Category Archives: Magic and Alchemy

Tales from the Archives — Recipes Against the Supernatural

In September 2017, The Recipes Project celebrated its fifth birthday. We now have over 600 posts in our archives and over 150 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.

Today is Halloween. HALLOWEEN! Many of us recipe people who work on the premodern period have a fondness for Halloween, with its connections to charms, alchemy, cauldrons bubbling, and all. Yes, yes, I know… it’s really a love/hate relationship, as we often have to explain to people that supernatural beliefs were rationale and that most recipes weren’t about magic anyhow. But… HALLOWEEN!

To that end, I’ve pulled out only one of our many posts on the magical world. Catherine Rider offers here some thoughts on what charms might tell us about the connection between the supernatural and illness. There is even a protective charm for those ‘sleeping, waking, drinking, eating, and especially dreaming’…

You never know what might be useful on this day of lowered boundaries between natural and supernatural worlds!


By Catherine Rider

I’ve been thinking recently about a kind of recipe I’ve been collecting for some time, with an eye to using them in a future project: recipes that protect against evil spirits and other supernatural entities. These take the form of charms, made up of spoken and written words, rather than more conventional mixtures of plants or animal parts.  As Laura Mitchell has noted before on this blog, many medieval recipe collections (such as the one in the Wellcome Library pictured below) include charms alongside other remedies.

L0013901 Charm to staunch blood, 15-16th century
Charm to staunch blood, 15-16th century. Wellcome Library MS 406. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Research by Lea Olsan, Eamon Duffy and other scholars has shown that although some medieval physicians and churchmen were uncomfortable with charms, most writers accepted them as legitimate cures for certain kinds of illness, including bleeding, toothache and epilepsy. They were also often regarded as a mainstream part of religious devotion.[1] Charms to ward off demons are not very common – nowhere near as common as charms against toothache or bleeding – but I’ve found several examples in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century recipe manuscripts.

The version given, in Latin, in a fourteenth-century recipe manuscript published by Fritz Heinrich begins ‘In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen,’ and goes on to list a series of saints and other objects of devotion commonly appealed to in late medieval prayers: Virgin Mary, the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the Cross and the Passion, and the Five Wounds of Christ. This prayer is to be written down and God is implored to protect the person who wears these words when they are ‘sleeping, waking, drinking, eating, and especially dreaming’, ‘from every malign demon and every malign spirit and the instigations of the devil.’[2]

This charm, and others like it, are raising quite a few questions for me:

  • Bishop exorcising possessed men, 15th century. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.
    Bishop exorcising possessed men, 15th century. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

    They’re not that common.  Does that mean that demonic assault was not regarded as a common condition?  We do find accounts of ‘possessed’ people in the miracle collections kept by saints’ shrines, so clearly the idea of demonic attack was not unknown.  However, these cases may have been notable because they were unusual, not necessarily because they were common.

  • What symptoms or conditions were attached to this charm?  The reference to sleeping and ‘especially dreaming’ suggests bad or troubling dreams, rather than an illness. Another possibility is the medical condition which medieval physicians called ‘incubus’, in which a person feels a presence pushing down on them in their sleep.[3]  It is usually equated by historians with the condition now called sleep paralysis.  Educated medieval physicians generally argued that this condition had physical rather than supernatural causes, but they also noted that ‘some people’ believed demons were behind it.
  • There are also questions about continuity and change over the longer term.  Do we get more of these charms from the sixteenth century onwards, when we see rising concerns about witchcraft and more intellectuals taking an interest in demons and demonic illnesses? We know that magical illnesses continued to be a concern and Jennifer Evans discussed some early modern remedies for them in 2012 in a column for the Societas Magica newsletter.  Also, what happens to this kind of medieval charm after the Reformation?  Did it appear too Catholic with its saints and Latin?  Were there Protestant equivalents?  Or did it continue to be copied despite its old-fashioned elements?
  • Was this charm used? And, if so, how? It would need someone who could write it down, and ideally someone who was familiar with Latin. By the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, that could include some medical practitioners and educated laypeople, but clergy also owned manuscripts of medical recipes and might be best placed to use this kind of charm.

I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, but in the long term I’d like to build the charms in to a larger project on supernatural illnesses in medieval medicine and I’m hoping that small pieces of evidence like these might eventually start to offer a bigger picture.


