All posts by Lisa Smith

A historian of gender and medicine in eighteenth-century France and England, Lisa Smith (Lecturer in Digital History, University of Essex) has published widely on leaky bodies, pain, fertility, and the household. She is finishing a book on “Domestic Medicine: Gender, Health and the Household in Eighteenth Century England and France”. In addition to developing an online database of the Sir Hans Sloane Correspondence, she is a co-investigator on a crowd-sourcing recipes transcription project. She blogs at The Sloane Letters Blog and Wonders & Marvels and tweets as @historybeagle.

‘The Cholera Manuscript’: A collection of recipes and cures from Co Limerick

By Dorothy Cashman

Several years ago a manuscript collection of recipes came up for auction in Dublin. At the time, Ireland was in the throes of an IMF bailout and funding across all cultural institutions was grinding to a halt. This was the background to my suggestion to the National Library of Ireland that they should consider purchasing this manuscript to add to their collection.

Several things stood out about it, not least a nota bene attached to a recipe for White Current Wine, which for obvious reasons had particular resonance, and lent a touch of gallows humour to the initial reading of the contents (Fig. 1).[1] There was very little to grasp onto in terms of family history, other than an assertion that a block of the recipes were taken ‘from Lord Buckingham’s cook’, that reference to Mrs Hawksworth in the nota bene and the name ‘C. O’Carroll’ on the inside flyleaf. A trade label indicated that the slim book had been purchased from James Draper of Crampton Court in Dublin, bookbinders and paper merchants who coincidentally were appointed stationers to the Bank of Ireland in 1802.[2] The auctioneer verbally indicated that the manuscript was from Co Limerick.

National Library of Ireland, MS 42,105 .

The entries span twenty years, 1811 to 1831. The reference to Lord Buckingham’s cook, John Simpson, has added resonance for Irish readers, historically and in the present. Lord Buckingham, the first marquess, was twice lord lieutenant of Ireland, briefly in 1782/3 and subsequently from 1787 to 1789. In this latter period he created, by royal warrant, the Order of St Patrick.[3] The great ballroom of Dublin Castle was renamed St Patrick’s Hall at the time of the first investiture and is known as such to this day. It is the setting for the Irish State’s most significant ceremonial occasion, the inauguration of the President of Ireland, and where Ireland’s most honoured visitors are entertained.

Buckingham was also connected to Ireland through his marriage to Mary Nugent, daughter of the 1st Viscount Clare, and died two years after this manuscript was commenced, predeceased by a year by his wife. There is no reference to the fact that the recipes are from John Simpson’s published cookbook itself,[4] from which one could infer that the reflected glory from the provenance of these recipes arises as much from the fact of Lord Buckingham being the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland as it does from being a marquess on a distant shore.

Mrs Hawksworth, the other name accorded some weight by the scribe (Fig. 2) may be traceable to John Hawksworth, agent to Lord Castlecoote. One of the estates held by a junior branch of the Coote family through to the early twentieth century was in the townland of Mountcoote, Co Limerick, lending some credence to the intimation that the manuscript was of Limerick origin.  Interesting and amusing as the interjections and references to John Simpson and the chief bookkeeper of the Bank of Ireland were, it was the unusual assembly of four remedies for cholera that caught the attention, to the extent that I mentally referenced the collection as ‘the cholera manuscript’ thereafter.

National Library of Ireland, MS 42,105

Anglophone Ireland was an avid consumer of household and childcare books produced in Britain. There was also a healthy Irish market in reprinting popular British books; the copyright laws did not extend until the turn of the nineteenth century. Information of a domestic nature contained in gazettes, magazines, circulars and other printed material was quickly absorbed into the narrative in Ireland and this collection is evidence of this, notably so in the entries regarding the deadly disease. Cholera morbus is recorded as arriving in Limerick in June 1832.[5]

Tellingly, the recording of the first cure for cholera is located between a cure dated April 1831 and another dated August of the same year. This predated the spread of the disease from Britain to Ireland, indicating a heightened awareness in Ireland of impending disaster. This first entry is a close unattributed transcription of one appearing in The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany of 1831.[6] By March 1832 the disease had struck Belfast and Dublin, and between April and June it was ‘wrecking destruction in Ennis, Limerick and Tullamore’.[7]

Subsequent entries concerning cholera are positioned some time after October 1831, indicating perhaps a growing sense of panic in the household. The first of these, an ‘effectual cure for the cholera’, is transcribed as published in both The Lancet and The Isis: A London Weekly Publication.[8] The second is a cure ‘sent by Dr Shanfer from Warsaw to the Prussian Government’, while the final one is via the ‘Hon. Mrs Knox’, attributed to the Asiatic Journal ‘published nearly two years ago’. The disease having progressed through the country, normal domestic life resumes with the next entry, to take out stains or spots upon silk.

