Tag Archives: Folger Shakespeare Library

Thinking About 17th c. Potatoes (And Eating Them)

Amanda E. Herbert

[A version of this post appeared on the Folger’s Shakespeare & Beyond blog, a current, sometimes playful, and always lively resource on a wide range of Shakespeare topics. Shakespeare & Beyond is created for the great variety of Shakespeare enthusiasts—young and old, from across the US and around the world.  You can see the original post here, and read more about our “recreation” of the recipe in a related post, here.]

Potatoes are an iconic food in the United States  They’re a staple of most American diets, and at holiday meals they often appear twice – white potatoes mashed with butter, and sweet potatoes layered into casseroles with gooey marshmallows melted on top (a dish invented by the Cracker Jack Company in 1917) – on tables around the country.  But potatoes have a complex and sometimes troubled American history, one that started outside of today’s United States.

Culinary historians and archaeobotanists now think that potatoes originated in Peru, and they were eaten by women and men living in South and Central America long before western Europeans arrived in these areas in the fifteenth century.  Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are frequently conflated or confused with yams (genus Dioscorea), and this slippage began in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  Sweet potatoes are of American origin, but their first major migration was westward, across the Pacific: in the 13th c. CE, they were taken to Easter Island and Hawaii, and later to New Zealand.  At the end of the fifteenth century, they traveled eastward across the Atlantic, when they were brought back to Spain by Christopher Columbus around 1493.  Yams, another edible root crop, are native to many different places around the world: Africa (Dioscorea cayenensis), Southeast Asia (Dioscorea alata, batatus, bulbifera, esculenta, japonica, and opposita) and even South America (Dioscorea trifida).  Potatoes and yams have a high yield, thrive in any kind of soil, are drought-resistant, and grow in many different climatic zones.  Their taste is not dissimilar and neither is their method of cultivation (although yams extend much deeper underground and it takes more work to dig them up).  And in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, people of African, American, Asian, and European origin were all growing, selling, and eating these plants, and they didn’t always do a good job of distinguishing between them.

By 1500, the sweet potato (and/or yams) had become an established crop in western Europe.  They were a staple of European sailors’ diets.  And they were fed – often with great violence, and by force – to enslaved women and men, on the African continent, during the middle passage, and after arrival in the Caribbean and the Americas.  “Common,” or white potatoes, took a bit longer to catch on; they arrived in Europe as a cultivable vegetable between 1550-1570.  Metropolitan Britain was one of the last European countries to take to the potato; the first mention of potatoes (sweet, “common,” or otherwise) in a printed British book was in 1596, when famed herbalist and botanist John Gerard included it in his Catalogue.  This was apparently so well-received that a year later, Gerard devoted an entire chapter of his famous 1597 Herbal to this new and unfamiliar plant.

"Of Potatoes of Virginia," in John Gerard, The Herball (London, 1597). Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
“Of Potatoes of Virginia,” in John Gerard, The Herball (London, 1597). Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Over the course of the seventeenth century, more and more British subjects – enslaved and free, and on both sides of the Atlantic – began to grow, harvest, cook, and eat potatoes (as well as, and alongside, yams).  In the early modern period, news of the potato spread through contact with print as well as people.  Women and men learned about potatoes through experimentation, books, and word-of-mouth.  They exchanged potato recipes with friends.  They shared potato cuttings with their neighbors.  They read about potatoes and tried their hands at preparing them.  And some were forced to learn about and eat potatoes out of necessity, because they had – or were given – nothing else.

A team of Folger researchers recently uncovered a very early European potato recipe in our archives.  The Folger Library in Washington, DC is proud home to the largest collection of early modern western European recipe books in the United States.  And in one of these recipe books, a manuscript collection kept by the Grenville family from c. 1640-1750, is a recipe entitled “to make a potato puding.”  The recipe called for some ingredients that would have been familiar to any early modern British person, like butter and eggs.  But it also included ingredients that might have seemed luxurious and even exotic: sweet wine imported from Spain, cinnamon (which was sourced from India and Sri Lanka in the early modern period), and three pounds of potatoes.  This recipe reveals one family’s attempt to bring a new and unfamiliar food to their table, but it also teaches us about wealth and social status in seventeenth-century Britain.  The Grenville’s potato pudding was a fancy dish, saved for special occasions, and something that most early modern families would not have been able to afford.

