Category Archives: Women and Gender

Placing Historical Recipes in Fiction: The Lady of the Tower

By Elizabeth St.John

Sir Walter Raleigh and Mr. Ruthven being prisoners in the Tower, and addicting themselves to chemistry, she (Lucy St.John Apsley) suffered them to make their rare experiments at her cost, partly to comfort and divert the poor prisoners, and partly to gain the knowledge of their experiments, and the medicines to help such poor people as were not able to seek physicians. By these means she acquired a great deal of skill, which was very profitable to many all her life. She was not only to these, but to all the other prisoners that came into the Tower, as a mother. All the time she dwelt in the Tower, if any were sick she made them broths and restoratives with her own hands, visited and took care of them, and provided them all necessaries; if any were afflicted she comforted them, so that they felt not the inconvenience of a prison who were in that place.

Lucy Hutchinson
Biographical Fragment
Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson

Leaping from the pages of Lucy Hutchinson’s memoirs, this insight to a seventeenth-century woman’s life within the Tower of London immediately set me on a hunt for more information about Lucy St.John and the world she inhabited. Writing about her mother, Lucy Hutchinson chose to focus on the attributes of medicinal skills and recipes she used to tend to the prisoners within the Tower. This paragraph inspired the writing of my debut best-selling novel, The Lady of the Tower, and sent me on a glorious journey into the methods and curatives that were an everyday part of Lucy’s life.

Portrait of Lady Johanna St.John by kind permission of Lydiard House & Park.

These  seventeenth-century remedies were precious commodities exchanged by family and friends alike. And since Lucy St.John would have known her nephew’s wife, Lady Johanna St.John, it was no stretch of the “probable” for me to think that Lucy would be familiar with the recipes within Johanna’s collection, or may even have contributed some of her own.

Already acquainted with Lady Johanna and the Lydiard estate through my own family records, I delved into her recipe book, which is archived at The Wellcome Library in London. (Ed. note: this recipe book has been of much interest to many of us here at The Recipes Project, too! See these posts.) The beautifully preserved leather-bound book contains recipes designed to help a knowledgeable and educated woman manage the health of her family, servants and livestock. Relying on a great deal of herbal wisdom, as well as the more exotic ingredients found in the London apothecaries, Lady Johanna’s book is a testament to the importance placed on remedies, in an age where so little was still known about the body and its infirmities. When I decided to use extracts from the book to illustrate Lucy’s learnings in The Lady of the Tower, I was fascinated to discover that many of the herbal properties and therapies Lady Johanna recommend are still used in pharmaceutical production today.

Extract and Photograph is of Lady Johanna Saint John’s Recipe Book, archived at The Wellcome Library, London, MS 4338.

One particular recipe of interest is that for “Gilbert’s Water.”

It is bad for nothing it cures wind and the colick restoreth decayed nature good for a consumption expels poison & all infection from the Hart helps digestion purifies the blood gives motion to the spirits drives out the smallpox for the grippes in young children weomen in labor bringeth the Afterbirth stops floods for sounding and faintings

Lady Johanna St.John
Recipe Book
1680

Lady Johanna devotes two pages of her precious recipe book to Adrian Gilbert’s Cordial Water, which was perhaps indicative of the importance she placed on its curative powers. The recipe itself was complex, requiring Dragons Burnett leaves (probably the simple dragon’s mace, a common weed), and then moving on to a page full of rarer ingredients, such as “Crab’s eyes taken in the full of the moon.”  Promoting the contemporary belief man shared the virtue of the plants digested, Mr Gilbert was taking no chances with his curative, empowering the recipient with dragon strength to fight his condition.

But there is more to the story. Adrian Gilbert was a well-known alchemist and amateur scientist, and half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh, himself a distinguished botanist. Adrian’s brother, Humphrey Gilbert, was under the patronage of Robert Cecil and Robert Dudley who maintained an alchemical laboratory in Limehouse. Now it gets interesting. When Sir Walter Raleigh was under the care of Lucy St.John during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, Lucy funded his scientific experiments, lending him her hen house in which to perform his alchemy. I don’t believe it is that much of a stretch to think that Sir Walter and his half-brother Adrian Gilbert traded medicinal recipes, nor that Lucy St.John would keep a record of any precious curatives that came into her possession. For her to then pass these on to her niece, who shared her passion for botany, gardens and curatives, would be a natural occurrence.

Writing credible historical fiction is always about linking the probables, and in connecting Lucy St.John with Lady Johanna and using their common interest in medicinal curatives, I brought truth to my narrative. What is undisputed is these interesting women’s common desire to protect their families and charges from the dangers of seventeenth-century life, and a shared concern for health, hope for treatment, and the rewards of recovery.