[1] See for example Lea Olsan, ‘Charms and Prayers in Medieval Medical Theory and Practice’, Social History of Medicine 16 (2003), pp. 343-66 (on medical writers); Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (New Haven, CT, 1992), ch. 8 (on charms and religion).

[2] Fritz Heinrich (ed.) Ein Mittelenglisches Medizinbuch (Halle, 1896), p. 166.

[3] Maaike van der Lugt, “The Incubus in Scholastic Debate: Medicine, Theology and Popular Belief,” in Religion and Medicine in the Middle Ages, ed. Peter Biller and Joseph Ziegler (Woodbridge, 2001), pp. 175-200.

Day 3: What is a Recipe?

M. Darly, The Macrony Shoe Maker, 1775. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Come… make yourself comfy! Welcome to the third event day for our ‘What is a Recipe?’ Virtual Conversation. We’re looking forward to a a busy day ahead.

There are a few things to check out that happened yesterday. Emily Contois has a wonderful post on ‘Listening to the Voices in Historic Cookbooks‘, which discusses a recent weeklong recipes workshop she attended, but it also has a number of crossover themes with our ongoing conversation for ‘What is a Recipe?’. Hillary Nunn and Whitney Thompson had a Twitter bake-off of a seventeenth-century recipe; you can follow their experiment under #recipesconf. And Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives shared some recipe-related highlights from their collection (@CUSpecialColls).

Today, we’ll be hearing from…

If you want to pick up some themes from Day 2, check over here for Laurence Totelin’s helpful summary and Tallulah Maait Pepperell’s Storify.

UPDATE (June 19, 2017): A Storify of Day 3 by Tallulah is available over here.

Distilling and Deflowering

A friar in an apothecary
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

By Peter Murray Jones

Between 1416 and 1425, English friars put together a Latin medical handbook. This handbook, called the Tabula Medicine (‘Table of Medicine’), mostly consisted of remedies, arranged alphabetically by name of ailment, instead of the head to toe order of the standard medical Practica. The friars seem to have assembled the text by accumulating remedies in a sort of medieval Wikipedia. Some copies preserve the ‘open’ format by leaving room for additional remedies under each heading.[1]

Many remedies are medicinal recipes culled from books. Most often they cite the works of Avicenna, Galen and native authorities, Gilbertus Anglicus, Bernard de Gordon, John of Gaddesden, and John Arderne. But a lot of other remedies are attributed to English friars who flourished c.1370-1420.[2] The friars mentioned were identified as authorities (expressed as “per fratrem Peter Russell”, for example) for recipes of all kinds. But they had a particular fondness for distillations. Under the heading “Gutta arthetica” (Gout of the joints), we find:

King’s MS 16, fol.1. The opening of the Tabula medicine

“According to brother William Holme, for cold gout take the dregs of a pottle (two quarts) of beer; boil down a pennyweight of boar’s flesh for a day, stirring it with a ladle; and take a handful each of chamomile, pellitory, cowslip, lavender, honeysuckle, and marjoram. Cut up the cooked meat and the herbs into tiny pieces and distill together with the dregs in an alembic. The water collected in a glass can be kept and used as wanted.  Apply it warm, and it is called flesh-water.”

Holme, like Hieronymus Brunschwig, held that distillation ensured your remedy did not go off.

More ambitious distillations aimed at producing the heavenly quintessence, or at the very least aqua ardens (burning water). The friars must have had a copy of John of Rupescissa, Liber de consideratione quintae essentie to hand, for they quote from it accurately under headings for “Cor” (Heart), “Demon,” “Facies” (Face), “Frenesis” (Frenzy), “Melancholia,” “Spasmum” [Convulsion] and “Venenum” (Poison). They never identify him by name, although Rupescissa was a Franciscan friar, writing from prison in France c.1350. Under the heading “Facies”, they tell us that wild strawberries are a hundred times more powerful against outbreaks of pustules on the face if administered as a quintessence. Rupescissa uses exactly the same words at two points in his text. We are not told in the ‘Table of Medicine’ how to extract a water from wild strawberries and combine it with quintessence, although Rupescissa does give a recipe.

