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A seventeenth-century miner’s brandy recipe

A mine, print from Goossen van Vreeswijck, Cabinet der Mineralen, Amsterdam 1675
A mine, print from Goossen van Vreeswijck, Cabinet der Mineralen, Amsterdam 1675

By Marieke Hendriksen

Recently, I’ve been studying, amongst others, the works of a seventeenth-century Dutch bergwerker, freely translated a miner, or rather a mining specialist. Goossen van Vreeswijck (ca. 1626- after 1689) was an adventurous man, who worked in the Low Countries, the German lands, Sweden, England, and even in regions presently in Surinam and Canada. He published a number of works on mining and alchemy in Dutch – a unique body of work that has been given little attention by historians of chemistry so far. Although Van Vreeswijck probably did not have a university education, he was well versed in the important alchemical and mining literature of his time, as he frequently discusses and criticizes authors such as Basil Valentine and Georg Agricola. His books are clearly aimed at other Dutchmen who will have to work in mines in faraway regions; they offer all kinds of practical and technical advice regarding the establishment and operation of a mine and the subtraction and chemistry of metals.

I am primarily interested in the use of metals in early modern chemistry and medicine, yet Van Vreeswijck’s work contains so many other gems that I could not withstand sharing one of them with you here. Probably because Van Vreeswijck’s audience was likely to spend long periods away from civilization, he also included recipes for the production of staples, such as brandy. In his book De Roode Leeuw, of het Sout der Philosophen (The Red Lion, or the Salt of the Philosophers, 1672), the title of which suggests a treatise on the matter of the Tincture or the Philosoher’s Stone, Van Vreeswijck discusses a wide variety of topics, ranging from the production of saltpetre from charcoal to the explanation of dreams and the best way to make brandy. Dutch brandy was usually made from grains like wheat or rye, but, Van Vreeswijck warned, this was not such a good idea as it might induce God’s wrath. He based this admonition on Isaiah 55:2, which says:

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Exactly why it would be a better idea to make brandy from all other kinds of fruits and vegetables, as Van Vreeswijck continues to argue, does not become entirely clear – but he seems to imply he did not find these satisfying or good to eat (fattening) as such, and brandy was seen as a necessity with medicinal qualities. It was used, amongst others, as a diuretic and purgative.

Van Vreeswijck illustrated most of his work with images he had copied from the popular emblem books of Jacob Cats - who used this image of a hand picking up grapes as an emblem of virginity, rather than  to refer to brandy.
Van Vreeswijck illustrated most of his work with images he had copied from the popular emblem books of Jacob Cats – who used this image of a hand picking up grapes as an emblem of virginity, rather than to refer to brandy. Source: Jacob Cats, Maechden-plicht, Middelburg, 1618.

The list that follows, of what can be used as a basis for brandy, is impressive: anything from grapes, apples, pears, prunes, to raspberries and cherries, even cabbage will do. As grapes can be grown in most mild climates, instructions are given on how to set up and manage a vineyard. Another benefit of using grapes for brandy was the appearance of tartar and lees as by-products, which, Van Vreeswijck points out, are used in medicine, dying, and many other crafts. Yet if grapes were not available almost any other fruit would do. The fermentation process might need some encouragement, for which yeast, sourdough, tartar, alkaline salt, wine vinegar, saltpetre, or antimony could be used. Amounts are not mentioned, as they would have depended on the kind and amount of fruit used, nor are there any specific instructions for distillation. Goossen van Vreeswijck’s brandy ‘recipe’ should thus be seen in the context of his works – a set of practical pointers for miners and others who needed to produce things they otherwise would have bought. By including some Biblical references and illustrating his work with copies of emblems from the works of the hugely popular Dutch author Jacob Cats (1577-1660), he stressed his reliability.

First Monday Library Chat: Cambridge University Library

Today’s First Monday Library Chat takes us back to England to talk with Dr. Suzanne Paul, Medieval Manuscripts Specialist at Cambridge University Library. The University Library is the central library on Cambridge’s campus, used by members of all Cambridge colleges, researchers from all over the world and accessible to the public for a nominal fee.