The National Library purchased the manuscript at auction. It fits neatly into their collection as being representative of what appears to be the narrative of one of the ‘less grand’, if not minor households in Ireland. Although relatively anonymous, it is noteworthy with respect to all of its quirks and sotto voce commentary, and recording of the passage of the dreaded cholera through the medium of possible cures.  Sufficiently noteworthy that they decided that it (MS 42,105) would be the first of the household manuscripts to be digitized. [9]

[1] The Irish state stepped in to secure Bank of Ireland in the form of a state guarantee in 2009.

[2] Mary Pollard, A Dictionary of Members of the Dublin Book Trade 1550-1800 (London: Bibliographical Society, 2000), 168.

[3] The highest chivalric order for Ireland, established February 1783. The last peer appointed was in 1922. Since the foundation of the Irish state the order is officially dormant, as it was never abolished.

[4] John Simpson, A Complete System of Cookery (London: W. Stewart, 1806)

[5]Historical Records of the Existence and Progress of Cholera in the City of Limerick During the Months of May and June (Limerick: Edward Deane, 1832).

[6] The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany, Vol. 5 New Series May-August 1831, (London, Parbury, Allen, and Co.)  The recipe appears to have been copied from Thomas J. Graham, M.D., Modern Domestic Medicine, A Popular Treatise, (London: published for the author, 1827).

[7] T. De Bhaldraithe, ed., Cín Lae Amhlaoibh  (Cork: Mercier Press, 1979), 135. Sligo town suffered the highest number of fatalities in Ireland or Britain, fifteen hundred in a six-week period.

[8] The Lancet, 1831-32 (London, Mills, Jowett, and Mills), 216; The Isis: A London Weekly Publication,[iv] ed. Eliza Sharples, 1832, No 5, Vol. I, 74.

[9] The manuscript is un-paginated, the first cure for cholera morbus may be found on page sixty-four of the digitized copy. In its collections the NLI has the most extensive collection of archival material relating to Irish culinary history in public ownership, and the author would like to record her gratitude for their unfailing support in this regard.


Searching for Something Special in Northeastern China’s Cuisine

By Loretta E. Kim

Mixed noodles with broth and sauce. Credit: Loretta Kim.

The “eight major cuisines” (ba da caixi) of China, a culinary taxonomy sometimes reduced to four types and at most expanded to sixteen, reflects Chinese pride in the diversity of ingredients and flavor palettes that are associated with historical variations in material culture developed from differences in topography, climate, and biota. However, the Chinese word caixi, which translates to the English term “cuisine”, generally refers to foods that are attributed to the Han people who constitute the ethnic majority group in the past and present. Foods of non-Han peoples are also consumed by Han people, but are often considered part of “food and beverage culture” (yinshi wenhua) or “folk customs” (minjian xisu). The exclusion of non-Han foods from the cuisine classification and attribution of them instead to geographical regions and culture serves to reinforce the conception of non-Han peoples as marginal members of Chinese society.

Natives of Northeastern China, customarily defined as Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang provinces, are proud of their food, but people in other parts of the country often remark that Northeastern food (Dongbei cai) is not an authentic type of “cuisine” because it is “simple” (lacking complex flavors), “tasteless” (or “too salty”), and “monotonous” (most dishes are made of the same ingredients). Most of these uncomplimentary stereotypes of Northeastern China’s food are based on the staples and homemade favorites of Han households in the region, such as “three fresh flavors of the earth” (di san xian), a dish made by sautéing potatoes, eggplants, and green peppers with garlic, green onions, and peanut oil, and dishes cooked by stewing an assortment of ingredients (dun cai).

Although they are generally not explicitly cited in criticisms of Northeastern food, several attributes of the region influence how Chinese in other areas develop these prejudices. Northeastern China is a borderland and socio-cultural frontier between China and neighboring countries, so it is not considered as a distinct culinary region like other borderlands such as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and Yunnan and Guizhou provinces.

