Tag Archives: Wellcome Library

Learning to cook in early modern England. Part I

By Sara Pennell

Where do recipes fit into historical understanding of pedagogical processes around food? Various scholars (including myself) have speculated about the compilation of manuscript recipe collections as part of a domestically-located education for young girls and teens prior to marriage. Some seventeenth-century English printed recipe collections also speak explicitly of who they are intending to educate in the ‘art and mystery’ of cookery (and, in William Rabisha’s case, who not: those without any culinary aptitude, for one).[1]

But here I want to focus on the early modern provision of what some of us might have undertaken ourselves: commercial cookery courses. Today, cookery schools are experiencing a renaissance. In London, the Waitrose Cookery School’s courses are often sold out within hours of being advertised, while eager cooks can enrol for classes on everything from the basics of egg-boiling to sushi-rolling and charcuterie masterclasses. The relative decline of school-based cookery (domestic science or home economics) has created a generation of cooks at a loss of where to start, while TV cookery has encouraged those with basic skills to seek tuition in the more arcane techniques shown on the screen.

<Wellcome Library MS 1176, attributed to Hannah Bisaker, c. 1692, designs for minced pies. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Wellcome Library MS 1176, attributed to Hannah Bisaker, c. 1692, designs for minced pies. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

This sort of demand – prompted by a skills gap and by aspirational appetites – arguably also existed in late seventeenth-century London, where a commercial market for cookery tuition flourished from the 1660s. Our sources for this are print and manuscript recipe collections. While many earlier cookery writers had been gentry or aristocratic experimenters, or members of manuscript coteries with specific intentions, or encyclopaedic hack writers, by the end of the seventeenth century, a new type of author had entered the field: the commercial teacher-cooks.

Perhaps the first, and best known of these, is Hannah Woolley (or Wolley). Woolley’s troubled biography – twice married and twice widowed – is often highlighted as her motivation for having to enter the commercial sphere, and market her domestic knowledge. At the same time, her experience of being a school-master’s wife, and undoubtedly involved teaching herself, make her publications domestic teaching tools, as much as portfolios of professional skills.[2] The last publication that can be securely attributed to Woolley, A Supplement to the ‘Queen-like Closet’, or A Little of Everything (London, 1674), made this explicit. In it, Woolley offers at-home tuition in a range of domestic arts, from preserving to needlework, at the rate of four shillings per diem.[3]

In the last decades of the seventeenth century, three rare texts demonstrate the connection between face-to-face instruction, and cookery books as handbooks to accompany such instruction:

  • The True Way in Preserving and Candying (London, 1681; second edition 1695)
  • The Young Cook’s Monitor; or Directions for Cookery and Distilling Being a Choice Compendium of Excellent Receipts. Made Public for the Use and Benefit of My Schollars… by M.H. (London, 1683; second enlarged edition, 1690)
  • Mary Tillinghast’s Rare and Excellent Receipts, Experienc’d and Taught by Mrs Mary Tillinghast and now Printed for the Use of her Scholars Only (London, 1690).[4]

As Elizabeth Spiller’s recent edition of Tillinghast acknowledges, little is known in any of the existing specialist bibliographies about the anonymous author of True Way, Tillinghast or ‘M.H.’. The 1690 second edition of M. H., ‘with large additions’ is given on the title page as ‘Printed for the author at her House in Lime Street, 1690’, in a relatively wealthy part of the City, which suggests that ‘M.H.’ was at least attempting to appear well-heeled.[5]

Rarer still is the trade card, masquerading as an ‘invitation’, amongst the John Johnson Collection (Bodleian Library), dating to approximately 1680. This ‘invites’ women (it is addressed explicitly to ‘Madam’), to attend a dinner put on by the ‘Ladies & Gentlewomen Practitioners in the Art of Pastery and Cookery’ taught by one Nathaniel Meystnor; acting as a decorative border near the base of the card is a sequence of highly decorated pastryworks, presumably Meystnor’s stock-in-trade.[6]

