All posts by laurencetotelin

I am a lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University (United Kingdom). My research focuses on the history of Greek and Roman pharmacology and botany, with a special emphasis on gender. I have my personal blog, Concocting History, where I discuss more recipes and at times experiment with ancient concoctions: www.ancientrecipes.wordpress.com

Tales from the archives: Spring: when thoughts of fancy turn to itchy, watery eyes

In 2017, The Recipes Project celebrated its fifth birthday. We now have nearly 650 posts in our archives and over 160 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.

Spring  started a few days ago in the northern hemisphere. Here in the UK, the weather is getting warmer – and wetter – after a very cold month. The days are lengthening, and the flowers starting to bloom. All this loveliness, however, is slightly tempered by pesky hay fever, which seems to affect me earlier every year. This seems the perfect opportunity to revisit a post by our own Lisa Smith first published in May 2014 on early-modern remedies for watery eyes. Enjoy!


By Lisa Smith

A number of my Tweet-friends have recently been complaining about the severity of their hay fever this spring. @KateMorant asked:

Is there any #earlymodern advice/ recipes for hay fever? I’ll try anything short of applying leeches to eyes.

Advert for Histantin, a Burroughs Wellcome and Co antihistaminic agent showing a couple eating a picnic in a field while a farmer piles hay onto a cart, 1965. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

But… trying to figure out what people might have used to treat their symptoms in early modern England is no easy matter. The term hay fever, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was not used until 1829. What we know now as “hay fever” was first described in 1819 by Dr. John Bostock, who presented his own case for study as being “an unusual train of symptoms”: itchy, swollen and watery eyes, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. Over the years, Bostock had tried bleeding, purging, blisters, diet, Peruvian bark, steel, opium, mercury, cold bathing, digitalis… and, of course, many eye remedies. None of these had apparently helped.

Keeping in mind the relatively new description of hay fever as an ailment, I decided that the best way to track down early modern hay fever remedies would be according to symptoms. Of the symptoms typically associated with hay fever, itchy eyes are the easiest to trace—and even this was no mean feat.

I started off with the Wellcome Library’s wonderful online collection of seventeenth and early eighteenth century recipe books. Although there are lots of remedies to treat eye problems, many of these were a bit general, such as “The Lady Iveys Eye Watter” listed in the Johnson Family’s book (1694-1725). These eye drops, which included the white of a new laid egg, spring water and alum, could be used to treat “all distempers in yr Eyes pertickuler for any thing that grows”. So, although allergy-ridden eyes could in theory be treated with this remedy, it was not the most specific choice.

Fortunately, none of the remedies I looked at used this as an ingredient! Thomas Rowlandson, A Village Doctress Distilling Eyewater, 1800. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The Brumwich family (1625-1700) may have been hay fever sufferers, as there were three somewhat more useful remedies in their collection: “A watter for eyes that are red & watterey aproved”, “A resceipt for wattering eyes” and “A water for sore eyes whose lides are all swelled”. All had an “X” or a “+” beside them, indicating—along with the one “aproved” that the recipes had been tried. The “watter for eyes” was essentially a sugar water that could be sponged or dropped into the eyes, while “A resceipt” included orris [iris] root and white copris [possibly a beetle?] steeped in water. The “water for sore eyes” used red rose water and powdered aloes. Of course, there is no guarantee that these were for allergy symptoms, especially as the third recipe was included alongside remedies for blindness and sore eyes.

None of them give me any confidence.

The English Physician enlarged (1718) by Nicholas Culpeper, however, offered some potential explanations—as well as solutions—for itchy, watery eyes. A juice of celandine, field daisies and ground ivy in clarified water with dissolved sugar was a “soveraign remedy for all pains, redness, watering”, which sounds promising, but it also treated pins and webs and skins and films (p. 10). Barley, which was ruled by Saturn, could be cooling and cleansing, especially for inflammation problems (pp. 29-30). Eye drops distilled from green barley gathered at the end of May was particularly good for sufferers who had “Defluctions of Humours fallen into their Eyes”. Both remedies suggest that symptoms might be seen as defluxions (a discharge of fluid) or inflammations. Makes sense.

