Category Archives: Transcription

An invitation to EMROC’s Thankful Thanskgiving

For this Thanksgiving, why not try cooking from a seventeenth-century recipe?

EMROC is hosting a transcribe, cook, and post of FB party as its “Thankful Thanksgiving,” and is inviting you to join them.

EMROC would like you to transcribe a recipe from the mid-17th-century cookbook, “Mrs Fanshawes Booke of Physickes, Salues, Waters, Cordialls, Preserues and Cookery”(MS7113), which is housed at the Wellcome Library and available digitally.

If you are interested in participating, visit the EMROC blog!

How to Tend an EMPS Garden

By Nadia Clifton and Breanne Weber

In October 2015, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we started the Early Modern Paleography Society. Our faculty mentor, Dr. Jen Munroe, recently wrote a post for the Recipes Project about our founding, which inspired us to reflect on our achievements this past year and to update everyone on just how quickly EMPS has grown.

EMPS has achieved many of our initial goals. We settled into a rhythm for group meetings, which doubled in size during the spring semester, and joined forces with Berlin transcriber Julia Jaegle to finish a double-keyed transcription of the “Cookbook of Timothy and Mary Cruso” (Folger ms X.d.24). Our founding officers traveled to the first annual EMROC transcribathon in October and contributed to the completion of the Winche manuscript transcription; two of them were subsequently offered internships with the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) database project, transcribing and vetting hundreds more pages of their manuscript collection in June. Perhaps our greatest achievement was our first EMPS transcribathon in April 2016, which hosted over 70 attendees locally and across the U.S. and resulted in a completed transcription of an anonymous 17th century cookbook (Folger ms W.b.653). For the first year of a student organization, these are amazing achievements and we are very proud.

We began our second year with many new goals and EMPS continues to grow at a rapid pace. We planned from the outset to send our officers to the second annual EMROC transcribathon in November and are excited to see another project through to completion. Another of the first things we did was enlist the help of a graduated member to develop a logo, which we love and feel represents the spirit of EMPS perfectly:


As we write this post, social media banners and t-shirt designs are also in the works. We have also created Facebook and Twitter pages, which we update regularly, to share more immediately what we’re up to and what we find among the pages of the texts we transcribe. And, while many of our members continue to contribute blog posts to EMROC and the Recipes Project, we also launched our own EMPS blog. In providing this platform, we encourage our members to actively contribute not just to our projects but also to the academic and social community that surrounds them.

In terms of our meetings, most of our members have become confident in their paleography skills and have asked to be responsible for transcription of their own pages. Instead of spending all of our group time transcribing one page together, then, we assign pages and work collaboratively when needed. This has resulted in much more efficient transcription time, and we’re seeing the effects of this change: since our first meeting this year, we’ve triple-keyed 8 pages, double-keyed 16, and single-keyed 2 pages from the Carlyon manuscript (Folger ms V.a.388). This almost meets our single-keyed page total from meetings last year!

We’ve also expanded our meetings to include other activities. During our last meeting, we used Dr. Munroe’s alembic still to distill rosewater, a process we had read about but never seen in-person. We also held a workshop on Secretary Hand for our members: we taught the alphabet and worked through the ingredients list of a recipe for a “wounde drincke” (Folger ms V.a.140). At our next meeting, we’re hosting a local herbalist, who is going to teach us about modern herbal medicine and the process of making tinctures.

Spring semester will bring even more exciting EMPS activities. Experimenting with cooking is our favorite way way of bringing recipes to life, but this year, we endeavor to recreate a recipe for ink in order to try writing our own recipes the way early moderns did: from memory, and with quills. In addition, we will start transcription on a new recipe book dedicated solely to EMPS; there is nothing like the thrill of finishing a full keying of a book cover to cover. Of course, a year in EMPS wouldn’t be complete without the culmination of our transcription efforts: the Second Annual EMPS Transcribathon.

Even though EMPS seems unstoppable, there is one difficulty that we are facing: recruiting members. Who could resist the enthusiasm of members, the challenge of a difficult hand, and the plain ol’ fun of transcribing during EMPS meetings? Usually no one, but our current recruits have only been English majors because that is where the organization originated. In order to reach out to students all over campus, we will be contacting faculty in departments such as history, gender studies, and nursing, to offering a short transcription workshop for their classes.