Perhaps the best known teacher-cook is Edward Kidder (c. 1665/6-1739), whose published Receipts of Pastry and Cookery exist in variant forms (both as engraved and latterly printed texts), from the first two quarters of the eighteenth century (first dated printing in 1720). Kidder was a celebrated teacher of pastrymaking: his obituary in the London Magazine claimed that he had taught ‘near 6000 Ladies the Art of Pastry’.[7]

Exaggerated though this may be, Kidder was quite the pastry entrepreneur (the Magnolia Bakery of his day, perhaps?), running schools in several different central London locations from at least the early 1700s.[8] Indeed, although the published works date to no earlier than the 1720s, a number of manuscript versions of Kidder’s receipts might date to an earlier period, indeed possibly as early as 1702: the engraved, printed titlepage of Brotherton Library (Leeds University) MS 75 is inscribed ‘London 1702’, and is followed by 71 folios of manuscript recipes similar to, if not verbatim copies of, the recipes which appear in the published Kidder texts.[9]

As these publications suggest, there was thus an acknowledged market for didactic materials recording commercial tuition in pastrymaking and cookery skills in and around London, in existence well before 1700. Who took these courses, and why, will be explored in a later post.

[1] William Rabisha, The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (London, 1661; subsequent editions in 1673, 1675 and 1683), sig. A4r.

[2] John Considine, ‘Woolley, Hannah, (b. 1622?-d. in or after 1674)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), accessed 4 June 2013.

[3] Hannah Woolley, A Supplement to the ‘Queen-Like Closet’, or A Little of Everything (London, 1674), pp. 82-3.

[4] The British Library copies of the Tillinghast and second edition of the Young Cooks Monitor were bound together, sometime during the 19th century: BL shelfmarks C.189.aa.10 (1) and (2).

[5] Elizabeth Spiller (ed.), Seventeenth Century English Recipe Books: Cooking, Physic and Chirurgery in the Works of Queen Henrietta Maria and Mary Tillinghast (Aldershot, 2008), p. xli.: see BL shelfmark C. 189.aa.(1). So far no other data for this address or author has been uncovered.

[6] Illustrated in Ivan Day, ‘From Murrell to Jarrin: Illustrations in British cookery books, 1621-1820’, in Eileen White (ed.), The English Cookery Book: Historical Essays (Totnes, 2004), pp. 98-151 (on p. 130).  Meystnor may be the ‘Mr Meystnor’ who occurs in several of Windsor’s parochial records in the 1680s: James Hakewill, The History of Windsor (London, 1813), p. 17.

[7] London Magazine 8 (1739), p. 205. See also Simon Varey, ‘Kidder, Edward (1665/6-1739)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), accessed 3 June 2013.

[8] See Peter Targett, ‘Edward Kidder: his book and his schools’, Petits Propos Culinaires [PPC] 32 (June 1989), pp. 35-44; Simon Varey, ‘New light on Edward Kidder’s Receipts’, PPC 39 (Dec. 1991), pp. 46-51 (esp. p. 48); and David Potter, ‘Some notes on Edward Kidder’, PPC 65 (Sept. 2000), pp. 9-27.

[9] Varey, ‘New light’, p. 48; Leeds University, Brotherton Library, Special Collections, Blanche Leigh Collection, MS 75, titlepage.

An Early Modern Medicine for a Re-emerging Disease

By Glennda Bayron

A rachitic skeleton, measuring two feet two inches in length (1749). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
A rachitic skeleton, measuring two feet two inches in length (1749). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

In Mrs. Jane Baber’s cookbook (Wellcome MS 108), there is a medicinal recipe “For the Ricketts” tucked between a recipe to treat rheumy eyes and another for preserving raspberries. For many of the medicinal recipes in early modern receipt books, there is often no clear modern disease correlation, but rickets has again recently started to become more common in the western world. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, rickets is a “disease of children caused by vitamin D deficiency, which results in abnormal calcium and phosphorus metabolism and deficient mineralization of bone (osteomalacia) with skeletal deformity”.[1] In April 2012, congenital rickets was found to have resulted in the death of a little girl in London. Since the disease is uncommon in Britain, the parents had initially been charged with murder. With the resurgence of the disease, physicians and parents need to be aware of its early signs, with an eye to prevention. Modern treatments for rickets include increasing the amount of vitamin D and calcium in a child’s diet.