The only heading in the ‘Table of Medicine’ that names a remedy instead of an ailment is “Balsamum” (Balsam). Native balsam was extraordinarily rare and expensive in late medieval Europe, in all its three forms, and friar William Holme is credited with two different recipes for making an ‘Artificial Balsam.’ One simply requires powdered exotic spices to be put successively into hot but not boiling oil. The second requires small quantities of natural balsam, as well as twenty-five other ingredients. They are mixed and pulped in a mortar before distillation. This distillate comes in three degrees of strength, and is said to be just as effective as the native kinds in treating a long list of ailments. Holme is the only one of the friars mentioned in the ‘Table of Medicine’ who can now be identified as author of a surviving text, De simplicibus medicinis (‘On medicinal simples’) of 1415. This was “deflowered” as the bibliographer John Bale later put it, by Holme “from twelve doctors of medicine”. The ‘Table of Medicine’ itself went in for “deflowering”, though it also credited experienced friar practitioners.

King’s MS 16, fol. 144. Wistanton’s recipe for distilling blood and Forman’s hand in the margin.

Friar Robert Wistanton gives a recipe to make use of distilled human blood in surgery. The blood is kept for forty days in a glass vessel under dung, then cooked in a copper pot for a day, cooled, then skimmed. Afterwards it is distilled with a filter, mixed with aqua ardens, then distilled again with an alembic, and that distillate is the best of all waters. It will consolidate a wounded limb within three days and heal the sick. What remains in the bottom of the vessel should be kept, cooled and dried, and the resultant powder is best for fractured bones. Friars were not supposed to dabble in alchemy and surgery, but that does not seem to have stopped Wistanton and his brothers.

King’s MS 16, fol. 8b. Insert in Forman’s hand on Catalepsis.

In 1574 Simon Forman, astrologer and alchemist, purchased a manuscript of the ‘Table of Medicine’ in Oxford. He added recipes drawn from his own experience, or from Andrew Boorde’s Breviary of Healthe (1557), in the margin opposite the entries for particular illnesses. He also interleaved the manuscript to add remedies for illnesses not covered in the ‘Table of Medicine’. In this enhanced form the text continued in use into the seventeenth century.[3]

[1] Peter Murray Jones, “The ‘Tabula medicine’: an Evolving Encyclopedia,” English Manuscript Studies 1100–1700, vol. 14, Regional Manuscripts 1200-1700, ed. A. S. G. Edwards (2008), 60-85.

[2] Peter Murray Jones, “Mediating Collective Experience: the Tabula Medicine (1416–1425) as a Handbook for Medical Practice,” in Between Text and Patient: The Medical Enterprise in Medieval & Early Modern Europe, ed. Florence Eliza Glaze and Brian K. Nance (Florence: SISMEL-Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2011), 279-307.

[3] Cambridge, King’s College MS 16. See Lauren Kassell, Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London. Simon Forman: Astrologer, Alchemist and Physician (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005).

Peter Murray Jones: I am Fellow Librarian of King’s College, Cambridge and a historian of medieval medicine. I have a particular interest in relations between knowledge and practice as expressed through recipes. My current project is on the contribution of friars to practical medicine and science in late medieval England.

What is a Recipe? Week 3

Welcome, welcome, welcome. Please pull up your chair and make yourself comfortable. We have a wonderful week ahead, with something going on every day.

We’ve had some great conversations already.  On Day 1, we wondered what is a recipe, considered their sensory and experiential nature, and appreciated their wildness.  On Day 2, stories emerged as the theme du jour: from favourite recipes and family history, to big stories, to reading and literacy…

Snowdrift Secrets, early 20th century. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

And this week, we dare you to take a crack at writing your own recipe story, with the ‘Cooking with Anger’ Netprov event on all month. Emotions as story ingredients, anyone? Perhaps in the ‘Henri’s Kitchen’ series, which is back on Tuesday with time-travelling cookery and a lively master-servant relationship in the kitchen. And in a podcast that considers cosmetic recipes in Ovid’s poetry (Thursday), Marguerite Johnson further blurs the boundaries between literature and recipes.

Experiments are another theme. Siobhan Clarke’s 1791 potato growing experiment continues both days on Twitter and Instagram and Sietske Fransen tweets on Tuesday about her trawl through the Royal Society archives. Also on Twitter (Tuesday), Emily Thompson takes a look at some seventeenth-century instructions for growing saffron.

Edison phonograph with a carbon microphone, 1878. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Taking a turn away from written stories and recipes, we’ll also be considering the oral functions of recipes. Peter Jones (on this blog, Tuesday) examines the oral and written transmission of medieval recipes used by medieval friars interested in alchemy. Véronique Ginouvès of the MMSH will consider (in an English and French blog post on Thursday) the uses of collected oral recipes within the context of a sound archive.

