Tag Archives: Huntington library

First Monday Library Chat: The Huntington Library

The Recipes Project heads to San Marino, California this month, to learn about the recipe collections of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  We spoke with Alan Jutzi, Curator of Rare Books, and Shelley Kresan, rare book cataloguer for the Huntington’s new Anne Cranston American Regional and Charitable Cookbook Collection, about the many recipe sources – both early modern and modern – held at the Huntington.

The Huntington Library, San Marino CA.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Huntington Library, San Marino CA. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Huntington is known for the breadth of its collections, which have particular strengths in British and American history as well as the history of the American West. Tell us a bit about the early modern and modern recipes materials held at your institution.

During Henry E. Huntington’s buying splurge between 1910 and 1927, he acquired large English and American libraries and archives that included printed herbals, cookbooks, and works on domestic management as well as manuscripts dealing with medical and food recipes.  Examples of some of our major English holdings include the Bridgewater House Library (16th-19th centuries), which incorporate the Ellesmere papers, and the Stowe House manuscripts (mostly 16th-18th centuries) which entail the Temple, Brydges, and Grenville family papers.  The Robert A. Brock Collection (17th-19th centuries) on Virginia is an example of a large American collection of published works and family and regional archives.

Identifying early modern and modern printed recipes is much easier than locating those in large archival manuscript collections. The Huntington’s holdings in pre-1801 imprints from the British Isles and North America appear in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). All of the catalogued cookery publications appear in the Huntington’s online catalogue. The library has continued to concentrate on English and American cooking and culture by adding new materials, primarily through gifts to the library. In 1983 we acquired the 500-volume California cookbook collection of Helen Evans Brown and Philip S. Brown. A related collection that the Library has recently received is the Jay T. Last Collection of Lithographic and Social History. It includes a huge section of ephemeral printing dealing with American food and beverage promotion.

For information and access to manuscript materials and the Last Collection, researchers should contact the curator – they can find out how to do this via the library staff directory on the Huntington website.

I was especially excited to learn about the Huntington’s Cranston Collection, which includes 4,400 British and American cookbooks from the 19th and 20th centuries. What’s the history behind the Cranston Collection, and how did it come to be a part of the Huntington Library?

The Anne M. Cranston Collection on American Cookery was donated in 2000 by her daughter Elanne Callahan, of San Marino CA. It includes several thousand “trade” cookbooks, printed by major publishers over the last 150 years, and an equal number of “charitable” cookbooks from the same period.

The Cranston Collection consists of four main categories of cookbooks: 1) those written by the forerunners of the home economic movement and the heads of culinary schools in the late 19th century to promote the education of women; 2) 20th-century cookbooks that took cooking to a higher precision, which includes many foreign recipe books published in English; 3) 20th-century ephemeral cookbooks and pamphlets (e.g. Campbell’s Soup and Corn Products Refining Company promotional cookbooks,) 4) charity and fund-raising cookbooks created by churches, schools, hospitals, clubs, philanthropic organizations, etc.

Joseph Campbell Company canned beans advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post, 1921.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Joseph Campbell Company canned beans advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post, 1921. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Huntington’s primary reason for accepting the Cranston Collection was the depth of the regional and charitable sections; indeed all of the research done in this collection since its arrival has been in those areas.  And even in Mrs. Cranston’s home, the collection was organized by region, state, and city.  Anne M. Cranston (1906-1993) was a fascinating figure; she came to Southern California with her husband William E. Cranston in the early 1930s, and he founded the Thermador Company (which specialized in electrical, and especially kitchen, appliances) in Los Angeles.  Mrs. Cranston began to collect cookbooks around this time, and it was a pastime she continued throughout her life. It is obvious that she loved the hunt for the books as much as recipes the books contained. She was a bibliophile.

Shelley has been writing some great posts on the Cranston materials for Verso, the Huntington’s blog – and the public’s response to those posts has been terrific. People love to engage with culinary sources from the past! Does the Huntington have any future plans to make these materials widely accessible?