Another characteristic of Northeastern China is that its ethnic minority (non-Han) populations are not well-known to people in other areas of China, either by group name or distinguishing characteristics. Chinese in central and eastern China may know of Manchus and Mongols, two of China’s largest ethnic minority groups, but struggle to name or describe any others. So unlike Xinjiang, Yunnan, and Guizhou, which are known as the homes of ethnic minorities that produce food which is very different from Han food and therefore quite appealing to Chinese consumers who seek epicurean novelty, the culinary reputation of Northeastern China does not benefit from its ethnic diversity.

Most ethnic minority people in contemporary Northeastern China are fluent and literate in Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) but do not actively translate or otherwise bridge knowledge from their heritage languages into China’s Sinophone mainstream society. Moreover, most ethnic minority recipes in Northeastern China are not documented and standardized, and few people can read or write texts produced in these languages so there is no substantial audience for such records.

Despite these disadvantages to changing popular attitudes towards Northeastern China’s cuisines, pre-twentieth century sources reveal that non-Northeastern people formerly associated certain foodways with places and peoples of the Northeast. One such source is the section about food in the Classified Anecdotes of the Qing Dynasty (Qingbai leichao). The author, Xu Ke (1869-1928), was a native of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province and a member of the literati class who earned an official examination degree.

Unlike many of his fellow southern-born cultural doyens, Xu included references to the north, including the northeast, in his writings. About the people of Ningguta, a place now known as Ning’an, in Heilongjiang province, he observed “The da gao [a cake usually made of glutinous rice (nuomi 糯米), honey and/or white sugar] is made of glutinous millet (huangmi 黃米) in Ningguta (emphasis mine).”[1] Xu Ke  also observed that Ningguta people like “yellow pickled vegetables” (huangji). “Yellow pickled vegetables” are ubiquitous throughout China to the southernmost region of Guangdong, where huangji is pronounced  wong zai) and the vegetable in question is a cucumber that is served minced. How the Ningguta pickle was eaten, and in fact what is, goes unexplained, but Xu’s reference to it piques the imagination about what made it unique.

Xu also discusses the foods of non-Han peoples in Northeastern China in his miscellany, such as the two ways in which Mongols eat meat: “(Mongols) boil beef and lamb slightly in plain water, or roast (these meats) directly over bovine manure. When the pieces (of meat) are roasted, the left hand is used to hold the meat, while the right hand holds a small knife to cut (the meat), a little salt is added and the meat is eaten without being chewed.”[2] Roast meat is not a sophisticated dish, if sophistication is appraised by the number of ingredients or required steps to cook it. But the mental image of a Mongol diner holding and cutting his meat inspires us to think about how culinary sophistication and tradition as only defined by Han people or by ethnic minorities who are commonly known for being “exotic” inhibits a more inclusive and potentially more interesting interpretation of “cuisine” in China.


[1] Xu, Qingbai leichao, 6248.
[2] Xu Ke, Qingbai leichao (Classified anecdotes of the Qing dynasty)(Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1917, reprint, Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2010), 6247.



Tales from the Archives:

I am a homesick Canadian in the UK at this time of year. This coming weekend is Thanksgiving and I’ll be thinking about my family feasting on turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Our modified family tradition in the UK is to go out for a roast dinner on the Sunday–which has its benefits (turkey without the dishes), as well as drawbacks (no pumpkin pie). For those of you who want to try your hand at making a historical pumpkin pie, I offer you Colleen Kennedy’s ‘Baking a Pumpion Pye‘ from the archives.


Last year, I was invited to a Thanksgiving potluck and I thought this might be the ideal time to try out a 17th century pumpkin pie recipe. I read early modern perfume and aromatic recipes often for my own research, but had not tried my hand at reconstructing a recipe. Inspired by the many recreated recipes of Rebecca Laroche (amongst others, especially Hillary Nunn, Amy Tigner, and Amanda Herbert‘s use of recipe reconstruction in the college classroom), I thought this might be the perfect time to try my hand at making a pie from scratch following a Renaissance recipe. I began with a recipe from Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion (c. 1670) “To Make a Pumpion Pye” (the steps are embedded in the pictures below), and rolled up my sleeves.

I had a few reasons for attempting this project: I hope to recreate some early modern perfumes and thought this might be a good practice round. My classroom assignments are experiential, whether having students operate an old printing press to make broadsides or blocking scenes from a Shakespeare play in an outdoor ampitheatre. So, I thought I should try my hand at this same sort of praxis, especially if I hoped to one day assign recreating perfumes and cosmetics in the classroom. Finally, and most pressing at the time, I needed to bring a dish to the potluck.