Like one of the herbs used in the recipes we transcribe, EMPS is growing strong and healthy at UNC Charlotte with its amazingly dedicated officers and enthusiastic members to tend it. Many of our members will be graduating in May, however, and moving on to complete additional degrees at other universities. Although they will be missed, we know they will be carrying an EMPS seed with them, a seed that may sprout EMP Societies across the country, and perhaps even the globe.

Cooking for a Crowd: Recipes and the Transcribathon

[This post is part of The Recipes Project’s annual Teaching Series.  In this entry, authors Clifton, Sindelar, and Weber share their experiences  in teaching participants in a transcribathon about angelica, an herb found in many early modern recipe books.]

Nadia Clifton, Kailan Sindelar, and Breanne Weber

In April 2016, the Early Modern Paleography Society (EMPS) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte hosted its first transcribathon (for more on what a transcribathon is and how to participate, see this Recipes Project post from Feb. 2015). There was no question as to whether or not we would prepare a recipe for the event, as consuming the final products of these recipes brings the manuscripts to life in a tangible way. EMPS was, at the time, transcribing the 1689 cookbook of Timothy and Mary Cruso (Folger ms X.d.24): a book written by an early modern husband and wife containing a variety of recipes, from hashing calves’ heads to preserving quinces.

The 1st Annual EMPS Transcribathon, April 2016. Image courtesy of the author.
The 1st Annual EMPS Transcribathon, April 2016. Image courtesy of the authors.

Early in the fall semester, the Assistant Director of the Botanical Gardens at UNC Charlotte, Paula Gross, offered to partner with EMPS by growing herbs for us to use in our transcribathon food experiment. This influenced which recipe we would choose. We settled on “To Candy Angelica,” a recipe written in Timothy Cruso’s hand and listed in the Cruso book among other recipes for preserves and jams. With only a few steps and even fewer ingredients (sugar, water, and angelica), it seemed to be the obvious choice.

"To Candy Angelica," detail from Mary Cruso and Timothy Cruso, Cookbook of Mary Cruso and Timonthy Cruso, September 5, 1689, X.d.24, Folger Shakespeare Library. Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
“To Candy Angelica,” detail from Mary Cruso and Timothy Cruso, Cookbook of Mary Cruso and Timonthy Cruso, September 5, 1689, X.d.24, Folger Shakespeare Library. Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Angelica prefers the cooler and cloudier climates that would have been familiar to our early modern British recipe’s authors, not the hot Southern US temperatures common to modern North Carolina, so Paula ordered three plants from a botanical nursery and grew them in UNC Charlotte’s greenhouse. They grew fairly well there, but because the plants were grown outside of their traditional environment, they were almost certainly different than the version of angelica which the Crusos would have known. This raised many questions: How does the temperature, water, insects, and surrounding plants affect the growth (and maybe the taste?) of these plant? Did our plants grow too fast? They were quite tall. And could that somehow affect the recipe? Recipes like this rely on the integrity of a plant (which relies on its ecosystem), just as much as they do on the knowledge of the recipe user. Trying to recreate these recipes reveals not just what we do and do not know about them, but where early modern authors relied on outside knowledge and predictability.

Kailan with our angelica. Image courtesy of the author.
Kailan Sindelar with our angelica. Image courtesy of the authors.

Because of the gaps in our knowledge of these plants, candying the angelica required some modification and guesswork. Unsure of the Crusos’ usage of the term “nail length,” we assumed our authors meant “fingernail length” (but later learned of the term’s usage in sewing) and chopped the stalks accordingly. We allowed ourselves the room to use modern conveniences, but how do you replicate a “soft fire” when you’re using a gas stove? How do you tell when “it” (whatever “it” is) has turned green? With nonspecific instructions, we added what we deemed to be “a little sugar” and boiled the angelica until it seemed to be as tender as it was going to get.

Candying the angelica. Image courtesy of the author.
Candying the angelica. Image courtesy of the authors.


Ready to soak in sugar water for a week! Image courtesy of the author.
Ready to soak in sugar water for a week! Image courtesy of the authors.