There are many other recipe treats on — such as Louise Cilliers’ blog post (here) on ancient recipes for breast engorgement, Simon Walker’s YouTube video and Twitter chat on a First World War recipe from the trenches, and my own reflections (Twitter and blog post) on teaching early modern recipes.

Once again, we have several institutions joining us to tweet, insta, facebook, and blog about their collections: Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives (Monday); Folger Shakespeare Library (Tuesday); Wangensteen Historical Library (Wednesday); and Provincial Archives of Alberta and Royal College of Physicians, London (Friday).

It’s going to be a recipe-packed week for us, and we look forward to more recipe chat with you.


PROJECT DETAILS

‘Cooking with Anger Netprov’, Mark Marino and Rob Wit

This week-long event is modelled on TV cooking competitions. Cooking with Anger is a netprov where storyteller chefs improvise a tale and a recipe from a given basket of ingredients. Many have written about cooking with love; now it’s time for all the other emotions.

  1. Get a basket from the Protag-o-Matic ingredients machine. Copy and paste your basket at the top of your tale.
  2. Create a small dish of a stirring story — 300 words or less — using ALL the ingredients from your basket. Use people places and things as narrative; use food items for a recipe folded into the fiction. Season the tale with the emotional spice packet.
  3. We encourage you also to post a video in which you either tell the story, tell about the story, or tell how you made the story.

    Eyes expressing extreme emotion, from coldness to rage, c. 1794. After: Johann Caspar Lavater and Thomas Holloway.
    Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Website:          Cooking with Anger
Twitter:            @markcmarino and @Netprov_RobWit

Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives

Will be sharing recipe-related material from their collections on Twitter.
Twitter:                 @CUSpecialColls

“Spuddenly Farming: A reconstruction of Rev. Mr. Cochran’s Potato experiment, 1791”, Siobhan Carlson

Following the American Revolution, the British crown gave Loyalists land to farm throughout the Canadian Maritimes. This migration gave rise to the emergence of an English print culture in the region that included agricultural recipes. Amongst these entries, on the 24th of March, 1792, the Royal Gazette and Miscellany of the Island of Saint John, printed the experiment entitled, “To determine whether it is best to plant large or small Cuttings of Potatoes; in a Letter from the Rev. Mr. Cochran to the Secretary of the Agricultural Society for the County of Hants, dated Winsor, Feb. 1791.” The experiment outlines the best methods to grow Prince Edward Island’s famous export – the potato. The goal of this project is to reconstruct the experiment, to think about/consider the experience of Maritime Settlers.
Instagram:            @SpuddenlyFarming
Twitter:                 @Spuddenly_Farm

“Recipes in the Early Royal Society Archives”, Sietske Fransen

The seventeenth-century fellows of the Royal Society were interested in every part of the natural world. They collected and reproduced a large variety of recipes, from the making of pigments to finding the recipe for the best French bread, to a recipe for universal medicine. During my research days in June, investigating the visual practice of the early Royal Society (www.mv.crassh.cam.ac.uk), I will tweet the various recipes I encounter in the archive of the Royal Society. At the end of those weeks the found recipes will feature in a blogpost on recipes in the early Royal Society.
Twitter:             @sietske_fransen and @MVCRASSH
Blog:                    www.mvcrassh.cam.ac.uk and recipes.hypotheses.org

“A Relation of the Culture, or Planting and Ordering of Saffron (1678)”, Emily Thompson

She will look at a recipe by Charles Howard as a recipe (an atypical one to be sure, but a sound set of step-by-step directions for attaining a particular outcome i.e., the production of saffron). She argues that Howard’s recipe may be identified by its purpose, ingredients, procedure, equipment and administration. The recipe can be contrasted with later treatises and gardening manuals that build on his work and flesh it out into something beyond his dispassionate and precise step-by-step approach.
Twitter:                 @joiedelivre

Folger Shakespeare Library

Will be sharing its extensive recipes-related holdings via social media.
Twitter:                 @FolgerResearch

“Henri’s Kitchen”, Harry Hayfield

Harry Hayfield, a resident of Ceredigion in Wales, has long had an interest in the stories of the Musketeers which are set in early 17th century France, this led in turn to an interest in the Stuart period of history and joining a living history group. However, as a registered carer for his grandparents he is unable to get to many of the events and yet wanted to do something to help. One day he was watching “The Little Paris Kitchen” broadcast on the BBC and thought “These are recipes designed by the French, therefore could they be converted in the 17th century versions of themselves?”. Doing some research he found that they could, and therefore will contribute four of the recipes as shown in the programme as if cooked by Henri de Ceredigion (Harry’s Stuart persona) a cadet member of the Musketeers, with able assistance from Planchet, his manservant cum stable lad.

