A Ladies Home Journal in 18th-century Nottinghamshire, England

by Lisa M. Lillie

Tucked away in the Papers of the Mellish Family of Hodstock, Nottinghamshire, in the University of Nottingham’s Rare Books and Manuscripts collections, Lady Mellish’s “Old Accts dinners & c. 1706” sits rather unobtrusively among generations of Mellish family correspondence, account books, and estate ledgers. [1] Although the 17th century featured a shift in what were traditionally women’s professions such as beer-brewing and midwifery to the purview of men,[2] it still fell to the lady of an upper-middling home to coordinate the activities of her household members, manage the procurement and preparation of provisions, and arrange the entertainment of guests. Judging from Lady Mellish’s notes, the Mellish family entertained at least twice monthly. Particularly distinguished guests were cause for elaborate culinary preparations: for the visit of the “Duke of Leads” on the 12  September 1705, for example, she made “stued pidging, pees, goose, egge pyes, hanch of venison, revived Jupe tongue & chikins, whit frigeee, collered eale hot / Ducks & Partriges Peas, Damson Tart, Tansey Tueky, scollops” among other dishes! But the Mellishes most frequent visitors seem to have been gentry neighbor families – the Huetts, Garves, and Cliftons.

Historians of Tudor England have noted a late-16th century decline of the manor house as a place where the lord and his laborers could commune directly and do business; the gentry’s greater desire for privacy and separation from the laboring sorts meant architectural changes in the great manor homes: more private spaces for the family and greater distance between the servant’s and the family’s living quarters.[3] Lady Mellish’s account books contain floor plans of the family’s home as well as sketches of what appear to be table seating arrangements for dinner parties, indicating what appears to be Lady Mellish’s keen interest to use the resources at her disposal to strike just the right tone for social gatherings.

Frontispiece showing a domestic kitchen scene, from The housekeeper's instructor; or, universal family cook / Being an ample and clear display of the art of cookery in all its various branches..by William Augustus Henderson. Published ca. 1790. Henderson's success in this genre to some degree resonates with a larger early modern trend of men becoming experts in fields which were previously dominated by women, such Hannah Woolley's renown for housekeeping advice a century prior. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Frontispiece showing a domestic kitchen scene.  The housekeeper's instructor; or, universal family cook / Being an ample and clear display of the art of cookery in all its various branches. Containing proper directions for dressing all kinds of butcher's meat, poultry, game, fish ... To which is added, the complete art of carving, illustrated with engravings ... bills of fare for every month in the year ... / by William Augustus Henderson. 1790-1799 The housekeeper's instructor; or, universal family cook The housekeeper's instructor; or, universal family cook / W. A. Henderson Published: [between 1790 and 1799?] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Frontispiece showing a domestic kitchen scene, from The housekeeper’s instructor; or, universal family cook / Being an ample and clear display of the art of cookery in all its various branches..by William Augustus Henderson. Published ca. 1790. Henderson’s success in this genre to some degree resonates with a larger early modern trend of men becoming experts in fields which were previously dominated by women, such Hannah Woolley’s renown for housekeeping advice a century prior. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Lady Mellish’s talent for household management would have no doubt pleased the preeminent lifestyle guru of the 17th century, Hannah Woolley.[4] While Lady Mellish was concerned with hosting smashing dinner parties, she showed no less interest in the less glamorous aspects of household affairs, namely that most useful of food preparation to early moderns – jarring and pickling. Her recipe for pickled salmon is straight-forward:

“Take your samon and wash it well then take 4 quarts of water and one quart of viniger putt it in to a sose pan and boil it and skim it well, sisen it with Mase and Clovs and peper and salt to you tass and 12 bay livs then putt in your samon boil it till it is anof a quarter and half of a hour a sid, then take your samon out and putt it in your pickels when it is cold, if it is to be kip long you must stop it up Clos. if thee samon is biger you must boil it half a hour if you want mor pickels you Must doe as bee for.”[5]

With the addition of savoury herbs such as cloves and bay leaf, Lady Mellish’s recipe seems far more palatable than that found in The Accomplish’d Lady’s, published in 1675, which instructed the reader to simply cover the salmon with vinegar and rosemary in an earthenware pot to keep “for a whole month”. [6]

Not only did Lady Mellish take notes on her gastronomic exploits, but she also kept a detailed account of all her expenses, as well as making alphabetical lists of words, seemingly at random. Also Included is an “Account of my Jewells March the 9th 1707.” In short, Lady Mellish’s papers would make for an interesting study on the role of gentry women in culinary history and in the changing social landscape of early modern England.