Cookery and medicinal recipes of the Granville family, (ca. 1640-ca. 1750), V.a.430, Folger Shakespeare Library. Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Cookery and medicinal recipes of the Granville family, (ca. 1640-ca. 1750), V.a.430, Folger Shakespeare Library. Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

We learned a lot about early modern markets, economies, foodways, and methods of cultivation as we studied the Grenville recipe for potato pudding, but we also wanted to try it for ourselves.  So we invited Dr. Amanda Moniz, a former professional chef, veteran Recipes Project contributor, and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s new David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy, to visit the Folger in order to help us re-create the Grenville’s potato pudding in our test-kitchen.

We faced three major challenges in making this dish in a form that early modern people would have recognized.  First, the recipe calls for sack, a type of sweet fortified wine originally produced in Spain and the Canary Islands.  Sack fell out of use in the nineteenth century, and isn’t available in most American markets.  The closest approximation to early modern sack is modern sherry, and especially a dark sherry like Oloroso, which is what we used in our adaptation.  The second challenge is that the pudding calls for a lot of eggs: eight of them, both whites and yolks.  Early modern eggs were smaller, less uniform, and had different moisture levels than our modern American ones.  In order to reach the right consistency, we cut the number of eggs in our potato pudding down to five, and we adjusted our cooking time from 30 minutes to 45 minutes so that the pudding would set properly.  And last, the recipe doesn’t specify what types of potatoes the Grenvilles used in their pudding.  But since sweet potatoes were the first kind of potato to be widely adopted in early modern Europe – and since we thought that those flavors would be more familiar to most modern Americans today – that’s what we chose.

When it was finished, the potato pudding was delicious, earning high marks from all of the members of our Folger tasting team.  Creamy and rich, delicately scented with sweet wine and cinnamon, this early modern sweet potato pudding was both unusual and familiar, imparting a sense of the past without compromising the sensibilities of a present-day palate.  We don’t know how often the Grenvilles made this potato pudding, but I’m going to be making it again very soon.

Sweet potato pudding. Image courtesy of the author.
Sweet potato pudding. Image courtesy of the author.

The Grenville Family’s Sweet Potato Pudding (adaptation)
Ingredients:

3 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
¾ lb. butter, softened
½ c. sherry (we recommend a dark sherry like Oloroso)
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
5 whole eggs, lightly beaten

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil.  Add potato pieces and cook until tender.  Drain.  In a large bowl, mash the potatoes with the butter until uniform and combined.  Fold in the sherry, cinnamon, and eggs.  Bake in a buttered casserole dish for 45 minutes, or until the pudding has pulled away from the sides of the dish and the middle jiggles slightly when shaken gently.  The pudding will continue to set as it cools.

Sources & References:
Laura Mason and Catherine Brown, The Taste of Britain (London: Harper Press, 2006); Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); L.A. Clarkson and E. Margaret Crawford, Feast and Famine: Food and Nutrition in Ireland 1500-1920 (Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 2001); Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 1999); Sara Paston-Williams, The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking and Eating (London: National Trust Enterprises Ltd., 1993); Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport CT: Greenwood Publishing, 1972); Redcliffe N. Salaman, The History and Social Influence of the Potato (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1949).

Interested in learning more about early modern potatoes?  Check out this Recipes Project post by Rebecca Earle from 2014, and learn more about her ongoing research project “The Early Modern Potato: A Global History.”

Recipes and the “Weird”: A Halloween Rumination

By Jennifer Munroe

Henry Fuseli, Weird Sisters (1783).
Henry Fuseli, Weird Sisters (1783).

We might recall Shakespeare’s “Weird Sisters,” the seemingly-sinister witches from Macbeth. Their “Double, double toil and trouble” resonates in our memories as it does in their incantation before Macbeth: “Double, double toil and trouble: / Fire, burn; and, cauldron, bubble” (4.1.20-21). As All Hallow’s Eve approaches, it seems to me useful to revisit their charms; or, as it were, how we might use our sense of Macbeth’s witches to rethink some of the more unsavory of ingredients in early modern recipes, and how we might use these recipes to rethink our assumptions about the witches.

The Weird Sisters’ “hell-broth” includes such mammalian and amphibious creature parts as “eye of newt,” “Gall of goat,” “Adder’s fork,” “Wool of bat,” and “tongue of dog.” Macbeth is appalled at the concoction they brew, and, as it seems, so are audiences (especially modern).  The witches, so often portrayed today as elusive, macabre, dangerous, even grotesque, have been written into our modern imagination as integral to the darkness engulfing Dunsinane.

But what if their witchy-work is not-so-sinister after all? What if they simply get a bad rap? After all, it is Macbeth who does the killing in the play; they merely prognosticate his actions.

