Category Archives: Food and Drink

“Bonny-Clabber Physicians”: Eating Clean in the Seventeenth Century

Michael Walkden

NPG D31284; Thomas Tryon by Robert White, after Unknown artist, line engraving, 1703. Credit: WikiCommons.
NPG D31284; Thomas Tryon by Robert White, after Unknown artist, line engraving, 1703. Credit: WikiCommons.

The concept of ‘clean eating’ is nothing new, but ideas about what constitutes ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ food have varied within and across cultures. In the later seventeenth century, the popular health writer Thomas Tryon promoted a “radically clean” vegetarian diet as a route to longevity and clarity of mind. However, Tryon’s meat-free menu was rather different from the quinoa bowls and kale smoothies of modern-day clean-eaters. His 1694 Pocket-companion contains the following recipe (easy to follow, but emphatically not to be tried at home):

Boniclabber is made by letting your Milk stand till it sowers, which will be in Twenty-fours hours, if the weather be very hot. [1]

Tryon’s ‘bonny clabber’ – an Irish country dish that was later enjoyed by immigrants to the USA – would have great difficulty in meeting twenty-first century Western standards of food hygiene. Writing well before the advent of pasteurization, Tryon would likely have used raw milk straight from the cow, which would have been rich in bacteria that could be both beneficial and harmful to the human body. If it was left at just the right temperature and for the appropriate length of time, the finished product would be a thick, fermented milk, similar to yoghurt or kefir.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, not all of Tryon’s contemporaries shared his enthusiasm. Gideon Harvey wrote that “Bonny-Clabber Physicians” routinely endangered their patients by their over-use of milk products, which he viewed as highly corruptible and prone to curdling in the belly. [2] Harvey had the weight of medical tradition on his side. Humoural physicians since Hippocrates frequently expressed mistrust or even fear over the coagulability of milk, with Galen writing that it “turns to wind in the stomachs of most people, and there are very few who avoid this.” [3]

Clabbered milk. Credit: WikiCommons.
Clabbered milk. Credit: WikiCommons.

Tryon attempted to forestall this sort of criticism in his own writing. Since he believed that digestion operated by a process of fermentation, it logically followed that fermented foods should be easier on the stomach, having already undergone the initial stages of this process. While he was prepared to admit that it “may not be so agreeable to the Pallat at first”, Tryon assured his readers that “a little Custom will make it familiar and pleasant.” [4]

Attitudes towards the healthiness of clabber were also closely tied up with racial stereotypes about the Irish, whose perceived gluttony and barbarism were ridiculed by many English Protestants. In 1652 the parliamentarian Samuel Sheppard wrote of an anonymous royalist that “his Intellect is as foule, as an Irish Firkin of Bonny Clabber”, suggesting that many viewed it as a disgusting or dangerous substance. [5] By contrast, in a 1635 letter from Dublin, the English royalist and Lord Deputy of Ireland Thomas Wentworth described clabber as “the bravest freshest Drink you ever tasted.” [6]

The example of bonny clabber raises some interesting questions about the relationship between ideology and diet. As Carla Cevasco has flagged up elsewhere on this blog, the categories that shape affective responses to food can be highly variable, ranging from the genetic makeup of a population to its social norms. Disgust that feels instinctive or biologically hard-wired might just as easily be the product of a specific cultural moment. As the debate over clean eating continues to rage, we need to pay closer attention to the ideological fault-lines upon which we construct our ideas about food and hygiene.

[1] Thomas Tryon, A pocket-companion, containing things necessary to be known by all that values their health and happiness (London: Printed for George Conyers, 1693), 6.

[2] Gideon Harvey, The art of curing diseases by expectation (London: Printed for James Partridge, 1689), 38.

[3] Galen, Galen on Food and Diet, ed. Mark Grant (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 165. See also Ken Albala, “Milk: Nutritious and Dangerous,” in Milk: Beyond the Dairy: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1999, (Devon, UK: Prospect Books, 2000), 19-30.

[4] Tryon, Pocket-companion, 7.

[5] Samuel Sheppard, The vveepers: or, the bed of snakes broken (London: Printed for Thomas Bucknell, 1652), 6.

[6] Thomas Wentworth, The Earl of Strafforde’s Letters and Dispatches, Volume 1, ed. William Knowler (London: Printed for the editor, by William Bowyer, 1739), 441.

