Originally composed for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Beyond Shakespeare blog, this primary source highlight from Lucy Mookerjee, a Research Fellowat the Folger, invites the reader to think beyond the study the recipe as a set of instructions to be performed, and to consider the recipe itself as a generative composition with much to tell us about origin and loss, remembrance and ignorance, revival and rebirth.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies,
that’s for thoughts.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV Scene 5
On learning of her father’s death, Ophelia, the heartbroken heroine of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, falls into a “weeping brook” and quietly allows herself to drown (4.7). While modern scholarship has tended to construe Ophelia as ‘feminist heroine’; critics in the Victorian period perceived Ophelia as a deranged ‘madwoman’; not only has she losther father and her lover, but she has also lost her mind. In the words of Hamlet’s mother, she is “incapable of her own distress” which is to say: she has forgotten her ‘self’ (4.7). It is curious, then, that the “sweet flowers” – pansies, forget-me-nots, rosemary sprigs –which surround her in the famous Pre-Raphaelite painting, and which are frequently referenced in the play, should have a long history as symbols not of loss, but of memory.
The term pansy comes from the French pensée, meaning “thought” or “remembrance”. Legend has it that forget-me-nots are named after a medieval knight who died while picking the delicate flower for his lover and spent his last breath crying out: “Forget me not!” In Ancient Greece, students wore circlets of rosemary to school to increase their capacity to remember their lessons.
While memory-enhancing herbs have a rich legacy in symbolism, the evidence of herbal consumption – though less studied – is well represented in the historical record. Recipes for memory-boosters surface in early modern manuscripts in the form of charms, spells, and medical treatises. Hundreds of these recipe books — digitized and transcribed into Modern English — can be found here.
The Receipt Book of Margaret Baker (Folger Shakespeare Library, MS V.a.619), compiled in 1675, contains a recipe for a memory-potion called“Confect of Coriander Seed” and provides step-by-step instructions for a brew to “helpe the memorie … by comforting of the braine.”
My 6x great grandfather, Timothy Butt, was a charmer. I discovered this recently when I came across a copy of a manuscript he wrote in a box of family papers.[i] Mostly a day book of accounts for his farm in Tillington, Sussex, it also contains a collection of thirty veterinary recipes, dated 1768.[ii] Amongst these, are two verbal charms, one for restoring a bullock that is ‘sprung’ (meaning poisoned in Sussex dialect) and the other for a bullock bitten by an adder.
Searching for some local context to this find brought me to an account of charmers and charming in the village of Fittleworth – just five miles from where Timothy Butt farmed – published by the folklorist Charlotte Latham in 1878. This includes a description of “an ancient dame” who had inherited a verbal charm for snakebite and another for curing giddiness in cattle from her mother, but had lost them both in later years when she moved houses (presumably they were written down). “Much did she grieve,” we are told, “over the loss of her viper charm; it had done such a power of good.”[iii]
It is not impossible that this lost charm was one and the same as my ancestor’s spell for snakebite, or a version of it. If this ancient dame was born around 1800, her mother could easily have known him.[iv] More pertinently, the old woman’s regret at losing it demonstrates that charms were important possessions. While they were commonly practiced for the benefit of the community as a whole, only a few knew and performed the words and restrictions applied to how they were transmitted.[v] It also demonstrates the ease with which such folk texts, carried in the memory or written on ephemeral materials, could disappear. According to Jonathan Roper, Timothy Butt’s book is one of only five known examples of a charmer’s book in English to survive, making it a significant document for the study of English verbal charms.[vi]
The snakebite charm itself appears to be a highly abbreviated, perhaps corrupted, example of a narrative charm that relates a micro-story (or ‘historiola’) in which a powerful protagonist confronts a snake that has bitten his servant and obtains a cure.[vii] The flesh and blood patient is healed by implication. While there is no space in this post to analyse the texts in detail, I reproduce them here in full since neither charm has been published in the last hundred years.[viii] I recommend muttering them aloud to appreciate their ‘incantatory force’ achieved through alliteration and repetition (especially the sibilant s’s used for addressing the snake).[ix]
For a Bulluck that is Sprung say these Words Our Blesed Saviour for his Sons Sake Pray Down the Bladder Blow that he may break In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Blessed Trinetey Saved may this Black Bulluck be— or let the Coller be what it will, Name it Then say the Lords Prayer and so Say it three times
For a Bullock that is Stung with an Adder take Salt and fresh Grees & anoint the Beast from the heart then say these Words — Simon Joan Hunt Why Wouldest Thou thy Sarvant thou Stungest thou my man. I wish it was thy man. Take Salt and Smare and lay to the Speer In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Gost. Amen
As well as being a rare example of a charmer’s book, Timothy Butt’s manuscript is also notable for its veterinary focus.[x] Only one recipe for ‘eye water’ is noted as being adaptable for ‘a Christian.’ The charms are interspersed with the physical remedies and, on the basis of the collection as a whole, we should probably consider Timothy Butt as much a cow doctor as charmer; one whose medical arsenal evidently included powerful words together with kitchen physic, exotic spices, and strong chemicals.
