All posts by Katherine Allen

Katherine Allen has recently completed her doctorate in the history of medicine at the University of Oxford. Her research is on elite healthcare and household medicine in eighteenth-century England, and her doctoral thesis is titled 'Manuscript Recipe Collections and Elite Domestic Medicine in Eighteenth-Century England'.

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: 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.

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.

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]

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.


Recipes Round-up: Research Presented at Scientiae and SSHM 2016

by Katherine Allen

In early July I attended two conferences: Scientiae (on early modern science), and the Society for the Social History of Medicine (SSHM) conference. Both had an impressive range of scholarship, and it was exciting to see recipes featured so prominently. Included here are some of my thoughts on the research, sources, and challenges currently being tackled by recipe historians.


Scientiae was held at St. Anne’s College (Univ. Oxford) and the theme was disciplines of knowing in the early modern world. This conference was interdisciplinary, and brought together scholars working on more traditional aspects of the history of science, alongside those exploring the histories of magic, alchemy, medicine, music, and religion.

In the panel on medicine in early modern Europe, Tillmann Taape’s presentation on alchemical medical guides in early modern Germany reinforced the idea that printed distillation guides were used by ‘the common man’, and his texts included herbal sections with registers of diseases and medical recipes. I discovered that waters had ‘bad attitudes’, and that distilling was seen as a way of making the water ‘obey’ the craftsman.

I spoke on the continued practice of distilling household medicine in early eighteenth-century England. I stressed the continued importance of printed distillation guides as sources of technical instruction for domestic practitioners, and that distilling medicine was done primarily as a leisure activity with the products used to supplement a family’s medical care.

Distillation figures in Ambrose Cooper's 'The Complete Distiller' (1757)
Distillation figures in Ambrose Cooper’s ‘The Complete Distiller’ (1757)

In a session on ‘understanding the vegetable world’ Rachel Koroloff introduced us to the travnik, a challenging term used to simultaneously describe an herbal manuscript, an herbalist, and an herbal collection in 17th C Muscovy. The term originated in the 1630s with the Tsar ordering apothecaries to source plants for the palace’s medical stores. The travniki as texts included recipes, and balanced Russian folklore and supernatural beliefs with a hybrid version of Galenic medicine. Rachel argued that there was an assumed base knowledge of the plants listed in travniki and that this rested on the presumption of the travnik as an individual with expertise in herbal knowledge.

Medicine in its Place: SSHM 2016

The SSHM conference was held at the University of Kent and had well-balanced temporal scope on spaces within medical history. I found the panels on approaches to research (the place of digital history in medicine and one on social media) particularly thought-provoking and inspiring.

I organised a panel on 17th and 18th C domestic medicine. This panel included my research on the evolving material history of 18th C recipe collections with the commercialisation of medicine, and the incorporation of newsprint and proprietary medicine advertisements into these personalised books. One particular challenge of this research is determining from where recipes were sourced, given that citations referencing print/newsprint were not commonplace.

Newsprint in 18th C Manuscript Recipe Books
Newsprint in 18th C Manuscript Recipe Books

Anne Stobart spoke on Margaret Boscawen’s 17th C plant notebook, and the links between the garden and the kitchen in household healthcare. She challenged the historiographical idea that ingredients were readily and freely collected from the garden and countryside and argued that Boscawen was concerned about the availability of plants in her locality. A question I found interesting for Anne was how she (and contemporaries) distinguishes between ‘wild’ and ‘the garden’.

Culpeper Garden. Post-conference visit to Leeds Castle, Kent.
Culpeper Garden. Post-conference visit to Leeds Castle, Kent.

Sally Osborn highlighted the far-reaching networks used by 18th C recipe collectors to share medical knowledge; these included familial, social, and political networks which were used to build social credit. She suggested that tried and trusted recipes acquired from family and other correspondents may have been valued and chosen over other recipes, like those collected from print sources.

In a panel on landscapes, Sophie Greenway examined the post-war shift of the British garden from a place of production to one of leisure. In 1950s magazines, advertisements encouraged women to purchase efficient kitchen appliances so that they could spend recreational time in their gardens. Paradoxically, this ‘aspirational literature’ featured this message alongside recipes for desserts like blancmange and blackcurrant jelly, which suggests that a woman’s time was best spent in the kitchen. I found this paper valuable for thinking about recipes used alongside advertising, as well as the relationship of print with the domestic space.

The Household in 1950s Magazine Advertising
The Household in 1950s Magazine Advertising

In a roundtable discussion on digital history, Lisa Smith represented the collaborative work being done here at The Recipes Project, as well as the transcription efforts over at EMROC and Shakespeare’s World. Lisa emphasised that in the digital projects, the message board is useful for attracting new transcribers, encouraging discussions, and demonstrating the value placed on close reading and deeper engagement with recipes.