As the Medieval Manuscripts Specialist, could you tell us broadly about the medieval manuscripts held by Cambridge University Library? What are the strengths of your collection?
The collection, consisting of c. 3000 items, is very broad based, as you might expect in a library that’s been acquiring manuscripts for 600 years. There are some outstanding early medieval manuscripts, like the early 5th-century ‘Codex Bezae’ and the 10th-century ‘Book of Deer’, believed to be the oldest extant book produced in Scotland, but numerically, the greatest strength lies in the 12th-15th centuries and ranges across religious, literary, historical, scientific and legal texts. The majority of our manuscripts are of English provenance, from a variety of monastic and other institutional sources and from numerous individual collectors. Our current exhibition showcases our French medieval manuscripts but we have a particular strength in manuscripts containing Middle English texts.

Do any of these medieval manuscripts contain recipes?
The short answer is ‘yes’. The majority of the recipes in our manuscripts are medical but there are also alchemical, culinary, veterinary and what I would term ‘artisanal’ recipes for activities such as making ink and glue or gilding and colouring. The issue, as always, is finding the recipes. The principal catalogue for our main ‘two-letter’ (Dd-Oo) collection dates from the 1850s and the treatment of recipes is generally cursory. The Middle English recipe texts received some attention with the compilation of the IMEP volume relating to the collection (Margaret Connolly, Index of Middle English Prose: Handlist XIX Manuscripts in the University Library, Cambridge (Dd-Oo), Cambridge: Brewer, 2009). Connolly estimates that there are well over 2000 recipes in the manuscripts she indexed and she drew attention to three manuscripts (CUL MSS Dd.5.76, Dd.6.29 and Ee.1.15) which each contain over 200 recipes. Of course, many recipes occur singly or in small groups, many were added to manuscripts later, in blank spaces or on flyleaves, and many are not written in Middle English. Work is in progress to produce new online descriptions of all the manuscripts but there is a lot of work to be done on identifying and classifying recipe texts.
My colleague, Dr Anke Timmermann, is investigating alchemical images in manuscripts held in Cambridge libraries and will be producing a handlist of alchemical resources and images. She recently came across an interesting series of alchemical illustrations in a seventeenth-century manuscript which form a visual representation of the recipe for the philosophers’ stone (see image below), along with an intriguing personification.

alchemical manuscript
‘the crowing of nature’ – 17th c. visual alchemical recipe. CUL MS Gg.1.8, f. 80r. By permission of the Syndics of CUL.

I’m interested in the Taylor-Schechter Cairo Genizah Collection – the world’s largest and most important collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts.  Are there any recipe-related items in this collection?
The Genizah collection is made up of 190,000 manuscript fragments recovered from the storeroom of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat, Egypt. Although the Genizah was intended as a depository for worn-out sacred texts too precious to throw away, many secular documents dating from the 10th to the 17th centuries ended up in it. These Arabic, Judaeo-Arabic and Hebrew texts give us a unique insight into Jewish communal and domestic life and the wider economic and social history of the medieval Mediterranean and Near East. Dozens of medical recipes have been recovered from the Genizah, including this one, recently identified as a prescription in the hand of the great Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides. See Efraim Lev and Leigh Chipman, Medical Prescriptions in the Cambridge Genizah Collections (Leiden: Brill, 2012) for more.
The alchemical material in the Genizah collection is the subject of research by my colleague, Dr Gabriele Ferrario. Although there has been a pervasive tradition identifying Egypt as a centre of alchemical knowledge and a longstanding belief in the Jews as particularly skilled practitioners, it is only now that the actual activities of Jewish alchemists in medieval Egypt are being uncovered. Gabriele tells me that the alchemical texts he has identified are not generally theoretical or allegorical works but are principally practical in nature, that is, recipes and instructions for laboratory experiments, often adapted from Greek or Arabic sources according to the local availability of ingredients.

medieval alchemical manuscript
12th-13th c. Alchemical recipe for making silver – CUL MS Misc. 8.51, page 1. By permission of the Syndics of CUL.

Cambridge University Library is also home to some high-profile modern and early modern science collections, including the papers of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Could you speak more broadly about some of the early modern or modern recipe collections in your library?
We have numerous seventeenth-century and later commonplace books and scientific notebooks containing recipes and laboratory instructions. Newton’s papers include not just his mathematical and scientific thinking but also chemical and alchemical notes. The collection of Darwin’s papers at the UL encompasses all aspects of his professional and domestic life, including his wife Emma’s recipe book which has recently been edited and published.

