September 2017 will mark The Recipe Project‘s fifth anniversary: a big one in the blogging world. And on 29 December, we published our 501st post!
We’ve come a long way since Elaine Leong and I had the idea of setting up a blog. One of our goals right from the start (besides sharing our love of recipes) was to build a community of scholars and recipe enthusiasts
In this endeavour, we’ve been successful. Since 2012, we’ve had over 100 wonderful contributors–and two co-editors (Amanda Herbert and Laurence Totelin) and one social media editor (Laura Mitchell) have joined our team. In 2016 alone, we’ve had over 198000 unique readers and over 525000 unique visits. Our Twitter feed continues to grow (over 6500 followers), as does our Facebook page (over 830 followers). Thank you, dear readers and contributors for making The Recipes Project such a success!
Now, what were our top five posts of 2016? The vast majority of our readers come directly to the home page and browse through the latest posts, which means that actual favourite posts are difficult to measure. But the top five posts that lured in readers directly to the page reveal an intriguing range of interests and reading patterns.
‘Palm Trees and Potions: On Portugueuse Pharmacy Signs’, Benjamin Breen (2 August 2016).
‘Jolly Good Ale and Old: Or, Were Early Modern People Perpetually Drunk?’ James Brown and Angela McShane (20 September 2016).
‘Hans Sloane: Eighteenth Century Mixologist’, Amanda Herbert (12 January 2016).
‘Of Dirty Books and Bread’, Anke Timmermann (12 May 2013).
‘Transcribing Early Modern Recipes with the Crowd on Shakespeare’s World‘, Victoria Van Hyning an Paul Dingman (2 February 2016).
Sometimes older posts are reborn in another year, as happens with Anke’s post on using bread to clean old manuscripts. Our contributors from other big projects (such as The Intoxicants Project and Shakespeare’s World) brought in a large readership, likely drawing in part on their own networks. And our readers really like posts on booze, or hidden histories like pharmacy signs!
The New Year brings new opportunities and challenges. As ever, we are always interested in new contributors. If you’ve been thinking that you’d like to contribute to RP or to set up a new themed series, please do send us an email–we’d love to hear from you! With a number of our Ph.D. student contributors graduating this past year, we’re also keen to encourage junior scholars to become a part of our community.
Over the years, we’ve noticed that the blog provides a wonderful snapshot of recipe research, but one topic has repeatedly emerged: the difficulty of pinning down what exactly a recipe is in different regions and different time periods. With this in mind, the RP editors will be hosting an entirely virtual conference on ‘What is a Recipe?’ in the summer. We are super excited about this and hope to see many of you involved as participants. Please keep your eyes open for our upcoming Call for Participation!
With the lead up to our fifth anniversary, we will be including a new feature for the year that will add a soupçon of historiography to our monthly mix. RP editors and invited contributors will reflect on the past, present, and future directions of recipe scholarship, as well as what the blog has meant to us.
Thanks again for your support. We hope that you enjoy our new directions in 2017 as we will!
Among the papers of the Newdigate family of Arbury Hall (Warwickshire), I found a pile of loose eighteenth-century recipes. The recipes are practical in nature: remedies for minor ailments, plasters and such for home renovation, medicines for animals, and poisons for killing vermin. It was the poisons that captured my imagination, as such recipes have not appeared in the early modern recipe books that I’ve examined—despite the troubles that would have been caused by vermin on a daily basis. A comparison of the Newdigate recipes with published early modern ones reveals an interesting process of knowledge transmission.
In mid-eighteenth century hand, the Newdigate papers includes the following recipes on one page (Warwickshire CRO CR 136B/2504B):
Poison for Mice or Rats. Roots of white Hellebore & staves are powdered & mixed with wheat Flour. Mr Pennant
D. for Moles. The Roots of Palma Christi & white Hellebore made into a paste & laid in their holes. Mr Pennant
Similar recipes to these appear in a horrible little book, The Vermin-Killer, which was published in seventeen different versions between 1680 and 1790. A how-to manual on the best ways of ridding the household of any type of vermin from adders to weasels, this book includes instructions on trapping (and torturing) animals, as well as several recipes for poison.
In 1680, The Vermin-Killer recommended laying a paste of hellebore leaves, wheat flour, and honey into the holes, ‘where the Rats and Mice come, and when they have eat of it, its Present Death. Approved Paxamus [1st century Greek author of a cookbook]’ (1). A combination of white hellebore, wheat flower, egg white, milk, and wine was also used to get rid of moles: ‘lay little cakes of it in the mouth of the holes, and the Moulds will greedily eat of it, and it certainly kills them, approved Pliny [1st century Roman natural philosopher]’ (10).
