All posts by Elaine Leong

Recipes for Magic

By Frank Klassen

My house was remarkably crowded and had a bit of a holiday feel about it. It was mid-winter and twenty or so students from the University of Saskatchewan had taken up my invitation to try out a procedure and a device described in pre-modern magic manuscripts: molybdomancy and the Holy Almandal.

Chicago, Newberry Library, MS 5017, fol. 16v. Thanks to the Newberry Library for permission to use this image.

Reading a recipe or set of instructions is not the same thing as physically putting it all together and then trying it out. Anyone who loves to cook or sew or knit or build with wood knows this. But academics tend to shy away from doing this kind of thing, particularly historians of magic who generally don’t want to give the impression that they are in the business for practical reasons. Mercifully, the exercise was well worth my time and energy.

The description of molybdomancy in Thomas Aquinas and the seventeenth-century manuscript where I first encountered the technique disclose nothing about what it is like to actually do it. For a start, melting lead (or in our case lead-free solder) and pouring it into water or snow to divine the future was a huge amount of fun. For those familiar with the modern German New Year’s tradition of Bleigiessen this will not be a surprise, and the fun is certainly one of the reasons it continues to be employed today.

I was also surprised to find that we felt an instant sense of connection with the strange little lump of metal we extracted from the water after some hissing and sometimes a loud snap. One felt disappointed if it was boring and jealous of others whose lumps seemed more interesting. Those who got “a good one” often felt like they needed to keep it.

We also found by trying out some lead later in the evening that the different melting points of different metals produce slightly different results. The lead had a higher temperature an more thermal mass and tended to fracture less often.

What was most interesting to me as a historian of magic was discovering how crucial it was to have some kind of interpretive key (or expert interpreter). The lumps were evocative and often beautiful but generally very ambiguous if you were trying to discern a message in them. We used a modern list, which connected a wide variety of shapes with particular outcomes. Even then it took some work to decide if a lump was, say, a sword, flower, or shovel.

In light of this, the simplicity of the seventeenth-century text I knew made a good deal of sense. It says only that you will know you are bewitched if you find a face in the metal. We certainly got some faces so we may have some ill-intentioned witches in Saskatoon.

The centrepiece of the evening was the Holy Almandal, which is a curious intellectual artefact. It derives from a Sanskrit original and has significant similarities to modern Buddhist yantras (sometimes also used for magic), suggesting common ancestry. The Sanskrit word “mandala” was preserved in the name when it was translated into Arabic probably in ninth-century Baghdad. The Latin version translated in the twelfth century in turn preserved the Arabic article “al”.

Whatever the earlier texts might have been used for, the Latin version seeks to communicate and develop a close relationship with an angel. The Almandal itself, a magic tablet 4 inches square with holes in each corner, made from wax, and engraved with a quartile figure including angelic and divine names. The version we used required this square tablet to be supported by the rims of four candle stands. The candles were then lit and incense placed under the table. Earlier versions supported the table by putting tapering candles through the holes.

Again, the results were not only fun but also useful and practical. We had 3D printed the Almandal and the candle stands without thinking that the substance we used (PLA) melts at 180 C. The hot censor containing incense atop burning charcoal underneath it threatened to melt it. This led us to wonder if the older version in which the wax tablet was supported only by candles was simply too susceptible to melting or damage by dripping candles. The later version, which we used, protected the candles from the heat of the censor by having them on stands and the tablet from the candle drips by having a stand catch them.

More crucially, we got a strong sense of how evocative this little bit of skrying technology really was. The candles produced a strong updraft, drawing the smoke from the incense through the holes and around the sides of the table into the space between them and above the table where the angel was supposed to appear. This, together with flickering light, made for a pretty powerful effect. It was easy to see how one might see angels in such a device.

So what prompted all this activity?

These and other items built from ancient and medieval magic manuals form part of an exhibit assembled by David Porreca (University of Waterloo), Tracene Harvey (University of Saskatchewan), and me called “Materials and Imagination in Ancient and Modern Magic” It is currently running at the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Saskatchewan. Subsequent exhibitions will take place at the University of Waterloo and the International Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University (May 2017).


Frank Klaassen is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Saskatchewan and author of the Transformations of Magic (Penn State University Press) and Making Magic in Elizabethan England (forthcoming with Penn State University Press).