Collection of iatrochemical and chemical recipes
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

“Distilling and Deflowering”, Peter Jones

He will discuss alchemical recipes associated with English mendicants, collected in the Tabula medicine text of 1416-25. The word ‘deflowering’ is a term that describes the way that they culled recipes from various sources—written and word-of-mouth—before recording it in the book. His blog post will appear at The Recipes Project.

“Historical Chocolate Tasting Events”, Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and  Medicine at the University of Minnesota

Animated gif of chocolate bar with link to the full article in newsletter and additional link to historical choc tasting events at GYST Fermentation Bar, a collaborative effort with the Wangensteen Library. Also links to their digitized collection of recipe books.
Facebook:            https://www.facebook.com/umnbiomedlib
Twitter:                 @umnbiomedlib
Instagram:           @umnlib

“Recipes from the Sound Archive”, MMSH

The MMSH sound archive blog has a monthly feature on old recipes collected through interviews. In English and French, Véronique Ginouvès discusses what is a recipe when it comes to the sound archives.
Twitter:                 @Bagolina and @phonothequemmsh

“Theodorus Priscianus and Women’s Ailments”, Louise Cilliers

In a post for The Recipes Project, she considers the recipes of a 4th century physician from Constantinople: what did he use to treat women’s ailments?

Lady looking into mirror, 18th century.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

“Recipes for Beauty in Ovid”, Marguerite Johnson

Recipes for beauty were commonplace in the ancient Mediterranean and among the most comprehensive sources for cosmeceutical blends was Ovid’s Medicamina Faciei Femineae – 100 lines of which remain extant. When Marguerite Johnson translated the lines for her recent book, Ovid on Cosmetics (Bloomsbury 2016), she approached the task by taking the embedded lists of creams and treatments as recipes, and discussed the ingredients of each one and the methods of preparation. In this podcast, Marguerite will discuss the five recipes in the Medicamina with a focus on the ingredients – from honey to the mysterious alcyonea – and their properties for beautifying and preserving the skin.
Twitter:                 @MMJ722

“Introducing the Margaret Baker Project”, Lisa Smith

Over the year, my students on The Digital Recipe Book Project module read about early modern recipes and their wider social and cultural framework. We worked alongside other classrooms in the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective who were also working on Baker’s book. Along the way, they learned how to read old handwriting, transcribed several pages of a seventeenth-century manuscript recipe book by Margaret Baker, and built a website about Margaret Baker’s recipes. In this presentation, I’ll discuss the challenges of teaching recipes and working with Margaret Baker, as well as share the students’ insights from the year.
Blog:             drbp.hypotheses.org
Project site:     UofE Baker Project
Twitter:          @historybeagle

Ship’s biscuit, England, 1875
Credit: Science Museum, London.

‘Hard Tack Lemon Pudding’, Simon Walker 

He presents the YouTube cooking series Feedingunderfire wherein he cooks trench food recipes and tests them on guests. This episode focuses on an ‘apparently’ yummy dish.
YouTube:       Feeding Under Fire
Facebook:     Feeding Under Fire
Twitter:       @Dark_Nocterna

Provincial Archives of Alberta, Canada

Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, the PAA will be highlighting some its holdings on food history over the month with Facebook posts and on Twitter.
Facebook:      Provincial Archives of Alberta
Twitter:                 @ProvArchivesAB

Royal College of Physicians, London

We’re interested in approaching the theme of ‘What is a recipe’ by considering one of the RCP’s most important publications, the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (1st edition 1618). Depending on how you define it, the Pharmacopoeia probably isn’t a collection of recipes, though it is a collection of instructions for making medical prescriptions. It was translated into Nicholas Culpeper, with explanatory text added, in 1649, and Culpeper’s version may have more claim to recipe-ness. We also have manuscript recipe books in our collection that include similar prescriptions or recipes, so we’d like to explore the issue by bringing these three sources together, and by illustrating a couple of the recipes with examples from our collection of English apothecary jars, and specimens from our medicinal garden.
Blog:                     https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/
Twitter:                 @RCPMuseum