By 1710, the book was now rather more grandly titled, The Compleat English and French Vermin-Killer: being a Companion for All Families. The recipes had also changed slightly. To kill rats and mice, the recipe included wheat or barley-flour mixed with honey, metheglin (mead), and bitter almonds, though ‘I think if you mix a little of Helibore Leaves, powder’d with it, its better’ (5). The section on moles was greatly expanded. It included a version of the 1680 recipe in which moles could be destroyed with nut-size ‘pellets’ of the following ingredients strewn about their holes: white or black hellebore, wheat-flour, egg white, milk, and sweet wine or metheglin. The moles would eat the pellets ‘with Pleasure, and it kills them. Approv’d’ (9). But it added one more similar to the Newdigate recipe: pellets made of white hellebore, Palmus Christi root, barley meal, egg white, and wine or mead or milk. This was also ‘Approv’d’ (14).
The Vermin-Killer: being a compleat and necessary family-book (1765), drastically changed its layout. Whereas previous editions had started with rats and mice, the mid-eighteenth-century priority (if placement in the book is anything to go by) was bedbugs and lice. The recipes had also been updated. The one to kill rats and mice was nearly the same, but added at the end: ‘Hemlock seed thrown into their holes, kills them’ (10). As to the moles, both recipes remained the same as the 1710 edition, although the ‘approv’d’ tag was dropped for both; indeed, similar tags had been removed from other recipes throughout the book (13, 16).
In 1790, the book was reduced to an eight-page pamphlet: The Vermin-Killer, being a very necessary Family Book. But two recipes were retained. The latest version for killing rats and mice dropped the hemlock and listed fewer ingredients: hellebore leaves, wheat flour and honey (1). Only the first recipe to kill moles remained, but was closer to the 1680 version, specifying once more white hellebore, calling them ‘little cakes’ rather than ‘pellets’, and describing the moles as ‘greedily’ eating them (4).
Although the Newdigate papers listed Mr. Pennant as the source for both recipes, it’s clear that the two recipes came from a long tradition, dating in print to at least 1680 and, in manuscript, to the first century. These recipes, however, were clearly in wider circulation than even The Vermin-Killer editions would suggest. For example, I came across the same recipes in The Sportsman’s Dictionary (1778) and the American Stockport Advertiser: Notes and Queries vol. 4 (1884). The Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine (1799) refers to the naturalist Thomas Pennant’s recommendation of Palmus Christi oil and hellebore to kill moles (27). Although this is likely the same Pennant referred to by the Newdigates, it is probable that The Vermin-Killer was his source, given his dates (1726-1798). I have so far been unable to trace the book in which Pennant discussed killing moles.
The Newdigates’ ingredient lists and directions are much briefer, suggesting implied—and possibly practiced—knowledge. Obviously a powder of wheat and hellebore would be less tempting than if it was mixed with something sweet, which would also ensure that the poison stuck to the rodent. (This is the logic specified in other similar recipes in The Vermin-Killer.) As to the recipe to destroy moles, the reference to ‘made into a paste’ suggests an implied knowledge of how to make a paste in the first place.
The ingredients remained, more or less, the same over the centuries, suggesting that the recipes were considered useful enough to remain in circulation. However, two issues were new in the eighteenth century. The first is the way in which printed recipes moved away from traditional statements of efficacy. The classical authorities were first dropped (1710), and then the ‘approv’d’ by mid-century. A new form of authority had emerged—that of the learned man of science, Thomas Pennant, who was attributed as the source for a recipe much older than him! One did not have to create knowledge to be credited; one need only be a contemporary authority who deemed the recipe useful.
The second relates to the perception of moles and their behaviour. Mary Fissell has written about the early modern personification of vermin, which emphasised their thieving and greedy behaviour that was a threat to social order. In the Newdigate recipes, there are no references to greedy moles tempted by fanciful little cakes. This is also a description that fades out over the eighteenth century, although it returned in the 1790 version, which is curious. Was the later re-emergence of the description tied more to the growing romantic view of nature than the earlier threat to survival? Or to a growing social concern with the frivolity and parasitic behaviour of the blind, governing elite who also ate little cakes?