The Huntington Digital Library, representing only a fraction of our holdings, is an online tool to aid in the dissemination of just some of the library’s rich and unique collections. It is designed to support the research needs of Huntington readers and staff, and to share digitized resources with the broader community. The Huntington would certainly like to do much more with its cookery holdings, but we see our first responsibility to make collections available that will be consulted by our researchers. Eventually we anticipate more blogs, exhibits, conferences, and closer interaction with historical culinary organizations. There is nothing specifically planned for the near future.

Modern recipes were often used to circulate ideas about supposedly “exotic” or “foreign” nations and cultures. In the Cranston materials, do you see evidence of 19th and 20th century Americans experimenting with recipes from different cultures, geographic regions, religions, or ethnic groups?

The evidence for the circulation of ethnic recipes and cultural ideas in modern America comes out foremost in the Cranston Collection’s American charity cookbooks, particularly those from the early to mid 20th century. As immigrant groups settled throughout the United States and came into contact with established communities, local charities published cookbooks which reflected the adaption and adoption of cuisines offered by the newcomers.  The variety of ethnic cookbooks in the Cranston Collection is testimony to the impact of widespread regional ethnic population changes.  One of the Cranston books, Agnes Jekyll’s Kitchen Essays (1922), included a recipe for “Malay Curry of Prawns,” which called for western cooks to use seemingly-exotic ingredients such as coconut, turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon.  (Shelley’s post on Jekyll’s book, including the full recipe for the “Malay Curry” can be found here, at Verso.)

Agnes Jekyll.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Agnes Jekyll. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But modern American cooks also saw European cuisines as “novel” and “sophisticated.” The large selection of books on European cuisines published in English, as well as souvenir cookbooks that were obtained by Americans traveling to Europe, indicates the willingness of both American chefs and home cooks alike to venture into exotic and foreign territory.

Recipes frequently feature notations and marginalia made over the course of many years by the cooks who used them. Can you tell us a bit about the marginalia in the Huntington’s recipe collections (both early modern and modern)?

The Huntington rare book cataloguing descriptions attempt to provide copy-specific information with notes about manuscript notations and inserts; however, not all early modern or modern books have gotten this full treatment. There is no easy access to annotated recipes in early modern printed books.

The most marginalia to be found is in the American charitable cookbooks. These are corrections to the printed text, recipes mostly on the flyleaves, and recipes transcribed on separate sheets. These marginal, handwritten recipes, as one can imagine, are mostly those of the owner or ones received from a relative or friend. From working through the volumes, it appears that the majority are for breads, cakes, puddings, and desserts, but there are plenty of main dishes, appetizers, and side dishes. Some examples of marginal recipes in the Cranston Collection include scrawled recipes for a Lady Baltimore cake, a date pudding, and even a vegetarian meat substitute loaf made from lima beans.

There is much yet to be found in the Huntington’s extensive cookery collections. The search will lead in many directions, and the culinary rewards will be plentiful and rich.

The Acceptance of Charms in the Fifteenth Century

By Laura Mitchell

L0060591 Recipe for staunching blood with cockerel in MS 5262
Wellcome Library, London. Recipe for staunching blood with cockerel in MS 5262, early fifteenth century. Includes the Longinus miles charm.

For a while now I’ve been very interested in medieval people’s relationships with magic texts. What drew them to copy down their particular texts? Did they delight in the absurdities of directions to become invisible or to remove women’s clothing or did they truly believe it would work? Was it something ordinary or something to be ashamed of and obscured (as in the fifteenth-century book I discussed previously)? For this post I want to consider one point that I have often wondered about; namely, when were charms used? Were they the first line of defense or a last resort or somewhere in between? Naturally, for the majority of people and cases we will never know. However, I have come across an interesting pair of recipes that shed some light on the place of charms within medical practice.

