Category Archives: Lisa Smith

Tracing Recipes to Kill Vermin

By Lisa Smith

Innocent Sport? T.L. Busby, 1826. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Innocent Sport? T.L. Busby, 1826. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Among the papers of the Newdigate family of Arbury Hall (Warwickshire), I found a pile of loose eighteenth-century recipes. The recipes are practical in nature: remedies for minor ailments, plasters and such for home renovation, medicines for animals, and poisons for killing vermin. It was the poisons that captured my imagination, as such recipes have not appeared in the early modern recipe books that I’ve examined—despite the troubles that would have been caused by vermin on a daily basis. A comparison of the Newdigate recipes with published early modern ones reveals an interesting process of knowledge transmission.

In mid-eighteenth century hand, the Newdigate papers includes the following recipes on one page (Warwickshire CRO CR 136B/2504B):

Poison for Mice or Rats. Roots of white Hellebore & staves are powdered & mixed with wheat Flour. Mr Pennant

D. for Moles. The Roots of Palma Christi & white Hellebore made into a paste & laid in their holes. Mr Pennant

Similar recipes to these appear in a horrible little book, The Vermin-Killer, which was published in seventeen different versions between 1680 and 1790. A how-to manual on the best ways of ridding the household of any type of vermin from adders to weasels, this book includes instructions on trapping (and torturing) animals, as well as several recipes for poison.

In 1680, The Vermin-Killer recommended laying a paste of hellebore leaves, wheat flour, and honey into the holes, ‘where the Rats and Mice come, and when they have eat of it, its Present Death. Approved Paxamus [1st century Greek author of a cookbook]’ (1). A combination of white hellebore, wheat flower, egg white, milk, and wine was also used to get rid of moles: ‘lay little cakes of it in the mouth of the holes, and the Moulds will greedily eat of it, and it certainly kills them, approved Pliny [1st century Roman natural philosopher]’ (10).

By 1710, the book was now rather more grandly titled, The Compleat English and French Vermin-Killer: being a Companion for All Families. The recipes had also changed slightly. To kill rats and mice, the recipe included wheat or barley-flour mixed with honey, metheglin (mead), and bitter almonds, though ‘I think if you mix a little of Helibore Leaves, powder’d with it, its better’ (5). The section on moles was greatly expanded. It included a version of the 1680 recipe in which moles could be destroyed with nut-size ‘pellets’ of the following ingredients strewn about their holes: white or black hellebore, wheat-flour, egg white, milk, and sweet wine or metheglin. The moles would eat the pellets ‘with Pleasure, and it kills them. Approv’d’ (9). But it added one more similar to the Newdigate recipe: pellets made of white hellebore, Palmus Christi root, barley meal, egg white, and wine or mead or milk. This was also ‘Approv’d’ (14).

Credit: Michael David Hill, 2005, Wikimedia Commons.
Credit: Michael David Hill, 2005, Wikimedia Commons.

The Vermin-Killer: being a compleat and necessary family-book (1765), drastically changed its layout. Whereas previous editions had started with rats and mice, the mid-eighteenth-century priority (if placement in the book is anything to go by) was bedbugs and lice. The recipes had also been updated. The one to kill rats and mice was nearly the same, but added at the end: ‘Hemlock seed thrown into their holes, kills them’ (10). As to the moles, both recipes remained the same as the 1710 edition, although the ‘approv’d’ tag was dropped for both; indeed, similar tags had been removed from other recipes throughout the book (13, 16).

In 1790, the book was reduced to an eight-page pamphlet: The Vermin-Killer, being a very necessary Family Book. But two recipes were retained. The latest version for killing rats and mice dropped the hemlock and listed fewer ingredients: hellebore leaves, wheat flour and honey (1). Only the first recipe to kill moles remained, but was closer to the 1680 version, specifying once more white hellebore, calling them ‘little cakes’ rather than ‘pellets’, and describing the moles as ‘greedily’ eating them (4).

