Remembering, Repeating, and Coming To in Early Modern English Recipes

By Katie Kadue

Recipes for food preservation document the fight against oblivion. All recipes are mnemonic: they function both as technical reminders and as records of past practices, passed down as “receipts,” as they were called in early modern England, from one generation to the next. But some early modern recipes proposed a more literal form of re-membering, promising to reverse the process of decay and return organic materials to their previous, livelier states. 

Frontispiece of The Queen-Like Closet, or Rich Cabinet, 1675. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Consider a recipe from Hannah Woolley’s evocatively titled The Queen-like Closet, or Rich Cabinet, stored with all manner of rare receipts for preserving, candying, and cookery, first published in 1670. This recipe for “Walnut water, or the Water of Life,” describes how to gather and distill green walnuts and “keep” the resulting liquid before proceeding to catalog its many “virtues,” concluding:

It is good for all infirmities of the Body, and driveth out all Corruption, and inward Bruises … ; whosoever drinketh much of it, shall live so long as Nature shall continue in him.

Finally, if you have any Wine that is turned, put in a little Viol or Glass full of it, and keep it close stopped, and within four days it will come to it self again. 

If in a way the walnut water memorializes, in distilled form, the walnuts gathered in the summer for months or years to come, it also “driveth out all Corruption” and so recalls human bodies to healthier versions of themselves. Even soured wine can benefit from this panacea: “within four days it will come to it self again.” Despite a timeline similar to that between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, this is less resurrection than correction, as if the turned wine had merely forgotten itself and needed to be given smelling salts to come back to its senses.

This ordinary miracle of physical remembrance encoded in recipes, the promise that bodies and other matter can overcome the degradation of time and come to themselves again, was also a subject of fascination for poets like Edmund Spenser, whose Faerie Queene (1590–96) frequently depicts characters who forget themselves and can only be brought back to life and cognition through the interventions of something like culinary or medicinal preservation.

In book I, the knight Redcrosse, scorched by a dragon, falls backward into a “well of life” that recalls Woolley’s “water of life”: he marinates there overnight and emerges in the morning as a “new-borne knight,” “drenched” from the thorough steeping, like rehydrated fruit, or like the dried artichokes that one recipe in John Nott’s Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary (1723) promises “will come to themselves, and be as fresh as at first,” when soaked in warm water. Having slept it off, the next day Redcrosse is again knocked out by the dragon, and—rinse and repeat—he again revives, this time thanks to the virtues of a healing “Balme” not unlike those described in contemporary recipe books, except this one trickles down directly from the tree of life.

In book III of Spenser’s poem, at the heart of the Garden of Adonis, we learn that this place is peopled by lovers—Hyacinthus, Narcissus—who have metamorphosed into “fresh” flowers and “to whom sweet Poets verse hath giuen endlesse date”: the memorialization of men being, after all, one of the primary functions of poetry since Homer. But a more mundane and domestic art of memory is also at work here. Adonis, having been impaled by a boar, undergoes a similar reconstitution as Redcrosse when his caregiver Venus thoroughly seasons him with “flowres and pretious spycery,” making his body like the sugared flowers that, in another of Woolley’s recipes, can be carefully arranged so that they “look as though they were new gathered.”

The Metamorphosis of the Dead Adonis, Marcantonio Franceschini, c. 1700. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

As a result of this spice regimen, Adonis—who corresponds, in Spenser’s allegory, to matter itself—will not altogether die; repeatedly brought back to himself, he will not, the poet assures us, be “forgot.” Like the authors of recipe collections, Spenser reminds us that both culinary techniques and writing have the capacity to recollect what would otherwise be scattered and lost.


About

Katie Kadue is a Harper-Schmidt Fellow and Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Her book, Domestic Georgic: Labors of Preservation from Rabelais to Milton, is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press in fall 2021.

Consuming History—Or Are We?

By Marie Pellissier 

I’ve always been fascinated by the appeal of food in living history museums—the sound and aromas of someone cooking over an iron stove or open hearth never fails to draw visitors’ attention. Since I moved to Williamsburg, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to see how Colonial Williamsburg uses food to help people connect with the past—and, as part of my dissertation, I plan to explore how this interpretive strategy has changed over time. 

