Category Archives: Early Modern

‘I Have Known’: Copying Personal Accounts in Early Modern Receipt Books

By Margaret Maurer 

Reading British Library Sloane MS 559, a seventeenth-century receipt book, I came upon a recipe with the following efficacy statement: “I have knowne a woman heale many blind people with this medicine following” (MS 559 6v). The sentence was striking, not only because it places powerful healing with Biblical resonance in the hands of an unnamed woman, but because I had already seen it in another early modern receipt book.

The sentence appears word-for-word in British Library Sloane MS 2488; both manuscripts contain this specific and seemingly personal testimony: “I have known…” Confronted with two handwritten accounts, the identity of the first-person pronoun becomes murky. Did either scribe witness this miraculous healer?

 

Two panels show manuscript documents that detail similar recipes.
LEFT: BL Sloane MS 559 6v. RIGHT: BL Sloane MS 2488 8r. © British Library Board BL Sloane MS 559 6v, BL Sloane MS 2488 8r.

 

At a glance, these manuscripts do not seem to have much in common. Sloane MS 2488 is a fair-copy folio in a neat italic hand, with the owner’s mark “Elizabeth Beere: her booke” (fol. 1r). In contrast, Sloane MS 559 is a quarto-sized receipt book in secretary hand, with the owner’s mark “James Manninge” (1v).

However, while these receipt books are not identical, they contain many of the same recipes in the same order. Both feature organizational headers that divide medical recipes by afflicted body parts, beginning with “The Head,” before listing a series of identical recipes for various head ailments.

 

Two panels show manuscript documents that detail similar recipes.
LEFT: BL Sloane MS 559 2r. RIGHT: BL Sloane MS 2488 2r. © British Library Board BL Sloane MS 559 2r, BL Sloane MS 2488 2r.

 

Both manuscripts also share numerous recipes and their organizational structure with Ralph Williams’ printed Physical Rarities containing the most choice receipts […] (first published 1651). Williams’ longer text contains many additional recipes, and this printed book likely served as a source that was copied into manuscript to create a “starter” recipe collection.1

Williams’ printed text is not the only source of overlapping passages between these manuscripts. Both receipt books include a passage about “pluresy” (MS 559 38r; MS 2488 31v-32r) that does not have a clear print analogue, although it has similarities with a description of pleurisy attributed to Galen in Christopher Wirtzung’s The General Practise of Physicke (1617). Additionally, both manuscripts contain a collection of confectionary recipes beginning, “Heere follow notes how to make certaine conserues and other thinges” (MS 2488 84r), including: “To clarify sugar” (MS 559 133r; MS 2488 84r), “To make oil of roses” (MS 559 134r; MS 2488 85r), and “To make snow” (MS 599 137; MS 2488 87r).

 

Two panels show manuscript documents that detail similar recipes.
LEFT: BL Sloane MS 559 133r. RIGHT: BL Sloane MS 2488 84r. © British Library Board BL Sloane MS 559 133r, BL Sloane MS 2488 84r.

 

Each manuscript also contains recipes that do not appear in the other, including Sloane MS 559’s “Weapon Salve” (148r-149r), attributed to Paracelsus, and Sloane MS 2488’s recipes attributed to Thomas Noble (MS 2488 88v-89v). These differences reflect their compilers’ interests and needs; despite their similarities, these manuscripts appear to have been expanded and customized over time.

However, given their notable textual overlap, these manuscripts likely have a shared textual genealogy, even if their precise relationship is unclear. Sloane MS 559 includes “For a copper face” (MS 559 19r) − a recipe from Physical Rarities that does not appear in Sloane MS 2488 − which signals that Sloane MS 2488 is likely not an intermediary text between Sloane MS 559 and Physical Rarities. While it is possible that Sloane MS 559 served as a source for Sloane MS 2488, there could just as easily be another unknown manuscript or manuscripts that served as intermediaries between these receipt books. A preliminary comparison does not yield a definitive answer, but further comparison between and beyond these two receipt books, as well as research into their provenance, may help illuminate their relationship.

 

Two panels show manuscript documents that detail similar recipes.
LEFT: BL Sloane MS 559 19r. RIGHT: BL Sloane MS 2488 19r. © British Library Board BL Sloane MS 559 19r, BL Sloane MS 2488 19r.