Although the Newdigate papers listed Mr. Pennant as the source for both recipes, it’s clear that the two recipes came from a long tradition, dating in print to at least 1680 and, in manuscript, to the first century. These recipes, however, were clearly in wider circulation than even The Vermin-Killer editions would suggest. For example, I came across the same recipes in The Sportsman’s Dictionary (1778)  and the American Stockport Advertiser: Notes and Queries vol. 4 (1884). The Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine (1799) refers to the naturalist Thomas Pennant’s recommendation of Palmus Christi oil and hellebore to kill moles (27). Although this is likely the same Pennant referred to by the Newdigates, it is probable that The Vermin-Killer was his source, given his dates (1726-1798). I have so far been unable to trace the book in which Pennant discussed killing moles.

The Newdigates’ ingredient lists and directions are much briefer, suggesting implied—and possibly practiced—knowledge. Obviously a powder of wheat and hellebore would be less tempting than if it was mixed with something sweet, which would also ensure that the poison stuck to the rodent. (This is the logic specified in other similar recipes in The Vermin-Killer.) As to the recipe to destroy moles, the reference to ‘made into a paste’ suggests an implied knowledge of how to make a paste in the first place.

The ingredients remained, more or less, the same over the centuries, suggesting that the recipes were considered useful enough to remain in circulation. However, two issues were new in the eighteenth century. The first is the way in which printed recipes moved away from traditional statements of efficacy. The classical authorities were first dropped (1710), and then the ‘approv’d’ by mid-century. A new form of authority had emerged—that of the learned man of science, Thomas Pennant, who was attributed as the source for a recipe much older than him! One did not have to create knowledge to be credited; one need only be a contemporary authority who deemed the recipe useful.

Credit: orders.cameocupcakes.co.uk .
Credit: orders.cameocupcakes.co.uk .

The second relates to the perception of moles and their behaviour. Mary Fissell has written about the early modern personification of vermin, which emphasised their thieving and greedy behaviour that was a threat to social order. In the Newdigate recipes, there are no references to greedy moles tempted by fanciful little cakes. This is also a description that fades out over the eighteenth century, although it returned in the 1790 version, which is curious. Was the later re-emergence of the description tied more to the growing romantic view of nature than the earlier threat to survival? Or to a growing social concern with the frivolity and parasitic behaviour of the blind, governing elite who also ate little cakes?

The relationship between recipes in print and manuscript is not always so clear-cut, but comparison can be fruitful in uncovering details about the transmission of knowledge: shifting cultural interpretations, changing ideas about efficacy and authority, and usage.

 

Movember: Men’s Health in Eighteenth-Century Recipe Collections

By: Katherine Allen

November (or ‘Movember’) is men’s health  awareness month, and it focuses on prostate cancer and depression, with the added bonus of moustaches. Movember didn’t exist in the eighteenth century, but I’m curious about men’s health awareness from a recipe book perspective. What can recipe books tell us about the family’s role in providing care, and recording remedies for men?

movember-moustache
Movember: Men’s Health Awareness Month

The manuscripts I consult contain mostly non-gender specific illnesses (e.g. coughs and stomach complaints), and many include recipes for women and children; this is because these manuscripts were written by women and were family collections. There are, however, occasional references to men’s illness experiences.

Remedies for the prostate gland/ cancer don’t exist in recipe books (at least not in modern terminology). The prostate was not anatomically-defined until the late eighteenth century, and the medical interventions that developed were surgical, with John Hunter’s use of catheters being an example of treatment for an enlarged prostate.

If we look broadly at urinogenital recipes, we find men’s illnesses (on male infertility see Jennifer Evans). Urinogenital remedies were standard in domestic recipe books. These include recipes for bloody urine, stones, and difficulty urinating. In Esther Hanmer’s mid-century recipe book[1], a recipe titled ‘Given my Father. For one yt cannot make water either child or Old body’ said to take bees and stamp them, then add them to white wine and posset ale. Although it is unclear if it was used by the father, his donation of this remedy indicates a man’s awareness of urinogenital issues and potential treatment, and his sharing of medical advice with his family.

esther-hanmer-ms-p-17
For one yt cannot make water. MS. 2767. Image Credit: Wellcome Library

Similarly, Sir Thomas Mannering sent the compiler’s grandfather a remedy for sharpness of urine where a piece of antimony was infused in ale. This sharpness could be any infection, but the term frequently appeared in medical literature as a symptom of gonorrhea. Esther Hanmer’s family recipe collection thus documents men acquiring medical advice from their networks and subsequently sharing it as a component of the family’s health record and for potential future use.