Michael Walkden is currently completing his doctoral thesis in History at the University of York, UK. His research explores understandings of the relationship between emotions and digestion in early modern English medicine. He is particularly interested in the intersection of diet, health and spirituality in the seventeenth century.

There and Back Again: The Trans-Atlantic Tomato

Kelly Sharp

Conrad Gesner, Historia plantarum (1561). Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany.
Conrad Gesner, Historia plantarum (1561). Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany.

Cold winter nights have me craving warm and filling meals and nothing pairs with a slice of my husband’s homemade bread like a bowl (or two!) of tomato soup. Used in dishes, sauces, salads, drinks, and eaten raw, thousands of cultivars of the tomato are grown worldwide to meet modern consumption demands. However, this culinary vegetable was not originally warmly received by Anglo-Americans, who didn’t think it was easily adapted to their palates.[i]

Though a “New World” cultivar, the tomato had quite a journey over time and space before becoming a consistent cultivar of antebellum American Southern cuisine. The cultivated tomato originated in Central America and was a late addition to the food supply of Mesoamericans, for no pre-Columbian archeological evidence of its cultivation has been uncovered. It first appears in written record in 1519, mentioned in Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés’s diary of his infamous conquest of Mexico. Although cultivated in Continental Europe since the 1540s, fundamentally altering foodways of the Spanish and Italians, Englishmen remained wary of the tomato for over two hundred years, growing them only for curiosity and for the beauty of the fruit. The Central American fruit’s first appearance in a published English recipe was under the name love apple and used to dress haddock “after the Spanish Way” by Hannah Glasse in the 1758 supplement to The Art of Cookery.[ii] By the 1780s, other tomato recipes appeared in British cookery manuscripts and the 1797 Encyclopedia Britannica announced the tomato was “in daily use; being either boiled in soups or broths, or served up boiled as garnishes to flesh-meats.”[iii]

James Peale. Still Life: Balsam Apples and Vegetables, 1820s. Oil on canvas, 51.4 x 67.3 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
James Peale. Still Life: Balsam Apples and Vegetables, 1820s. Oil on canvas, 51.4 x 67.3 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Despite their late bloom in English cuisine, white colonists rather commonly ate tomatoes in Jamaica and probably throughout the Caribbean. In the early eighteenth century, English naturalist Henry Barham confessed that he had eaten five or six raw tomatoes at a time in Jamaica, “full of pulpy juice, and of small seeds, which you swallow with the pulp, and have something of a gravy taste.”[iv] The first known reference of the tomato in the mainland British North American colonies was by English herbalist William Salmon on his 1710 expedition of Carolina.[v] Linguistic evidence suggests the tomato was likely introduced to the American South from the Caribbean. Late seventeenth-century English, French, and German manuscripts all refer to the fruit as the love apple. and in fact the word tomato did not receive linguistic prominence in England until the mid-nineteenth century. In contrast, almost all eighteenth-century Southern references used some variation of the Spanish- and Portuguese-origin-word for tomato.[vi] Part of indigenous gardens throughout the Caribbean, tomatoes were slowly adopted into the mélange of colonial cooking.

Instructions for “Stewed Tomatoes,” “Tomato Omelet,” and “To Pickle Tomatoes” from the recipe book of Maria Poyas Gibbs. Source: Recipe book, ca. 1840. (34/702) South Carolina Historical Society
Instructions for “Stewed Tomatoes,” “Tomato Omelet,” and “To Pickle Tomatoes” from the recipe book of Maria Poyas Gibbs. Source: Recipe book, ca. 1840. (34/702) South Carolina Historical Society

Contrary to prominent Southern food historian Sam Hillard’s claims in his Hog Meat and Hoe Cake that the “tomato was little used as a vegetable in antebellum times,” tomato usage is well-documented in the early nineteenth-century American South.[vii] Among recipe manuscripts of antebellum Charlestonians, tomato cookery paralleled that of English cookery–tomatoes were stewed with other ingredients such as fish, shrimp, beef, or egg dishes. Tomatoes also stood alone–served fried, stewed, baked, or chopped. The most frequently reoccurring recipes for tomatoes, however, called for them to be preserved. For example, the receipt book of Mary Motte Alston Pringle includes three recipes for preserving tomatoes–two for pickling and one for canning–as well as a recipe for tomato catsup. In her recipe “to Preserve Tomatoes,” Pringle advocates scalding ripe tomatoes in hot water to easily remove the skins, boiling them in sugar or salt, then drying inch-thick cakes in the sun before packing the slices away in bags to hang in a dry place. This preparation suggests a later use for application in a dish calling for stewed tomatoes such as “Knuckled Veal” or “Baked Shrimp and Tomatoes.”[viii] Such recipes suggest the considerable effort required to transcend seasonality because of the centrality of tomatoes to dishes consumed in the antebellum South; women like Mary Motte Alston Pringle found the tomato a valuable component to their cuisine patterns and therefore practiced several methods to ensure its availability out of season.

