Tag Archives: recipes

A New Direction for The Recipes Project

The Recipes Project now has a Facebook page for lovers of old recipes!

Come see us there, as Laura Mitchell magics up bits and bobs from around the interwebs.

WellcomeLibraryWMS4171_fn28
An eighteenth-century book of charms. MS 4171, Wellcome Library, London.

Recipes… in the news!

Stories about recipes… from other blogs!

And sometimes pictures, too!

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Metallic cures: antimonial wine and mineral kermes

By Marieke Hendriksen

In my previous post, I wrote about the ubiquity of mercurial drugs in the long eighteenth century. Mercury is a metal we are all quite familiar with, yet a variety of cures was based on metals and metallic compounds well into the nineteenth century – some of which we hardly hear of anymore today. Drugs based on antimony, a lustrous grey metalloid often found in ores together with either sulfur or mercury, and mineral kermes, a compound of antimony trioxide and trisulfide, were very popular. In universal encyclopedias from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century for example, we find complicated recipes to create mineral kermes, which involve repeated distilling of a mixture of sulfur of antimony, fixed niter or potassium carbonate, and river- or rainwater.[i]

Antimony ore, antimony cup and Basilius Valentinus, Triump-Wagen Antimonii, Leipzig 1604. From: C. van Heertum, Alchemy on the Amstel. On Hermetic Medicine. Amsterdam: In de Pelikaan, 2012.
Antimony ore, antimony cup and Basilius Valentinus, Triump-Wagen Antimonii, Leipzig 1604. From: C. van Heertum, Alchemy on the Amstel. On Hermetic Medicine. Amsterdam: In de Pelikaan, 2012.

Although it unlikely anyone tried these recipes at home, the use of antimony and its derivatives had a long tradition. Antimony cups were used since antiquity to make antimonial wine by soaking regular wine in it for one or more days.[ii] The fact that antimony frequently occurred together with mercury or sulphur appealed to alchemists, apothecaries, and other medical men and women, as sulphur and mercury were considered the basic alchemical elements. Moreover, as antimony could cleanse the most precious metal, gold, from impurities, alchemists reasoned it could also cleanse and cure God’s most precious creature, created after his own image: man. Hence Paracelsus (1493-1541) and many of his followers advocated the use of small amounts of antimony in iatrochemical drugs, although they were well aware of the fact that it is highly poisonous.

Antimonial wine thus was a tried emetic, yet antimony cups were forbidden in England and France for much of the seventeenth century, as the use of a wine too acidic would result in a lethal concoction. This prohibition was sometimes circumnavigated by creating antimony cups from tin with a small amount of antimony.[iii] In France antimony cups became legal once more in 1658, after Louis XIV was cured from typhoid fever with antimonial wine.[iv] After this royal endorsement of antimony, men of science started to investigate it more closely than ever before. Between 1700 and 1707 the French chemist Lemery wrote an extensive series of articles on antimony and its medicinal uses for the Académie des Sciences, culminating in a book describing all the changes it underwent by chemical procedures, and how the resulting substances could be used in medicine.[v] The Leiden professor of chemistry Gaub too devoted a substantial part of his lectures on metals on antimony and mineral kermes, extensively discussing the chemical procedures that should be applied to create effective medical materials.[vi]

French Apothecary Bottle: Kermes Mineral, 1880s. Courtesy of Dr Jack Fincham.
French Apothecary Bottle with traces of Kermes Mineral, 1880s. Courtesy of Dr Jack Fincham.

The recipes in the encyclopedias show that mineral kermes was one of the most important medical materials that could be created through chemically treating antimony. As can still be seen in a late nineteenth-centruy French apothecary bottle, it is a reddish brown powder. The powder does not dissolve in water and, like mercury, had a reputation for cleansing the lymphatic vessels, and was also used as an emetic and diaphoretic. The name was probably derived from the Arabic name for a similarly coloured crimson dye made from insects, al-qirmiz. The use of mineral kermes as a drug was apparently first mentioned by Glauber (1604-1670), but how to successfully create it remained a subject of debate into the nineteenth century, even after an official recipe was published by the king of France in 1720.[vii]


[i] De Felice, Fortunato Bartolomeo, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire universel raisonné des connoissances, (Paris, 1773), Vol. 25, p. 345. Wilkes, John, Encyclopaedia Londinensis, or, Universal Dictionary of Arts (London: J. Adlard, 1810), Vol. iv, p. 277.