esther-hanmer-ms-p-29
Against Sharpness of Urine. MS. 2767. Image Credit: Wellcome Library

Though the grandfather’s recipe does not specifically mention gonorrhea, venereal diseases were a pervasive complaint for eighteenth-century men. The absence of explicit venereal disease remedies in domestic collections is partly due to the immorality and stigma associated with the disorders. Lisa Smith has noted that recipes for ‘weak backs’ and ‘running of the reins’ (genital discharge) were linked to venereal diseases and genital ‘leakage’, suggesting that treatment for sexually transmitted infections was present in recipe books, but catalogued under more ambiguous names.[2] For instance, a late seventeenth-century collection cites a water-based remedy for a canker ‘in the yard of a man’, indicating that recipes books had remedies for suspected venereal disorders, though they were not labelled as such.[3]

Manuscript recipe books were important for documenting the whole family’s health, and the family played a central role in communicating, preserving, and utilising medical knowledge when caring for male members. Baron James Everard Arundell’s and his wife’s recipe collections are two of the few family manuscripts I have looked at that were compiled by a male family member. Many of the recipes are recorded as being specifically for Arundell, including a recommendation for Dicherion’s white Drops for Palsy, which was given to him by Lady Arundell, and which he purchased from Mr Collins – a bookseller at Salisbury.[4]

arundell-ms
Drops for James Arundell’s Palsy. MS 2667/12/40. Image Credit: Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

Royal gardener Henry Wise corresponded regularly with Dr. Cheyne (see Spa post) and one of his recurring health conditions was  sickness when travelling. One recipe was to ‘Stop Purging when upon the Road from Bath’ from Dr. Cheyne[5], while the family’s other manuscript has a record of Mr Southill’s directions for him for ‘occasion of motion extraordinary’.[6]

Eighteenth-century elite men were invested in maintaining their health and seeking treatment– this is no surprise given the wealth of sources documenting men consuming medicine and their seeking advice from the medical professions. What is significant is that recipe books served as important records for men’s medical interactions and medical knowledge for treating men as part of the domestic medicine tradition. Some men recorded their experiences directly; in other cases it was female relations who documented their experiences and wanted (or were expected) to be knowledgeable in maintaining their men’s health as part of family care.

[1] Wellcome Library, MS.2767. Esther Hanmer and others, ‘Receipt Book’ (c. 1750–1825), pp. 17, 29.

[2] Lisa Wynne Smith, ‘The Body Embarrassed? Rethinking the Leaky Male Body in Eighteenth-Century England and France’, Gender & History, 23 (2011), pp. 26–46.

[3] British Library, Add MS 38089. Collection of Medical Recipes, p. 108v.

[4] Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, 2667/12/40. Mrs J.E. Arundell, ‘Book of medicinal recipes’ (1786), Arundell of Wardour, p. 111.

[5] Warwickshire Record Office, CR0341/300. Wise family, ‘Volume containing assorted Wise family records and recipes’ (1716–8), Wise family of Woodcote, p. 119.

[6] CR0341/301. Mary Wise, ‘Recipe book of Mary Wise’ (18th C.), Wise family of Woodcote, p. 86.

 

Tales from the Archives: The Lighter Side of Magic

In September, The Recipes Project celebrated its fourth birthday. We now have over 470 posts in our archives and over 117 pages for readers to sift through. That’s a lot of material! (And thank you so much to our contributors for sharing such a wealth of knowledge on recipes.)

But with so much material on the site, it’s easy for earlier pieces to be forgotten. So, the editors have decided that, every now and then, we’ll pull something out of the archives to share with our readers anew.

This month, I want to share a post by Laura Mitchell on ‘The Lighter Side of Magic’. In this post, Laura takes a look at the playful aspects of medieval charms, such as prodding random women with frog bones and making someone fart.  I’ve chosen this post not only because it’s funny, but it speaks to the imaginative elements of recipes and to the medieval sense of humour.

I hope you enjoy it! And if you have any favourites you want us to revisit, please send in your nominations

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“And it is a marvellous thing”: The Lighter Side of Magic

By Laura Mitchell

In my last post I discussed the line between healing charms and recipes in fifteenth-century recipe collections and how the line between charm and recipe could blur. Healing charms, however, are obviously not the only kind of charm that can be found in late medieval recipe collections. Some of the surviving charms and natural magic experiments reveal a different side to recipe users beyond the altruistic or the practical, and show a more light-hearted, sometimes even lascivious, approach to magic. Here I will discuss two examples that highlight these ludic aspects of magic very well.