[1] University of Nottingham Rare Books and Manuscripts, Me 2E/1/1, Old Accts dinners & c. 1706. See also the National Archives’ Discovery entry on the Mellishes (accessed 4 July 2015).

[2] On the phenomenon of brewing and midwifery gradually becoming men’s professions, see Judith M. Bennet, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), and Michelle Dowd, Women’s World in early modern English Literature and Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[3] For examples of scholarship on the transformation of early modern English domestic space, see Roger Chartier (ed), A History of Private Life: Passions of the Renaissance (volume III), Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1989; Felicity Heal, Hospitality in Early Modern England (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); Amanda Vickery, “An Englishman’s Home Is His Castle? Thresholds, Boundaries and Privacies in the Eighteenth-Century London House,” Past and Present No. 199 (May, 2008), pp. 147-173.

[4] By the turn of the century, Wolley’s publications had secured her international reputation as a household management expert. See “Wolley, Hannah (b. 1622?, d. in or after 1674),” John Considine in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, see online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, Oxford: OUP, 2004 (accessed July 9, 2015).

[5] University of Nottingham Rare Books and Manuscripts, Me 2E/1/1, Old Accts dinners & c. 1706.

[6] Hannah, Woolley, The Accomplish’d lady’s delight in preserving, physick, beautifying, and cookery containing I. the art of preserving and candying fruits & flowers …, II. the physical cabinet, or, excellent receipts in physick and chirurgery : together with some rare beautifying waters, to adorn and add loveliness to the face and body : and also some new and excellent secrets and experiments in the art of angling, 3. the compleat cooks guide, or, directions for dressing all sorts of flesh, fowl, and fish, both in the English and French mode… (London: 1675), 297. In the ODNB entry on Hannah Woolley, John Considine maintains that this work was not actually written by Woolley; rather, it was one of several copy-cat publications design to replicate the success of her work. Early English Books online, however, attributes the work to Woolley.

A Perfumed Recipe on the Early Modern Stage (Part 1)

By Colleen Kennedy

This is the first part of a two-part reading of the pomander recipe depicted in Thomas Tomkis’ allegorical Jacobean comedy, Lingua: or, the Combat of the Tongue and the Five Senses for Superiority (1607)[1]. Below, I consider how this perfume recipe has an immediate effect and affect on the audience. In my next installment, I consider the gendered implications of this same passage.

Theatre historian Sally Barnes argues that in our modern deodorized world and theatre, that there is a real dearth of attention paid to what she terms “‘olfactory effect’ in theatrical events—that is, the deliberate use of ‘aroma design’ to create meaning in performance” (68). Holly Dugan claims “a sixteenth-century stage devoid of smell is anachronistic.”[2] Within the playhouse, the intensity of and types of smells would vary from amphitheatre to hall playhouse. The larger structure and open roof of the Globe Theatre allowed for many smells to disperse and waft away, but within a smaller enclosed space odors would linger in the air.

Tiffany Stern reports on the smoky conditions of the Jacobean Blackfriars Theatre, a “delicate haze” but also a “confusion of smoke from candles and tobacco, and smells—again from tobacco, but seemingly also from the perfumes that Blackfriars plays so often demand” (45).[3] The new Sam Wanamaker Theatre, a reconstruction of the Blackfriars Theatre, with its “oak-framed construction” has already been denoted as sensuous space, “striking for its smell and warmth, its irregularities and warps, for its closeness to nature.”[4] Dominic Droomgale, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, relishes the “intimate and sensual” qualities in a recent interview on The Duchess of Malfi: “In our virtualised world of high technology, with no physicality or smell to it, it’s great to be in a tiny room with people that you can see and almost reach out and touch, telling you a rich and complex story.”[5]

With these concepts of the aromatic theatre, I turn now (to what I believe may be) the only recipe performed on the Renaissance stage and experienced by the audience members. In the course of the play Lingua, each of the personified five senses must appear in front of a jury (consisting of Common-Sense and some of the inner five wits) in his attempt to win the crown and robe of the supreme sense. When Olfactus, the Sense of Smell, presents his show he is accompanied by a group of seven boys all carrying sweetly scented items—two carry casting bottles, two more “with censors of incense,” and one boy each carrying flowers, herbs, and ointments.

Olfactus’ aptly named page Odor shares a recipe for creating a pomander:

 “Your only way to make a good pomander is this:

Take an ounce of the purest garden mold, cleansed and steeped seven days in change of motherless rose-water, then take the best labdanum, benioine, both storaxes, ambergrease, civet, and musk, incorporate them together, and work them into what form you please.”