The relationship between recipes in print and manuscript is not always so clear-cut, but comparison can be fruitful in uncovering details about the transmission of knowledge: shifting cultural interpretations, changing ideas about efficacy and authority, and usage.
November (or ‘Movember’) is men’s health awareness month, and it focuses on prostate cancer and depression, with the added bonus of moustaches. Movember didn’t exist in the eighteenth century, but I’m curious about men’s health awareness from a recipe book perspective. What can recipe books tell us about the family’s role in providing care, and recording remedies for men?
The manuscripts I consult contain mostly non-gender specific illnesses (e.g. coughs and stomach complaints), and many include recipes for women and children; this is because these manuscripts were written by women andwere family collections. There are, however, occasional references to men’s illness experiences.
Remedies for the prostate gland/ cancer don’t exist in recipe books (at least not in modern terminology). The prostate was not anatomically-defined until the late eighteenth century, and the medical interventions that developed were surgical, with John Hunter’s use of catheters being an example of treatment for an enlarged prostate.
If we look broadly at urinogenital recipes, we find men’s illnesses (on male infertility see Jennifer Evans). Urinogenital remedies were standard in domestic recipe books. These include recipes for bloody urine, stones, and difficulty urinating. In Esther Hanmer’s mid-century recipe book, a recipe titled ‘Given my Father. For one yt cannot make water either child or Old body’ said to take bees and stamp them, then add them to white wine and posset ale. Although it is unclear if it was used by the father, his donation of this remedy indicates a man’s awareness of urinogenital issues and potential treatment, and his sharing of medical advice with his family.
Similarly, Sir Thomas Mannering sent the compiler’s grandfather a remedy for sharpness of urine where a piece of antimony was infused in ale. This sharpness could be any infection, but the term frequently appeared in medical literature as a symptom of gonorrhea. Esther Hanmer’s family recipe collection thus documents men acquiring medical advice from their networks and subsequently sharing it as a component of the family’s health record and for potential future use.
Though the grandfather’s recipe does not specifically mention gonorrhea, venereal diseases were a pervasive complaint for eighteenth-century men. The absence of explicit venereal disease remedies in domestic collections is partly due to the immorality and stigma associated with the disorders. Lisa Smith has noted that recipes for ‘weak backs’ and ‘running of the reins’ (genital discharge) were linked to venereal diseases and genital ‘leakage’, suggesting that treatment for sexually transmitted infections was present in recipe books, but catalogued under more ambiguous names. For instance, a late seventeenth-century collection cites a water-based remedy for a canker ‘in the yard of a man’, indicating that recipes books had remedies for suspected venereal disorders, though they were not labelled as such.
Manuscript recipe books were important for documenting the whole family’s health, and the family played a central role in communicating, preserving, and utilising medical knowledge when caring for male members. Baron James Everard Arundell’s and his wife’s recipe collections are two of the few family manuscripts I have looked at that were compiled by a male family member. Many of the recipes are recorded as being specifically for Arundell, including a recommendation for Dicherion’s white Drops for Palsy, which was given to him by Lady Arundell, and which he purchased from Mr Collins – a bookseller at Salisbury.
Royal gardener Henry Wise corresponded regularly with Dr. Cheyne (see Spa post) and one of his recurring health conditions was sickness when travelling. One recipe was to ‘Stop Purging when upon the Road from Bath’ from Dr. Cheyne, while the family’s other manuscript has a record of Mr Southill’s directions for him for ‘occasion of motion extraordinary’.
Eighteenth-century elite men were invested in maintaining their health and seeking treatment– this is no surprise given the wealth of sources documenting men consuming medicine and their seeking advice from the medical professions. What is significant is that recipe books served as important records for men’s medical interactions and medical knowledge for treating men as part of the domestic medicine tradition. Some men recorded their experiences directly; in other cases it was female relations who documented their experiences and wanted (or were expected) to be knowledgeable in maintaining their men’s health as part of family care.
 Wellcome Library, MS.2767. Esther Hanmer and others, ‘Receipt Book’ (c. 1750–1825), pp. 17, 29.
 Lisa Wynne Smith, ‘The Body Embarrassed? Rethinking the Leaky Male Body in Eighteenth-Century England and France’, Gender & History, 23 (2011), pp. 26–46.
 British Library, Add MS 38089. Collection of Medical Recipes, p. 108v.
 Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, 2667/12/40. Mrs J.E. Arundell, ‘Book of medicinal recipes’ (1786), Arundell of Wardour, p. 111.
 Warwickshire Record Office, CR0341/300. Wise family, ‘Volume containing assorted Wise family records and recipes’ (1716–8), Wise family of Woodcote, p. 119.
 CR0341/301. Mary Wise, ‘Recipe book of Mary Wise’ (18th C.), Wise family of Woodcote, p. 86.
In September, The Recipes Project celebrated its fourth birthday. We now have over 470 posts in our archives and over 117 pages for readers to sift through. That’s a lot of material! (And thank you so much to our contributors for sharing such a wealth of knowledge on recipes.)
But with so much material on the site, it’s easy for earlier pieces to be forgotten. So, the editors have decided that, every now and then, we’ll pull something out of the archives to share with our readers anew.
This month, I want to share a post by Laura Mitchell on ‘The Lighter Side of Magic’. In this post, Laura takes a look at the playful aspects of medieval charms, such as prodding random women with frog bones and making someone fart. I’ve chosen this post not only because it’s funny, but it speaks to the imaginative elements of recipes and to the medieval sense of humour.
“And it is a marvellous thing”: The Lighter Side of Magic
By Laura Mitchell
In my last post I discussed the line between healing charms and recipes in fifteenth-century recipe collections and how the line between charm and recipe could blur. Healing charms, however, are obviously not the only kind of charm that can be found in late medieval recipe collections. Some of the surviving charms and natural magic experiments reveal a different side to recipe users beyond the altruistic or the practical, and show a more light-hearted, sometimes even lascivious, approach to magic. Here I will discuss two examples that highlight these ludic aspects of magic very well.
My first example comes from Bodleian Library Ashmole MS 1435, an anonymous collection of the fifteenth century. This particular recipe is from the manuscript’s very large recipe collection (over 190 items) and is found on pages 14 and 15:
If you want a woman to lift her skirts up to her belly button: take a green frog and cook it and afterward wash its bones in running water and you will find one bone which jumps against the water. Then take that one and touch her with it and it will seem to her that she is walking in a great river and lift [her skirts].
What I find really interesting about this example is the implication that whoever was conducting this would have had to know this woman well enough to get close to her and touch her with a frog bone without raising a lot of suspicion. Presumably this would have been tried in private… although it is possible that some strange man ran around town prodding women with a frog bone and wondering why they weren’t lifting their skirts!
The internal logic of this recipe is fascinating as well. It’s designed to get a woman to raise just her skirts, rather than take off all her clothes (which is a goal of many charms). The fact that there’s a whole production about making the woman believe that she’s in a river and needs to lift her skirts to keep them dry–solely so that someone can sneak a peek–really speaks to the imaginative force that was an integral part of medieval magic.
Let’s turn now to another imaginative recipe and an example of the sillier side of magic. This example is from the De mirabilius mundi, a medieval book of secrets that was attributed to Albert the Great. My text is taken from the first English edition, printed in 1550 as The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus of the Virtues of Herbs, Stones and Certain Beasts. Also a Book of the Marvels of the World.
A marvellous operation of a lamp, which if any man shall hold, he ceaseth not to fart until he shall leave it.
Take the blood of a Snail, dry it up in a linen cloth, and make of it a wick, and lighten it in a lamp, give it to any man thou wilt, and say lighten this, he shall not cease to fart, until he let it depart, and it is a marvellous thing.
Once again, this is a recipe or experiment that would presumably have been done among people who knew each other fairly well. It reads rather like a party trick. One can almost imagine the scene in someone’s home as the host passes around the hilarious farting lamp to unsuspecting guests.
The purpose of these two recipes is clearly for laughs, although perhaps they are a little cruel. They reveal much about the sorts of things that medieval people found funny (fart jokes) and what titillated them (bottoms), which is really no different what interests people today. There are many similar charms and recipes from the medieval period–they can make people dance; make it seem as though someone has three heads, or has a dog’s head; there are more charms to make people take their clothes off; there are recipes that make a loaf of bread jump around. The possibilities are nearly endless and they illustrate another side to medieval magic.
 Si vis ut mulier leuat pannos suos vsque ad vmbilicum: accipe viridem ranam et coque illam et postea leva (sic) ossa sua in aqua currente et inuenies vnum os quod saltabit contra aquam. Tunc accipe illud et tange illam illam (sic) cum eo et apparebit ei quod vadit in magno flumine et euellet.