The recipes in question are a charm to staunch blood and a non-magical recipe to do the same that is to be used only if the charm has failed.

I first ran across this pair of recipes in HM 1336 (folio 30r), a fifteenth-century medical book at the Huntington Library. In this copy the charm is missing and all that has been copied is the non-magical recipe with its injunction to be used only if a charm has failed. I don’t believe this omission is due to a reluctance to include charms since there are charms and natural magic texts elsewhere in the manuscript. More likely there was a corruption in the line of transmission somewhere.

I have since found this charm-recipe combination in two other Huntington manuscripts, also from the fifteenth century: HM 58 (folios 75v-67r) and HM 64 (folio 23r). In these cases the charm and recipe have survived together:

Here is for staunching blood

The soldier Longinus pierced the side of our + Lord Jesus Christ + with a lance and the blood poured out continuously and by means of the water of our redemption I adjure you, blood, through Christ + through his side + through his blood + stay + stay + Christ + and John went into the river Jordan and he struck the water and it stopped. Thus make the blood of this body in the name of Christ + and Saint John the Baptist Amen. Our Father Ave Maria.

To staunch blood when the vein is cut and will not be readily staunched with the aforesaid words.

Take a piece of salt beef, lean and none of the fat, as it may stop the wound and lay it into the embers in the fire and let it roast until it be thoroughly hot and all hot put it onto the wound and bind it fast and it will staunch at once and never stream on [I] guarantee.1

This pairing of a charm and non-magical recipe highlights just how casually the categories of magic and medicine could overlap. For some people, anyway, charms were not only just as valid as non-magical recipes, but they could also be more potentially more effective than non-magical medical recipes.


1.Here is for to staunch blode
Longinus miles latus + dominum nostrum Jhesu christi + lancea perforauit et continuo exiuit sanguis et aqua in redempcionem nostram + Adiuro te sanguis per ipsum + christum per latus eius + per sanguines eius + Sta + sta + christus et Johannes astenderunt in flumen Jordanis, aqua obstiuit et steta Sic faciat sanguis istius corporis .N. In christi nomine et + Sancti Johannis baptiste + Amen pater noster Aue maria.
For to staunch blode when the veyne is corven and wille nott gladli be staunched with the wordis afore rehersed
Take a peice of salt Beff lene and none of the fatt as itt maie stapp the wond and leie itt ynto the emeres in the fyre and lete itt rosti till it be throgh hote and all hote putt it to the wonde and bynd itt fast and itt staunche anon and neuer streme on wrantize
Text is taken from HM 58. Transcription and translation are my own. The differences between the various texts are quite minor.

Gunpowder, treason, and plot? Not quite.

In keeping with the theme of my previous post, I wanted to look at another of the numerous trick recipes I’ve come across. The topic I’ve chosen for this post is rather less rude than the last one, however.

In late medieval books of secrets and recipe collections we can find a lot of recipes using dangerous substances like gunpowder (and its component parts) and mercury. The gunpowder recipes in particular are used for spectacular theatrical effects like propelling a dragon across a tether and making it breathe fire.[1] However, these ingredients often appears in recipes of a less spectacular nature – to play good-natured tricks on people or in children’s toys.[2] In many of these recipes the gunpowder and mercury are used to make a household object move about as if under its own strength.

Making a loaf of bread jump about is a common goal. I have come across numerous examples that all employ similar means. This example comes from Oxford, Bodleian Library Ashmole MS 1436, page 26:

In order to make a loaf run round about the house, take one hot loaf and put a little mercury on a penny and stamp the end with a little wax and put it in the loaf and it shall be done, it is proven.[3]

There’s a similar principle at play with this recipe from London, British Library Sloane MS 121, folio 91r to make a ring jump about:

To make a ring dance and run throughout the whole house by itself. Make a hollowed out oval ring out of whatever metal you like and fill it with saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulphur, and quicksilver and then solder it well and firmly so that nothing can come out. And after a while when it is placed in the fire and it is warmed enough it will dance through the house.[4]