I thoroughly enjoyed my ‘conference holiday’ and these papers represent the range of sources, topics, and temporal contexts with which recipe historians are currently engaging. And, it is on digital platforms like this that we can share our research, collaborate, and explore new avenues of inquiry on recipes.

Springtime in Recipe Books

By: Katherine Allen

Spring has sprung and I can’t help but ponder the significance of spring for recipe collectors in the late 17th and 18th century. Citations of spring in recipes highlight the importance of changing seasons and new growth, in terms of both health and productivity in the household. As Melissa Schultheis recently explored, temporality was closely connected to understanding the body. Here I consider two aspects of springtime: the prominence of spring and changes in climate for humoral-based regimens, and spring as the season for gathering (or purchasing) medical ingredients.

In recipe collections, we often find information on what time of year and for how long a person should take a remedy, and the two seasons most often cited are spring and fall. In 18th-century recipe books, remedies for the king’s evil, scurvy, rickets, dropsy, and gout were often recommended with this temporal remit. Springtime regimens were used to treat and prevent ailments arising from shifts in temperature and climate, changes in activities, and diet modifications with seasonal food availability (and potentially allergens).

Vegetable Syrup advertisement from the Whitehall Evening Post in Anna Maria Reeve’s collection (MS.2363, f. 64: Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London).
Vegetable Syrup advertisement from the Whitehall Evening Post in Anna Maria Reeve’s collection (MS.2363, f. 64. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London).

Galenic medicine, and with it the concept of balancing the four humors, remained fundamental in medical practice into the 18th century. Spring was a warm and moist time of year, meaning that its favoured constitutions were more sanguine and less melancholic. It was a time of rejuvenation, longer daylight, and individuals were encouraged to avoid napping and to exercise in the morning. Bleeding and purging in spring were also believed to be preventative measures for avoiding ailments like fevers.

Sister Arscott’s ‘Collick Drops’ remedy was said to cure the ‘Morbus Galicus’ (syphilis), among other ailments, when taking in two ounce doses three days a week in spring and fall.[1] Sometimes recipes indicate specific months. The Trumbull family’s collection has a remedy for a rupture approved by an Aunt Barker, which included wearing a plaster and a truss while anointing it with amber oil twice a day, ‘especially [in] ye monthes of February March & April’.[2]

Even commercial medicines specified spring as an ideal time to purchase and take a remedy. For treating scurvy, the well-known patent cure ‘Vegetable Syrup’ advertisement noted that a T. Huckings felt it was necessary to take ‘a quantity every spring and autumn’. Huckings claimed that he intended to begin a course ‘on the first of March next’.[3] This testimony served as a marketing technique for promoting the remedy’s repeated use.

Spring was also an important season for making medicine. Previous posts on gathering ingredients have discussed the significance of gathering herbal ingredients in spring or early summer when they are available, and also while they are young and have stronger medicinal properties.

Pilewort. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Pilewort. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Elizabeth Jenner’s recipe ‘to make Green oyntment’ for conditions like burns used pilewort which, ‘in A forward Spring’ you can ‘get it ye end of April wn ye Green leafe is Something like A Scurvy Grass leaf & bares A yallow flower like A Crasie’.[4] The Tyrrell family’s collection similarly has a wound drink listing 23 herbs to be ‘gathered in May to keep all the year’. The herbs were ‘not good after they are a yeare old, & after two yeares stark nought’.[5] One eye remedy even went as far as specifying that the ‘briony [bryony] must be taken up ye 10th of march’.[6]

Animals too were collected in spring. This is likely because animals were more active in spring, and juveniles (with their stronger medicinal properties) were also available. To make worm powder for treating colic and convulsions 14-15 worms were to be collected, and April and May were ‘the best time for making this’.[7] Another remedy for convulsions was a powder made of moles, ‘to be made only in March & September’.[8] Indicating that ‘a dead Mole is good for nothing, you must cut the throat alive’, suggests that this remedy was best prepared in the months when the moles were most active and also medicinally efficacious.

Mole Powder for Convulsion Fits in an anonymous collection (D-LO/6/17/112, f. 2. Image Credit: Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies).
Mole Powder for Convulsion Fits in an anonymous collection (D-LO/6/17/112, f. 2. Image Credit: Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies).

Spring was an industrious time in 18th century English households. It was a time to be pro-active in preventing illness through regimens of medicine, exercise and diet, particularly as the social and agricultural seasons approached. The environment’s influence on the body was a feature of 18th century healthcare, and remedies both made and purchased were tied to the centrality of self-management in changing seasons. Forward planning was also clearly necessary to source plant and animal-based ingredients and to create medicines. Recipe books hence usefully document spring as a productive time for household and health management.