The charm for a ‘sprung’ bullock is probably intended for curing ‘the blain,’ an often fatal cattle disease in which small black blisters or ‘bladders’ appeared at the root of the animal’s tongue. Early modern veterinary books are ambivalent about the cause of this disorder, but it was generally thought to be the result of ingesting ‘some poisonous thing.’[xi] The remedy they recommend is to ‘break’ the bladders between finger and thumb, or lance them with a sharp knife. This was a risky operation and the charm offered a less invasive method of ‘praying down’ the dangerous blisters.
Two of the recipes are attributed to neighbours, which suggests the others probably derived from family tradition. Timothy Butt hailed from a long line of yeoman farmers. Born in 1743, he was 25 years old and establishing a family of his own at the time he wrote down the recipes (he and his wife Jane went on to have at least 19 children). It seems likely that the creation of this collection represents a passing on of knowledge from one generation of animal caretakers to the next.
Furthermore, the recipes are concerned entirely with the larger and more valuable farm animals: oxen (or ‘bullocks’), horses and occasionally pigs. This probably reflects a gendered division of labour whereby the farmer’s wife would have been responsible for the medical care of the family, the dairy cows and the smaller animals around the farmyard, while the farmer tended to the animals who worked alongside him in the fields and forests in plough teams and timber tugs.[xii] Oxen remained the most important source of draught power in Sussex in the late 18th century and are named in over half of Timothy Butt’s recipes. The fact that one third of the recipes are also for strains and injuries is suggestive of the physical toll this labour could exact.
The animals themselves remain mute in these recipes. Only in one instruction to apply a plaster of pitch, tar, and clay ‘hot as the bullock can abide,’ do we get a hint of the animal as a responsive agent in the healing process. When it comes to charming, it can be even trickier to account for the animal, since the verbal nature of the medium tends to focus attention on the thought-world of the human participants. And yet the performance of a charm could involve sounds, substances, and touch, becoming an embodied experience for both charmer and non-human charmee. The snakebite charm, for instance, calls for ritually anointing the beast ‘from the heart’ with salt and fat. It is not impossible to imagine that intentional touch and the whispering of words may have comforted both the charmer and his beast during a medical crisis. Charming, indeed, could provide rich ground for the study of human-animal relations in the early modern period.
[i] The original is held in West Sussex Record Office, Add Mss 1593.
[ii] Timothy Butt was the tenant farmer at Grittenham Farm, just over a mile to the west of Tillington village.
[iii] Charlotte Latham, ‘Some West Sussex Superstitions Lingering in 1868,’ Folk-Lore Record,1 1878: pp. 36-37.
[iv] Jonathan Roper notes that charms in the English cultural tradition sometimes show a greater continuity over the years than from place to place in the same period of time; Jonathan Roper, ‘Towards a Poetics, Rhetorics and Proxemics of Verbal Charms,’ Folkore, 24, 2003: pp. 27.
[v] See for example Owen Davies, ‘Charmers and Charming in England and Wales from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century,’ Folklore, 109, 1998: pp. 42-43.
[vi] Jonathan Roper, English Verbal Charms, Helsinki, 2005: pp. 174.
[vii] I have found two other variations of this charm-type, both recorded in the nineteenth century, which shed more light on the narrative. See Henry George Nicholls, The Personalities of the Forest of Dean, 1863. The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, 17, 1885: pp. 121. The cryptic words ‘Simon Joan Hunt’ in Timothy Butt’s charm may represent an extreme abbreviation/corruption of the scenario of the historiola in which someone goes hunting/into the woods.
[viii] Timothy Butts charms were published in Sussex Archeological Collections, 52, 1908: pp. 187-9, and Notes and Queries, 1922 twelfth series, 11: pp. 147.
[ix] ‘Incantatory force’ is a phrase used by John Miles Foley in ‘Epic and Charm in Old English and Serbo-Croatian Oral Tradition,’ Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook 2. Cambridge: 1980: pp. 82.
[x] In a study of seventy-five seventeenth and early eighteenth century recipe books in the Wellcome Collection, Louse Hill Curth found only 11 containing veterinary recipes. Louise Hill Curth ‘A Plaine and Easie Waie to Remedie a Horse’: Equine Medicine in Early Modern England, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013, pp. 191.
[xi] Michael Harward, The Herdsman’s Mate, Dublin, 1673: pp. 33-4.
[xii] See for example Louise Hill Curth, The Care of Brute Beasts: A Social and Cultural Study of Veterinary Medicine in Early Modern England, Leiden, 2009, pp. 69.