But another type of classification in Culpeper put itchy, swollen eyes alongside poisons and the venemous bites. This made sense; the blood in such cases was seen as poisoned and overly hot. White beets and borage and bugloss were all ruled by Jupiter, which made them cleansing and strengthening. The beets could treat internal obstructions, headaches, venemous bites, eye inflammations and—interestingly—“wheals”, something rather like a hive (pp. 36-37). Borage and bugloss roots and leaves were good for putrid and pestilential fevers and poisons, while the leaves and seeds might help cleanse the blood and excess heats. The distilled water could be used as an eye wash for red and inflamed eyes (pp. 50-51). Modern hay fever sufferers, no doubt, will also understand this parallel with poisoning, with  pollen and dust acting as daily sources of misery.

Trying to identify hay fever-like symptoms in early modern England is a difficult business, as these eye remedies reveal. And this, before we even get to the sneezing! A quick digital search through Culpeper’s on Eighteenth Century Collections Online shows that all references to sneezing were in positive terms. For example, under “Clary, or more properly Cleer-Eye”, Culpeper noted that the powder of the dry root “provoketh Sneezing and thereby Purgeth the Head and Brain of much Rheum and Corruption” (p. 90). In other words, while Culpeper offered up lots of remedies for the eye symptoms, nothing could—or should—be done about the sneezing.

Sneezing: nature’s way of purging the body? But at least no leeches were required…

 

Medieval Arabic recipes and the history of hummus

By Anny Gaul

Between the tenth and fourteenth centuries, cookbooks flourished throughout the Arabic-speaking world, from Baghdad to Murcia. Fortunately for scholars, in recent decades both critical Arabic editions and English translations of these cookbooks have appeared with increasing frequency. Coming from a region frequently cast as a site of unchanging convention, or as a place where traditional and modern necessarily clash, these recipes offer a way to track change over time in subtler ways.

The most recent addition to the genre is Nawal Nasrallah’s translation of the fourteenth-century Egyptian cookbook Kanz al-fawā’id fī tanwīʿ al-mawā’id (“Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table”), some of whose recipes I explore in this post (Nawal Nasrallah, trans., Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table: A Fourteenth-Century Egyptian Cookbook. Leiden: Brill, 2018). Nasrallah’s edition includes extensive introductory material and glossaries that situate the work within the broader corpus of Arabic cookery books – making it highly accessible to scholars who work on other languages or regions.

“Preparing Medicine from Honey”, depicting 13th century stove technology in the Middle East. From a Dispersed Manuscript of an Arabic Translation of De Materia Medica of Dioscorides. Image credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Kanz al-fawa’id offers the reader a detailed picture of what elite Egyptian cuisine looked like prior to the culinary transformations ushered in by the Columbian Exchange, the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and European colonial rule.

Variety of cinnamon sold in a spice shop in Amman, Jordan, referred to by the same name (dar sini) as the fourteenth century recipes discussed here. © Anny Gaul

Among historians of food in the Middle East, Kanz al-fawa’id and other medieval cookbooks are often discussed in terms of how much the region’s cooking has changed since they were written – and with good reason. Charles Perry has suggested that Middle Eastern cuisine as we know it is 500 years old, pointing out that many of today’s staple ingredients, like tomatoes and potatoes, and common techniques, like stuffing vegetables, are absent from medieval Arabic recipe collections, having been introduced to the region centuries later. And medieval cooks’ liberal use of cinnamon, caraway, and coriander is a far cry from the typical Middle Eastern palate today.

But not all contemporary Middle Eastern foods are without precedent in these medieval works. These collections also include recipes whose flavorings and makeup have shifted over time even as their essential techniques or structures have remained the same. An excellent example is the assortment of tahini- and chickpea-based dishes that we can read as forerunners of today’s hummus (Arabic for “chickpeas”).