The Lydiard Chronicles. Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

Biography

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. To inform her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them – in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost.

https://tinyurl.com/AmazonElizabethStJohn
www.elizabethjstjohn.com

Reading the London Cries: how to analyse food sellers in art

By Charlie Taverner (Birkbeck, University of London)

This post is part of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) series “Summer University on Food and Drink Studies”

Across early modern Europe, wandering food sellers were a multimedia phenomenon. From the sixteenth century, artists captured street vendors in poems, plays, songs and – most famously – printed pictures. The cries, as the genre of visual art became known, showed hawkers selling everything from artichokes and apples, oranges to oysters, turnips to tripe. For historians, a suite of such images, like Marcellus Laroon’s 1687 ‘The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life’, seems a gift. Its characters open a window on rarely represented parts of everyday life: city streets and food.

Helped by early historians, the cries have been entrenched in urban legend. In Victorian England, Charles Hindley collected hundreds of the ‘ancient and far-famed London Cries’. He saw these traders as timeless symbols of the metropolis, from ‘the days of Queen Elizabeth’ to his own. Just two years ago, The Gentle Author of Spitalfields claimed the cries revealed an essential truth about such sellers: ‘… they do not need your sympathy, they only want your respect – and your money.’

Such romance has risks, as scholars, especially art historians, have warned. Sean Shesgreen, in his comprehensive survey of the English cries tradition, argued the images were not ‘transparent reflections of historical reality’. From the late seventeenth century, he suggested, the cries ‘inexorably evolve in the direction, not of increasing realism, but of increasing idealism’. In her lecture to the IEHCA’s summer school this year, Valérie Boudier proposed a sounder approach for using early modern pictures of food. Breaking down vibrant works, such as Vincenzo Campi’s ‘The Bean Eaters’ and Annibale Carracci’s ‘Butcher’s Shop’, she suggested food historians interrogate not the images’ truthfulness, but the artistic conventions and symbolic meanings they contain.

Marcellus Laroon, ‘Crab Crab any Crab’, 1688. British Museum, London.

This approach can be applied to Laroon’s suite. Take, for example, his crab seller. At first glance, the picture reveals much about the women who peddled seafood in seventeenth-century London, perhaps nearby the artist’s Covent Garden workshop. Looking for information on the food trade, we might draw out the crab seller’s age, clothes, shallow basket, and purposeful stride. Most obviously – as we are interested in food – we could look more closely at the dozens of crustaceans, balanced on her head.

But in several ways the crab seller is not, as the suite’s title claims, ‘Drawn after the Life’. Many of Laroon’s characters have the same face, which makes them more mannequins than people. They are extracted from the street and set against a blank background. Notice too that the crab seller’s cry, printed at the page bottom, is translated into French and Italian. It reminds us these images, priced at half a guinea for the set of up to 74, were destined for an international market, with copies surviving in Paris and Amsterdam. Influences also flowed the other way. Not only was Laroon Dutch-born and –trained, his suite owed a debt, in its structure and the resemblance of its characters, to a Parisian set, drawn a year or two earlier by Jean-Baptiste Bonnart. The briefest scan through a survey of the European cries, such as Karen Beall’s 1975 bibliography, shows that common characters, selling familiar foods, cropped up time and again across the continent.

So, what can such images reveal? If we concentrate on form, it seems that artists and their audiences were interested in order. By arranging the criers in a grid, suite or illustrated book, they were classifying the street life of the city. Boisterous wanderers were dragged into the rigidity of the artist’s system. This tendency is part of a broader interest, across Europe at this time, of representing social groups in quasi-scientific hierarchies. But the structure also hints at a particular urban concern: contemporaries, especially in London and Paris, were grappling with the disorientating complexity of their fast-expanding cities.

With the crab-seller, we could also consider gender. In the cries, many roving vendors were drawn as young, attractive women, even if the actual labour split was more balanced. In an image like the crab-seller, two ideas are in tension. In one view, female hawkers are legitimate business folk, who keep the city fed; in another, they are scorned as temptresses, whose siren-like calls, such as ‘Crab Crab any Crab’, are stuffed with innuendo. On the streets of London, women traders had a similarly ambiguous position, as Eleanor Hubbard has argued. They were watched with suspicion on the margins of official markets, but also feared as food-selling rivals.

Depictions of those that sold food are deep, valuable sources, if they are used carefully. Bound up in artistic traditions, they cannot tell us what and how people ate, in the manner of a photograph. But, by concentrating on the symbols used and the way these images were produced, we can unpick past attitudes to not just food – but nascent metropolitan life.

References

Beall, Karen. Kaufrufe und Straßenhändler: Eine Bibliographie / Cries and Itinerant Trades: A Bibliography. Hamburg: Hauswedell, 1975.

Hindley, Charles. A History of the Cries of London (Ancient & Modern). London, 1884.

