Making Musk Julep: Sugar Coating a Bitter Medicine

The Thibetian [Tibetan] Musk, Native of Asia. Sir William Jardine. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Thibetian [Tibetan] Musk, Native of Asia. Sir William Jardine. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

By Susan Brandt

Popular eighteenth-century pharmacopoeias often included animal-based substances such as musk, which might seem nauseating to the modern palate. In The New Dispensatory Containing the Theory and Practice of Pharmacy (London, 1753), William Lewis describes musk or moschus as “a grumus substance like clotted blood, found in a little bag in the umbilical region” of the Asian musk deer, “an animal met with in China, Tartary, and the East Indies” (162). To harvest the musk gland, male deer were trapped and killed in large numbers, leading to musk deer’s current endangered status. According to Lewis, the “musk pod” was “the size of a pigeon’s egg, covered with short brown hairs” and it exuded a scent that attracted female deer (162). Although musk was an expensive product, in minute quantities it formed the basis for perfumes, as well as for pharmaceuticals and culinary recipes. Based on Lewis’ description, eighteenth-century users were likely ambivalent about the idea of ingesting the pungent-smelling contents of an animal’s gland with the texture of coagulated blood. However, users were torn between their potential aversion and their desire for a substance with aphrodisiac and medical potential.  

Contents of a Musk Deer’s Gland. Source: Abdes Attar, www. profumo.it.
Contents of a Musk Deer’s Gland. Source: Abdes Attar, www. profumo.it.

Unpleasant medicines, such as musk, were often mixed with sugar or sweet tasting substances to form a more palatable “julep.” The New Dispensatory’s author admitted that although the musk ingredient was often dried into a powder, musk julep still had a feral-smelling “strong perfume.” Nonetheless, for those who could bear the repugnant taste, it “proves of great service in lowness, fainting, &c.,” as well as for convulsions and “the bite of a mad dog.”  In humoral medicine, musk julep’s “bitterish sub-acrid taste” might even convince reluctant sufferers of its efficacy in expelling maladaptive humours from the body. (162, 434).

William Lewis, The New Dispensatory Containing The Theory and Practice of Pharmacy (London, 1753). Source: Archive.org
William Lewis, The New Dispensatory Containing The Theory and Practice of Pharmacy (London, 1753). Source: Archive.org
 

Despite musk julep’s loathsome savor, the remedy appears in eighteenth-century English and North American pharmacopoeias, popular medical manuals, and women healers’ recipe books, which demonstrates the overlap between the prescribing practices of doctors and non-physician practitioners. To make “Julepum e Moscho or Musk Julep,” William Lewis advised the reader to “Take of Damask rose water, six ounces by measure; Musk, twelve grains; Double-refined sugar, one dram. Grind the sugar and the musk together, and gradually add to the rose water” (433). Due to its expense and pungency, musk was measured in grains or 6.5% of a gram. Nonetheless, in his popular self-help manual, Domestic Medicine, William Buchan gave directions for a larger batch of musk julep by increasing the amount of musk in his recipe to half a drachm (30 grains) and adding eight times as much sugar. He substituted cinnamon and peppermint water for the rose water. Like Lewis, he recommended musk julep for convulsions, “nervous fevers,” and “spasmodic affections.” Although the medicinal uses of musk had its origins in ancient Asian medical practice, it came into increasingly popular use in eighteenth-century Britain and its colonies.

During the American Revolution, the widowed Quaker healer, Margaret Hill Morris prescribed musk julep in her Burlington, New Jersey medical and apothecary practice. Creating medicines such as musk julep required hands-on skills in chemistry and botany, and it allowed women to produce novel scientific knowledge and products. Morris likely obtained the musk julep recipe from her personal copy of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine. Women’s home-production of medicines was particularly important in the face of shortages of imported pharmaceuticals due to the Royal Navy’s blockades of American port cities during the war. However, while Morris was compounding musk julep one afternoon, her fetid concoction spilled onto a letter that she was writing to her sister. The sugary liquid pooled and stained the fabric-like texture of the cotton and linen paper. Morris apologized and explained, “Son John [and I] had been making musk julep for [Neighbor] Carey, on the Counter where my paper laid and scented it.” Although Morris had apprenticed her son to her physician brother-in-law, she relished his visits home, where “the business of an Apothecary be still carried on by a diligent apprentice, & watchful Mother.”[i] Morris’s kitchen was a site of medical education as well as odiferous medicinal production.