At its most basic, contemporary hummus is a dip made from chickpeas, tahini, and lemon juice. Kanz al-fawa’id includes several recipes that hint at various iterations of this combination. Perhaps most obvious are recipes from a chapter of “cold dishes” that combine chickpeas and tahini with an array of flavorings, including aṭrāf ṭīb, a blend of a dozen spices:

Preserved lemon and fresh herbs. © Anny Gaul

Mash the [boiled] chickpeas and pass them through a sieve. Take toasted walnuts, pound them until the oil is released, and add tahini [and the mashed chickpeas]. Add enough olive oil, aṭrāf ṭīb, toasted and finely pounded seeds of coriander and caraway, rue, mint, and enough wine vinegar. Beat these ingredients together by hand until they mix well.

Next add lemon preserved in salt (laymūn māliḥ) after you cut it into very small pieces. Also add [pounded] pistachios (p. 378).

Salt-pickled lemons, which are still popular in Egypt and Morocco, likely came in handy when fresh lemons were unavailable. Although Kanz al-fawa’id largely reflects elite tastes, Nasrallah points out that in fourteenth-century Egypt, most city dwellers had no home kitchen and largely ate prepared foods purchased from market stalls and ambulant vendors – including those who specialized in cold meatless dishes like this one (pp. 40-44).

Recipes from other sections of the book offer a glimpse into how

Tahini sauce in progress: hazelnuts, coriander, caraway, cinnamon, ginger, and rosebuds. © Anny Gaul

these tart, tahini-based dips were meant to be consumed (p. 315). One recipe from a chapter on condiments includes no chickpeas, but features tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice, and a flavor profile similar to the chickpea concoction described above: it includes hazelnuts, mint, coriander, caraway, cinnamon, ginger, and rosebuds. The author warns the cook that liquids should be added “just enough so that you can still scoop it up with a piece of bread.” My attempt to recreate this recipe is pictured here: while certain aspects of its flavors resemble today’s hummus, its rich colors and textures are a reminder that changing tastes were a matter not only of ingredients, but appearance and consistency, too. Yet another recipe for a citrus-lanced tahini dip explains that it should be served “between courses” and eaten with bread (p. 206).

Tahini sauce, final result. © Anny Gaul

Fourteenth-century recipes suggest that contemporary hummus evolved from a much broader genre of acidic, tahini- and/or chickpea-based foods. In some ways they changed drastically over time, as spices were downplayed and streamlined. But hummus can also be read as part of a longstanding historical tradition: a lens through which to understand when tastes changed, and to begin asking why and how it happened.

Examples of Arab influence on medieval European recipes abound, from the introduction of durum wheat to imported medicinal ingredients to the aesthetics of medieval cooking sauces. Conversely, shifts in spice use in the Middle East followed early modern Ottoman and European trends. Who knows how many more unexplored connections lie in the wealth of medieval Arabic recipes – more accessible today than ever.

Selected bibliography of translated medieval Arabic recipe books:

Ibn al-Karīm, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan, and Charles Perry. A Baghdad Cookery Book: The Book of Dishes (Kitāb Al-Ṭabīkh). Petits Propos Culinaires 79. London: Prospect, 2005.

Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq, al-Muẓaffar ibn Naṣr. Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens: Ibn Sayyār Al-Warrāq’s Tenth-Century Baghdadi Cookbook. Translated by Nawal Nasrallah. Leiden: Brill, 2007.

Nasrallah, Nawal, trans. Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table: A Fourteenth-Century Egyptian Cookbook. Leiden: Brill, 2018.

Perry, Charles, trans. Scents and Flavors: A Syrian Cookbook. New York: New York University Press, 2017.