In the eighteenth century, druggists, chemists, and apothecaries began producing medicines in larger quantities for sale in a variety of markets, resulting in a more coherent manufacturing sector in Britain. Making medicines at such scale typically involved labor-intensive chemical processes occurring in laboratories that resembled other early industrial spaces as sites of work. We can catch a glimpse of these spaces in images like the frontispiece of the chemist Francis Spilsbury’s Friendly Physician (1773) where two figures toil with mortars, stills, and other instruments in the background, separated from the well-organized shop in the image’s foreground. A variety of business records from period pharmacies, including wage books, inventories, and recipes, enable us to uncover a little more about those indistinct figures bent over their work.
The increasing concentration of labor and capital in London’s medical marketplace encouraged men and women to set up laboratories, big and small, around the city, as seen in contemporary fire insurance policies. These laboratories were no longer artisanal workshops, though also not yet the steam-powered production lines of the nineteenth century. Alchemical techniques formerly applied to the transmutation of metals found use in the production of medicines in these spaces, such as the chemical laboratory depicted in William Lewis’s Philosophical Commerce of Arts (1763). They could contain machinery for grinding, pounding, and sifting drugs (the raw materials for compound medicines), as well as high-pressure boilers and furnaces for distillation and drying. Open fires were common beneath hundred-gallon stills, evaporating pans, condensers, copper boilers, and stoves. If temperatures went unmanaged, ingredients could burn, ruining a preparation; even worse, stills could boil over or even explode. Manufacturing medicines with this equipment required significant inputs of energy, increasingly supplied by waged labor forces during the eighteenth century.
Some traces of their daily routines can be found in recipe books from Corbyn & Company, one of the highest volume producers and distributors of medicine in London at the time. A recipe for flower of benzoin (benzoic acid, a topical antiseptic also used for a variety of internal matters) from the 1760s, for example, evokes the work of pharmacy. To start the process, several hundredweight of gum benzoin, a fragrant resin from the benjamin tree of Sumatra and Java, had to be purchased at auction and carted to the partnership’s laboratory at Cold Bath Fields where it would be pressed and milled, requiring several days, multiple men, and lots of charcoal. These manipulations were followed by 50 days purifying the resin through distillation (called rectifying). All in all, Thomas Corbyn estimated that the production of benzoin took 63 days and cost about 2 shillings per day for the work, which also included cleaning the distillation equipment, wear and tear of the machinery, and extra expenses (such as 8 weeks of beer for the workers costing 18 pence per week). These costs, nevertheless, remained relatively minor compared to the sometimes quite significant costs of raw materials, thus incentivizing production at scale.
Corbyn & Co. shipped much of the medicine they produced, such as the hard-pressed flower of benzoin, to the overseas markets provided by imperial institutions, such as the Royal Navy, East India Company, transatlantic slave trade, and Caribbean plantations. With increasing demand at home and aboard, political support, and capitalization, London’s pharmacies kept growing in the early nineteenth century, with some of them providing the seeds of several of today’s major pharma firms.
It can be surprisingly easy to miss the labor in London’s laboratories that underwrote the expanding production of medicines in eighteenth-century London. A chemist’s or druggist’s work area has received far less attention in histories of capitalism or industry than the cotton mill, for example. Recipes and other business records from London’s pharmacies, however, offer an opportunity to begin reconstructing the rhythms of work in these spaces and reintegrate them into studies of economy, labor, and health.
It’s cold, wet and rather miserable in the UK at the moment. Fortunately, the Christmas lights bring some good cheer, as does lovely late-autumn food. My favourite autumnal dish is the apple-crumble, with its perfect balance of sweetness and tartness. Our wonderful Recipes Project archives include some lovely apple-based posts, and today I bring you these musings by our Sarah Peters Kernan. Enjoy!
Forget cold weather and the first frosts of winter; I am already thinking about my spring garden! For years I have been yearning for space to plant a large vegetable garden and fruit trees. Now I can finally begin seriously planning such an endeavor since I recently moved into a new home with a large yard. Despite the approaching winter, I am constantly daydreaming about apples, beets, carrots, and tomatoes. The apple trees, in particular, have piqued my curiosity. There are hundreds of heirloom varietals, many of which will flourish in my planting zone. More than the standard fruits available at local markets, these heirloom ones attract me. I thought that I would use this opportunity to try growing some varietals that may have been available in late medieval or early modern England so that I can not only cook my many favorite modern apple dishes and preserves, but also prepare apple recipes from my research with period-appropriate fruit.
