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RECEIPT BOOKS, c1575-1800, from The Folger Shakespeare Library

Publisher's Note

What was it like to sit at table in a Tudor household?  Or at a great feast?  To toil in the garden?  Or to be ill with the toothache?  Receipt Books explores the intricate details of daily life in Tudor and Stuart England.

If you want to see into the kitchens, gardens, butteries and bedchambers of Tudor and Stuart England, then Receipt Books provides a most valuable guide.  Far from offering advice purely relating to cookery, these manuscripts offer insights into topics such as:

  • The control of vermin
  • Perfumes and cosmetics
  • The cultivation of fruit and vegetables
  • The role of women
  • Household accounts
  • Conception and childbirth
  • Cures for common ailments
  • Diet and the importance of seasoning and alcohol
  • Food in Shakespeare’s England
  • The cleaning of clothes

This project brings together over 80 manuscripts from the holdings of the Folger Shakespeaere Library dating from 1575 to the end of the 18th century.  Such receipt books preserved family traditions and passed on common wisdom.

They show how diet changed over this period and explain methods of baking bread, preserving meat and mixing pottage.   They reflect developments in agriculture and the importation of new foodstuffs.  They show the impact of new seasonings and a shift in taste from sweet to salty.

They show how herbs and medicinal plants were used and how these relate to the humoral theory of Hippocrates - where each person has a dominant humour, be it Bile, Blood, Choler or Melancholy, which needs to be carefully managed.  They describe methods of coping with minor ailments, such as bee-stings and headaches, as well as considering more serious issues such as childbirth and cancer.

“An ointment to take the spots out of the face after the small Poxe:

Take an ounce of deeres suet cut it small & put it into a pipkin with 1/2 an ounce of camphire; melt them together and take of sulphur vivum 2 penny worth, beat it very small and sift it, and put it in when the other is almost cold”

Some also include details of other pursuits including washing, dyeing, horticulture, viticulture and animal husbandry, while the majority included receipts for ink.

Sarah Longe’s Receipt Books of c1610 is a typical example.  There are sections on ‘preserves & conserves’, ‘Cokery’ and ‘Physicke & Chirurgery.’  Alongside recipes for gooseberry foole and rice pudding are instructions to stop bleeding and remedies for miscarriage.

Compiled over a period of generations it is common to find comments and observations added to the volumes.  A typical example can be found in Lettice Pudsey’s receipt book in which the receipt to pickle cucumbers has been crossed out and somebody has remarked at the bottom of the page “This Receipt is good for Nothing”.

Many of the volumes also contain other ‘commonplaces’ such as quotations from famous authors, snatches of verse and song (even some lute tablature) and accounts.

It is clear that those who wrote these volumes (mostly women) were more than cooks and servants within their households.  They often managed the family budget, and were responsible for the fecundity of the land as much as the well-being of the family.  These sources will enable us to better understand domestic life in Early Modern England.



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