 

Despite this uncertain relationship, an intertextual comparison challenges assumptions that conflate first-person accounts with the scribe’s experience. As it turns out, neither scribe witnessed the woman who miraculously healed blind people. Instead, Williams’ Physical Rarities features the attestation in print: “I have knowne a woman heale many blind people with this medicine following.” This first-person efficacy statement was copied and recopied in these extant manuscripts and may have been copied additional times.

Comparing these three receipt books, two manuscript and one print, demonstrates that the use of first-person statements in early modern receipt books is not always indicative of the compiler-practitioner’s own experience. After all, domestic receipt books were created for personal or familial use, and the scribe likely did not consider how these texts might be interpreted by archival researchers.

Furthermore, the transcription of first-person accounts demonstrates the weight that compiler-practitioners gave to experience, whether that was their own experience or the declared experience of a trusted source. The writing and rewriting of first-person accounts do not undermine the importance of experience within early modern recipe culture. Rather, the repeated transcription of first-person accounts demonstrates the weight of personal accounts as evidence and the central role of experience in demonstrating a recipe’s efficacy. 

 

1 For more on “starter” collections, see Elaine Leong’s Recipes and Everyday Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2018), p. 20-23.

 

Margaret Maurer is a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Margaret is currently a Dissertation Fellow at the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, studying “everyday alchemy” in early modern households, paper mills, printing houses, and beehives. 

Shopping for Recipes in Early Modern London… Virtually

By Melissa Reynolds

Within just a few decades after William Caxton brought the printing press to England in 1476, Londoners had their choice of printed collections of medical recipes, herbal lore, instructions for distillation, and surgical instruction. Most of these editions were printed versions of texts that had been popular in Middle English manuscript collections, and printers did their best to choose from among these handwritten collections to produce printed editions that were better organized or more comprehensive.

Between 1525 and 1526 the printer Richard Banckes produced a suite of medical books, each of them sourced from Middle English manuscripts. Banckes’s medical books were the first of their kind printed in English: a medical recipe collection, known as The Treasure of Pore Men, with remedies collected from a number of manuscript collections; an herbal, known as The virtues & properties of herbs, based on the Middle English Agnus castus; and a uroscopy treatise known as The seynge of urynes, which was probably based on British Library MS Sloane 382, a manuscript created around 1450. In other words, the volumes that Banckes printed in the mid-1520s contained medical knowledge that had been widely read in England for a century or more.

But in print, century-old remedies were hugely popular. Banckes’s herbal and remedy collection were best-sellers among English readers. After Banckes left the printing trade in the late 1520s, rival printers began printing their own editions of his medical texts. By 1550, thirteen different editions of Banckes’s herbal had been issued by nine different printers. The same was true of a most printed medical collections.  By 1550, the London book market was glutted with reprints of the same remedy collections and herbal treatises, most of them sourced from manuscripts that were also still in circulation. 

So how did early modern readers decide on which recipes to read?

As scholars of recipe knowledge, we presume that our historical subjects were interested readers—that is, that they had a vested interest in assessing the value of the recipes or remedies that passed through their hands. Given the sheer number of recipe collections, herbals, and surgical collections on offer in what was a largely unregulated market, I imagined sixteenth-century London as the perfect environment for English consumers to begin honing their critical faculties, selecting from among dozens of inexpensive printed remedy books. For a few pennies, these readers could access a wealth of knowledge that had previously only circulated in manuscript. But for them to become discerning readers, they would need to be aware that choices could be made.

Though in the later sixteenth century, London’s booksellers would crowd the alleys around St. Paul’s Cathedral, this was not yet the case in the first half of the sixteenth century. With bookshops scattered throughout the old city, were sixteenth-century consumers really able to compare editions or locate the best prices? Could they hope to visit more than one or two shops in a single outing? 

The GoogleMyMaps above developed as an answer to those questions. It features the locations of English bookshops in London between 1525 and 1555, divided up by decade. In what follows, I’ll briefly describe the process of creating it, not because I think others will have the same questions about recipe shopping in London, but because creating a historical map to understand the circulation of recipe knowledge or material texts could be useful in a variety of classroom settings.