Zaouali, Lilia. Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 Recipes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

 

‘From Past to Present – Natural Cosmetics Unwrapped’: Conference, Workshop, and Museum Exhibition

By Jane Draycott

For the past two years, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has been funding the ‘From natural resources to packaging, an interdisciplinary study of skincare products over time’ research project through an Early Career Development Award as part of its Science in Culture Theme. Early career researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Glasgow, and Keele University have been working in conjunction with staff at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum, and at the Boots Archive (on which see this Recipes Project post) to undertake a scoping project and investigate the evolution of skincare products over time. The aims of the project were to identify the natural substances used in skincare products in the past and identify what – if any – pharmaceutical properties they possessed; to study the packaging and advertising of skincare products and the ways in which ancient images were utilised in them; to recreate ancient skincare products using contemporary natural substances; and to undertake public engagement activities and so disseminate the information generated by the project.

Cosmetics containers from the Kerameikos Museum, Athens, circa fifth century BCE, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The culmination of the project was a two-day event at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum, the first day consisting of a conference, the second a workshop, accompanied by ‘Cosmetics Unwrapped’, a special exhibition at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum, which draws on the museum’s collections as well as those of the Boots Archive and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

On Thursday 15th February, eleven experts in different areas of the history of cosmetics from around the world presented their research. Thibaut Devièse, the Principal Investigator of the ‘From natural resources to packaging, an interdisciplinary study of skincare products over time’ research project, opened the conference with an overview of the project’s activities and findings.The first panel focused on literary, documentary and archaeological evidence for cosmetics in ancient and historical periods. Francisco Gomes from the University of Lisbon discussed evidence for perfumes and unguents in the Western Iberian Iron Age, noting that the containers are an under-studied item and minimal analysis has been done on either them or their contents. Mira Cohen Starkman from the Wingate Institute discussed a range of cosmetic recipes from Jewish literature in use in Ladino and observed that comparative research using contemporary tribal practices can be useful when attempting to understand how natural resources were utilised as cosmetics in the past. Finally, Kathleen Walker-Meikle surveyed Hieronymus Mercurialis’ skincare recipes and highlighted the amount of ancient Greek and Latin medical recipes that he had utilised as sources.

The second panel explored the scientific analysis and experimental reconstruction of ancient and historical cosmetics. Josefina Perez-Arantegui from the University of Zaragoza detailed the different types of chemical analysis that can be brought to bear on surviving samples of cosmetics, while Maria Cristina Gamberini from the University of Modena provided an overview of not only the chemical analysis of Phoenician pigments but also the recreation of the recipes that would have contained them. Finally, Effie Photos-Jones of the University of Glasgow surveyed the different types of white pigment recovered from burials in Attic Greece and presented evidence that some of these pigments had been synthetically created in accordance with instructions found in ancient Greek literature.

The third panel provided an opportunity to explore the reception of ancient cosmetics in later historical periods and in the contemporary world. Judith Wright from Boots presented a lively potted history of the company’s popular No7 brand, noting how the brand responded to social change over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first century. Peter Homan, President of the British Society for the History of Pharmacy discussed remedies for baldness. Anisha Gupta from Kings College London scrutinised the numerous approaches to oral hygiene undertaken throughout history. Finally, independent scholar Julie Wakefield investigated the used of the ancient Greek pharmaceutical writer Dioscorides’ work by herbalists in the Early Modern period. The conference was brought to a close with a guest lecture on the appeal of natural products from the botanist, science writer, and broadcaster James Wong, author of the internationally best-selling books Grow Your Own Drugs and Homegrown Revolution.

On Friday 16th February, a free to attend workshop open to members of the public, generously funded by the Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Keele University and sponsored by G. Baldwin and Co. allowed experts in the recreation of historical cosmetics Szu Wong, Anisha Gupta, and Julie Wakefield to share their knowledge, expertise, and techniques. Parents and children from across London were invited to test a range of products recreated from ancient recipes such as Ovid’s face packs and face masks, Cleopatra’s solution for hair loss, and Egyptian kohl, and to create their own toothpastes and oatmeal moisturisers. Children were also encouraged to come up with ideas for cosmetics and design and make packaging and advertising for them.