Rickets 2
Jane Baber, Wellcome Library, WMS 108, f. 4v.

The recipe in Mrs. Baber’s cookery book calls for speecke, rosemary, camamill, sage, verbane, hayhoes, nipp, neats foote oyle, butter, ale, and sasafras.  While some of these are cooking herbs that we use today, many of them are unrecognizable to the modern chef (or doctor, for that matter). Through researching herbal databases as well as help from others, I was able to determine what the uncommon ingredients were and how they were beneficial. “Speecke” turns out to be spike lavender, which is used as an anti-inflammatory. [2] “Verbane” is considered to strengthen the nervous system and creates a relaxing effect on the body.[3]  “Hayhoes” is the shortened version of hayhooves, another name for alehoof, which is often used with chamomile flowers (also in this recipe) as a poultice for abscesses.[4] “Neats foote oyle” is comprised of boiled cow skin bones and feet and is used today for shining leather and there is no record of a modern medicinal use.[5] “Nipp” or catnip, an ingredient not commonly found in your medical doctor’s office, is found in many holistic medicines to treat insomnia, anxiety, migraines, indigestion, gas, and to assist with delayed menstruation in girls.[6]  Sassafras is “the dried bark of this tree, used medicinally as an alterative; also an infusion of this”.[7] Although considered poisonous, it is still used to treat urinary tract disorders, syphilis, gout, cancer, and high blood pressure.[8]

Can of Neatsfoot Oil. 2008. Credit: Montanabw, Wikimedia Commons.
Can of Neatsfoot Oil. 2008. Credit: Montanabw, Wikimedia Commons.

Barber’s recipe calls for the ingredients to be boiled together and applied by cloth to the joints of the child–minding the lower back as to not weaken the joints. The child must then drink ale with sliced sassafras in it. In the mid-seventeenth century, Hannah Wooley describes a beer with herbs boiled into it as the cure for rickets.[9] The Queen’s Closet Opened (1659) contains a recipe that created an ointment to apply to the weak joints of a child’s body afflicted with rickets.  What these two recipes show is that while the recipes were different, the methods of curing the disease were similar, including ingestion of ale with herbs and application of ointment on joints.  Given that all three recipes provide a similar cure, they suggest the widespread thought and practices in seventeenth-century England. Rickets treatments focused on the results of the problem, from inflammation and skin problems to pain and anxiety. Something, perhaps, for modern physicians to keep in mind.


[1] “rickets, n.”. OED Online, accessed 23 March 2013.

[2] Thanks to Rebecca Laroche for the help identifying “Speecke” and “Hayhoes.” See also: “Lavender (Spike) Essential Oil”, Mountain Rose Herbs, viewed 10 May 2013.

[3] “Vervain Herbal Information”, Vervain / Verbena Officinalis Herbal Information. Indigo Herbs of Glastonbury, viewed 10 May 2013.

[4] “Alehoof (Glechoma Hederacea)”, TJ Clark Liquid Mineral Supplements, viewed 10 May 2013.

[5] “neatsfoot oil, n.”. OED Online, accessed 23 March 2013.

[6] “Catnip: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings”, WebMD. Viewed 23 March 2013; “nip, n.”. OED Online, accessed March 2013.

[7] “sassafras, n.”, OED Online, accessed 23 March 2013.

[8] “Sassafras: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings”, WebMD, viewed 23 March 2013.

[9] Hannah Wooley, The Accomplish’d Lady’s Delight in Preserving, Physick, Beautifying, and Cookery (1675), section 57.

Glennda Bayron is an undergraduate student at the University of Texas, Arlington. She was involved in a class project to transcribe Jane Baber’s recipe book, led by Amy Tigner.