My first example comes from Bodleian Library Ashmole MS 1435, an anonymous collection of the fifteenth century. This particular recipe is from the manuscript’s very large recipe collection (over 190 items) and is found on pages 14 and 15:

If you want a woman to lift her skirts up to her belly button: take a green frog and cook it and afterward wash its bones in running water and you will find one bone which jumps against the water. Then take that one and touch her with it and it will seem to her that she is walking in a great river and lift [her skirts].[1]

What I find really interesting about this example is the implication that whoever was conducting this would have had to know this woman well enough to get close to her and touch her with a frog bone without raising a lot of suspicion. Presumably this would have been tried in private… although it is possible that some strange man ran around town prodding women with a frog bone and wondering why they weren’t lifting their skirts!

The internal logic of this recipe is fascinating as well. It’s designed to get a woman to raise just her skirts, rather than take off all her clothes (which is a goal of many charms). The fact that there’s a whole production about making the woman believe that she’s in a river and needs to lift her skirts to keep them dry–solely so that someone can sneak a peek–really speaks to the imaginative force that was an integral part of medieval magic.

Let’s turn now to another imaginative recipe and an example of the sillier side of magic. This example is from the De mirabilius mundi, a medieval book of secrets that was attributed to Albert the Great. My text is taken from the first English edition, printed in 1550 as The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus of the Virtues of Herbs, Stones and Certain Beasts. Also a Book of the Marvels of the World.

A marvellous operation of a lamp, which if any man shall hold, he ceaseth not to fart until he shall leave it.

Take the blood of a Snail, dry it up in a linen cloth, and make of it a wick, and lighten it in a lamp, give it to any man thou wilt, and say lighten this, he shall not cease to fart, until he let it depart, and it is a marvellous thing.

Once again, this is a recipe or experiment that would presumably have been done among people who knew each other fairly well. It reads rather like a party trick. One can almost imagine the scene in someone’s home as the host passes around the hilarious farting lamp to unsuspecting guests.

The purpose of these two recipes is clearly for laughs, although perhaps they are a little cruel. They reveal much about the sorts of things that medieval people found funny (fart jokes) and what titillated them (bottoms), which is really no different what interests people today. There are many similar charms and recipes from the medieval period–they can make people dance; make it seem as though someone has three heads, or has a dog’s head; there are more charms to make people take their clothes off; there are recipes that make a loaf of bread jump around. The possibilities are nearly endless and they illustrate another side to medieval magic.


[1] Si vis ut mulier leuat pannos suos vsque ad vmbilicum: accipe viridem ranam et coque illam et postea leva (sic) ossa sua in aqua currente et inuenies vnum os quod saltabit contra aquam. Tunc accipe illud et tange illam illam (sic) cum eo et apparebit ei quod vadit in magno flumine et euellet.

History Carnival 159: A Question of Scale

By Lisa Smith

Image credit: Wikipedia, Pratheep P S, www.pratheep.com.
Image credit: Wikipedia, Pratheep P S, www.pratheep.com.

Welcome to History Carnival 159! We’re delighted here at The Recipes Project to be hosting the September edition. It’s been a great month for history blogging and I was spoiled for choice. Some months, themes just seem to suggest themselves. What jumped out at me was ‘big’: discoveries, personalities, thinking and questions…

First up, September 2016 was notable for an exciting  discovery in Canada’s north: the HMS Terror. The HMS Terror was one of the lost ships of the Franklin expedition, which had set out in 1845 to explore the Northwest Passage. Out of the ones written this month, my two favourites were by Tina Adcock and Shane McCorristine. The first I like as much for its presentation (a Twitter essay) as for its powerful story in which Adcock looks at the forgetting of indigenous knowledge and the legacies of colonialism. The second is an article by Shane McCorristine rather than a blog post, but I’ve included it for its supernatural twist to the history of the expedition. (And we are heading into the spooky month of October, after all.)

HMS Terror. Image credit: After George Back - National Archives of Canada / C-029929.
Image credit: HMS Terror, After George Back – National Archives of Canada / C-029929.