If this article has got you hankering for tomatoes in your next meal, an antebellum Southerner would advise you get a move on! In her recipe book, The Carolina Housewife 1847), Sarah Rutledge notes “the art of cooking tomatoes lies mostly in cooking them enough. In whatever way prepared, they should be put on some hours before dinner.”[ix] To this twenty-first century academic, that means simmering on low in the crockpot! For my favorite out-of-season tomato soup recipe, check out this slow cooker tomato basil soup.

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[i] Though botanically a fruit, the tomato is legally classified, for tax purposes, as a vegetable. See the court decision of Nix V. Hedden (Supreme Court, 1893).

[ii] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (London, UK: Printed for the Author, 1758), 312.

[iii] Encylopedia Britannica (Edinburgh: A. Bell & C. Macfarquhar, 1797), vol. 17, 597-598.

[iv] Henry Barham, Hortus Americanus: containing an account of the trees, shrubs, and other vegetable productions of South-America and the West India Islands, and particularly of the island of Jamaica (written 1711) (Kingston, Jamaica: Alexander Aikman, 1794), 20.

[v] William Salmon, Botanologia, the English herbal, or, History of plants (London, UK: I. Dawkes, 1710), 1356.

[vi] Andrew Smith, The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 1994), 200.

[vii] Sam Hilliard, Hog Meat and Hoecake: Food Supply in the Old South, 1840-1860 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 1972), 173.

[viii] Alston-Pringle-Frost papers, 1693-1990 (bulk 1780-1958). (1285.00) South Carolina Historical Society.

[ix] Sarah Rutledge, The Carolina Housewife or, House and Home: By a Lady of Charleston (Charleston, SC: W.R. Babcock & Co., 1847), 102.

Kelly K. Sharp is a PhD candidate and instructor at the University of California, Davis. A native of Encinitas, California, Kelly earned her BA in History at Willamette University and volunteered as an AmeriCorps VISTA worker with Community Housing Works in 2012-2013. Her dissertation, entitled “Farmers’ Plots to Backlot Stewpots: The Culinary Creolism of Urban Antebellum Charleston,” is a culinary history of race-making in the urban center of the South.

Kelly has experience teaching survey courses in United States history, women and gender history, and material studies at University of California, Davis. She has been active in public history, including editorial and curatorial work for the Blackville Historical Center and at the University of California, Davis, and mentorship initiatives within the Coordinating Council of Women Historians.

Outside of her academic work, she enjoys hiking, traveling, reading, and eating.

A Taste for the Rare and the Well-Done: Recipe Texts and the Book Trade

By Anke Timmermann

Part II: The thrill of the hunt

Rare book dealers working on recipe collections are in the enviable position to be able to do original work on unique and little-researched materials, and to learn from the collections they handle, as well as from collectors, whether private or institutional. Collectors’ ambitions to acquire interesting and rare material in as comprehensive a manner as possible (including later editions, which were, for a long time, considered inferior to the first edition) have made it possible to piece together at least part of the history of the cook book. It is important to understand that, as a genre, cook books really are rather complex: they were popular publications, and somewhat ephemeral in that they were constantly replaced with more fashionable versions, revised editions or new titles. The example of one female cook book writer of the eighteenth century, Elizabeth Raffald, née Whitaker (bap. 1733, d. 1781), illustrates this point well.

Image 2: Elizabeth Raffald’s woodcut facsimile signature, intended to prevent the publication of pirated editions. Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, for the Use and Ease of Ladies, Housekeepers, Cooks, &c. Written Purely from Practice, and Dedicated to the Hon. Lady Elizabeth Warburton, whom the Author Lately Served as Housekeeper: Consisting of Near Nine Hundred Original Receipts, Most of which Never Appeared in Print… The Tenth Edition. With… Two Plans of a Grand Table of Two Covers; and A Curious New Invented Fire Stove, wherein any Common Fuel may be Burnt instead of Charcoal. London: R. Baldwin, 1786, p. 1. From archive.org: https://archive.org/details/experiencedengl00raffgoog.