As new Western European theories of the nervous and vascular systems influenced humoral medicine in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world, doctors and non-physician healers became interested in the stimulating power of musk. The expense, exotic origins, pungent taste, and gelatinous consistency of the fur-encrusted musk gland added to the medicine’s mystique. The intermixture of cinnamon, peppermint or rose water, along with sugar, added complexity and sweetness, making musk julep’s earthy taste more appetizing. Musk julep recipes highlight how the unique flavors and textures of a global trade in pharmaceuticals enlivened eighteenth-century medical prescriptions and practices.


[i] Margaret Hill Morris to Hannah Hill Moore, ca. 1780, G. M. Howland MS Coll. 1000, Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford, PA; Susan Hanket Brandt, “‘Getting into a Little Business’: Margaret Hill Morris and Women’s Medical Entrepreneurship during the American Revolution,” Early American Studies 4, no. 4 (2015): 774-807.

Susan Brandt teaches history at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Her dissertation, “Gifted Women and Skilled Practitioners:  Gender and Healing Authority in the Delaware Valley, 1740-1830,” was awarded the 2016 Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. Women’s History by the Organization of American Historians. Brandt has published an article in Early American Studies and a chapter in Barbara Oberg, ed., Women in the American Revolution: Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World. She is under contract with Penn Press to publish a book based on her dissertation. Prior to pursuing a career in history, Brandt worked as a nurse practitioner.

Cheese Salad (Chilled): A Taste of Nostalgia

Kate Follansbee

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

A congressional portrait of Sen. Smith.

Margaret Chase Smith was a Maine native and a groundbreaking woman in political history. As the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, Smith maintained a domestic charm while becoming a powerful and independent politician. Smith lived her entire life (aside from her time in Washington) in Skowhegan, Maine. She never went to college and was a devoted wife to Clyde Smith, who was a member of the House of Representatives. As a politician’s wife, she honed her skills as a political candidate, learning how to connect with the people. Before Clyde died in 1940, he asked her to take his seat in the house. This was the start of her thirty-three-year career in Congress. 

While in office, Smith received many recipe requests. Smith had a collection of recipe utilizing Maine ingredients prepared on her Senate office stationery, always ready to mail a recipe. Many of her recipes were heavily influenced by Maine foods traditions, such as blueberry muffins, lobster dishes, and baked beans. An anomaly within the collection is a card containing the directions to prepare Cheese Salad (chilled). Our class, “Food, Feminism, and Femininity,” has focused on Smith’s recipe collection, and I selected the cheese salad recipe for analysis for several reasons. First, I was intrigued by the mix of ingredients. Cheese salad (chilled) contains mayonnaise, pineapple, maraschino cherries, green pepper, cream, walnuts, and paprika. The instructions are also quite vague, presenting a challenge for preparing the recipe. Finally, I wanted to look more deeply into the emergence of convenience foods in the twentieth century, and the idea of what constituted a “salad” during this period. 

Recipe for “Cheese Salad (Chilled)” from Smith’s recipe collection. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library. 

Reading through the recipe and noting the ingredients, reminded me of another class research project focused on Maine community cookbooks compiled in the 1920s and 1930s. My classmates and I noted a prevalence of molded salads in these texts, concoctions of fruit, vegetables, dairy, gelatin, and sometimes meat that were hugely unappealing to our twenty-first-century palates. In my examination of The Wilton Cookbook compiled by the ladies of the Wilton Episcopal Church in 1922, I noted a number of recipes for molded salads such as Nut Frappe, Pineapple Cream, and Lemon Sponge. These concoctions frequently relied on gelatin to hold the ingredients and whipped cream to provide taste and texture. These recipes especially are quite “of the times” in terms of ingredients. I noted many convenience foods, including whipped cream, which Diane Tye discusses in Baking as Biography, as “a convenience food which was often mixed with canned or frozen fruit.” Tye also covers the popularity of gelatin, The Wilton Cookbook contains advertisements for Knox Sparkling Gelatin at the top of every page, indicating the company as a potential sponsor of the cookbook but also the prevalence of gelatin in popular cooking.

The recipe and image for “Under-the-Sea Salad” from The Greater Jell-O Recipe Book(1931) provides a sense of the flavor combination and attention to presentation in popular molded salad recipes. Courtesy of the Michigan State University Archives. 