[1] MS.981, f. 138. Wellcome Library, London.
[2] Add.72619, f. 114. British Library.
[3] MS.2363, f. 64. Wellcome Library, London.
[4] MS.3029, f. 50. Wellcome Library, London.
[5] MS.7822, f. 11r.-11v. Wellcome Library, London.
[6] MS.27466, f. 85. British Library.
[7] Add.72619, f. 115v. British Library.
[8] D-LO/6/17/112, f. 2. Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.

Categories in a Database of Eighteenth-Century Medical Recipes

By Katherine Allen

Creating a database is a valuable (though time-consuming!) methodological approach to the history of recipe collecting. The database that I constructed for my doctoral research catalogues over 5,000 medical recipes from 27 eighteenth-century manuscript collections. I used the data to help answer one of my thesis questions: in what ways did the recipe collecting tradition continue into the eighteenth century as part of domestic medicine in elite English households? The data suggests continuity and change in recipe collecting. Even as compilers maintained traditional methods of collecting, they were open-minded to innovations in medicine and other cultural and intellectual shifts.

I use a form-based system in Microsoft Access, with each entry receiving a unique searchable ID number for manuscript and recipe. The collector, when available, is noted, along with the date (for a specific recipe or the manuscript). By including the recipe title, I could also trace popular recipes and the ailments they treated.

Recipe Form in Database
Recipe Form in Database

‘Ingredients’ was an embedded form listing the ingredient item (modernised spelling), quantity (decimalised), unit of measurement, and a description of characteristics and preparations. I grouped like ingredients and categorised them as follows: plant, animal, mineral, prepared (compound), and unknown. I also found total counts for each ingredient, and how many individual (unique) ingredients comprised each category, enabling me to rank proportionally the ingredient categories.

One of the difficulties of categorising materia medica is finding balance between conveying diversity, while grouping like items for effective and efficient analysis. I used similar methodologies to those used by Jennifer Stine and Anne Stobart (see post on plant ingredients). Moreover, I endeavoured to categorise separately distinct components of plants and animals (for instance, seeds and petals, or, suet and blood) when each item was contemporarily viewed as having differing medicinal qualities and uses.

The ‘equipment’ form recorded household objects used to make medicine, the technique or instructions associated with tools, and descriptions. I used the data on distillation to determine how frequently stills were cited, and the types of distillation equipment cited in recipe collections. This data reveals that distillation remained an important component of recipe collecting up to the first quarter of the eighteenth century.

Data on the purpose and administration of remedies was compiled using a text box on dosage/administration and a drop-down menu on treatment. The dosage text box allowed me to define the most commonly used quantities of medicine, how they were administered, and frequency of dosage. This data shows that medicine was often tailored to an individual’s age, constitution, and tastes, and that regimens remained popular approaches to treatment in elite healthcare.

Drop-down menu for treatment categories in database
Drop-down menu for treatment categories in database

Categorising diseases in recipe books is challenging. These manuscripts present a long history of varied medical approaches and theories, and compilers frequently grouped remedies by the process of making the medicine, rather than intended use. We also need to contend with recipes being used to treat symptoms and/or diseases, and recipes that could treat several ailments, or were cure-alls.

I took an objective approach to categorising diseases, following how compilers described their remedies first, and later grouping the ailments thematically into categories such as: who they were treating, approach to treatment, and diseases. Using a drop-down menu for treatment allowed me to organise and amend my categories as I entered data. The data was entered according to the main ailment the remedies was intended to treat (if there was more than one), but recipes that cited many uses were often grouped as cure-alls. This approach to database categories attempts to provide a realistic portrayal of medicine in recipe books by following how eighteenth-century compilers understood medicine, but it also meets my needs as an historian to create manageable categories.

Treatment data allowed me to trace popular named medicines, like Peruvian bark and Gascoigne’s Powder, and this helps us understand how compilers categorised and understood diseases and approaches to treatment. I used Access reports to group the recipes by treatment, thus generating data to calculate percentages for each treatment category.

Finally, I had two text boxes for entering information on individuals attributed to recipes. Forty-percent of my recipes were attributed two one or more individuals. The queries used to run this data looked at recipes with no attribution, one attribution only, and multiple attributions. This data was used to understand direct and indirect citations referencing how medical knowledge was communicated and that recipes were often communicated in a multi-step transmission process. Compilers who referenced from whom (or what- with regards to print sources) they obtained recipes, from where, and when, demonstrate the significance of references in documenting a recipe’s credibility and the complexity of social networks used to send and receive medical knowledge.