I turn to the manuscript recipe book of Rebeckah Winche, a contemporary source, though not of the kind we typically turn to when we ask about early modern witchcraft. For that, we more often go to Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) or the like. However, such animal ingredients were not uncommon in early modern recipes; and in those books, they certainly do not denote the dark arts. In Winche’s book, we find a series of recipes for “The King’s Evil,” Scrofula (or, tuberculosis), one that helps to identify the disease, and two to cure it:

winchef-63

A redy way to know the deseas called the Kings
evill

Take a grownd worme & lay itt alive to the place greved &
take a green docke leafe or 2 andlay them upon the worme
& bine them to the place at night when the patient goes to
bed & if it be the kings evill itt will turne to dust or poud
=er by the morning otherwise it will remayn dead in his owne
former forme as it was a live

A perfect remydy to cure the desease called the kings evill
Take an ounce of pure yellow bees wax or something more
& an ounce uenice turpentine a good quantity of sheepes
suet clarified. boyle them alltogether & when thay are well
boyled put therein 2 good handfulls of the purest barly flower
clear without weedes then temper this flower with the other
things. then put therein 3 spoonfulls of the urin of a man
childe he being not above 3 years olde then boyle it agane
put itt in some earthen or gally pot & stop itt close, keepe it
for your use: when you use it spread it on a peece of fine
linin or on lether and lay it on the sore plaster waise &
by gods helpe it will cure the patient

A nother for the same deseas
Take a live toade & cut of one of her hinder legs
sewe it up in a pece of silke & hange it presently about the
neck of the party greeved. observe if it be a boy or man that
is greeved then a girl or woman must kill the toade but if
a girle or woman be ill then a man must kill it
this hath cured many however if doth sertanly help the other
remydy or any other you shall apply to the sore (if any) to
worke the better efect & sooner cure.

To diagnose “The King’s Evil,” one is instructed to lay a live worm to the aggrieved area, to fix to the unfortunate worm to  “green docke leafe” and wait to see whether the worm desiccates or remains plump (but still deceased) to determine whether the patient is indeed infected.

And to cure “The King’s Evil,” should the patient (and the worm) be so unfortunate, the practitioner summons not the powers of the otherworld, but the urine of a man-child… or the pieces of a toad, who is taken alive and dismembered, removing one of her “hinder legs,” which is then sewn into a silk parcel and hung from the patient’s neck. If a male patient, a woman kills the toad; if a female patient, then a man.

Certainly, this diagnosis and cure might strike some as hocus-pocus, drawing on superstition more than sound medical training and having no more validity than, say, snake oil or verging on something much darker. However, early modern medicine is flush with examples of such diagnoses and cures, and its practitioners appeared quite ready to employ them.

While early modern men and women used these cures as healers and patients, this sort of household medicine was also (and increasingly) understood as inferior relative the professional medicine of scientists and doctors, as practice not to be trusted—or, as we see so often in depiction of witches, as that which ought make us suspicious of its source and its agents.

So what is it about domestic medicine and cookery that has lent itself to this sort of denigration, or the fear associated with witchcraft that enables its marginalization? After all, early modern domestic medicine is not unlike modern herbal medicine, both of which have been relegated to inferior practice, nudged out by codified and “professional” modes of healing that tend to privilege machinery over touching, pharmaceuticals over tinctures and teas.

By juxtaposing Macbeth’s “Weird Sisters” with the recipes from the Winche book, both of which contain what are often associated with “witchy” ingredients, we focus less on the contents of the concoctions. Instead, we are forced to see the ways in which both highlight ways of knowing that are not easily quantified; this is not the ostensible “objective” knowledge of (early modern) science, but something more murky.

This does not mean they are at best silly frivolities and at worst sinister machinations. For Macbeth’s witches are guilty of nothing more than “knowing” (or foreknowing, since they merely predict his actions); they no more dictate Macbeth’s murderous ambitions than he can direct their appearances and disappearances. Early modern recipe practitioners who administer the earthy worm, who collect and pour the spoons full of man-child urine and dismember the toad and make a modern reader say, “Ew,” arguably did no less to diagnose and cure tuberculosis than the scientists of the day.

And as these amateur practitioners worked their medicine, they were necessarily called upon to observe their patients (and their ingredients) in ways that professional doctors and scientists were beginning to move away from: their tactile contact with worm, toad, urine, human skin, and the intensive observation within natural surroundings (rather than a lab) meant that they had to look, listen, and touch differently. Rather than in the laboratory, such amateur practitioners adapted their cures on site, modified their medicine according to individual need (see the many recipes “for another”) rather than generic conditions.