Star Soap advert and soap, image courtesy of Jane Draycott

The ‘Cosmetics Unwrapped’ exhibition will be on display at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society until August and is free to view.

The team would like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Keele University, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and G. Baldwin & Co for supporting the research project and these events.

Introducing our new co-editor: Jess Clark

Interview by Lisa Smith

  1. Welcome to your new role as co-editor of the Recipes Project, Jess!  Tell us a bit about your own history with the RP.

I first contributed to the RP in 2014, when I wrote two pieces on beauty production in the Victorian home. Editors then gave me the opportunity to organize a series on Beauty Recipes, which included some fascinating guest posts on Muslim women’s cosmetic use in the medieval period, perfume production in eighteenth-century England and France, and hair dyeing in nineteenth-century America. My own piece for that series, which featured in September 2017’s “Tales from the Archives,” considered theatrical cosmetics and constructions of race and ethnicity. Each of these experiences was incredibly productive, encouraging me to think in new ways about the complex and longstanding relationship between beauty and recipes.

  1. We know that you’re currently at work on a book about Victorian entrepreneurs in England’s early beauty industry (see Jess’s previous posts on Theatrical Cosmetics and Making Scents)  How have recipes figured into this book project?

Recipes play an important role in the book in two key ways. First, the book charts a pivotal shift, around the mid-nineteenth century, from home production of beauty remedies to a growing reliance on commercial goods. British beauty brokers had to compete with time-honoured traditions of crafting one’s own hair dyes, face washes, and depilatories. We have a rich body of private and published recipes reflecting these practices, which show the extent to which men and women depended on homemade beauty production in this time.

By the mid-century, a burgeoning commercial industry began to offer alternatives to these home remedies. This wasn’t a straightforward shift, though, and a second way that recipes feature is in the widespread distrust of commercial beauty remedies. Adulteration was a serious concern for Victorian consumers, and the beauty business was often criticized for promoting dangerous or worthless wares. Commercial providers sometimes publicized their ingredients in an attempt to allay concerns, but these recipes weren’t always accurate. For example, the notorious Sarah “Madame Rachel” Leverson garnered attention in the 1860s for services like her “Arabian Baths.” Purportedly featuring “pure extracts of the liquid of flowers, choice and rare herbs,” the Baths turned out to be “little else than bran and water.” The accuracy of recipes was subsequently central to the reputation and trustworthiness of beauty businesspeople, a central theme of my book.

“A fine lip salve” from Stacey Grimaldi, The Toilet (2nd ed, 1821). Credit: ©British Library Shelfmark: Cup.410.d.29. Originally published at http://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2017/10/grimaldi-family-correspondence.html
  1. As a researcher, what has been your favorite recipe to use – and why?

My favourite “recipes” appear in a lovely little beauty manual held in the Bodleian Libraries’ incredible John Johnson Collection: The Toilet, printed by Stacey Grimaldi in 1821. Its table of contents lists wares like “Best White Paint” and “Superior Rouge,” echoing other beauty manuals of the time. However, when you turn to that respective page, there’s no recipe for the item. Instead, there’s a pop-up illustration accompanied by a verse about feminine virtues like “Honesty,” “Humility,” and “Innocence.” While these aren’t recipes, per se, I love how the verses showcase nineteenth-century value systems underpinning Victorian beautification and specifically tensions between artificial and natural beauty.

  1. We loved your “Beauty Recipes” Series for the RP in December of 2014, which introduced our readers to the ways that cosmetics, perfumes, hair tonics, powders, and paints served as both medicines and beautifiers.  What kinds of posts are you hoping to commission for the RP?

I look forward to continuing the dynamic work that the blog is known for. Posts frequently highlight the global movement and exchange of recipes and the ways these reflected local power relationships; as a historian of empire, I’m especially interested in these transnational links. As a modernist, I’m excited to explore recipes in recent historical moments and especially the mid-to-late twentieth century. Finally, coming from Canada, I’m interested in highlighting local contexts, including the ways that recipes feature in Indigenous histories and scholarship.