Your library offers a number of prizes and fellowships that may be of interest to our readers, including those focused on book collecting and bibliography. Can you tell us a bit more about these?
The library appoints a Munby Fellow every year. This is a full-time 10-month position (October-July) open to a post-doctoral researcher of any nationality to carry out bibliographical research in any subject from any period. The only stipulation is that the proposed project must be based primarily on collections held in Cambridge libraries, whether print or manuscript. According to previous Fellows, one of the most exciting aspects of the position is being allowed to go ‘behind the scenes’ and browse the library’s Special Collections stacks as a member of library staff. The current Munby Fellow, Dr Anke Timmermann, is working on alchemical material but there is plenty of scope for other recipes researchers to investigate other aspects of our collections. The Fellowship is usually advertised in the summer.

Thanks, Suzanne, for chatting with me!

If you have any questions about the Cambridge University Library collections, please email Suzanne Paul. If you’d like to feature a library on the First Monday Library Chat, please email Michelle DiMeo.

Exploring CPP 10a214: Enter Lady Honywood

By Rebecca Laroche with Hillary Nunn

It was one of those priceless moments in academe when conversation with colleagues leads to electric discovery. Having just completed a full transcription of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia manuscript, I was attending the Sixteenth-Century Society Conference in Cincinnati in 2012.  I was telling Richelle Munkhoff, University of Colorado Boulder, about how my intimacy with the manuscript had me imagining an historical novel set at the brink of civil war, with a full cast of characters, requisite diseases and injuries, and a quaff or two at the local tavern.  “After all,” I said, “one just has to take advantage of a name like ‘Lady Honywood’ if it’s given to you.”  (In the Layfield section of the document are three recipes attributed to Lady Honywood, all for the gout.) [1]

“Lady Honywood?” Richelle replied.  “I know her.”

Richelle, who had been spending some time with the diary of Ralph Josselin, proceeded to tell me about the historical Lady Honywood, a nonconformist and medical practitioner. With a quick search through Alan Macfarlane’s edition, she was also able to find in the diary mentions of a Mr. Layfield, according to Macfarlane, one Edward Layfield, the rector of Wakes Colne from 1640 to 1666. [2]

Now Lady Honywood, Ralph Josselin, and Rector Layfield, were all located in Essex, about 50 kilometers away from the London suburbs where Hillary Nunn and I had previously located the recipe collection, thus complicating the standing hypothesis of the manuscript circulating in Middlesex.

As of now, I can think of four possibilities for this convergence of names and the inclusion of Lady Honywood, an Essex gentlewoman, in this manuscript:

  1. Our original hypothesis about Edmund Layfield, published pastor, is incorrect, and an Essex rector, Edward Layfield, is the compiler of the document.
  2. There are two clergymen E. Layfield, and the coexistence of these two gentlewomen (Toppisfield and Honywood) in the same book is merely coincidence.
  3. Edward and Edmund Layfield are related to each other, and the recipes circulated between them.
  4. Edmund Layfied of St. Leonards-Bromley relocated to Essex sometime in 1640 [3] and there established an acquaintance with Lady Honywood. The first mention of Mr. Layfield in the diary is in 1648, and the Honywood recipes do come after that of Mrs. Toppisfield discussed in an earlier entry.  In pursuit of this hypothesis, we’d have to confirm or refute the first name Edward as recorded in Alan McFarlane’s note.

Once again, the research continues.

Layfielde_MS Honywood
The Historical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript 10a214, fol. 221.

[1] “Medicinae Liber,” The Historical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript 10a214, fols. 221, 214.

[2]The Diary of Ralph Josselin, 1616–1683,  edited by Alan MacFarlane (London: The Oxford University Press, 1976) 120fn.

[3] The Diary of Ralph Josselin, 120.

This is the twelfth in a series of posts on this topic.

Newspaper Remedies and Commercial Medicine in Eighteenth-Century Recipe Books

By Katherine Allen

This post examines medical recipes and commercial medicine published in newspapers that were incorporated into recipe books. In a previous post, I discussed newspapers as sources of medical advice concerning cough and cold remedies. The print marketplace was thriving in eighteenth-century England and the proliferation of periodicals gave recipe collectors the opportunity to engage with published advice by pasting newsprint into their manuscripts. Some individuals alternatively copied out advice into their collections. Certainly, not every eighteenth-century recipe book includes medical information from newspapers. But, collections that do have newsprint show willingness on the compiler’s part to engage with a popular form of media and embrace, or at least consider, innovations in commercial medicine as part of domestic healthcare and the tradition of collecting recipes.