And so, I wonder if on this All Hallow’s season we might take the opportunity to revisit what seems “weird” about the sisters, and how the ingredients and practices of so many early modern men and women, might help us revisit the seemingly strange aspects of medicine in the period and its relation to its ostensible opposite, science. For in these recipes, the strange, the “weird,” may indeed be the very thing that we have made alien—the intimate connections between person and patient, between animal or plant and human, between self and Other–rather than what has in fact been alien all along.

Recipes in Manuscript Miscellanies

By Eve Houghton

As several scholars have noted, early modern recipes do not only appear in recipe books. Ink recipes in particular are a staple of the commonplace book, as Adam Smyth has pointed out; and as Alun Withey has written on this blog, “[i]t was not uncommon to put remedies within pages of miscellany, including accounts, quotes, poetry and family records.”

But if, in Jayne Elisabeth Archer’s words, “recipe books did not simply include recipes,” and “manuscripts classified as ‘commonplace books’ or ‘manuscript miscellanies’ sometimes also contain recipes” (119), this generic mixing also raises a host of paleographic and interpretative questions.

  • Is a miscellany with recipes still “a recipe book?”
  • Are the recipes in the same hand as the other entries?
  • Is a recipe always a non-sequitur, or can there be some conceptual link between the content of the notebook and the content of the recipe?

Some compilers seem to have taken steps to clearly differentiate recipes from the other content of their notebooks. One late seventeenth-century manuscript (Beinecke Osborn b115), for example, includes two sections with the handwriting running in opposite directions: the first devoted to commonplaces and poetry excerpts, and the second to recipes, including “pankakes,” “lemon cream,” and “apricock wine.” Another seventeenth and eighteenth-century notebook (Beinecke Osborn b419) has a section devoted to laundry accounts (“my brothers washing”) and a separate section for listing cookery recipes such as “cowslip wine” and “a good sort of gingerbread.” In other manuscripts, however, the distinctions are not nearly so clear-cut.

The notebook Beinecke Osborn c663, compiled by a “Miss Barton” of Suffolk from 1758 to 1766, includes medicinal and cookery recipes which appear as diary entries:

July 10. I heard yt…in Northamptonshire there is a well wch at certain times has a sound like a drum, it has been emptied, & at Bottom tis a mill stone, ye Person sd it was reckoned one of ye worlds 7 wonders. At this place are 3 Hospl [Hospitals], 1 for men 1 for women 1 for children 3 years schooling books some cloathes

To Cure Deafness

Take some green wormwood & rub it in yr hands till it is very moist then put it into ye hollow of yr ear & it will cause <it> to Discharge you must repeat it every day or two (f. 1r)

This at first seems like a bizarre turn: what does a cure for deafness have to do with an empty well and a charitable hospital?

The entry of July 10th, poised somewhere between folklore and local gossip, has certain continuities. After writing about this wondrous well with “a sound like a drum,” Barton’s next subject is the human ear drum. Another entry similarly juxtaposes a medicinal recipe with details of local interest:

Osborn c663, f. 2v (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library).
Osborn c663, f. 2v (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library).

Memorand

Mr Alexander’s mill is square its built on a risin hill, I’m told there’s but one more such in Engl, tis what they call a smock mill.

A blood shot eye has been often reliev’d by holding it over ye steam of hot coffee (f. 2v).

Both the recipe and the account of the smock mill are headed “Memorand,” situating these fragments of seemingly unrelated information within the broader framework of “things worth remembering.” Barton seems to have had no need to create a separate heading for her recipes, then, because they are part and parcel of the notable, useful, or amusing matter of her daily life.

A manuscript from the 1620s (Folger X.d.393) is described in the Folger catalogue as a collection of “historical extracts.” However, it also includes a recipe for “a dormant drink,” which appears even more incongruous alongside accounts of Sir Francis Drake’s famous expedition to Cadiz and various military actions in Ireland:

A Dormant drink.

Take Enatnalp, Ecittel, yllil-retaw, yppop, & Edahs-thgin, short Ssom on ye Seert, Enab-neh Esserp-ic-flowers; pown all yes together, & strain ye verdure or juice out: yen take ye Niarb of Senarc, Ecim-rod doolb: warm ye liquor of all yes togither wth Eniw: it will bereave ye sense to cold numbness, & mortify ye Patient by an hour slumbrig for 2 daies, & by no meanes waking (f. 34r).

Folger X.d.393, f. 34r (Folger Shakespeare Library).
Folger X.d.393, f. 34r (Folger Shakespeare Library).