Food has been a critical part of interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg since the museum was established in 1926. Visitors in the early years of the museum expected to encounter “authentic” Southern food in the museum’s restaurants, and to find African-American women cooking in the historic area’s restored kitchens. To understand what sorts of dishes they ought to be cooking, Colonial Williamsburg historian Helen Duprey Bullock turned her attention to eighteenth-century foodways. The souvenir cookbook The Williamsburg Art of Cookery, published in 1938, was the culmination of years of Bullock’s efforts researching and collecting “traditional Virginian” recipes, and provides an interesting study in contrasts. Bullock’s book is designed to be as authentic an object as possible, and yet, the actual recipes were often far from anything that an eighteenth-century Virginian would recognize. 

Helen Bullock, The Williamsburg Art of Cookery, 1938. Image credit: author’s own photograph.

Bullock modeled her project after the first cookbook printed in British North America, E. Smith’s The Compleat Housewife, printed in an abridged edition by Williamsburg printer William Parks in 1742. In a note to the reader at the end of the book, Bullock describes the volume as “a typographical Adaptation [sic]” of Parks’ Compleat Housewife, set in old-style Caslon, “the closest available Approach to the [type] used by Parks.” The paper was specially made, and the binding “is believed,” Bullock wrote, “to be a successful Reconstruction of the Binding” of Parks’ Compleat Housewife. Bullock wanted the museum visitors who saw her book in the gift shop to believe that they were buying an authentic object, as close to owning a piece of history as possible. 

Title page for Eliza Smith’s 1730 book, The Compleat Housewife. Image credit: Library of Congress.

 

The contents of the book, however, are far from original to the eighteenth century. The recipes Bullock has collected are from a hodgepodge of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources, and some have been modified for the twentieth-century cook. Some recipes are deliberately constructed to make readers feel a connection to the founders—like “Mount Vernon Pound Cake” and “Martha Washington’s Potato Light Rolls.” Bullock doesn’t demonstrate any concrete links between these recipes and the Washington family, but the recipes do serve to help the reader link themselves to the founding fathers (or, rather, the founding mothers!). These connections reinforced the museum’s emphasis on patriotism and nostalgia for the nation’s earliest days. 

Painting of Martha Washington. Image credit: National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

 

But the cookbook also taps into a deeply embedded nostalgia for the days of the antebellum South. It includes a recipe for “Robert E. Lee Cake,” which is a light, fatless cake with citrus and coconut filling (much like an angel food cake). The version Bullock offers is attributed to the Lane family of Williamsburg, and dated circa 1870 (though Robert E. Lee Cake did not appear in print until 1879). A punch recipe attributed to Confederate office Colonel Walter Herron Taylor contributes to the conflation of colonial America and the antebellum South. In the section “Of Christmas in Virginia” (which has no parallel in E. Smith’s Compleat Housewife), Bullock describes the “generous Hospitality” to be found on the plantations at Christmastime, when “the Negroes…appeared at the great House to wish each Person ‘Joyful Christmas’.” Recipes linked to Confederate officers and descriptions of enslaved people as grateful and joyful reinforced narratives of the Lost Cause, offering visitors a comfortable image of the past as a simpler time, when racial distinctions and hierarchies were clear and unchallenged. 

Despite Bullock’s efforts to ensure that The Williamsburg Art of Cookery was as physically accurate as possible, the contents of the book were distinctly shaped by the prevailing winds of public memory. Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg in the 1930s expected to see a paternalistic past, shaped by racial hierarchies and stability—but they also expected to see authentic objects, to conjure a feeling of being physically connected to the past. The Williamsburg Art of Cookery fulfilled all of those expectations.  


About

Marie Pellissier is a PhD candidate at William & Mary. She is beginning work on her dissertation, which will focus on the intersection of food, memory, and identity in and of early America. She is the creator of More than a Kitchen-Aid: The Elizabeth Capell Cookbook and co-creator of Explore Common Sense.