In the end, though, making the recipe did make us feel closer to our early modern recipe creators. We tried our angelica after a week, and it unexpectedly tasted like a crunchy, weirdly sweet cross between licorice and celery. Presenting it to our transcribers in an appealing way was another challenge. The EMPS members were excited about the Candied angelica because we had experienced the cooking process and we all share an investment in these recipes, but what about those new to transcription who did not have a connection to early modern recipes or an adventurous appetite? We thus had to answer two questions for our transcribers: What is angelica? and Do I really want to eat it?

To address the former question, we provided an informative handout about angelica and its medicinal uses, then discussed the plant/recipe on a panel. For the latter question, we bought a lemon cake and garnished it with angelica. The result looked quite appetizing. The remaining candied angelica and some “angelica tea” (the result of steeping angelica leaves) were also set out on the table so our participants naturally took a serving as they moved down the line. Our EMPS transcribers were much more open to tasting the angelica than we had expected, and one brave connoisseur even confidently drank the tea. We were all very impressed when she downed it without making a face.

The presentation! Image courtesy of the author.
The presentation! Image courtesy of the authors.


Participants who encounter early modern recipes during a transcribathon may wonder what is done with them after they are transcribed. Cooking is both a logical and tangible next step, even (and perhaps especially) for those who are not working with the recipes professionally and/or academically. Many things about early modern recipes seem completely alien; we wonder and marvel at how and why people cooked like this. Transcribing an early modern recipe via a computer screen rather than by reading and studying the physical manuscript has the potential to create more distance between the source and the transcriber, making it easy for a transcriber to feel detached from their work.  But by providing a dish prepared from a transcribed recipe, it’s possible to add a physical dimension to the transcribathon. In our case, cultivating, growing, harvesting, preparing, cooking, and then eating the angelica brought us out of the mental space our minds happily occupy and into the physical realm of our tongues and stomachs, an experience to which everyone, everywhere can relate.

You can follow the Early Modern Paleography Society on Twitter @empsociety !

Nadia Clifton is currently pursuing her MA in English with an emphasis in Literature from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she also works as a graduate teaching assistant for the Prospect for Success program. After graduation in May 2017, she intends to pursue an MA in Library Science. Scholarly interests include renaissance literature, magical realist theory, ecocritical theory, and the history of the book. Outside of the classroom, when she’s not reading for fun, she enjoys watching her thumb become greener every year as she experiments with growing orchids, succulents, and carnivorous plants.

Kailan Sindelar holds her MA in English with a Concentration in Technical and Professional Writing from UNC Charlotte. She works as a Technical Writer in Charlotte, NC. Her scholarly interests include ecocritical theory, feminist theory, and digital information design and usability. After work, Kailan enjoys volunteering at state parks and playing with her Miniature Schnauzers.

Breanne Weber holds her MA in English with an emphasis in Literature from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is an adjunct instructor for the Department of English and the University Writing Program at UNC Charlotte and intends to begin pursuit of a PhD in 2017. Aside from early modern recipes, her scholarly interests include Renaissance publication practices, early modern English dramatic literature and poetry, and ecocritical theory.

To break or not to break (Part 2): From Cairo to Dordrecht

By Saskia Klerk, with Sietske Fransen

In the eleventh chapter of his Steen-Stuck (Treatise on the Stone, 1637), Johan van Beverwijck related a story of an encounter in Dordrecht, the Dutch city where he was town physician. A man had shown him the pieces of stone that he said had been broken by the following recipe. Van Beverwijck tried it himself, but had not found the same results. Still, he noted, the pieces of stone that the “trustworthy man” showed him, would together make up a large stone.

Broken bladder stones from Des monstres et prodiges (1573) by Ambroise Paré (c. 1510– 1590). From the Lyon edition of 1664.
Broken bladder stones from Des monstres et prodiges (1573) by Ambroise Paré (c. 1510– 1590). From the Lyon edition of 1664.

Around 1677, the compiler of Ms BPL 3606 copied this passage, leaving out Van Bever-wijck´s skeptical remark. Apparently, he found the display of broken stones, a tactic we have encountered before, to be persuasive proof of the recipe´s effectiveness.