Raffald was a food writer whose books, among her other enterprises, afforded her much success. Raffald had her own shop for ‘cold Entertainments, Hot French Dishes, Confectionaries, &c.’ (ODNB), expanded it into a cookery school, ran two inns, and, with the publication The Experienced English Housekeeper, became ‘after Hannah Glasse, the most celebrated English cookery writer of the 18th century’ (Virginia Maclean, A Short-Title Catalogue of Household and Cookery Books Published in the English Tongue 1701-1800 (1981), p. 123 n1). The Experienced English Housekeeper is remarkable in many ways and, among other things, a landmark in the development of the English wedding cake, recording the use of marzipan and royal icing for the first time. It was issued in fifteen authorised editions between 1769 and 1810, but also inspired some twenty-five unauthorised editions. In order to prevent such piracies, Raffald issued her authorised versions with a woodcut facsimile of her signature on the first text page. Enthusiasm for Raffald’s work outlived the author herself, and a ‘new edition’ appeared posthumously in 1807, promising more additional recipes on the title than the text actually provides. Only a comparison between different exemplars, and detailed bibliographical information on other editions, can fully chart the authors’ attempts to protect their work and thwart others’ efforts to benefit from their popularity; the cunning imitations that yet bypassed these measures; and, amidst these struggles, the constant evolution of recipes, their ingredients and methods. And since many of these editions only survive in a handful of copies (due to their replacement, historical neglect or destruction by use in the kitchen), the collections that do preserve little known or rare editions are the best, and often only, means for the diligent bibliographer or bookseller to make such comparisons.

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Manuscript recipe collections, by contrast, are unique by definition, and have long been very highly sought after, although not for all historical periods alike. In the late twentieth century, manuscripts produced before 1800 were the main focus for collectors, but more recently manuscripts from the early nineteenth century have also attracted much interest. No matter when acquired or how old, manuscript recipe books are often the defining features of the collections of which they form part. The Folger Library in Washington DC is, famously, home to the largest collection of early modern western European recipe books in the United States (see https://recipes.hypotheses.org/tag/folger-shakespeare-library for an example from the collections), and other collections prize their manuscripts on a smaller and perhaps more modern but, overall, no less significant level – see, for example, the New York Historical Society’s holdings of recipe compendia, extending to the 1950s to 1970s, all instructive in their own right.

So how much is a recipe book worth? And is it worthwhile starting a collection today, now that collecting cook books, recipe collections and manuscripts is no longer a niche interest? For recipes as for any other collecting activity, it is the individual that makes the mark on a collection, beyond any perceived restrictions of a canon of literature or any financial constraints. One recent example for how collecting interests can flourish and develop is a young collector who won an honourable mention in booksellers Honey & Wax’s Book Collecting Prize: Ashley Rose Young, a doctoral candidate in history at Duke University, ‘began by collecting historic Creole cookbooks, then expanded her focus to the food markets of the port of New Orleans, a local economy historically dominated by African-Americans and immigrants’ . Further, it could be argued that some of Christopher Hogwood’s cook books were not collectibles when they first caught his eye, but have now, through their distinguished provenance, earned a place in other collections. Recipe books are, then, certainly a subject in which each collector can develop their own taste, and which will be valuable to their owners on many different levels. It also seems certain that they will continue to be valued in the book market, and that our knowledge of them will continue to grow over time, thanks to the endeavours of all those who handle them – be they private collectors, institutions, book dealers, or scholars.

Dr Anke Timmermann FLS is a historian of science-turned-antiquarian bookseller, and the author of Verse and Transmutation: A Corpus of Middle English Alchemical Poetry (Brill, 2013). Anke joined Bernard Quaritch Ltd, one of the oldest antiquarian booksellers in London, after finishing her Munby Fellowship in Bibliography at Cambridge University Library in 2014. She recently set up as an independent bookseller (A T Scriptorium), and specialises, among other things, in the history of science, and recipe books including culinary, medical and alchemical recipes. She tweets as @ElixirLibri.