The insights from this research guided my interpretation of Smith’s Cheese Salad (Chilled) recipe. The “Salad” portion of Smith’s recipe collection mainly consists of recipes for salad dressing; however, in addition to the Cheese Salad, there are three other molded salad recipes. Ribbon Salad, Lime Cucumber Salad, and the simply named “Salad” that rely on combinations of convenience foods (canned fruit cocktail or tomato soup) with mayonnaise and/or cream cheese (Lime Cucumber Salad is an outlier calling for cottage cheese) with flavored Jell-O or plain gelatin served molded. These too offered some guidance for my analysis. 

Ingredients for assembling Cheese Salad (chilled). Photo by the author.

I had several initial questions. What is a cheese salad even supposed to taste like? How much salt and paprika? How do you serve it? It says, “freeze stiff,” so was I supposed to serve it stiff? Like ice cream? With very little information given, I decided to make cheese salad into a dip for crackers. I decided that for a dip, two packages of cream cheese would make the most sense. I decided that the chopped fruit should look like the fruit you would get in a fruit cake mix, so I chopped everything into tiny cubes. I determined that crushed pineapple would probably work better than chopping pineapple slices because they have a tendency to shred into pieces I added ½ teaspoon of salt, because that seems standard for recipes (based on things that I have cooked in the past) and ¼ of paprika, because I did not want to go overboard with a surprising flavor. In my opinion, even that much was too much—the paprika was too overwhelming. After mixing everything, I decided to put it in a rounded bowl so that when I flipped it, it would look molded. I based this decision on my knowledge of past generation’s fascination with molded salads. I will not lie; this step was quite unappealing; the mixture smelled odd and looked like lumpy, flesh-colored ice cream. While the outcome looks deceptively like a cake, cheese salad tastes like a fascinating mix of sweet and salty, and the paprika is quite evident.

Cheese Salad (Chilled) plated for serving with crackers. Photo by the author.

Serving this dish to different groups revealed changing tastes and the power of nostalgia in the enjoyment of a recipe. When I served this dish to my twenty-year-old peers, they were all disgusted, and I figured that the recipe was a complete failure. However, when I fed the same dish to a group of college professors, whose ages ranged from 30s to 60s, they had a completely different reaction. The professors remarked that the dish reminded them of housewarming parties from their childhood, their grandmothers’ cooking, and 1950s-esque foods. Many told me about similar recipes, such as ambrosia salad or dishes involving Cool Whip, mayonnaise, and Jell-O powder. All in all, I learned that taste changes with generation, so while cheese salad might not be such a hit at a sweet sixteen, consider it if you want to make something reminiscent of decades past.

Kate Follansbee is a third-year Communications major with a minor in Economics and member of the Honors College at the University of Maine. 


Janann Sherman, No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001). 

Diane Tye, Baking as Biography: a Life Story in Recipes(Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010).

Methodist Episcopal Church, Wilton Cookbook (Nelson Print, 1922).

Smothered Beef: The Role of Meat in Margaret Chase Smith’s Foodways

Emma Bragdon

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

Margaret Chase Smith is a prominent female figure in Maine’s history. This influential woman, a United States Senator, had a collection of various recipes including a recipe for smothered beef.  For this researcher, the recipe collection raised questions about how these recipes fit into Smith’s life, especially within the context of meat boycotts and the industrialization of meat during the twentieth century. Her biography and events during her lifetime provide some insight into how this recipe may have fit into her life. 

Born December 14, 1897, Smith was the eldest of George and Carrie Chase’s six children. The family frequently struggled financially, “her parents were blue-collar laborers. Her father, George, worked for a time as a waiter, but later became a local barber. The family could not survive on his meager salary.”[1]Margaret sought work from a very young age. She worked various jobs such as a store clerk, dishwasher, and telephone switchboard operator. During Margaret’s childhood, in other parts of the United States, working-class women protested the increasing cost of meat through organized boycotts. In 1902, for example, “Jewish immigrant women from New York City’s Lower East Side boycotted the higher cost of kosher meat.”[2]Considering that working-class families around the country struggled to afford large cuts of meat during this period, it is questionable whether Margaret grew up enjoying dishes like smothered beef. A favorite Maine recipe Smith frequently served in her political life and reminisced about Saturday suppers during her youth was Baked Beans, a protein dense meal that utilized small pieces of inexpensive salt pork and was often served with hot dogs. 

Group of primarily women and children stand in front of a restaurant in Hamtramck, Michigan during the 1935 Meat Boycott. Courtesy of Wayne State University Digital Collections. 