When Sietske and I started our blog series on this Dutch recipe collection, I did not expect most of my posts to be about “stone breaking” remedies such as this one. However, they turned out to have been of particular interest to its compiler. By pursuing this interest, Sietske and I have learned quite a bit about him and his world. For example, we now suspect that he lived in or near the province of Zeeland in the south-west of the Dutch Republic. We also confirmed Sietske´s earlier observation, that the compiler especially noted down remedies that where accompanied by favorable experiences. In my last post, I showed that the compiler of BPL 3606 used Steen-Stuck´s tables of contents to find the information he was looking for.

As I continued studying the manuscript, the question of why there are so many stone-breaking remedies in it became more pressing. In an earlier post, Seth LeJacq laid out the persuasive answer that patients’ fears of surgery led them to explore alternative therapies. Master Reijmers´ story has shown us that the compiler of BPL 3606 shared these fears and desires. Perhaps, this is also key to understanding why he included not only so many recipes for stone breaking remedies in his manuscript, but also three other sections from Steen-Stuck that are not recipes.

Before the recipe, as a “Nota”, the compiler copied a short section on how the stone should be returned to the bladder if it got stuck in the bladder´s neck. In his Treatise on the Stone, Van Beverwijck suggested surgical options to actually remove the stone from the body as well. The compiler copied the most curious of these, after the recipe, as another “Nota”.

Alpinus told of this procedure in Cap. XIV of the third book of De medicina Aegyptiorum (1591) under the title "To remove stones without an incision"
Alpinus described this procedure in Cap. XIV of the third book of De medicina Aegyptiorum (1591) under the title “To remove stones without an incision”

This particular option advised sufferers to blow into the   urethra with a little pipe. Thereby extending it far enough to be able to remove a stone no larger than an olive pit. Despite his interest in the cure, the compiler omits the original source of this procedure, Van Beverwijck´s teacher in Padua, Prosper Alpinus (1553-1617) and the Egyptians amongst whom Alpinus had resided.

The inclusion of treatments such as these  further confirms the compiler´s anxiety towards actually cutting the body. Moreover, I would argue this anxiety was a factor in the transmission of this custom from faraway Egypt to this Dutch recipe collection. Alpinus explicitly mentioned the non-cutting aspect of the procedure in the title of the chapter in which he described it. Van Beverwijck repeated this aspect in Steen-Stuck, before going on to describe cutting the body to remove the stone as a last resort.

Finally, in his exploration of alternative therapies the compiler also recorded knowledge that by 1677 was outmoded to many of his contemporaries.

Section from Van Beverwijck´s, Steen-Stuck (1649) Ch. 11, pt. 4
Section from Van Beverwijck´s, Steen-Stuck (1649) Ch. 11, pt. 4
The same section copied in BPL 3606
The same section copied in BPL 3606

Van Beverwijck named several materials that possessed a stone breaking power. Some of these (such as lime zest and laurel) worked by a manifest quality and others (such as ashes of scorpio and woodlice) by a hidden property. In his note-taking, the compiler was careful to separate these into two lists.

The distinction between manifest and hidden or occult qualities was characteristic of academic Galenic medicine familiar to Van Beverwijck. It was fundamental to explaining the properties of medical materials. Was the way a material worked in the body “manifest”, that is, was it caused by the primary qualities (hot, dry, cold and moist)? Or could this “operation” not be explained from these qualities and was it therefore “hidden”? While this important distinction had come to be questioned by the 1620s, as I described elsewhere[1], Van Beverwijck included it without comment. Accordingly, when the compiler copied out this section, all that mattered to him was that the physician asserted the healing properties of these materials.

Here, the compiler´s fear of cutting the body thus resulted in a quite eclectic collection of materials, surgical techniques and a stone-breaking recipe, originating from as diverse places as Egypt and Dordrecht. Investigating his interest in alternative cures for bladder stones further, has also indicated the practical reasons behind the staying power of (parts of) Galenic medicine, despite its philosophical problems.

[1] Saskia Klerk, “The Trouble with Opium. Taste, Reason and Experience in Late Galenic Pharmacology with Special Regard to the University of Leiden (1575–1625),” Early Science and Medicine, vol. 19, issue 4 (2014): 287-316.