Tales from the archives: Keeping Time in the Victorian Kitchen

In September 2016, The Recipes Project celebrated its fourth birthday. We now have over 500 posts in our archives and over 120 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, perhaps prompted my own reflections on how time flies, I want to share a post by Rachel Rich. In this piece from June 2013, Rich discusses the notion of time in Victorian cookbooks and argues that these texts are a window into how historical actors understood the passage of time. Skipping through time, Rachel recently gave a paper at the University of Essex. One of our editors, Lisa Smith, live tweeted the talk, go here for a storified version of the tweets.

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

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

What lies behind the name? Rest-harrow – A medieval herbal enigma

By Theresa Tyers

‘Mystery, magic and medicine: in the beginning they were one and the same’ so begins Howard Haggard’s 1930s book on the rise of scientific medicine.[1] Exploring medieval manuscripts reveals how magical recipes, charms, amulets and ritual healing all formed part of the everyday ‘medicine chest’ of treatments which were intended to deal with a myriad of conditions. Vernacular plant names are fascinating they can be a key to their uses, for example consoude or bonewort, toutsain, (all-heal) or the astringent sanguines. To modern ears the magical sound of: foxgloves, archangel, biting-grass, moonwort or even weasel-tongue can conjure up images in our minds of strange and wondrous plants. Perhaps the most appealing are those rare vernacular names that bring to life the people who may have encountered the plants as they went about their daily life, whether working out in the field ploughing and sowing, or pilgrims travelling long distances by foot along the byways and highways of medieval England and Europe. They would have had ample time to take in their surroundings as the seasons past slowly by and, take note of the notorious twisted rooted wild pink vetch today called ‘rest-harrow’. The ploughman would have easily recognised this troublesome plant and no doubt dreaded its presence. He knew that if he was to clear the land of this tenacious ‘weed’ it would need to be ploughed well and each piece of the noxious root had to be cleared away before the crop could be set.

Common Restharrow (Ononis repens) flower at Stevenston Beach Local Nature Reserve, North Ayrshire, Scotland. Image courtesy of wikicommons.
Common Restharrow (Ononis repens) flower at Stevenston Beach Local Nature Reserve, North Ayrshire, Scotland. Image courtesy of wikicommons.

Sometime ago I also stumbled across ‘rest-harrow’ but this time it was not in a field but in a reference to an intriguing remedy, one which had been added to others in a popular compilation known as the Lettre d’Hippocrate (MS Oxford, Bodley 86).[2] In this post, I’m going to look at three examples of the use of rest-harrow in medieval remedies which were intended to treat diarrhoea. The remedy is, on the whole, the same one that appears elsewhere around this time. However, there are differences between the versions recorded in these three examples and it is these intriguing differences that prompted me to dig a little further!

The late thirteenth-century manuscript MS Cambridge, Trinity College, O.1.20 is one of the earliest vernacular collections of medical texts, written in French, that we have. The remedy that calls for rest-harrow appears to suggest a magical or ritual element to the healing practice. In this rhymed collection of recipes and remedies ‒ the Physique rimee the author claims that he was compiling the knowledge to introduce those who ‘have no Latin (l. 86) to the useful properties of herbs and plants’, the names of which he notes ‘may already be familiar to them’.[3](Hunt, 1989:144). Among the plants he cites is l’arestboef, a name which is echoed today in the French common-name of L’arrêt-boeuf (Ononis arvensis) and in the English ‘rest-harrow’.

Rest-harrow in the field seek it out

It will be pounded and crushed and cooked,

Then tip this [mixture] into a bowl,

Put into [this bowl] the patient’s feet

So long as their feet are kept in there

To move [go forward] they will have no desire.[4]

A ploughman depicted in a manuscript copy of William Langland’s Piers Plowman (Cambridge, Trinity College, R.3.14, fol. 1v), courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.
A ploughman depicted in a manuscript copy of William Langland’s Piers Plowman (Cambridge, Trinity College, R.3.14, fol. 1v), courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.