Newspaper recipes pasted into a manuscript recipe book.  Wellcome, WMS 7366, p. 78. [Credit: Wellcome Library]
Newspaper recipes pasted into a manuscript recipe book.
Wellcome, WMS 7366, p. 78. [Credit: Wellcome Library]
My first example is a remedy for consumption recorded in a recipe book from the Derby Mercury on 11 May 1786. The treatment involved breathing in vapours of white pitch and bees wax dissolved over a fire in a closed room. It was trialled by a military officer who ‘found the complaint of his breast greatly reliev’d’.[1] In this case, the recipe book compiler chose to include print advice in his/her collection and also selected a respiratory-based cure, not a standard domestic treatment for consumption at this time. This suggests that the compiler found the remedy intriguing and potentially useful, and therefore took the time and effort to copy it. New medical treatments were hence entering the world of domestic medicine through newsprint, and yet also remained part of the manuscript tradition.

Taken from The Economist, an undated article on using green walnuts in family medicine is an example of a newspaper clipping pasted into a manuscript. The article begins by declaring ‘every body eats walnuts; every body knows how to make a pickle of walnuts; few, however, know the medicinal virtue of walnuts’.[2] The purgative of green walnuts boiled in sugar was deemed a palatable treat for children, unlike ‘salts, jalap, and other doctor’s stuff’, and was claimed to save families from expensive doctor’s bills. Significantly, this newspaper advice recommended the use of homemade medicine over professional care. Syrup of green walnuts was a common recipe found in early modern recipe books. I suspect that this print advice was referencing green walnut remedies found in manuscript collections and printed domestic manuals and re-sharing the information, thus illustrating the three-way relationship of print, newsprint, and manuscript with regards to communicating domestic advice.

An article advertising Magnesia Lozenges for heart burn exemplifies commercial (including patent) medicines included in manuscripts used for domestic healthcare.[3] Found in Jane Frere’s recipe book, this advertisement is for the eighteenth-century version of TUMS. It was standard in medical advertisements to include a description of where the remedy could be purchased, in this instance by W. Box the apothecary, a chemist, a perfumer, and stationers across London. Clippings such as these were likely saved as reminders of commercial treatments to try, and where they could be purchased.

Magnesia Lozenges. Norfolk CRO, MC 433/1 715x9, p. 149 [Credit: Norfolk County Record Office]
Magnesia Lozenges. Norfolk CRO, MC 433/1 715×9, p. 149 [Credit: Norfolk County Record Office]
In a final case, a recipe book belonging to the Dolben family from Finedon, Northamptonshire included several newspaper clippings, one being ‘Directions for Using Mr. Mudge’s Inhaler’.[4] John Mudge is credited with inventing the inhaler in 1778 and publishing his work A Radical and Expeditious Cure for a Recent Catarrhous Cough. The inhaler was used in conjunction with an opiate-based elixir, and the user was to lay in bed with the inhaler three quarters filled with water. This example is again illustrative of a multi-textual exchange of medical knowledge. The inclusion of an advertisement for a physician’s new commercial cure in a recipe book demonstrates that collectors were aware of the diverse and innovative treatments available in the marketplace, and sought out these commodities as part of their healthcare.

Woodcut of John Mudge’s Inhaler [Credit: Hardluckasthma]
Woodcut of John Mudge’s Inhaler
[Credit: Hardluckasthma]
The addition of newsprint into manuscripts signifies an evolving material history of recipe books in eighteenth-century England. Fragments of newsprint and copied advice blur the lines between public and private, and between purchased cures and medicine prepared domestically. As these examples show, the medical and print marketplaces shared a close relationship with respect to conveying advice and advertising medical commodities through newsprint. This wider medical marketplace influenced changes in domestic medical practices, including they ways in which health advice was preserved in recipe books, creating a distinct material history of eighteenth-century manuscripts.

[1] Derbyshire CRO, D5430/50/5, f. 25r.

[2] Bodleian Library, MS Eng Misc es49 [no page number].

[3] Norfolk CRO, MC 433/1 715×9, p. 148.

[4] Wellcome, WMS 2201, f. 3r.