Liquorice: “The Spoonful of Sugar that Helps the Medicine Go Down”

By Sandra Jergensen

Licorice 1If you wish “To make Juise of Liquorish in the beginning of Maye” à la Jane Baber you need to do some advance planning.[i] Chances of finding suitable fresh liquorice root are slim; you will most likely need to grow your own. By starting prep work immediately you should be ready for juicing, roughly three years from now. While recipes often have many steps and tedious wait periods, just acquiring the ingredient list for “Juise of Liquorish” makes a month-aged fruitcake appear as petty convenience food.  Even though growing proper liquorice, a small leguminous plant, takes “three summers for the roots to grow to full size,” it is worth the investment.[ii] Good, fresh liquorice tastes as good as it is for you. In fact, it may just be the “spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down” that Mary Poppins advocated.

Liquorice has been cultivated on a large scale in England beginning in Pontefract, Yorkshire in the seventeenth century. Even before the Reformation, the region’s monastery popularised liquorice, turning this area into what is still the center of English liquorice tradition as the home of the ever-beloved Pontefract cakes. These coin-sized disks of candied black liquorice stamped with a castle and an owl may have been made as early as 1614.[iii]  While I am unaware of the location where Jane Baber’s seventeenth-century Book of Receipts was written, her use of the “juise of licquorish” is strikingly similar to a recipe for making Pontefract cakes.[iv] The inclusion of such a similar recipe at the time of her manuscript production in 1625 seems downright trendy including considering the fashionable status of liquorice at that time in England. The connection is not just the use of liquorice, but an almost identical preparation of the ubiquitous confection.

While I realized that while neither recipe advertises candy, they both produce it. Baber’s technique, like the recipe for Pontefract cakes, direct the cook to make a combined liquorice root, water and sugar to be cooked and thickened, and shaped into rolls. The Baber recipe also calls for the addition of hyssop, rosemary and colesfoot for added flavor or medicinal use. Even without the precision of a candy thermometer, Baber’s candy-making instruction is spot-on for reaching a “soft-ball” stage of candy making where the liquid has boiled out and the sugars have begun to harden into a tacky, sticky consistency that would allow you to “see the bottome of the bason [while you are] stirringe it very still.” If you follow the directions as written, you should end up with the classic chewy sweet we expect liquorice to be, and the ever-popular Pontefract cakes still are.

Licorice 3In its purest form, Glycyrrhiza glabra, or liquorice, trumps cane sugar’s sweetness fifty times over. Yet the foil is in the bitter flavor it also possesses, which inhibits some tasters from recognizing the intensity of the plant’s sweet flavor. Oddly enough, the sweetness also depends on the way in which liquorice root is cut. The thicker the cut, the sweeter the root seems, while a thinner cut tastes saltier and a bit bitter. Unfortunately I don’t know the result of stamping them all together in a mortar as Baber directs in the recipe. Even so, she covers her bases, calling for the addition of the “three or fower ounces of redd suger Candy.” Although sweet with candy, and perhaps sweet like candy, the classic English treat (Allsorts, anyone?) had more value than a pleasing, sugary sweetness on the tongue: it was most likely intended as medicine.

While liquorice was also a frequent flavoring for stout and gingerbread in early modern England, liquorice was primarily used medicinally. It was a common remedy to treat ailments such as inflammation, mild constipation and the “rume” (excessive mucousal secretions), as Baber’s recipe recommends. Liquorice’s popularity rose, becoming a go-to flavoring for medicine rather than just the medicine itself. Cough lozenges, teas, tonics and ticcatares could be infused with liquorice to cover up less pleasant tastes.

It was most likely in that shift from medicine to medicinal flavoring and candy-like medicine to candy that the original usage was largely forgotten. Yet, all those who enjoyed the flavor du jour, may have not be cognizant of the benefits–that the “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in a most delightful way.”  Jane Baber’s medicinal receipt “To make Juise of Liquorish in the beginning of Maye” may have not been a recipe for her favorite candy, but it yielded dry noses, happy bowels, and surprisingly eager recipients.


