gil Harris’s “The Smell of Macbeth” (Shakespeare Quarterly 58.4 (Winter 2007)), in which he makes the convincing argument that the stink of Macbeth’s squib’s (used to create thunder effects) reenacts a nostalgia for Catholic “Harrowing of Hell” style plays and the lack of “smells and bells” in the Anglican church. Harris claims that Shakespeare’s staged scents subvert the inodorous Anglican Church by recreating the scents associated with Catholicism and rebellion.

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!

 

 

 

 

Robert Herrick’s penchant for (feminine) almonds

By Colleen Kennedy

 THE BRIDE-CAKE.
by Robert Herrick
THIS day, my Julia, thou must make
For Mistress Bride the wedding-cake :
Knead but the dough, and it will be
To paste of almonds turn’d by thee :
Or kiss it thou but once or twice,
And for the bride-cake there’ll be spice.
(from Hesperides, 1648)

In this sweet trifle of a lyric, Robert Herrick does not actually dispense any practical cooking advice, but the poet notes that the flavor of Julia’s hands as she kneads the dough will impart the savor of “paste of Almonds” and that by kissing the dough, her sweet breath will give it the needed “spice.” Herrick, marrying together some of the aesthetic and feminine associations with almonds found in recipe books and medicinal manuals, alongside his larger appreciation of Classical sources, creates a gendered poetics of almond. In Herrick’s poem, as his own sweet mistress bakes almond-flavored bridal-cakes, we can sniff out that the almond was perhaps still thought to be under Venus’ influence in seventeenth-century England, associated with the erotic, the fertile, the beautiful, and the marital.

(Detail) Almond Tree from Gerard's "Herball"
(Detail) Almond Tree from Gerard’s “Herball” (via www.BioLib.de)

As Laurence Totelin suggests in a recent post on the aromas of garlic, almonds, and ancient fertility testing, “The smells used here were not chosen at random. Perfumes, such as that of bitter almond, were associated with Aphrodite, love making and marriage ceremonies.” Herrick’s corpus The Hesperides refers to an ancient garden of the Classical gods, and in his many poems he emulates the styles, forms, themes, and subjects of his many Greco-Roman poetic ancestors. Herrick’s Julia is a fictionalized and idealized ‘nymph,’ and her role in making bridal-cakes is especially fitting for an acolyte of Venus.

Bitter almonds (and their related products, such as almond milk) are lauded for their obstetric properties in Gerard’s Herball, such as helping alleviate the after pains of birth: “It is good for women newly delivered; for it quickly removeth the throwes which remain after delivery.” John Pechey’s The Compleat Midwife’s Practice (1698) lists the proscriptions and allowances on “How to Govern Women in Child-bed,” and suggests that along with a careful diet (and lots of claret), “She may also take at the discretion of those about her, Almond-milk now and then.”

While Julia must indulge in some domestic labor, Herrick displaces much of the drudgery onto Julia’s sweet essence. A contemporary almond paste recipe in The French Perfumer (1646) demonstrates that this is a multistep process including scalding the almonds, peeling, air-drying, beating, running through a sieve, layering with flowers, mixing frequently, and pressing for the oil. This last step alone is time consuming: “Observe that in the Composition of Essences … the… Paste must be in the Press three hours at least to draw the Oyl.”

Yet, Herrick’s Julia does not need to toil or press or scald because (in his fantasy) her skin exudes essence of almond as she prepares the bridal-cakes. Almond, due to the moisturizing qualities of its natural fats and oils, and also the exfoliating properties of its shell, is a common recipe in soaps.[1] In The Queens closet opened (1659), offers a delectable and highly fragrant soap recipe (“To make an Ipswich Water”) with white Castile (vegetable fats) Soap, rose-water, marjoram, savory, oil of cloves and spike(nard), musk and ambergreece, “work all these together in a fair Mortar, with the powder of an Almond Cake dried, and beaten as small as fine Flower, so roll it round in your hands in Rosewater.”

Hannah Wooley offers an aromatic and flavorsome almond milk recipe in The Queen-Like Closet (1670).

To make good Almond-Milk.

 Take Jordan Almonds blanched and beaten with Rosewater, then strain them often with fair water, wherein hath been boiled Violet Leaves and sliced Dates; when your Almonds are strained, take the Dates and put to it some Mace, Sugar, and a little Salt, warm it a little, and so drink it.[2]

a grove of almond trees in California (March 2009) (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Herrick’s Julia is not his only mistress associated with the aromatic, sensuous and aphrodisiacal almond. In his epigram “Upon Sibilla,” he conflates overtones of the occasional erotics of almonds, domestic labor, the beautiful and fertile housewife, and the recipes that blur lines between edible and topical concoctions. This results in a poem that hyperbolically celebrates Sibilla’s desirability and her homely, domestic attributes:

 With paste of almonds, Syb her hands doth scour;
Then gives it to the children to devour.
In cream she bathes her thighs, more soft than silk;
Then to the poor she freely gives the milk.

In these recipes, but especially Herrick’s poetic appropriations, we learn that almond-products might be gendered feminine, whether through the associations with Aphrodite/Venus, as an obstetric remedy, a beautifying elixir, sweetly scented hand soaps, or even in a perfumed drink. All were appropriate not only for bridal-cakes, but also for Herrick’s idealized mistress.