[ii] Also see one of my previous blogs on The Medicine Chest.

[iii] StClair Thomson, “Antimonyall Cupps: Pocula Emetica or Calices Vomitorii”, Proc. Roy. Soc. Med., Vol. XIX, no. 9, 1925, 123-8.

[iv] C. van Heertum, Alchemy on the Amstel. On Hermetic Medicine. Amsterdam: In de Pelikaan, 2012, 49.

[v] Lemery, Nicolás, Traité de L’antimoine (Paris: Jean Boudot, 1707).

[vi] Gaub, H.D., ‘Chemiae Praxis. Notes of Lectures by an Unnamed Student. Produced in Leyden.’, Closed stores WMS 4  MS.2479, Wellcome Library Manuscripts, p. 593-685.

[vii] Willich, A.F.M., A Domestic Encyclopedia Or A Dictionary Of Facts, And Useful Knowledge, 3 vols. (London: B. McMillan, 1802), p. 46.

Keeping time in the Victorian kitchen

Kitchen form the 1907 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book, with clock clearly on display

By Rachel Rich

After years of working on eating habits, I recently tried to turn away, and think about new questions and problems. But the world of the cook book, and its close relation the domestic advice manual, keeps pulling me back. I am no longer trying to find out about the ideal dinner party of the middle-class Victorian housewife; now I am thinking about time, and about how people experienced its passage in an environment which many historians assert was dominated by the ticking clock, and the feeling that time was a precious resource, not to be squandered. In her London memoirs, Molly Hughes recalled the family clock and her mother’s habit of keeping it set ten minutes fast
“’to be on the safe side’, as mother said. She also confided to me once that it caused visitors to go a little earlier than they otherwise might…for she had observed that they never trusted their own watches.” (1)

Readers of this blog are sure to be as aware as I am of the difficulty of linking words on the page with food in people’s mouths. But in a sense that doesn’t matter, because the textual recipe is about something else, it is the fantasy of food, and of the way of living which could be enjoyed by people who might regularly eat such foods. And the cookery books of the nineteenth-century are so different from the cookery-as-lifestyle advice we get now from Jamie Oliver and the like. Instead of drawing readers into their warm embrace, they start off with admonishments: Almost every book I look at has an introduction in which the author sets out to remind her readers of all the perils and pitfalls facing modern woman. The dining room was the heart of the home, and a woman who couldn’t entice her husband to spend time there faced abandonment, as he would head for his club or, worse, the anonymity of the restaurant.

The recipe contained in nineteenth-century cookbooks was more than the sum of its parts; this was not a simple collection of instructions for how to cook soups, sauces, roasts and game, it was the recipe for success. And to ensure the success of the family, just as in following a cooking recipe, timing was everything. So Mrs. Beeton, queen of the Victorian cookery writers, covered all the timing bases. Recipes: for Soup a la Julienne, she indicated: ‘Time: 1-1/2 hours,’ or for Stewed Fillet of Veal, ‘A fillet of veal weighing 6 lbs., 3 hours’ very gentle stewing.’ (2) For all the other hours of the day: rise early, instruct your servants, groom yourself, educate your children, socialise, read, practice music, go to bed, but punctuate the whole with meals every four hours, a necessary requirement of a healthy body. And the days were not the whole story. Recipes didn’t just come with information about how long it would take to cook them, but also with an indication of when, in the bigger timetable of the year, they should be cooked, which in the case of stewed veal was ‘from March to October’. Henry Southgate, in his wonderfully titled Things a Lady would like to know (1881) expressed his disapproval about the lack of attention to seasons in menu choices: ‘summer dinners are, for the most part, as heavy and hot as those in winter, and the consequence is they are frequently very oppressive.’ (3)

For Molly Hughes’s mother, for Mrs Beeton, Henry Southgate and all the other cookery writers in the nineteenth-century, timing was the key to good food, well-planned meals and to a life well lived. With their increasing emphasis on timing and timekeeping, nineteenth-century cookbooks may not tell us everything there is to know about what people ate, but they can tell us an awful lot about what writers and their readers understood about the passage of time.