[i] Baber, Jane. Book of Receipts, 1635. MS 108. Wellcome Library, London, f. 21v.

[ii] “Liquorice”, The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History, ed. David Hey, (Oxford University Press, 2008;  Oxford Reference, 2009), date Accessed 8 Apr. 2013 <http://www.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.uta.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780199532988.001.0001/acref-9780199532988-e-1128>.

[iii] Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 455.

[iv] http://www.wakefield.gov.uk/CultureAndLeisure/HistoricWakefield/Liquorice/recipe.htm

Sandra Jergensen is an undergraduate student at the University of Texas, Arlington. She was involved in a class project to transcribe Jane Baber’s recipe book, led by Amy Tigner.

Teaching Recipes

Nearly every year, I teach a senior seminar in the English department at the University of Texas, Arlington (near Dallas) that changes thematically each time.  With the recent proliferation of both cookbooks and books about cooking, I decided this spring to try out a class that focused on literature that features recipes as a major component, and, as a kind of juxtaposition to the literature, I also wanted to consider recipes as a literary pursuit.  Students would delve into texts that exhibit literary, lyrical, and aesthetic sensibilities about recipe-writing and recipe-execution, and that mark particular cultural shifts in food praxis and politics. At the same time, students would study how recipe writing calls upon a host of literary and cultural practices.

The literature that we read was primarily contemporary novels, including Annia Ciezadlo’s Day of Honey, Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate and Nicole Mones’s The Last Chinese Chef, though we also read M.F.K. Fisher’s classic work, How to Cook a Wolf.   For the recipe side, we read Hervé This’s Molecular Gastronomy and Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Café Cookbook. But, as I am an early modernist by training, I also wanted the students to be exposed to earlier recipes to understand how recipes have developed and changed in the last four hundred years.

Here the class intersected with my own research interest in women’s manuscript receipt book writing of sixteenth and seventeenth century England and with my involvement with the newly formed digital humanities group, Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC), many of whose members write for this blog.  I was inspired by Lisa Smith’s autumn class, “Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe,” who had worked on transcribing Johanna St. John’s recipe book. (See her blog post “An Experiment in Teaching Recipe Transcription,” April 12, 2013.)  I was also working in tandem with Rebecca Laroche, who teaches at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, as we decided that we would have our students transcribe the same seventeenth-century recipe book, so that the text could be double-keyed.  Rebecca and I chose Jane Baber’s receipt book, available in digitized form from the Wellcome Library, because it was short, only twenty-six pages, and in a hand, we thought, that was not too difficult.  Our students would code their transcriptions in XML on the Textual Communities crowd-sourcing transcription platform, run by the University of Saskatchewan.

With a couple of exceptions, the students in the class were senior English majors so they were used to reading and writing about literature. Reading and transcribing early modern writing, however, was something that they had never encountered before–and the task seemed at first quite daunting.  To teach the skill of transcribing, Rebecca and I had students utilize the online Cambridge handwriting course, which moves progressively through more and more difficult early modern handwriting.  My class met on Thursdays in a computer classroom, and we devoted the class period to transcription.  What I noticed was that students started working collectively on the transcriptions, and such communal learning made all the parties stronger transcribers.

So when it finally came to transcribing Baber’s receipt book, I decided to have them work in groups.  What we all noticed was that the group work allowed everyone a safety net to have the confidence to do difficult work, with as much accuracy as possible. I also learned a lot about transcribing from the students as they experimented with various techniques, such as using a tablet or large T.V. to look at the recipe while writing the transcription on a laptop. Students became tenacious in figuring out what words could be, looking them up in the Oxford English Dictionary or in a Google search.  They also struggled to learn to code in XML and to make everything work correctly on the Textual Communities site.

Throughout the semester, students had to write short, researched analytical commentaries, and in the next few days some students from the class will be posting their discoveries about Jane Baber’s recipes.  I am sure you will enjoy their discoveries, and it is exciting to see such keen interest in these receipt book manuscripts.


Jane Baber 1r                              Jane Baber 6r