Venetian woman with pomander

We can imagine that in the original performance space at Cambridge University, the room must have been redolent with sweet aromas and thick with the smoke of the censors. The sweet odors of incense and the recipe for the pomander in Tomkis’ play are especially fraught aromas of the Renaissance, with both religious and medicinal connotations.[6] Incense was considered a Catholic ritual of the old “smells and bells,” no longer practiced in the more austere Anglican Church.[7]  And the fragrant pomander, composed of spices and resins contained in a small rounded container, was one of the most ubiquitous of plague remedies. Held to the nose, the sweetly scented materials filtered out the miasma of the plague. That is, these aromas could save one’s body or soul.

Olfactus (like all the senses) must describe where he resides in the body and how he benefits the body (microcosm) and soul (psyche). The sense of smell, he argues, is the most important sense as it “refines wit and sharpens invention/ And strengthens memory.” The use of incense, he further exclaims, “makes man’s spirits more apt for things divine.”  Performed onstage, the incense and pomander recipe create exactly the sort of ambient environment that Olfactus promotes.

This innovative use of incense and a performed pomander recipe could immediately resonate with Tomkis’ audience. Tomkis innovates in other ways, composing in English rather than Latin for example,  allowing for a more immediate accessibility for non-University students to understand his works. And in another play Albumazar, a character uses a telescope to look across England, but he is truly commenting on the clothing trends of the audience, collapsing space and breaking the fourth wall.

The use of incense functions in a similar metatheatrical way when we know that the sense of smell was usually conceived as a mediating sense, unlike vision and hearing with the object perceived from afar or the senses of taste and touch that call for immediate proximity. Tomkis directs the incense to waft through the space uniting his allegorical characters and his audience as they smell the same sweet fragrances and are told that it will “refine wit,” an especially proper effect in a University setting.

Smelling incense on the stage can alter the audience’s engagement of the performance. Unsurprisingly, Olfactus is ultimately awarded the “chief priesthood of Microcosme, perpetually to offer incense in his Maiesties temple” (M3v).

Notes


[1] Thomas Tomkis, Lingua: or the Combat of the Tongue, and the Five Senses for Superiority. A Pleasant Comedy. (London: 1607. Old English Drama Students’ Facsimile Edition, 1913).

[2] Holly Dugan, “Scent of a Woman: Performing the Politics of Smell in Late Medieval and Early Modern England,” Journal of Early Modern Studies 38:2 (Spring 2008): 230.

[3] Tiffany Stern, “Taking Part: Actors and Audience on the Stage at Blackfriars.” Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance, eds. Farah Karim-Cooper and Tiffany Stern (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2013), 35-53.

 

[4]Rowan Moore, “Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – review.” The Observer. 11 Jan. 2014.

[6] Holly Crawford Pickett, “The Idolatrous Nose: Incense on the Early Modern Stage” (in Jane Hwang Degenhardt and Elizabeth Williamson, eds. Religion and Drama in Early Modern England: The Performance of Religion on the Renaissance Stage. Surrey: Ashgate, 2011: 19-39). Holly Crawford Pickett studies the controversy over the use of the liturgical use of incense in the Tudor and Jacobean periods, and the use of staged incense in Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women as well as in Ben Jonson’s Sejanus.

[7] See Jonathan Gil Harris’s “The Smell of Macbeth” (Shakespeare Quarterly 58.4 (Winter 2007)), in which he makes the convincing argument that the stink of Macbeth’s squib’s (used to create thunder effects) reenacts a nostalgia for Catholic “Harrowing of Hell” style plays and the lack of “smells and bells” in the Anglican church. Harris claims that Shakespeare’s staged scents subvert the inodorous Anglican Church by recreating the scents associated with Catholicism and rebellion.

Baking a Pumpion Pye (c. 1670)

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 baked Pompion Pie!
Fresh from the oven baked Pumpion Pie!

 

 

 

 

An early summer round-up…

By Elaine Leong

Walking down the streets of Berlin, the signs of early summer are everywhere. The flower stalls are selling five different kinds of peonies, the asparagus season is beginning to wane and, my most favourite of all, little strawberry-shaped kiosks have popped up all over the city offering delicious, juicy fruits which have never seen the inside of a refrigerator. For those of us in academia, early summer means more than just the long-awaited strawberry season: the end of the academic year and a summer away from the bricks and mortar of our institutions in a far away archive. Long sunny days filled with reading and more reading… Before we all scatter for the summer, I wanted to write a post to celebrate and highlight the work of some of our contributors.  For the past two years, a wonderful group of graduate students have been sharing their ideas with us on the blog bringing us cutting-edge research and fresh ideas. Just in case you missed their posts, this is a handy round-up!