Hubbard, Eleanor. City Women: Money, Sex and the Social Order in Early Modern London. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Shesgreen, Sean. Images of the outcast: The urban poor in the Cries of London. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Charlie Taverner is a PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London. His project examines the experience of selling food in the street in early modern London, with particular focus on urban space and informality. Trained as a journalist, he has covered business, food and agriculture for British magazines and newspapers. He blogs at http://moveablefeasts.tumblr.com/ and tweets @charlietaverner.

Cookbooks, nationalism and gastronationalism

By Venetia Congdon, Astra Spalvena, Dominika Zagrodzka

This post is part of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) series “Summer University on Food and Drink Studies”

Few of us anticipated the extraordinary week we spent in Tours for the IEHCA’s Summer School on Food and Drink. It broadened our minds and made us aware of the many subjects of research in food studies today. Here, the authors would like to discuss a common theme of their research: the relationship between cookbooks and nationalism. Venetia Congdon researches the role of food in the contemporary Catalan nationalist and secessionist movement. Astra Spalvena studies Latvian cookbooks; from the first compilations of translated recipes published in 1795 to the coffee-table books of 2012. Dominika Zagrodzka researches Polish culinary tourism and food as cultural heritage.

Nationalism has once again come to the forefront of world politics, demonstrating its enduring power as an ideology. Cultural manifestations of the nation, including food and drink, take on new and increasingly important meanings. As everyday objects, they are tools through which to express and channel complex ideas about nationhood in a simple, relatable way.

La Cuynera Catalana

Since the inception of contemporary Catalan nationalism in the nineteenth century, cookbooks have played a role in the movement. The first explicitly Catalan cookbook was La Cuynera Catalana (Anonymous, 1833-35), contemporaneous with the beginnings of the Catalan literary resurgence. The next significant cookbook was La Cuyna Catalana, in 1907, by Josep Conill de Bosch. Its introduction makes it clear that the premise for the cookbook was world domination. Good food eaten with pleasure, leads to better digestion, and stronger people. In 1928, an even more obviously nationalist cookbook appeared, the Llibre de Cuina Catalana, by Ferran Agulló. Agulló was a politician and journalist, who made a still-famous statement in this work: “Catalonia, just as it has a language, a right, customs, its own history and a political ideal, so it has a cuisine”. So, by the 1930s, cuisine (and cookbooks) were clear standard-bearers of Catalanism, though the hardships of Civil War, and Franco’s anti-Catalan policies affected Catalan cuisine. However, Franco-era cookbooks were places where sentiments of Catalan difference could be covertly expressed. Today, cookbooks are part of a large market of books on Catalan culture, which has grown in the last few years in response to the pro-independence movement.

The Kaucminde School, from “The Work of Kaucminde Alumnae 1925 – 1938”

Latvian cuisine evolved as an interaction between Latvian peasant food and gastronomic traditions of Baltic German manors. The crucial point in the formation of a national cuisine was the 1930s when endeavours to strengthen Latvian national identity involved also reflection on culinary heritage and its use in modern world. Favourable social and economic conditions encouraged cookbook publishers to focus not only on modernization but also on nationalism. The nationalistic politics of president Karlis Ulmanis’s authoritative regime (1934-1940) was a further spur. In a time of economic growth when the newly-evolved middle-class demanded new living standards, Latvian national cuisine was localised in the renowned school of home economics Kaucminde, whose students continued to educate the nation at large: writing modern cookbooks, publishing recipes in magazines, organizing seminars, travelling across the countryside to popularize contemporary household management, and systematizing culinary knowledge. The cookbooks of the 1930s emphasized the use of local products, the modernization of local culinary habits, and modern nutritional science. Rational and practical approaches to nourishment dominated over the excesses and luxury of the past. This nutritional approach became a good basis on which Soviet ideologists, following Latvia’s occupation after World War II, started to develop Soviet cuisine. However, Latvian national food and cookbooks of the 1930s experienced a renaissance after the state regained independence in 1990. 

Kaucminde Christmas table. Illustration from “The Work of Kaucminde Alumnae 1925 – 1938”

The oldest Polish cookbook is Compendium ferculorum by Stanislav Czerniecki (1682), a book for professionals. The recipes provide a perfect example of how rich Polish people ate in the 17th century, characterised by plenty of spices, sweet and sour flavourings, and attractive presentation. The author was inspired by both French cooks and local ingredients. The next national cookbook to appear was Wojciech Wieladko’s Excellent Cook (1786). The recipes were simpler, based on French La cuisinière bourgeoise by Menon (1746). In 19th century, there were many cooking guides written by women for women. The most popular were by Lucyna Ćwierczakiewicz and Karolina Nakwaska. The  20th century was characterised by eating cheap, quick and healthy food. As in Latvia, Soviet ideologists also encouraged this. After the political and social transformation of 1989, Poles were impressed by food from other cultures, but have since revalued their culinary heritage. Modern chefs are interested in restoring old tastes and reviving culinary heritage, for instance Maciej Nowicki’s work at the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace in Wilanów, involving the reproduction of recipes from Compendium ferculorum and cultivating heritage vegetables.