With the exception of the example with the ring, these recipes seem to focus on food. Joke recipes like this using food and chemical reactions were one of two kinds of joke cooking recipes (the other kind being parody recipes that created humour by using absurd or disgusting ingredients). They were entertaining while at the same time giving the performer the appearance of having magic powers, but without the threat of performing real magic. This final example comes from San Marino, Huntington Library, HM 1336, folio 5r:

In order to make a stew slip out of the pot. Take vitriol and saltpetre and Spanish soap and grind it all into a powder and throw it in the pot and all the stew in the pot shall run out, [I] guarantee.[5]

Unfortunately, we don’t know how these kinds of tricks went over in the medieval household. We can certainly imagine people’s delight, especially children’s, at seeing an innocuous loaf of bread suddenly start jumping around under its own steam. Gunpowder, quicksilver, and its various ingredients became popular in medieval recipe collections because they could turn ordinary household items like rings, bread, or even stew into fantastic and quasi-magical objects.


[1] Philip Butterworth discusses this use of gunpowder in early modern stage productions and includes a number of recipes similar to what can be found in the medieval sources. Theatre of Fire: Special Effects in Early English and Scottish Theatre (London: The Society for Theatre Research, 1998).

[2] For example, one of the earliest mentions of gunpowder in medieval Europe is believed to come from Roger Bacon describing its use in Chinese firecrackers. There are similar recipes in the c. 1300 Liber ignium of Marcus Grecus. See Pierre Berthelot‟s edition of the Liber ignium in La chimie au moyen âge, vol. I (Paris 1893; repr., Osnabrück: Otto Zeller and Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1967), 100-135; on Bacon see Joseph Needham, Gwei-Djen Lu, and Ling Wang. Science and Civilisation in China. Volume 5, Part 7. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 48–50.

[3] “for to make a lowfe to renne roun a bowte þe house take one hote lofe and put a lytyl quicsyluer on a penne et stape (sic) þe hende with a lytyl wax and put hyt in þe lofe and yt schal be doun ut probatum”

[4] “Ad faciendum Anulum saltare et currere per totam domum per se ipsum. Fac anulum de quocumque metallo quod tibi placuerit et quod sit ouum  modo concauus et imple illum de salpeter sulphure viuo et viuo argento et deinde soldatur (sic) bene et firmiter ita quod nichil queat exire. Et postmodum cum ponatur prope ignem et parum calefacietur saltabit per domum”

[5] “For to make potage slippinn out of þe potte. Take arnement and salt peter and spaynis sope and grynd it alle in poudire and caste it in þe potte and alle þe potage in þe potte xalt rene out a warentise.”
A variation of this recipe can be found in the Liber cure cocorum, a mid-fifteenth century cookery book in verse. The book begins with three trick recipes: two recipes to make cooked food appear raw and to make it appear full of worms and the recipe to make food leap out of the pot. The Liber cure recipe is designed as a trick to play on the cook: “Yf þe coke be croked or soward mane / Take sope, cast in hys potage; / Þenne wylle þe pot begyn to rage / And welle on alle, and lepe in / þat licoure is made, noþer thykke ne thynne.” [If the cook is a crooked or froward man, / Take soap, cast [it] in his potage, / Then will the pot begin to rage / And well above all, and leap in. / That liquid is made, neither thick nor thin.] Text and translation from Melitta Weiss Adamson,  “The Games Cooks Play: Non-sense Recipes and Practical Jokes in Medieval Literature,” in Food in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays, ed. Melitta Weiss Adamson (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1995), 184.  The De mirabilius mundi contains a version to make “a chicken or other thing leap in the dish” using a combination of quicksilver and zinc carbonate. Best and Brightman, Book of Secrets, 98 and Adamson, “The Games Cooks Play,” 177-178, 183-185.