As Margaret grew up, she began to make a name for herself. In 1919 she got a job working for the local newspaper, the Independent-Reporter. While working for the newspaper company, she started to become part of the white-collar workforce, and “interacted with the business and political elite of Skowhegan.” After working for the newspaper company for eight years, she married Clyde Smith in 1930. Clyde, a politician, helped Margaret gain her place in politics.  During this period, another meat boycott occurred, “In the summer of 1935, housewives from all over Detroit called for a boycott of meat to protest the high cost of living.” There’s no evidence as to whether Margaret boycotted meat during her marriage with Clyde, but she could certainly afford beef due to changes in status and the meat industry. 

During Margaret’s lifetime, significant changes took place in the meat industry, “improvements in transportation changed the way food was bought and sold and lowered its price. Perhaps most importantly, the combined effects of industrialization and transportation worked together to reduce seasonality.”[3] Railroad and steamship companies involved themselves in the meat packing industry, and “took an early lead in supplying livestock to urban slaughterhouses.”[4] Railroad companies worked quickly to build cattle cars and stockyards. Building ships to be able to hold cattle was a must as well as building slaughterhouses at the harbors.  These new technologies helped to decrease the cost of meat. 

During Margaret’s lifetime, significant changes took place in the meat industry, “improvements in transportation changed the way food was bought and sold and lowered its price. Perhaps most importantly, the combined effects of industrialization and transportation worked together to reduce seasonality.”[1]Railroad and steamship companies involved themselves in the meat packing industry, and “took an early lead in supplying livestock to urban slaughterhouses.”[2]Railroad companies worked quickly to build cattle cars and stockyards. Building ships to be able to hold cattle was a must as well as building slaughterhouses at the harbors.  These new technologies helped to decrease the cost of meat. 

Smith’s recipe for Smothered Beef. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.  

The recipe for smothered beef came into Margaret’s possession through her political connections. Elizabeth Sealey and John C. Sealey Jr., good friends of Smith for many years, gave her the recipe, likely around 1950 when both Margaret and John Sealey worked in politics. The recipe contains few ingredients: 3 to 6 pounds chuck or back of rump, one onion cut in half, one tablespoon vinegar, ¼ cup water, salt and pepper to taste, and enough meat for browning. The directions are simple. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the remaining ingredients put them into the iron kettle with the meat. Once the meat has started to cook, reduce the heat. Allow the meat to simmer for four to six hours. Keep the liquid to make gravy. The recipe would have involved planning based on the time it took as well as knowledge on how to make gravy as the contributor of the recipe failed to provide a gravy recipe.  

Smith frequently entertained during her political career. Here, she attends to a centerpiece. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.  

Throughout her lifetime, Margaret’s relationship with beef (a well-established status food in the United States) changed. Likely a rarity during her childhood, she may have used recipes like smothered beef to entertain political colleagues and friends later in life. Her former personal secretary, Angie Stockwell, reports toward the end of her life one of her favorite meals was baked potato, steak, and salad. A menu in her recipe collection suggests this was a frequent dinner party repast as well. One of Margaret’s appeals as a politician was that she never lost her rural Maine roots. During her campaigns, she was a frequent sight at bean suppers across the state and also entertained by offering baked beans, hot dogs, and brown bread to her husbands’ colleagues during his time in office. Her working-class roots remained a political asset. 

Smothered beef, prepared and photographed by the author. 

Note: This recipe can be easily adapted to a crockpot. Cook on high for four hours, then reduce the temperature to low for another six hours. 

Emma Bragdon is a third-year Biochemistry major and member of the Honors Collegeat the University of Maine. 


[1]Jeannette W Cockroft, “The Transformative Power of Work: The Early Life of Senator Margaret Chase,” Maine History47, no. 2 (2013), 237. 

[2]Emily L.B. Twarog, Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America(Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2017), 11.

[3]Katherine Leonard Turner, How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), 28.

[4]Jeffrey M. Pilcher, “Empire of the ‘Jungle,’” Food, Culture, and Society 7, no. 2 (2004), 68.

Cooking Up New Ideas: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Research through Recipes

Rachel A. Snell

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative (MCSRRC) is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff who are passionate and curious about the role of food, recipes, and cooking in politics and public life; and eager to share those lessons with a broad audience from students to scholars to civic organizations. Members represent a range of disciplines: history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. The MCSRRC is housed within the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center (MCSPS) – a nonpartisan, independent research and public service unit dedicated to promoting the quality of public dialogue about state and national policy issues through applied policy research and community engagement – and the Honors College at the University of Maine

Smith’s personal recipe collection at the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library in Skowhegan, Maine. Photography by Rachel Snell.

Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) stood apart as a political figure, woman, and homemaker. Distinguished as a political trailblazer, she was among the first politicians openly critical of the tactics of McCarthyism, and upon leaving office was the longest-serving female Senator in history. Margaret Chase Smith is one of the most well-recognized and well-studied female figures in Maine history, but few of us would identify her as a domestic being. Most research on Smith and recognition of her role focuses on her life in the public sphere as a Congresswoman, Senator, and public figure. She was, of course, also a wife, cook, and homemaker, and she frequently relied on these roles in her campaigns. Her recipes suggest how she combined her public and private personas and how the balance of the two contributed to her success as a political leader. She was committed to bringing people together through civil discourse and often used food as a diplomatic vehicle. Throughout her thirty-three years in office, she maintained and used a recipe collection to entertain fellow policymakers and friends in Washington and at home in Maine.

Sen. Smith hosted President Dwight Eisenhower for a traditional lobster bake on the lawn of her home in Skowhegan in 1955. Courtesy of Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

Recipes demand an interdisciplinary approach as these sources transcend the boundaries of individual fields. This project brings together the researchers from multiple fields while recognizing recipe collections as sources for collective biography. In her memoir of her mother’s life through her recipe collection, Diane Tye argued, “one woman’s baking offers a contextually situated example of how a generation constructed and managed identity roles.”[1]This approach demands recognition of a cookbook or a collection of recipes as a narrative, in Anne Bower’s definition as, ”a verbal artifact that is organized and endowed with meaning by its readers” or as an “embedded discourse” in the analysis of Leonardi, representative of relationships between friends, neighbors, relatives, and broader communities.[2]  Leonardi persuasively argued that recipes are much more than lists of ingredients and methods for combining them into dishes. Rather, the intertextuality of recipes engages the reader or the cook in a conversation with context and relationships that should not be ignored. Therefore, the recipe “besides being a narrative itself, offers us other stories too: of family sagas and community records, of historical and cultural moments or changes, and also personal histories and narratives of self.”[3] Recipes not only reveal human relationships but, as historian Rebecca Sharpless argued, also “important evidence about people’s interactions with their environment and the society around them.”[4] Recipes provide a sense of the tools and materials available, dining customs, identity formation, expectations, food system transitions, the development of unique food cultures, and much more.

Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative members Dominique DeSpirito and Alex Bromley pour over Smith’s recipe collection at the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library. Dominque, a Political Science major with a minor in Environmental Science, is searching for connections between the recipes and Smith’s agricultural policies. Alex, a Food Science major, is curious about how recipes and ingredients change over time.
MCSRRC member Makenzie Baber, a third-year Business Management major, photographs one of the scrapbooks in the Library’s collections. Makenzie’s research explores Smith’s use of a blueberry muffin recipe as a campaign tool during the 1964 Republican Presidential Primary.

The primary objective of the MCSRRC is to foster collaborative, interdisciplinary student and faculty research through projects focused on recipes as sources for research. The work of the Collaborative includes cataloging and digitizing Senator Smith’s personal collection of recipes, currently housed at the Margaret Chase Smith Library and Museum in Skowhegan, Maine. Collaborative members test and, as needed, update the original recipes in efforts towards the creation of an edited volume, grounded in research but written for a broad public audience, focused on the role of food, recipes, and the power of cooking in politics and public life. The MCSRRC utilizes an undergraduate research model tobring creative and innovative approaches to studying the life of Senator Smith through her recipes. This source material offers a new perspective on a well-researched figure and provides ample opportunity for students to develop research projects connected to their fields of study and personal interests. The student research posts published by The Recipes Project provides a sense of the vast research possibilities of this particular recipe collection and any recipe collection.  


[1] Diane Tye, Baking as Biography: A Life Story in Recipes(Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010), 42.

[2] Anne L. Bower, “Bound Together: Recipes, Lives, Stories, and Readings,” in Anne L. Bower, ed., Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories(Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), 30; Susan J. Leonardi, “Recipes for Reading: Summer Pasta, Lobster àla Riseholme, and Key Lime Pie,” PMLA104, no. 3 (1989), 340.

[3] Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster, “The Recipe in its Cultural Contexts” in Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster, eds., The Recipe Reader: Narratives – Contexts – Traditions(Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), 2.

[4] Rebecca Sharpless, “Cookbooks as Resources for Rural Research,” Agricultural History 90, no. 2 (Spring 2016), 195.