GoogleMyMaps is a totally free platform that will work for anyone with a Google account. Get started by visiting mymaps.google.com and clicking “Create A New Map.” Creating a personalized map is as easy as clicking the map to plot a location and then labeling it—at least, it’s that easy if you’re dealing with locations that actually exist on a contemporary Google map.

To create my map of early sixteenth-century locations, I couldn’t find Wynkyn de Worde’s shop at “the sign of the Sun” in twenty-first century London. Though printers’ colophons do include information on their shops’ locations, those locations are only described in relation to other sixteenth-century landmarks like churches or bridges. To find the print shops, I would need to find those landmarks on a sixteenth-century map. And luckily, I knew of one I could search: the Map of Early Modern London.

A nineteenth-century reproduction of the “Agas Map” of London, a woodcut map created in the 1560s and digitally annotated by the Map of Early Modern Project.

The amazing team at the MoEML project has digitally annotated the “Agas Map,” a woodcut map of London created sometime in the 1560s, so that a user can search for churches, parishes, alehouses, bridges, streets, prisons, playhouses, and almost everything in between. With the help of the Agas Map, I was able to find St. Dunstone’s church, which is where first Robert Redman, then William Middleton, then William Powell had their shops at the “sign of the George.”

For the most part, once I found a church on the Agas Map, I was able to find the same church on the contemporary Google Map. In some instances, I did my best to approximate a print shop’s location using street names on the Agas Map cross-referenced with modern streets in London. Because I had already carefully read the colophons of a number of early printed books and compiled a list of their locations, the production of my personalized Google map only took a few hours, and they were hours well spent. The exercise of searching the Agas Map and plotting early modern locations onto the streets of modern London gave me a much better sense of the early modern city I study, one which I’d never quite been able to visualize without buses or tube lines or high-rises crowding my mental picture. I felt I could really picture my sixteenth-century consumers, walking Fleet Street from one shop to another, looking for an herbal or remedy collection.

Google MyMaps are an easy, free, and accessible way for students to start to think concretely about the circulation of recipe knowledge, whether in early modern printed books, or among a network of friends or family, or as a collection of ingredients sourced from around the world. In my case, creating my personal Google map did help me to better conceive of the choices English consumers made about which books to buy. And for those of you interested in early English print, I hope you’ll find the map useful for research, too, whether inside or outside the classroom.

Beating Dough for Sponge Biscuits: a Gendered Skill?

By Marta Manzanares Mileo

In 1611’s Arte de cozina, pastelería, bizcochería y conservería (The Art of Cooking, Pastry Making, Bakery and Preserving), Francisco Martínez Montiño, Philip III’s and Philip IV’s personal cook, provides a series of recipes for bizcochos or long sponge biscuits made of flour, sugar, and eggs, which were one of the favourites desserts in early modern Spain. In one of these recipes, Montiño instructs the reader how to whip the biscuit dough, warning “that you must not whip any biscuits with two hands, as the nuns do, but with one hand as when you beat eggs to make egg omelette.”[i]

 

A painted image shows a basket overflowing with breads and cakes.
Figure 1. Detail of bizcochos and other small cakes in Juan Van der Hamen y León, Still Life with Basket of Sweets. s. XVII. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

Montiño was not the only commentator to criticize nuns’ culinary techniques. In Los quatro libros del arte de la confitería (Four Volumes on the Art of Confectionery), published in 1592, the confectioner Miguel de Baeza asserted that “sponge biscuits were of good quality in Toledo and produced in large quantities in monasteries; although these biscuits were not as good as those made in the confectionery shops”[ii] (I’ve briefly discussed Baeza’s book in an earlier post, in which I examined the circulation of manuscript confectionery books among guild confectioners, some of them based on Baeza’s print work).

As scholars of early modern culinary literature have noted, professional author-cooks added personal comments and recipe corrections to demonstrate their professional expertise via their cookbooks. Baeza and Montiño used their privileged position to claim their culinary authority, in this instance by comparing and diminishing nuns’ baking skills. Their remarks clearly reflect the gendered division of culinary labour in early modern Europe between “male-professional-skilled” and “female-domestic-unskilled.” What is striking about their criticism is that nuns were (and still are) well-known for their prowess in the preparation of sweets.