A few caveats: Despite my interest in the idea of early modern recipes, I don’t do much recipe-dependent baking at home. I cook on-the-stovetop meals that I make by following my nose and adding a dash more of this or that.

TAke a pound of pumpion and slice it, a handful of time, a little rosemary, and sweet marjoram stripped off the stalks, chop them small, then take cinamon, nutmeg, pep|per, and a few cloves all beaten,
STEP 1: “TAke a pound of pumpion and slice it, a handful of time, a little rosemary, and sweet marjoram stripped off the stalks, chop them small, then take cinamon, nutmeg, pepper, and a few cloves all beaten,…”

Two medium pumpkins added up to around one pound. Because the very first step states to “slice it,” I cut the lid off of the pumpkin, hollowed it, and extracted as much of the pulp from the rind as possible.  From this first step, I realized that unlike the measurements of modern recipes, early modern recipe measurements is often intuitive (also see Kayla Perkins’ recent post on “Quantities in Recipes“). Less surprising, there are no indicated temperatures or bake times.

also ten eggs and beat them, then mix and beat them all together, with as much sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froise, after it is fryed let it stand till it is cold,
STEP 2: “…also ten eggs and beat them, then mix and beat them all together, with as much sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froise, after it is fryed let it stand till it is cold,…”

My second issue was encountering several unfamiliar terms: froise and caudle. Using EEBOI  discovered that “froise” was listed in several “dictionaries of difficult terms” with variant meanings as either a “Pancake of Eggs,” “a Pancake [with bacon intermixt],” or an “omlet.” With these definitions in mind, I created a crepe/omelet/pancake hybrid (and added currants based on a modern “Welsh froise” recipe I looked at online). 

layers pumpkin pie
STEP 3: …then fill your pye after this manner. Take sliced apples sliced thin round wayes, and lay a layer of the froise, and a layer of apples, with currans betwixt the layers. While your pye is fitted, put in a good deal of sweet butter before you close it….

The next step called for “filling the pie.” Yet, I couldn’t figure out exactly what this meant. If I was supposed to prepare a traditional piecrust, there was no recipe throughout Woolley’s other pie recipes in the Gentlewoman’s Companion. (Ken Albala, noted food historian, offers some yummy early modern coffin (pie crust) recipes.)

If I was supposed to repurpose the pumpkin shell for the pie, that was also unclear. I did have a large clear casserole dish which allows us to nicely see the layers.  I interpreted that the froise and some sliced apples could serve as the bottom layer/crust.

"When the pye is baked, take six yolks of eggs, some white wine or verjuyce, and make a caudle of this, but not too thick, cut up the lid, put it in, and stir them well together whilest the eggs and pumpion be not perceived, and so serve it up."
STEP 4: “…When the pye is baked, take six yolks of eggs, some white wine or verjuyce, and make a caudle of this, but not too thick, cut up the lid, put it in, and stir them well together whilest the eggs and pumpion be not perceived, and so serve it up.”

I simmered “some white wine” on the stove and added egg yolks to make a caudle. They immediately poached and smelled horrible. I tried to modify my mistake by consulting Woolley’s own “almond caudle recipe” and replaced the wine with almond milk in my second attempt. My caudle still smelled was rancid and I had to toss it. Lesson Learned: Trust your nose.

Overall, I learned a lot through this experiential process about ingredients and measurements, baking vocabulary, pre-prepared foods, and following all steps. The end result was rather tasty. Because of the heavy spices of nutmeg and cloves, and the general weight of the dish due to the eggs, it tasted much more like a savory pumpkin quiche-stuffing hybrid than a dessert. The casserole pan returned home empty (always a promising sign). I would try this recipe again (after conquering caudle!).

Fresh from the oven Pumpion Pie!

Receiving Alchemical Knowledge

By Margaret Maurer

On two of the last leaves of receipt book compiled by Margarett Baker in the late-seventeenth century, there is a brief treatise that defines the practice of alchemy (fols. 133v-134r). Written in the same clear, italic script that on previous pages instructs how “To take out stayns or ink out of a linen Cloth” (38v) or recounts Mistress Malltes’ recipe “To make a… Cake” (42r), it begins:

Alchimy or spargyrike are accointed amongst the fore pillers of meddecen and w[hi]ch openeth and demonstrateth the compositions & desolutions of all boddies together w[i]th ther preparations terations & exaltations [th]e same I saie is shee w[hi]ch is the inuenter & scoole mistres of distllations…


Margaret Baker, V.a.619, Folger Shakespeare Library.