The compiler who made a number of additions to a group of practical remedies for menesiun in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86 also recommended the recipe for its use for diarrhoea but perhaps doubting the rationale behind the author of MS CTC O.1.20’s advice he amends the remedy. His version calls for the patient’s legs and knees to be washed often in the concoction while placed in the bowl and he then places the cause of its efficacy firmly in the hands of God.[5] . There is no mention here of the idea which links the efficacy of the treatment with the time spent soaking the legs in the herbal mixture. The final example of the medieval use of this recipe is also cited in a collection that was copied in 1313, (MS CTC O.5.32, Trinity Practica) and although it shares a number of remedies and recipes in common with MS CTC O.1.20 the author, once again, leaves out the reference to ‘rest-harrow’, its connection with ploughing and its supposed efficacy in the treatment of diarrhoea. In this remedy the reference to oxen is reduced to homely instructions which explains that one simply has to cook ‘rest-harrow’ as one would cook the meat from the same beast.[6]

 The traditional use of rest-harrow for urinary problems and stone is well-documented in Herbals and other recipe and remedy collections. The tenacious growing habit of this plant is also evident in the way in which it appears, once again, in later herbals. In 1640 John Parkinson, accustomed to citing the virtues of rest-harrow for urinary problems, gives a number of remedies for the condition in his monumental work Theatrum Botanicum.[7]

The said quantite of the rootes sliced and put into a stone pot close stopped with the like quantite of wine and so set to boil in a ‘Balneo Marie’ for 24 houres is a daintie a medicine for tender stomacks as any of the daintiest Lady in the Land can desire to take being troubled with any of the aforesaid griefes:.[8]

This remedy, tasting sweetly of liquorice, is a far cry from that of the down to earth compiler of the Physique rimee, who cited its use for diarrhoea, and knew of rest-harrow’s infamous reputation for stopping both the oxen in their tracks and their unfortunate ploughman. Perhaps the answer to the conundrum is that he added his own little twist to the remedy in an attempt to help his students. He made the link of the image of the ploughman behind his plough battling with the ‘rest-harrow’ to provide an aide memoire for his students, who already knew the names of plants, but not their hidden virtues. Subsequent authors, unsure of the empirical authenticity behind its efficacy, quickly dropped this author’s curious explanation so that its use in treating diarrhoea has become an intriguing medieval enigma.

MS Cambridge, Cambridge University Trinity College O.1.20 fol. 7va here. Courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.
MS Cambridge, Cambridge University Trinity College O.1.20 fol. 7va here. Courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.

 

 

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Footnote: In preparing this piece for the blog I wanted to make sure that there was no evidence that Ononis arvensis (or its relations) had been traditionally used for treating cases of diarrhoea. Anne Stobart and members of the History of Herbal Medicine group quickly responded to my request for advice on its uses. Dr. Henry Oakeley (Royal College of Physicians) and John Adams (Syon Abbey) also provided me with confirmation of its use which they had gleaned from a wide range of Herbals across historical time periods. Everyone’s input, on the whole, confirmed that this medicinal remedy is not usually cited for diarrhoea and as such it remains a medieval medicinal enigma. My grateful thanks to everyone for their help and advice.

[1] Haggard H. Mystery, Magic, and Medicine. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.; 1933.

[2] Tony Hunt, Popular Medicine in Thirteenth-Century England, D.S. Brewer: 1989, 141.

[3] Hunt, 1989: 144.

[4] L’arestboef ens el chaump querés, Triblé sera, puis le quirés, Puis le versés en une gate, Les piés metes ens au malade. Taunt com les piés la dedens tendra, D’aler avaunt talent n’avra. [4] (Hunt, 1989: 167)          

[5] Et face laver ses genoilz et ses jambs de cel ewe et ceo sovent, si estaunchira od l’aide de Deu

[6]E pernez restbuef e quisez en ewe cum char de buef, destemprez ses pes leinz sic haut cum il purra soufrir, si garra”, Hunt, Anglo-Norman Medicine II, Shorter Treatises, 1997: 273.

[7] For an example of its inclusion in household books see: Elaine Leong, ‘Herbals she peruseth’: reading medicine in early-modern England, Renaissance Studies, 2014

[8] Open access: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rest.12079/full DOI: 10.1111/rest.12079

Editing The Recipes Project – 5 years on

Editorial: This is the second of a series of reflection posts from Recipe Project contributors and editors.