(1) M. V. Hughes, A London Child of the 1870s, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 61.
(2) I. Beeton, The Book of Household Management, London: S. O. Beeton, pp. 69-70; 414.
(3) H. Southgate, Things a Lady would like to know, Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo & Co., 1880, p. 377

Exploring CPP 10a214: Recipes in Transit

By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche

In recent months, as part of our continuing exploration of an understudied manuscript at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Rebecca Laroche and I have been examining the nature of recipe sources in the collection.  The manuscript incorporates references to print authorities like Gerard’s Herbal (21/05/2013) aswell as to domestic practitioners whose expertise is praised but less easily traced (09/04/2013).   This month, I’ll be concentrating on the manuscript’s suggestion that a more personal, if not face to face, variety of collaboration might be indicated in its pages as well.

In its first section alone the manuscript names more than thirty-five people as sources for its recipes, and many of those credited are associated with faraway places, at least in terms of seventeenth century English travel.  Rebecca’s research (12/03/2013) associates the collection with Calybute Downing, a Protestant minister who, in the years surrounding the manuscript’s composition, lived in London, Essex, and the parish of Hackney on the northern outskirts of London.[1]  While it’s currently not possible to pinpoint where he was living when working on the manuscript, the collection’s inclusion of a recipe attributed to “Mrs. Twayne of Hackney” hints that Downing had at least begun to establish himself in that area at the time.  It’s curious to note, then, that many of the recipes identified with places far from this suburban location.

Three recipes in the opening section, for example, are associated with “Dr. Waters,” who, in his initial citation, is called “Dr. Waters of Stamford.”  Given his title, it’s no surprise that his recipes are among the collection’s most intricate.  His instructions for “A diett bagge for any infirmity in the eyes,” for example, require more than ten ingredients to be assembled, then steeped in ale. His treatment to “strengthen the backe and comfort the stomake” involves marinating a leg of mutton in sugar, butter, rosewater and two kinds of wine before eventually squeezing the roasted meat between two plates to extract its medicinal juice.  This recipe ends with the notation “probatum per doctor waters /
Eliza: Downing,” thus associating the treatment with Calybute’s mother Elizabeth, and allowing us to picture her as a mediating source for the Waters cures.

How did these recipes from Dr. Waters find their way to Elizabeth Downing and her transcribing son?  The town of Stamford is almost a hundred miles from Hackney, using modern highways; even driving at today’s legal limit, the journey takes over an hour, passing through Cambridge on the way. Where (and even if) Elizabeth was living during Calybute’s work on the manuscript is unclear; we do know, however, that her husband was lord of the manor of Sugarswell in Tysoe, Warwickshire at the time of her son’s birth.  Yet this does little to close the gap, since Tysoe is almost 90 miles west of Stamford. The recipes could have covered this distance in written form, or they may have been passed from hand to hand as members of households undertook they smaller, more routine journeys.

But digging deeper into Downing history may hold the answer.  Elizabeth Downing married her son’s father in 1604 at Tinwell, Rutland,[2] a small town identified as B below, just over two miles from Stamford (E).


View Larger Map

This much-reduced distance lets us see the recipe emerging from a different sort of community, one where face-to-face, local transmission would be far more likely.  From its origins in Stamford, the recipe nonetheless has covered a great deal of territory, presumably moving west to Warwickshire with Elizabeth Downing and then back east with her son in the London area.  In the process, the journey of Dr. Waters’s treatments shows what we suspect is the case for many such shared cures: that the most direct route of their travels may not be the most likely one.

This is the fifth in a series of monthly posts on the topic.

[1]Barbara Donagan, ‘Downing, Calybute (1606–1644)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2010 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/7980, accessed 9 June 2013]

[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calybute_Downing