 [1] See my earlier post on Renaissance scented bath waters and soaps, including another almond recipe: “A Sweet Bath and Sweating: Renaissance Ladies and Bathing.”

[2] See my previous posts on early modern violet and civet and rosewater.

Civet and Rose: (Early) Modern Perfume Ingredients Fit for a King

By Colleen Kennedy

Civet was one of the most exotic luxury ingredients in early modern perfumes. This odoriferous secretion comes from the perineal glands of the civet cat of Asia and Africa to mark its territory. What did civet smell like to the early modern nose? Associated with royalty in its earliest introduction to England; even now it retains an affect of and association with royalty.

Zibeth or Sivet-Cat. This woodcut is an illustration from the book "The history of four-footed beasts and serpents..." by Edward Topsell, printed by E. Cotes for G. Sawbridge, T. Williams and T. Johnson in London in 1658. courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Zibeth or Sivet-Cat. This woodcut is an illustration from the book “The history of four-footed beasts and serpents…” by Edward Topsell, printed by E. Cotes for G. Sawbridge, T. Williams and T. Johnson in London in 1658. courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

Modern perfume blogs and reviews of contemporary civet-based perfumes, when read alongside early modern recipe books, allow us to sniff out the aroma of civet, which evoked the grandeur and luxury of royalty–then and now .

For a modern example, we can consider the perfume Rose Poivrée (2000), which has a compound similar to some of the most highly regarded Renaissance perfumes. Tove Salander suggests that it makes sense to consult perfume blogs while trying to understand the affective properties of perfumes: “The online perfume community provides one of the few arenas in which odor perception is trained and verbalized beyond simple statements of like or dislike. As such it may serve as a model for the academic analysis of smells” (305).

Rose Poivrée (The Different Company)

The ingredient list for Rose Poivrée is relatively simple: Damascus rose, rose bay, pepper, coriander, vetiver, and civet. The first ingredient, which is also the middle note (Damascus rose) and the final ingredient, the base note (civet) are two of the most common sixteenth-century perfume ingredients and are often blended together.

Chandler Burr, author of The Emperor of Scent and The Perfect Scent reviews several civet-based perfumes, including Rose Poivrée (2000):

One of the more astonishing civet scents on the market today is Rose Poivrée, from the French niche house the Different Company. This is a rose absolute — rose absolute, F.Y.I., doesn’t smell like “rose”; it’s dark and musty. Its perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, resisted prettifying the rose and instead doused it with an animalic breath. Pungent with decay, Rose Poivrée is unsettling and gorgeous, the perfume that Satan’s wife would wear to an opening at MoMA.

Even for modern professionals, the metaphors become mixed and confusing. The imagery is strong and evocative, but oscillates between the concrete and the abstract in perplexing ways. So, we can only imagine the difficulty of early modern writers to express how civet smelled or how they were affected by the smell of civet.

Kevin Curran and James Kearney, in their “Introduction” to the “Shakespeare and Phenomenology” issue of Criticism (Summer 2012)remind us that “feeling and senses have a history. The way we feel sad is different from the way Shakespeare felt sad; the way we smell perfume is different from the way Queen Elizabeth smelled perfume” (354). Yet, in Rose Poivrée, the two ingredients that resonate most strongly are civet and rose absolute, both essential scents in sixteenth century perfumery. But what if the way we smell rose and civet (linking it to royal excesses) is also the way Elizabeth I and her father, Henry VIII, also smelled civet?

According to the OED, “civet” entered the English language when the animal first entered Henry VIII’s royal court. Like the civet, damask roses were also introduced into England during Henry’s reign, gifted from the king’s royal physician Dr. Thomas Linacre (Dugan 58).

In a popular Renaissance perfume recipe from the oft reprinted A closet for ladies and gentlevvomen (1608) civet and rose are combined:

Take sixe spoonfulls of compound water, as much of rose water, a quarter of an ounce, of fine sugar, two graines of muske, two graines of amber-greece, two of  Ciuet, boyle it softly together, all the house will smell of Cloues.

This perfume is called “King Henry the eight his perfume” and we can find variations of the name (such as a “court perfume” or “royall perfume”) and ingredients throughout the Renaissance, but the combination of civet and rose remains consistent.

In these versions of a pre-modern celebrity fragrance, we find Henry’s name attached as the perfume preferred by the King. The very title of this perfume hints at a royal connection and, specifically relating to Henry VIII, a sense of virility. These are aspects that Chandler Burr and The Different Company both imply in their own descriptions of Rose Poivrée. The Different Company describes Rose Poivrée as “a royal scent from exotic lands, this decadent essence mixes pure rose with a devilish pepper and spice, a combination fit for kings [and] queens…” While wary of stating that these different perfumes—especially with differences in ingredients, proportion, and maybe most importantly, noses smelling these odorants—there is still a lingering affect that transcends time, space, and culture that makes the smeller link civet and rose (when combined) with royal potency.


Works Cited

Kevin Curran and James Kearney, “Introduction to Shakespeare and Phenomenology,” Criticism 54, 3 (2012): 353-364.

Tove Solander, “Signature Scents: Perfume and Characterization in the Contemporary Novel,” Senses and Society 5, 3 (2010): 301-321.