A Taste for the Rare and the Well-Done: Recipe Texts and the Book Trade

By Anke Timmermann

Part I: If music be the love of food

My most enjoyable and extensive experience with recipe literature as a book dealer to date was handling the conductor Christopher Hogwood’s collection of books on food and drink in 2016. At the time, many who saw the catalogue expressed surprise that a man best known as a specialist in Neo-Baroque and Neo-Classical music would collect recipe books including a seventeenth-century manuscript explaining the preparation of pickled pigeons, hogs’ feet, early modern macarons, and ‘new College Pudding’; an eighteenth-century manuscript recipe collection that had once been part of the libraries of both the eccentric doctor-turned-food writer William Kitchiner (1778-1827) and, two centuries later, the food historian and bibliophile Eric Quayle; Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery, which appeared in a rapid succession of editions; a rare edition of John Davies’ Innkeeper’s and Butler’s Guide on the making and flavouring of British wines; and books and an autograph manuscript by Édouard de Pomiane, the 20th-century French physician, scientist, and writer and broadcaster on gastronomy, who was greatly admired by Elizabeth David. Hogwood’s library also included sets of Aga ‘Menus’ (periodical private press-styled leaflets with recipes and news for owners of Aga cookers) and orchestra cook books, i.e. recipes collected from and published by musicians to raise funds.

But it was not only the detailed information on food preparation, the international trade in food stuffs, national dishes and foreign influences, on social structures and etiquette, nor the detailed depiction of work in historical kitchens in word and image, nor even the classic design of modern cook books that would have given Christopher Hogwood the impulse to add culinary works to the historical objects that surrounded him in his Cambridge home. Rather, the parallels he drew between food and music also marked his books on food and drink as working material for experiencing history through the senses. In an interview for the New York Times on 12 December 1990, Hogwood explained:

There’s a lot of mystique about the original scores sort of thing, … even a certain amount of rubbish about playing music with authentic instruments. And I found that if you translate the business into a question of recipes and ingredients, people feel a bit more entitled to make comments. … Talking about music in terms of recipes gives rise to more speculation … people begin to talk about what it was then, what it is now, and what the reasons are for changing. And they start to see how, if you change one ingredient, it really affects the final shape. The dish will come out different: it may be perfectly edible, but it won’t be the dish that was described originally. And the same applies to music: substitute an instrument and a wrong sonority or style will result.

Image 1: Sale catalogue for André Simon’s collection, Sotheby’s, 18 May 1981.

Hogwood (1941-2014) was one in a long line of collectors of works on food and drink (and related recipes – household, medical, veterinary – as well as other ‘how-to’ books on bee keeping, fishing or gardening) whose growing interest in the subject has not merely preserved, but rather recovered and broadened knowledge of recipe history. Many of the standard bibliographies on food and drink are, in fact, catalogues of private book collections, and therefore not intended to be complete, but rather to provide detailed descriptions of the exemplars in hand. They range from Katherine Golden Bitting’s early American Gastronomic Bibliography (1939; her collection is now in the Library of Congress), Eric Quayle’s entertaining Old Cook Books: An Illustrated History (1978; books from Quayle’s collection appeared at auction at Sotheby’s in 1997, and his collection was sold in two dedicated sales at Bonham’s in 2006) and the gastronomic polymath André L. Simon’s seminal Bibliotheca Gastronomica (1953), and Bibliotheca Vinaria (1913; selections from Simon’s extensive library were sold at Sotheby’s in 1972 and 1981), to William R. Cagle’s A Matter of Taste (1999), this last based on the institutional collection of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, which was a pioneer in its recognition of recipe literature as an important genre . Interestingly, in recent years, other libraries have caught up with private collectors, and developed their recipe collections significantly; however, this development was generally preceded and driven by the bibliophile tastes of private collectors.

The evolution of cook book collections has significantly influenced the way in which rare book dealers have been able to identify valuable items (both printed and manuscript), to rescue them from potential obscurity or destruction, and to find new homes for them. And the consequent development of the book market has made it possible for anyone with an interest in recipes and books to become a collector. How so? Read more in tomorrow’s second part of this blog.

Dr Anke Timmermann FLS is a historian of science-turned-antiquarian bookseller, and the author of Verse and Transmutation: A Corpus of Middle English Alchemical Poetry (Brill, 2013). Anke joined Bernard Quaritch Ltd, one of the oldest antiquarian booksellers in London, after finishing her Munby Fellowship in Bibliography at Cambridge University Library in 2014. She recently set up as an independent bookseller (A T Scriptorium, ), and specialises, among other things, in the history of science, and recipe books including culinary, medical and alchemical recipes. She tweets as @ElixirLibri.