A Recipe for Music: Notating Domestic Singing in Seventeenth-Century England

By Sarah Koval

Mary Chantrell and others, recipe book, f.92v, 1690, MS 1548. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Mary Chantrell’s book of recipes for food and medicines (1690) is typical of the manuscript recipe genre: a handwritten, bound book full of instructions for making common foods, preserves, and medicinal cures such as “pills to cure a consumption,” (f.63r), “the green oyntment,” (f.30r) and “a purge for sharpe humours” (f.50r). On the last folio, however, we find an unusual entry: written out twice on either side of a recipe “for the chin cough [whooping cough],” is the text to “Madam Roda Cliffords Song,” a metrical verse with four stanzas that lacks any conventional music notation, apparently received from Mary’s personal acquaintance (f.92r92v). What could a single song be doing among such practical household directions? 

Musical entries can be found in several of the hundreds of surviving household recipe books from this period. These musical inscriptions are highly personalized, reflecting the private, domestic context in which they arose and were used. The number of musical entries, their physical placement within the book, and even the presence or absence of a more conventional musical notation—one that indicates at the very least pitch and rhythm—all vary from book to book. At one exciting extreme we find, in the commonplace book of John Ridout ([16–], see the image below), thirty-two pieces for the cittern (a guitar relative), notated with tablature, nestled between hundreds of recipes for food and medicines.(1) However, most of the musical entries in recipe books are not so easily reproduced or heard today due to their lack of notational specificity, forestalling the traditional work of the musicologist. 

John Ridout’s commonplace book, f.79v-80r, [16–], MS Mus 182. Image credit: Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. The top page features a piece called “Orlando,” the bottom a table of note values.

 

Nevertheless, there is a telling parallel between the sparse notations of these songs and the utility-driven written recipes that dominate these manuals. A recipe, writes historian William Eamon, is “a prescription for taking action,” a notion that could apply equally well to a notated piece of music.(2) Indeed, the songs, hymns, psalms, and other musical items found in recipe books form part of a family’s “memorial archive,” gathered alongside other ritualistic instructions as prescriptions for action in a family’s daily routines.(3)

We might call such ambiguous, text-only notations “purposely incomplete,” following musicologist John Butt.(4) Similar to their tandem recipe notations, song texts were likely compiled to be sung by their collectors, their family members, and close friends. While Madam Clifford’s song may have been used for entertainment, titles like those in Martha Hodges’ recipe book (1675-c.1725) show that many pieces were used for private worship at the hearth or in the prayer closet: “Evening song, Vespers” (f.34r); “A Morning Hymn” (f.43v); and “An Hymn in Sickness” (f.43r). Not meant as casual reading material, recipes and musical texts were most likely taken off-page in the daily care of the bodies and souls of the household.

Music notation, as with any form of writing, is a way of extending memory across time. In the case of such household inscriptions—either for food, medicine, or music—writing served as an aid to practice within the memorial micro-archive of the family unit. This archive is the musical and performance knowledge of a single family, a small social network, or a few generations at most. Recipe books show us that the memorial archive of household knowledge not only included concerns of feeding and healing its members, but of creating musical sounds that served the material and sacred needs of the family. Difficult for those outside of the family unit to access, the memorial archive of domestic musical practices remains enigmatic but full of possibility. 

Recipe books containing music, such as those of English householders Mary Chantrell, John Ridout, and Martha Hodges, stand to reveal much about the role of music making and practices of worship in the sometimes inscrutable space of the seventeenth-century English home. Musical, culinary, and medicinal inscriptions have much in common: they present a sparse textual representation of an experiential and dietetic practice that allows for individual expression within a written family archive. Their textual markings tap into an aural, memory-powered tradition of both sacred and secular singing. The parallel gap between written text and off-page outcome in both recipes and music is just one aspect of these two seemingly disparate practices that reveals their interconnectedness in this period, pointing to larger resonances between music and bodily health that emerge in the study of domestic spaces. 


Notes

1. A cittern is a plucked, fretted, wire-string instrument, similar to a mandolin and related to the guitar, that was most popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Its tablature is similar to guitar tab today. Horizontal lines with letters between them representing the various strings of the cittern show where on the fretboard each string is to be held down. Music notes above the fret markings indicate the duration of the pitch. 

2. William Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 131.

3. “Memorial archive” is a term Anna Maria Busse Berger uses to describe all the resources we draw on to understand and utilize the written word on the page. Medieval Music and the Art of Memory (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005), 45.