As part of a larger research project on the gendering of sweet foods in early modern Spain, I examine how cultural associations between women and sugar might have translated into gendered modes of cooking and eating sweet food.[iii] I have shown that women of various social backgrounds, including nuns, played a crucial role in shaping a growing taste for sugary food in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spain.  Indeed, cultural images of industrious nuns making delicious sweet treats in convent kitchens prevailed across the early modern Catholic world. To honour ecclesiastical officials and families, nuns prepared a wealth of fruit preserves, small cakes, and biscuits, including bizcochos.

A written manuscript describes an early modern Spanish recipe.
Figure 2. Recipes for bizcochos by Sister Clara María Suay. Arxiu del Regne de València, Clero, caja 788, nº54. Appearing with permission of Arxiu del Regne de València.

 

Did Spanish nuns have their own technique for making bizcochos? In an attempt to answer this question, I faced a series of methodological problems, partly as a result of the scarcity of surviving manuscript recipes written by women in this period. One exception is a manuscript collection of short recipes scattered through the personal papers of Sister Clara María Suay, a professed nun in the Royal Monastery of La Puridad in Valencia. Although Clara María Suay annotated two different recipes for sponge biscuits, she included only brief notes about ingredients and instructions.

It is unclear whether nuns possessed their own unique techniques to prepare their well-known sponge biscuits. Can we consider it a culinary “secret” kept behind convent walls? In any case, Montiño and Baeza’s recipes offer a compelling example of the gendered dimensions of cooking, which were often distorted and biased, and some of the methodological issues that historians face when seeking to uncover women’s culinary practices in the context of early modern Spain.

 

Acknowledgements

This research has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement Nº 891543.

[i] Francisco Martínez Montiño, Arte de cozina, pastelería, bizcochería y conservería (Madrid: 1611), p.  274.

[ii] Miguel de Baeza, Los quatro libros del arte de la confitería (Alcalá de Henares: 1592), p. 76.

[iii] For a more extensive account on this research, see my forthcoming article “Sweet Femininities: Women and the Confectionery Trade in Eighteenth-Century Barcelona” in Gender & History.

The Many Shades of Naples Yellow: Experimental Re-Working and the Influence of Fluxes on Pigment Colour

By Umberto Veronesi, Mario Bandiera, Marcia Villarigues, Andreia Ruivo, Marta Manso,  Susana Coentro

The ChromAz project tells the story of sixteenth- to eighteenth-century Portuguese azulejos from the perspective of colour technology. Tiles are a crucial piece of Portuguese national heritage, and artists had a broad palette of colours at their disposal. We started with one of the most complex to achieve: a pigment known as Naples yellow (lead antimonate), a product of human craft with a long history.

A panel of tiles show a pattern of blue, yellow, and white.
Figure 1. A panel of tiles that shows different shades of yellow. Image courtesy by Umberto Veronese and courtesy of Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a partner in our project.

 

As one of the very first artificial materials, Naples yellow was employed from the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1500 BC) and initially linked to the production of opaque yellow glass. After disappearing from the European tradition for over a millennium, the pigment resurfaced in the sixteenth century, used by Venetian glassmakers, in oil paintings and in decorated glazed ceramics.

Around this time, technical texts begin to feature recipes for the manufacture of Naples yellow. Besides the lead-antimony base, authors list a number of other reagents, but only vaguely (if at all) describe the chromatic effects brought by the additions of these ingredients. So, to gain insights into such an important aspect of the early modern artistic process, we replicated eight recipes, summarised in Table 1.

A table that summarizes eight experiments with historical pigments.

Four recipes (Mariani I and II, Piccolpasso and Marmi 126) are simple, binary lead antimonates to which salt or tartar (or both) were added as fluxes to facilitate the reaction. The remaining four (Mariani III, Marmi 136, Darduin and Danzica) are ternary variants of the pigment. They can come with or without fluxes but, importantly, they contain what the authors refer to as tutty or tuccia, which scholars have variably interpreted as either zinc or tin oxide. To evaluate differences, we made two sets, one with the former and one with the latter, bringing the total to twelve re-worked recipes.