There were also a lot of big personalities who arrived in my submission pile. Yvonne Seale provides a beginner’s reading list for medieval nuns, which includes some fantastic biographies of interesting women and will appeal to academics and non-academics alike. James Keating introduces us to the iconic Australian feminist, Vida Goldstein, and her contributions to the international suffrage movement. He considers why Australian women like Goldstein remained marginal figures in the transnational campaign, despite their early success back home. (Answer: local context is everything.)

The one woman I really wanted to meet, though, was Mary Scales*, an Australian psychic and ancestor of Samadhi Driscoll. In Driscoll’s words:

A famous clairvoyant, Mary would fall into dramatic psychic trances in which she would foretell the future. She apparently foretold everything from the Boer war to the winners of the Melbourne Cup. Then there were her highly-publicised and victorious court appearances in both criminal and civil trials – one of them at the High Court of England, where Mary’s eccentric antics captured the imaginations of the media worldwide.

Need I say more?

In September, thoughts of historians lightly turn to thoughts of… methodology. There was a lot of big thinking going on this month. As part of a roundtable on LaShawn Harris’ book, Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy, Brian Purnell reflects on ‘The Difficulty of Uncovering Obscure Lives and Hidden Histories’. He wonders: ‘How can a researcher and writer find information and recreate a story about people and practices that, by their very nature, did not want to be found or known?’ The result, he notes, is a complicated methodology and messy categories. Categories were also Brodie Waddell’s inspiration for thinking about early modern society, more specifically terms used to describe people’s social status.   As Waddell puts it, “if we hope to understand past societies, we need to know much more about how people labelled themselves and their neighbours, and how these labels related to the concrete realities of daily life.”

Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1615. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1615. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

For Nadine Weidman and Will Pooley, historical imagination and narrative were at the heart of their musings. Weidman revisits Laurel Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale to think about how ‘Ulrich faces, as all historians must, the fundamental unknowability of the past’—in her case through imagination, close-reading and contextualisation. Pooley wonders how we can find causes for behaviour in the past and the importance of big (issues) and small (individual behaviour) scale in the narratives we find. I also include his post for its reference to cheese and magic and one of the post’s comments, which is a cracking example of cheese-related history.

Historians were also asking some big questions. Some questions were with the intent to explain. Andrea Eidinger attempted to answer her students’ question: how can they identify peer-reviewed articles? Her focus is on Canadian History journals, but she gives useful advice for students more generally! If you’ve ever wondered how Spanish got its ‘n’ with a tilde, there’s a helpful v-log for you. Other questions were broader. David Brydan looks at Franco’s Spain to identify how the Francoists found their way around a tricky situation: “how to talk about international cooperation without adopting the language of liberal or socialist internationalism, particularly without recourse to the familiar internationalist language of peace, freedom, tolerance and equality?” For Migraine Awareness Month, Katherine Foxhall has a thought-provoking post entitled ‘’Migraines were taken more seriously in the past – where did we go wrong?’

But historical recipes, in particular, highlighted the way in which fragments of information can be used to answer big questions.  RP editor, Amanda Herbert, has the chance to use a test kitchen to try out old recipes. She concludes that ‘through careful study and experimentation, our community of scholars uncovered important, large-scale concepts: questions of authorship and identity, experiences of material culture, evidence of labor patterns, constructions of gender and social status, and examples of the cultivation, dissemination, and sharing of early modern knowledge.’

An episode in Tristram Shandy: Doctor Slop, having fallen off his horse, is greeted by Obadiah. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.
An episode in Tristram Shandy: Doctor Slop, having fallen off his horse, is greeted by Obadiah. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

With all of the ‘big’ themes going on this month, it is important not to forget the opposite—those small stories, those fragments. September certainly offered up some tasty crumbs of history. Hels offered a few thoughts on Shakespeare’s schooling. Rebecca Johnston looked at one fascinating letter, which was written to the Cheka in 1921 to request the release of an art historian and critic, Nikolai Punin. And last, but certainly not least, Sharon Howard offers a tale of a strange horse-related accident in eighteenth-century Denbigh.

Take care and travel safe, everyone. See you at History Carnival 160, which will be hosted by Frog in a Well on 1 November!

*Could Mary Scales’ name be any more appropriate for this month?