4. John Butt, Playing with History: The Historical Approach to Musical Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 106.

Bulk Medicine and Waged Labor in Eighteenth-Century London

By Zachary Dorner

In the eighteenth century, druggists, chemists, and apothecaries began producing medicines in larger quantities for sale in a variety of markets, resulting in a more coherent manufacturing sector in Britain. Making medicines at such scale typically involved labor-intensive chemical processes occurring in laboratories that resembled other early industrial spaces as sites of work. We can catch a glimpse of these spaces in images like the frontispiece of the chemist Francis Spilsbury’s Friendly Physician (1773) where two figures toil with mortars, stills, and other instruments in the background, separated from the well-organized shop in the image’s foreground. A variety of business records from period pharmacies, including wage books, inventories, and recipes, enable us to uncover a little more about those indistinct figures bent over their work.

Figure 1: Interior of a pharmacy. From Spilsbury, The Friendly Physician (1773). Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.

The increasing concentration of labor and capital in London’s medical marketplace encouraged men and women to set up laboratories, big and small, around the city, as seen in contemporary fire insurance policies. These laboratories were no longer artisanal workshops, though also not yet the steam-powered production lines of the nineteenth century. Alchemical techniques formerly applied to the transmutation of metals found use in the production of medicines in these spaces, such as the chemical laboratory depicted in William Lewis’s Philosophical Commerce of Arts (1763). They could contain machinery for grinding, pounding, and sifting drugs (the raw materials for compound medicines), as well as high-pressure boilers and furnaces for distillation and drying. Open fires were common beneath hundred-gallon stills, evaporating pans, condensers, copper boilers, and stoves. If temperatures went unmanaged, ingredients could burn, ruining a preparation; even worse, stills could boil over or even explode. Manufacturing medicines with this equipment required significant inputs of energy, increasingly supplied by waged labor forces during the eighteenth century.

Figure 2: A view of William Lewis’s chemical laboratory. From Lewis, Commercium Philosophico-Technicum (1763). Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.

Some traces of their daily routines can be found in recipe books from Corbyn & Company, one of the highest volume producers and distributors of medicine in London at the time. A recipe for flower of benzoin (benzoic acid, a topical antiseptic also used for a variety of internal matters) from the 1760s, for example, evokes the work of pharmacy. To start the process, several hundredweight of gum benzoin, a fragrant resin from the benjamin tree of Sumatra and Java, had to be purchased at auction and carted to the partnership’s laboratory at Cold Bath Fields where it would be pressed and milled, requiring several days, multiple men, and lots of charcoal. These manipulations were followed by 50 days purifying the resin through distillation (called rectifying). All in all, Thomas Corbyn estimated that the production of benzoin took 63 days and cost about 2 shillings per day for the work, which also included cleaning the distillation equipment, wear and tear of the machinery, and extra expenses (such as 8 weeks of beer for the workers costing 18 pence per week). These costs, nevertheless, remained relatively minor compared to the sometimes quite significant costs of raw materials, thus incentivizing production at scale.

Figure 3: Flower of benzoin costing from Thomas Corbyn’s miscellaneous papers, c. 1760, MS.5448/2, Wellcome Collection.

Corbyn & Co. shipped much of the medicine they produced, such as the hard-pressed flower of benzoin, to the overseas markets provided by imperial institutions, such as the Royal Navy, East India Company, transatlantic slave trade, and Caribbean plantations. With increasing demand at home and aboard, political support, and capitalization, London’s pharmacies kept growing in the early nineteenth century, with some of them providing the seeds of several of today’s major pharma firms.

Figure 4: Glass medicine bottles for export used in the eighteenth century. Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.

It can be surprisingly easy to miss the labor in London’s laboratories that underwrote the expanding production of medicines in eighteenth-century London. A chemist’s or druggist’s work area has received far less attention in histories of capitalism or industry than the cotton mill, for example. Recipes and other business records from London’s pharmacies, however, offer an opportunity to begin reconstructing the rhythms of work in these spaces and reintegrate them into studies of economy, labor, and health.

Figure 5: Plan of the laboratory at Apothecaries’ Hall, 1823. From The Origin, Progress and Present State… (1823). Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.