After thoroughly mixing the ingredients, we fired the raw pigments at 950°C for five hours and left them in the furnace to cool down to room temperature. Finally, we collected the mixtures, which had turned yellow, and ground them to a fine powder to homogenise the colour (Figure 2).

Two top panels show ground pigment powders, in grey and amber tones. Two panels below show pigments after firing, in vivid yellow and amber tones.
Figure 2. Top: some of the pigment mixtures before (left) and after (right) firing; bottom: two mixtures being ground showing very different colours due to recipe variations. Left: Mariani’s potters’ yellow III with tin; right: Danzica with zinc (Photos by the authors).

 

As the images show, variations in the recipes resulted in remarkably different hues, ranging from pale to bright yellow and all the way to dark orange. Adding zinc tends to darken the colour, while tin makes it lighter, as previous works already indicated (Figure 3A). The one yellow with calcina (lead and tin calcined together) is also made somewhat paler, due to the action of tin (Figure 3B).

Five cylinders show different hues of historical recipes, all of which are yellow or amber in tone.
Figure 3.A: The recipe by Valerio Mariani in the binary version (left), with zinc (centre) and with tin (right), showing different hues; B: Two very similar recipes showing how the addition of calcina (left) makes the pigment lighter (Photos by the authors).

 

However, it was more interesting to find out that fluxes have an equally crucial role in defining the chromatic characteristics of the pigment. We found out that salt invariably makes the pigment lighter in colour. On the other hand, the recipes containing tartar as the main flux display a darker, reddish hue (Figure 4).

A panel of five images shows the different yellow tones of the pigments, depending on the salt and tartar content.
Figure 4. Five Naples yellow recipes with different amounts of salt and tartar, showing the general lightening effect of the former and the darkening effect of the latter. From left to right: Mariani I (binary), Mariani III (with zinc), Marmi 126, Piccolpasso and Mariani II. (Photos by the authors).

Re-working lead antimonate recipes provided access to the wide chromatic palette that Renaissance artists could rely on. The pigment could be adjusted to be proper yellow or more orange-red, depending on users’ needs. Importantly, this flexibility also meant that recipes could be tweaked to accommodate issues of materials’ availability. Our work is still very much in progress, but it shows how performative methods complement information from texts and material culture and give them new context, throwing more decisive light on the act of art-making in the past.

 

Key references

Dik, J., Hermens, E., Peschar, R. and Schenk, H. “Early production recipes for lead antimonate yellow in Italian art”, Archaeometry 47, 3 (2005): 593-607.

Hermens, E. “A seventeenth-century Italian treatise on miniature painting and its author(s)”, in A. Wallert, E. Hermens and M. Peek (eds), Historical painting techniques, materials and studio practice: preprints of a symposium, University of Leiden, the Netherlands, 26–29 June 1995. Marina Del Rey (CA): Getty Conservation Institute, 1995: 48–57.

Marmi, D. The Ceramist’s Secrets. Edited by Fausto Berti. Translated with an introductory note by David P. Bénéteau. Montelupo Fiorentino: Aedo, 2005.

Moretti, C., Salerno, C.S. and Tommasi Ferroni, S. Ricette Vetrarie Muranesi. Gasparo Brunoro e il Manoscritto di Danzica. Firenze: Nardini Editore, 2004.

Piccolpasso, C. The Three Books of the Potters’ Art. Vendin-le-Vieil: Editions la Revue de la céramique et du verre, 2007.

Rosi, F., Manuali, V., Miliani, C., Brunetti, B.G., Sgamellotti, A., Grygar, T. and Hradil, D. 2008. “Raman scattering features of lead pyroantimonate compounds. Partt I: XRD and Raman characterization of Pb2Sb2O7 doped with tin and zinc”, Journal of Raman Spectroscopy 40(1): 107-111.

Wainwright, I., Taylor, J.M. and Harley, R.D. “Lead antimonate yellow”, in R.L. Feller (ed.), Artists’ Pigments. A Handbook of their History and Characteristics, vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986: 219–254.

Zecchin, L. Il Ricettario Darduin. Un Codice Vetrario del Seicento Trascritto e Commentato, Venezia: Stazione Sperimentale del Vetro, 1986.