Katherine Allen (Oxford, History of Medicine), has been telling us about a diverse range of topics over the past two years from tobacco smoke enemas to how eighteenth-century English men and women fought off coughs and colds to distillation and alchemy. When not blogging, she is completing her thesis titled ‘Recipe Books and the Exchange of Medical Knowledge in Eighteenth-Century English Households’ (projected submission date: summer 2015). Her work deals with the material and social history of manuscript collections of medical recipes in eighteenth-century England, and their role in domestic medicine.

Colleen E. Kennedy (Ohio State University, English Literature) has enticed us with her posts about sweet (and not so sweet) smells, perfumes and poetry.  Her dissertation ‘Comparisons Are Odorous: The Early Modern English Olfactory and Literary Imagination’ enhances the vibrant critical conversation about early modern embodiment, affect theory, and sensory history by following different whiffs of the highly subjective past. By exploring the complexities of aromatic discourse in early modern literature, she recovers a lexicon of olfactory imagery and stereotypes, challenge modern assumptions about early modern stench and hygienic practices, and suggest new ways of gaining access to the early modern cultural imagination. You can also follow Colleen’s work at: http://colleenekennedy.wordpress.com/.

Tillmann Taape (Cambridge, HPS and MPIWG, History of Science) is a first-year PhD student writing a thesis titled ‘Hieronymus Brunschwig and the making of vernacular medicine in early modern Europe’.  His research investigates the intersection of learned and artisanal knowledge in Brunschwig’s writings on surgery and distillation.  In the last year, Tillmann has told us stories about an alchemical disaster (complete with an exploding still and knocked-out practitioner), ‘coded’ plague remedies and ‘distilling the essence of heaven’.

Ashley Buchanan (University of South Florida, History) has introduced us to the world of the last Medici Princess, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici (1667-1743). Her posts on Anna Maria Luisa’s recipe collection has transported us to back to eighteenth-century Florence with virtual tours around the Medici Granducal Fonderia and an introduction to a miraculous powder purported to treat infant convulsions.  In the next couple of years, Ashley will spend much of her time in the Archivio di Stato in Florence.  Her dissertation aims to explore Anna Maria Luisa’s role in the in the collection and production of early eighteenth-century medicinal therapeutics and alchemical knowledge. In particular, Ashley is interested in tracing the networks through which Anna Maria Luisa procured and disseminated her exotic raw materials and “secret” remedies, as well as, to understand the desire for elite women to participate in such activities and the social capital they created for themselves in the process.

Rachel Snell’s (University of Maine, History) dissertation is provisionally titled: ‘“Mistress, Mother, Nurse and Maid”: Domesticity and Women’s Work in the Anglo-American World, 1828-1876’ (project completion date 2015/16). Her project is driven by the question – how did the ideaology of domesticity function in ordinary women’s lives? It focuses on printed and manuscript cookbooks through a comparative Atlantic history perspective on the cultural construction and the lived experience of domesticity in Great Britain, the United States, and Canada. Over the last few months, Rachel has shared her experiences working with historical GIS and in her quantitative analysis of annotations in Maria Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery.

With the working title ‘Food Fit for a King? Dining Culture at the Rising Court of Brandenburg-Prussia under the ‘Great Elector’ Friedrich Wilhelm: 1640-1688’, Molly Taylor-Poleskey’s (Stanford, History) dissertation (planned completion date summer 2015) follows the rise of the House of Brandenburg-Prussia during the reign of Elector Friedrich Wilhelm through the cultural lens of food and dining at court. This angle allows her to zoom in to the minute rituals of everyday dining at court (which reified the court’s internal social structure) and also to look at matters of import on the wider European political stage (such as the acquisition of resources from territorial gains). The topic of food offers her the opportunity to connect political cultural history with medical, environmental and commercial history to understand the motivations of the people involved in the court’s rise. Since joining the project, Molly has shared with us the fascinating histories of our favourite Christmas treat the lebkuchen and the best (?) breakfast in the world – beer soup.

Sally Osborn (University of Roehampton, History) is currently in the final stages of completing her thesis ‘The role of domestic knowledge in an era of professionalisation: Eighteenth-century manuscript medical recipe collections’ (planned completion date 2015). Her project concentrates on exploring medical recipe books as a form of domestic record-keeping. In the last two years, Sally has regularly shared her ideas with readers on The Recipes Project including posts prompting us to ponder on ‘what is a recipe?’, 18th century DIY and ingredient substitution. Sally blogs at http://18thcenturyrecipes.wordpress.com and can frequently be found on Twitter, @sallyosborn.