By Elaine Leong

cropped-fanshaw-chocolate-pot-highres1.jpg
Our original banner! The chocolate pot taken from Ann Fanshaw’s recipe book. Wellcome Library, Western Manuscript 7113, fol. 154v.

I often start my blog posts with ruminations on how quickly time flies – most probably because as a busy academic and working mother – changes in seasons and project milestones frequently creep up on me as um…wonderful surprises. When they do, though, it’s always useful take a minute for a bit of reflection.

Almost five years have gone by since, in the freezing April (!) snow of Saskatoon, Lisa Smith and I put our heads together for potential recipe-related collaborations. This blog was born just a few months later. I have to confess, when Lisa first brought up the idea of a blog, I was more than a little hesitant. I am one of the worlds’ slowest writers, seeing each footnote as an invitation “explore” and read another 10 articles or so, fretting over argumentation and structure, and indecisively musing over exactly which example best illustrates my point (and then making the – um – wrong decision to use all the ones I found…). Most of us are under pretty intense pressure to write-up and publish our research in traditional formats such as monographs, journal articles and edited volumes. So, the idea of adding regular blog posts to my workload was a little angst inducing. Now, for the second confession of this post – over the years, working on The Recipes Project has become one of the most pleasurable parts of my job and I am incredibly grateful to Lisa for getting us all started at The Recipes Project.

peanuts recipe box
Image of a 1970s recipe index box from one of my first posts “Recipes, Index Cards and Paper Slips” (https://recipes.hypotheses.org/704).

So, what makes The Recipes Project work for me? From the beginning, I saw The Recipes Project not as a blog but as a virtual research network – a platform bringing together scholars and readers with similar interests and fostering conversations across geographical, disciplinary and temporal boundaries. Here, The Recipes Project excels in a number of areas. With a mind on our usual word limit (yes, it applies to editors too), I outline here three aspects which I particularly appreciate. First and let’s get to the crux of the matter – intellectual import and benefits. My work on the blog – commissioning posts and thematic series, editing, and communicating with contributors – have enabled me to keep abreast of new research in my field. More importantly, over the years, The Recipes Project contributors have extended, challenged, and pushed my views on recipes as a text form and collecting, writing and testing recipes as epistemic practices. They have introduced me to different methodologies, inspired me to pull together new narratives and to frame fresh questions. For me, recipe studies now offer researchers unique opportunities to collectively craft together longue durée global histories across a number of knowledge spheres.

Fig. 4 Emerald imitation
My friend and colleague Marjolijn Bol holding one of her imitation emeralds in her post “Topazes, Emeralds, and Crystal Rubies. The Faking and Making of Precious Stones” (https://recipes.hypotheses.org/4659)

Secondly, The Recipes Project is a great example of collaborative research project. Over the years, I have worked closely with a dozens of contributors who not only invite me into their research worlds with much open-mindedness and grace but also motivated me to tighten my own thinking and writing. The editorial team at The Recipes Project – Lisa Smith, Amanda Herbert, Laurence Totelin and Laura Mitchell – are all scholars of amazing generosity. In them, I witness every month how kindness, encouragement and support can build a “village” of an intellectual community. At the same time, we also continually challenge each other with new ideas and skills as we each bring different strengths to the table. For example, unlike the others, I am a latecomer to the world of social media (I only joined twitter last week – find me @HistoryElaine, no tweets yet) and am just discovering the possibilities of being a twitterstorian. What prompted my recent foray into twitter? Well…we have big plans brewing at the RP headquarters – watch this space.

Finally, perhaps most personally fulfilling, over the years The Recipes Project has become a social community in addition to an intellectual one. Logging onto the blog and devouring the latest post, I am always excited and encouraged to read about the new recipe-related adventures of my friends and colleagues. When I head to large international conferences, it’s lovely to see the friendly face of a fellow Recipes Project contributor. More than once, I’ve also had lively and helpful coffees breaks with like-minded contributors at various libraries where hints and tips for new readings or alternative lines of research are exchanged (just like EM recipe exchange?). Many readers also approach us at recipes@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de with offers of posts and ideas. We always welcome new voices and hearing from contributors hailing from a range of knowledge fields is what makes our community diverse, welcoming and vibrant.

That’s it for me. Next month, co-editor Amanda Herbert will share her thoughts on The Recipes Project – tune in!