The passage continues by discussing different examples of alchemical transformation and outlining various alchemical processes. Using Early English Books Online, I found the original source of the passage was Thomas Tymme’s 1605 translation of Joseph du Chesne’s The practise of chymicall, and hermeticall physicke, for the preseruation of health. While it is possible that there are untraceable intermediary links that connect Du Chesne’s work with Baker’s, her manuscript also mimics the printed text’s form, separating out each alchemical procedure with its corresponding definition. The visual replication of the printed text signals a close connection between Tymme’s translation and Baker’s transcription.

Baker’s receipt book, fol. 133v. Credit: Folger Shakespeare Library.
Tymme’s translation of Du Chesne, p. AA4r. Credit: Folger Shakespeare Library.

Cross-referencing Baker’s receipt book with EEBO reveals that many of the recipes and passages contained within the volume replicate over a dozen printed sources, including numerous medicinal and alchemical texts. Much of the content is copied verbatim, although some passages have been restructured or given new titles. The most significant change is Baker’s non-standard spelling, which creates deviations that complicate database searches. Undoubtedly, the source texts found using EEBO are a small fraction of the total sources, printed and otherwise, that Baker appropriated when compiling her receipt book. However, identifying these passages illustrates the wide circulation and permeable boundaries of medicinal, alchemical, and domestic texts in early modern England.

Baker’s receipt book utilizes a wide array of medical and alchemical texts to construct a distinctively Paracelsian approach to domestic medicine. Apart from these hints about her intellectual world, we know relatively little about Margaret Baker’s life. Her name is preserved in three extant recipe books, but there are no further records about her life. The University of Essex’s “Baker Project” provides a detailed examination of the receipt book, including information and inferences about its author, construction, and provenance.

Baker’s receipt book draws from a diverse range of sources: surgery manuals and books of secrets, treatises on Paracelsian medicine and herbals. Alongside English physicians and surgeons, Baker copied English translations of continental writers from Switzerland, Italy, France, and the Netherlands. Additionally, the passages within Baker’s book span over 100 years − from John Day’s translation of Konrad Gesner’s The treasure of Euonymus (1559) to John Church’s A compendious enchiridion(1682). As Karen Bowman thoughtfully observes, Baker’s collection of receipts contains ingredients that illustrate a global market, but the texts contained within her book also point towards an international trade of ideas.

Simultaneously, the collection of sources that Baker gathered signals a specific and curated Paracelsian viewpoint. Many of the texts she has collected, including the passage copied from Du Chesne, reference Paracelsus, a Swiss doctor who rejected Hippocratic-Galenic medicine in favor of a chemical understanding of the human body. Paracelsus originally wrote that alchemy − along with philosophy, astrology, and ethics − was one of the four pillars of medicine. Du Chesne, a French physician and alchemist, transmitted this idea into Baker’s receipt book. Both Paracelsus and Du Chesne were associated with female alchemical and medical practitioners, who acted as the syncretic counterparts to university-trained doctors.

There is one difference between Baker’s transcription and Tymme’s translation of Du Chesne. While Tymme writes that, “ALchymie or Spagyrick, which some account among the foure pillers of medicine,” Baker’s version reads, “Alchimy or spargyrike are accointed amongst the fore pillers of meddecen,” removing “which some account” making alchemy’s foundational place a certainty. Since Paracelsian medicine became increasingly popular in England over the course of the seventeenth century, this change could reflect a larger cultural shift between Tymme’s translation and Baker’s transcription.

By definition, receipt books collect received knowledge, inherently entangled within dynamic social networks. Baker’s book is an assembly of ideas that she “received” from an impressive number of sources, both printed and unknowable. Even though Baker is not the original author of passages identified, she has a hand in constructing their shared meaning: a distinctly Paracelsian and thereby chemical approach to medicine. Acknowledging the sheer number of choices necessary for the book’s construction sheds a light on her role. For every passage she chose to copy over, she omitted hundreds, if not thousands, of additional recipes and treatises from her printed source material. Her role as the compiler was not only to receive knowledge, but also to choose what knowledge should be preserved on the page − what knowledge we, as readers, in turn, receive.