As anthropologist  Arjun Appadurai has pointed out, cookbooks tell unusual tales in complex civilizations. Cookbooks, and the cuisines they represent, are often means for government actors seeking to assert a particular worldview. Yet they are also the representation of grass roots initiatives, such as the first Catalan cookbook, and the Latvian Kaucminde. They are educational tools, for bettering the health of the nation. And finally, today, they are connections with a national past, and objects of global consumerism.

Venetia Congdon completed her doctorate in Anthropology at the University of Oxford in 2015. For her thesis, she studied how Catalans use food to express national identity. She is currently a post-doctoral research associate with the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include the intersections between national identity and cuisine, and the lived reality of nationalist movements in Europe.

Astra Spalvena is a lecturer at “RISEBA” University of Business, Arts and Technology in Riga, Latvia. She teaches courses on Media Semiotics and Food Advertising among others. She defended her PhD on historical and cultural aspects of Latvian food. Currently Astra studies the history of Latvian cookbooks with a focus on reflections of ideological dimensions and power structures. Another area of her research is Soviet cuisine and especially the role of public catering in imposing soviet ideology on territories incorporated into the Soviet Union after World War II.

Dominika Zagrodzka is a doctoral student in Cultural Science on Faculty of Philology of the Silesian University. She also graduated in Political Science on Faculty of Social Sciences. She is interested in food studies and has attended many conferences on the topic. She conducts researches on Polish contemporary food culture. Her thesis is about food as cultural heritage in Polish culture. She plans to create an academic magazine about anthropology of food.

Theodorus Priscianus’ recipes for breast engorgement

By Louise Cilliers

We know very little about Theodorus Priscianus, only that he was a student of the famous Carthaginian physician, Vindicianus (late 4th century CE), and was thus also a native of North Africa. We can also deduce that he was a professional doctor. The work for which Theodorus is known, is the Euporiston (a book of easily obtainable remedies), which consists of four books of medical recipes, of which the fourth, the Gynaecia, contains treatments for women’s diseases. Due to its practical applicability, the Gynaecia was very popular in the later Middle Ages; it was excerpted on numerous occasions.

A carving showing a Roman midwife, Wellcome Collection. Credit: Wellcome Library.

The Gynaecia is dedicated to a midwife, a certain Victoria. In his preface, Theodorus states that he wants to “support her with his knowledge”, and he requests her to “faithfully, diligently and carefully… carry into effect the remedies for female ailments” as set out in his treatise. This knowledge was then to be disseminated among midwives and other women to help them in treating ailing women.

Theodorus’ Gynaecia comprises recipes for ten female ailments which he discusses. They are: engorgement of the breasts after parturition, swelling or contraction of the uterus, the mole, atresia, sterility, abortion, haemorrhage of the uterus, injuries to the uterus, the flux, and gonorrhoea. I will focus on engorgement of the breasts after parturition.

This is a very common problem that women experience after having given birth, and various procedures, such as poultices laid on the breasts, were followed in ancient times. Medicaments, made from vegetables and herbs used in the kitchen, were also given. Theodorus clearly has empathy with women whose breasts are taut, swollen or painful after birth. In not too serious cases, he recommends that a soft sponge soaked in a mild astringent, such as vinegar, be applied to the breast, and held in place by a light bandage. Alternatively soothing poultices, for instance, bread soaked in water-mead and oil or fresh pork fat can be laid on the breasts.

If the problem of engorgement has been resolved but the mother still wants to feed the baby, the breasts should be smeared with rush, egg and saffron, or crushed raisins mixed with the flour of beans, or pounded sesame seed mixed with vinegar and honey, or a mixture of pounded leaves of ivy and figs, or (even more directly from the kitchen) fresh pounded cheese with vinegar-honey – if these substances be made into a poultice, they would apparently have increased the fecundity of the milk.

If the patient cannot bear the weight of the poultice, the breasts must be steamed, and an even softer sponge soaked in an extract of marsh mallow, linseed and fenugreek plants be applied.

Purslane, one of the plants used in ancient breast poultices. Credit: Wellcome Library,

But if milk production should be stopped completely, alum or the seed of fleawort or coriander of purslane must be added to the aforementioned poultice, or the powder of a pounded millstone mixed with a wax salve should be applied. But if the breast has produced pus, it must be opened with appropriate aid, so that with one voiding they can be healed completely.

Throughout Theodorus warns that medicaments should be mild, and that all poultices should be applied with moderation, with consideration for the tender breasts.

Further reading:
You can find the text of Theodorus Priscianus’ Euporiston (in Latin) here.