This recipe is in code, but it is not a particularly difficult code to break. One need only reverse the letters to find that this recipe calls for “water-lilly, poppy, & night-shade” in addition to “dor-mice blood & snakes blood.” Two puzzles, then: why write a recipe backwards, and why include a recipe for “a dormant drink” between an account of Shane O’Neill’s rebellion in Ireland and the reign of Richard II? It is possible that the compiler’s mind had turned to libations, since the account of O’Neill’s rebellion includes a reference to the “quaffing & drinking of Wine” (f. 33r). Or perhaps—like many early modern readers—the compiler simply saw no reason not to include a recipe in a manuscript of extracts on other subjects.

Because of the seeming haphazardness and unpredictability of their appearances, recipes which appear outside of recipe books or collections can be difficult to track down, catalogue, and interpret. But as Sally Osborn has argued in a post on this blog, recipe books were “working documents that acted as repositories for useful knowledge in a significant range of areas.”

The recent work of Sara Pennell, Michelle DiMeo, and Wendy Wall, among others, has highlighted the ways in which heterogeneity (multiple hands, collaborative or anonymous authorship, unstable generic categories) is a hallmark of the recipe genre, placing notebooks like these in a broader context of manuscript miscellaneity. As more recipes are unearthed in diaries, commonplace books, and even collections of “historical extracts,” then, these manuscripts might start to look less eccentric–and perhaps even paradigmatic.

 

 Works referenced

Archer, Jayne Elisabeth. “The Quintessence of Wit,” Reading and Writing Recipe Books 1550-1800. Eds. Michelle DiMeo and Sara Pennell. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013.

Smyth, Adam. “Commonplace Book Culture: A List of Sixteen Traits,” Women and Writing, c.1340-c.1650: The Domestication of Print Culture. Eds. Anne Lawrence-Mathers and Philippa Hardman. Rochester: Boydell and Brewer, 2010.

EXPLORING CPP 10A214: A New Candidate for the Layfield Hand, Part 1

By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche

The more Rebecca Laroche and I work with the College of Physicians manuscript, the more enmeshed we become with the religious politics of the mid-seventeenth century. Rebecca’s most recent post, on the transcription of the “Horologe” from Lancelot Andrewes’ Private Devotions, not only provides additional evidence for dating the manuscript in the 1640s, it connects the Layfield hand even more securely to the world of the church.

This new context makes our latest discovery even more exciting: we have a new idea of the person behind Hand 2, thanks to a new writing sample from the archives.

Looking for potential “E. Layfield”s while at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I stumbled across the following image of a signature from the State Papers Online.[1]
LayfieldSig1

The L and y immediately caught my eye: our Layfielde, I thought, had those:
Probatum Anne Layfield

But the match isn’t perfect. For one thing, the f is substantially different in this signature, as is the e. And then, of course, there’s the spelling. As much as we know early modern people often used variant spellings of their own names, the new signature’s ei is repeated in another of Edward Layfield’s signatures of the period:
LayfieldSignDraft2
I immediately knew that I needed an expert opinion. Besides, this new signature belonged to Edward Layfield, Archdeacon of Essex, and Edward Layfield, rector of Wakes Colne from 1640 to 1666, had seemed our most likely candidate. The signatures, moreover, carried the date 1660, and our recipe manuscript’s inscription says the book belonged to a Layfield – Anne – in 1640. But the similarities made it well worth pursuing.

I consulted with Heather Wolfe and Sarah Powell at the Folger, and their verdict was a resounding maybe. The idea that the newly-found signatures belonged to the same person as the CPP manuscript’s Hand 2, they told me, was “plausible, but not provable.” They noted that the distinctive h in the letters’ archdeacon does not commonly appear in the CPP manuscript, but they also pointed out that the two new Edward Layfield signatures were different from one another as well, with substantially difference ds. in Layfield. Could Mr. Layfield’s handwriting be changing in his later years?

While this verdict from the experts surely didn’t give permission for the “eureka!” I’d been stifling, it wasn’t a reason to stop this new line of pursuit, either. So we’ll be taking it further, to see what difference it makes if we consider Edward, not Edmund, as behind the Layfield hand. Church politics will most certainly be involved. More of that to come in the next posting.

 

[1] Both the Edward Layfield signatures come from The National Archives of the UK, as reproduced in State Papers Online. This first image is For University Promotions or Degrees: Certificate by Edw. Layfield, Archdeacon of Essex, and three others, in favour of the petitioner’s orthodoxy and loyalty (SP 29/9 f.130), and the second is Certificate of Edw. Layfield, Archdeacon of Essex, and two others, in behalf of Rich. Beresford (SP 29/10 f.86).