The art of grafting and cultivating fruit trees was acknowledged and recorded in Antiquity. Many treatises on the topic exist from the Middle Ages, such as those by Nicholas Bollard and Godfrey’s translation of a fourth-century work by Palladius. Similarly, early modern cookbooks and books of household management, like Charles Estienne’s L’agriculture et maison rustique (1564) and its English translation Maison Rustique, or the countrie farme (1600), devote sections to the topic. In late medieval and early modern England, apples were an accessible fruit for peasants and commoners. Each autumn apples ripened on trees that flourished across the English countryside. And despite the popularity of the apple, recipes rarely distinguished specific types of apples to use; in most instances, the selection of fruit was left to local availability and personal preference.
Recipes sometimes distinguish between apples, pippins, pearmains, codlings, and others, but none of these terms refer to specific varietals. These terms do, however, tend to highlight certain flavor, texture, or keeping characteristics. Pippins, for example, are typically sweeter apples. Codlings refer to harder apples not intended to be eaten raw. Sometimes this hardness is a feature of the varietal, while other times this term refers to unripe apples. This lack of specificity in recipes is not to say that we have no record of medieval or early modern varietals. Medieval legal, religious, and household records, for example, describe specific apples. It is the recipes that remain vague.
Most early modern recipes similarly exclude mention of apple varieties. However, a very rare instance of a recipe identifying a specific varietal occurs in a recipe book in the New York Public Library, Whitney Cookery Collection MS 2. This recipe book belonging to Lady Anne Percy in the mid-seventeenth century contains instructions for a perfume which requires the “skinn of an apple called Camveza.” It is notable that this recipe is for a non-edible luxury item containing expensive ingredients such as ambergris and civet. Camuesa was a Spanish apple varietal, and while it eventually came to refer more generally to pippins, the recipe seems to refer to the more luxurious and specific fruit. The majority of recipes do not specify a variety, though details are sometimes noted. In Mrs. Murrey’s Jelly of Pippins recipe in Lady Percy’s book, the reader is instructed to “take the best white pippins.” Another recipe designates the best time of year to preserve green, or unripened, pippins is “about bartholme tide,” or late August.  Since pippins, like apples in general, ripen at varying points throughout the late summer and fall, the date in this recipe is probably specific to Mrs. Murrey’s source of pippins. Earlier recipes for apple fritters, tarts, and sauce (applemoys) appearing in manuscripts prior to 1500 exclude any mention of varietals, or even the adjectives which color early modern apple recipes.
Limited, if any, descriptions of apple varieties appear in other texts concerned with details of fruit like gardening treatises or herbals prior to the seventeenth century. Even the aforementioned Maison Rustique, a detailed manual for growing and grafting all sorts of fruits, mentions only a few varieties, like the globe apple, apple of paradise, and choke apple. However, a concern with growing consistent, identifiable, and enhanced fruit developed throughout Europe during the sixteenth century, so that by the early 1600s, elite gardens likely contained multiple varietals of fruits. This is reflected in contemporary texts: herbalists and botanists listed and described a wealth of varietals (like the sixty apple varieties in John Parkinson’s Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris) and the occasional recipe from an elite household with access to many varietals, like the Percys, actually specified types to incorporate in recipes. Named varietals at this time seem to point toward social status, though the many other recipes which indicate descriptions of texture, firmness, or size, reflect a more general concern with taste.
This apple ambiguity is ultimately a good thing, both for a cook trying to replicate a historic recipe and me, in planning a small, historically-oriented home orchard. For one, the lack of specificity does encourage the modern cook, like the original cooks, to use the apples we have on hand and are pleasing to our taste. Second, while many apple varietals are available today, only a handful available in the United States can be traced back several centuries. One American heirloom fruit tree vendor boasts twelve varietals dated before 1700; this includes fruits originally cultivated in England, France, Switzerland, Denmark, two American colonies, and one more vaguely attributed to “Europe.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to recreate any kind of “authentic” apple experience. While I may not be able to recapture any specific ingredients from historic recipes, I am excited to cultivate some new-to-me varietals in my own garden and experience some flavors from many centuries ago.
In case anyone still has apples in storage from a fall orchard picking, or you just want to plan ahead for next year’s crop, I leave you with a recipe from Lady Morton’s 1693 recipe book. 
To Make a Fine Apple Pye
Take 19 or 20 large codlings or pippings. Coddle them very soft over a slow fire. When enough squeeze them through a cullender. Put to it six eggs, half the whites beaten and strain’d, 6 ounces of butter melted, half a pound of fine sugar, the juice & rind but small of 2 lemons, one ounce and half of banded orange peele, half an ounce of banded lemon peel. Cut small, mix all these together, & put in a little orange flower water to your tast. Bake it in puft paste in a dish.
 Christopher M. Woolgar, The Culture of Food in England 1200–1500 (Yale University Press, 2016), 106–7.
 New York, New York Public Library, Whitney MS 2, 85.
 Whitney MS 2, 23.
 Whitney MS 2, 39.
 John Parkinson, Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (London: Humfrey Lownes and Robert Young, 1629), 587–8.
 New York, New York Public Library, Whitney MS 4, 150.