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

Editorial Introduction

Dr Elaine Leong, Lecturer in Early Modern Cultural and Medical History,

University of Leicester

The frontispiece of The Accomplished Ladies Delight in Preserving, Physick, Beautifying and Cookery (London, 1675) is an illustration of three domestic scenes each depicting an area of household activity.  The top vignette features two women producing and storing medicines in the still room.  Set in a well-decorated bedroom, the second scene portrays a gentlewoman carefully applying cosmetics in front of a mirror. Finally, the bottom scene shows two women at work in a busy kitchen.  This tripartite illustration represents well the wide array of tasks which were carried out within the early modern household.  These activities included the production of foodstuff and beverages such as wines, spirits and beer; the creation of household supplies such as cleaning agents and dyes; the preservation of fruit, vegetables, meats and fish and, finally, the making of a range of medicines.  The Accomplished Ladies Delight itself contains hundreds of sets of instructions, in the form of recipes, to complete these household tasks.  Recipes were, in fact, one of the most common forms in which household practical knowledge was transmitted and acquired.  As any scholar of the early modern period is well aware, recipes appear in a wide range of different texts.  They can be noted on the front and back flyleaves of printed volumes, embedded within letters, commonplace books and miscellanies, and collected and organised within bound manuscript notebooks.  A study of recipes provides us with a vivid picture of daily activities in the early modern household, and a sense of the diverse tasks carried out by men and women in the homes of the middling and upper sorts.  At the same time, the study of recipe collections is also a study of a literary genre.  It is revealing of the way in which similar texts such as commonplace books and miscellanies were compiled, transcribed and disseminated, as well as the interrelationship between manuscript and print.

The selection of 89 manuscripts from the Folger Shakespeare Library presented here comprise of a diverse range of texts.  The majority of these manuscripts date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with a small number of entries from the late sixteenth century.  The earlier manuscripts include the commonplace book of John Conybeare (MS v.a. 467) and the book of medicinal recipes connected with John Feckenham, abbot of Westminster (c. 1510-1584).  The latter seems to have circulated in multiple copies and may have been based upon a manuscript used in Benedictine monasteries as a guide for charitable medical activities.(1) At the other end of the time scale, there are several examples of notebooks which were compiled in the second half of the eighteenth century with additions possibly dating to the nineteenth century.  These include the cookery books of Elizabeth Langley, Elizabeth Smith and the Malet family (MSS w.a. 113, w.a. 126, w.a. 303).  Most of the notebooks presented here have complex histories, in terms of authorship, compilation methods and contents, making fascinating studies for medical historians, food historians and literary scholars alike.

Recipe books are often considered a genre of ‘female’ writing; however, as the notebooks presented here well demonstrate, the collecting of household information in the form of recipes was an activity which interested both early modern men and women.  While a large proportion of the notebooks, especially those which present culinary information, within this selection are associated with female compilers, there are a number of collections which were created and owned by men.  Examples include the manuscript put together by Nicholas Webster and later owned by Robert Nalson (MS v.a. 364) and the large notebook of medical information compiled by Thomas Sheppey (MS v.a. 452).  Economic circumstances perhaps more delineated who might have collected and created these notebooks.  Putting together one of these collections was certainly an activity which was restricted to particular social circles of men and women who not only were able to read and write and afford the writing materials, but also had the leisure time to collect, record and compile.  The instructions to make these medicaments – recipes – were readily available from a variety of sources.  Typically, these notebooks contain a blend of information gathered from the compiler’s friends and family; from consultations with medical practitioners; and from offerings from the booming vernacular print trade.

As a number of the entries in the Folger collection show, one of the most common ways of recipe exchange was through correspondence.  Recipes were often sent as part of a set of epistolary medical consultations between patients and their physicians.  An example can be found in a manuscript notebook now in the New York Public Library which includes a letter to from Dr John Powell.  Dr Powell here advised the compiler to obtain from the apothecary some ‘antiscorbutick electuary’ and to take it with a large quantity of nutmeg every morning.   In addition, he told her to take possett drink with white wine and scurvy grass, brookelime and horse radish root. Finally, he recommended her to take ‘Bath’ water and gave advice as to which apothecaries she should go to have her medicines made up.(2)

Culinary and medical advice was commonly included in letters between friends and amongst family members.  Elizabeth Freke, a gentlewoman living in Norfolk at the end of the seventeenth century was sent the recipe for Lady Powell’s Laudanum from her sister Lady Austen.  The information came with Lady Austen’s personal recommendation and descriptions of her own experiences with different doses of the drug.(3)  Within the selection presented here, Folger manuscript w.b. 489 (70) consists of two recipes for broth sent by Ferdinand Violetti to Mrs Eva Maria Garrick. Similarly, manuscript y.c. 2600 (90) is a copy of a letter from David Garrick to James Clutterbuck on 31 October, 1764, recommending a recipe for piles.  Recipes also feature in well-known networks of correspondence such as the one centred upon Samuel Hartlib.  Jennifer Stine has documented the exchange between Sir Cheney Culpeper and Hartlib, during which Culpeper repeatedly asked for his wife’s recipe collection to be returned.(4)

Social occasions proved to be sites for recipe exchange.  Archdale Palmer, a gentleman from Leicestershire who compiled a recipe collection dating from the 1650s, gathered recipes from all types of social events.  Certain entries in his recipe collection betray the fact that dinner guests would contribute to the collection after the meal.  Mr Hollid, described as a minister in Northamptonshire, dined with the Palmers on the 13 May 1663 and in return gave Palmer a recipe ‘For a bone of pinne in ye throate’ and another ‘for the ricketts’.(5)  Palmer also habitually collected recipes during social visits or short stays with friends and family.  On 16 April 1659, for example, he visited a Dr Bowles and his wife in Oundle and collected recipes for a cordial and two recipes dealing with sore teeth and mouth cankers in children.(6)  He also seemed to have had the habit of extracting recipes out of friends and acquaintances in pubs – several recipes were collected at the Mitre Tavern and others at the Red Lion at Leicester.(7) While Palmer might have been a more than the average enthusiast as far as recipe collecting was concerned, his collection reveals the diverse social occasions and places at which recipes might have been exchanged.

Aside from the collection of single recipes, householders may also come by ready-made collection of recipes through personal bequests.  These notebooks were often passed within the family from one generation to another and thus were created by multiple owners over a long period of time.  The notebook of Jane Staveley (v.a. 401) compiled at the end of the seventeenth century, bears an ownership note of Henrietta Elizabeth Harrison written in 1822.  Manuscript v.a. 429 was owned by three women.  Rose Kendell and Ann Cater identified it as ‘there book’ in 1682 and Anna Maria Wentworth inscribed her name in the notebook in 1725/6.  A final example of this practice is the intriguing inscription on the title-page of manuscript v.a. 430 which reads ‘Mrs. Ann Granvilles Book/ which I hope shee will make/ a better use of then her mother/ Mary Granville’; underneath is written ‘Now Anne Dewes/ Bradley 8th Sept 1740’.(8)  Not only does the inscription show how recipe collections followed individual women from household to household as they remarried; it also betrays one woman’s sense of guilt over her own lack of interest (or skills?) in household chores. 

While historians have emphasised the bequest of recipe collections down matrilineal lines, that is by no means the only way in which collections changed hands.  There are cases of male compilers creating notebooks of practical information for their daughters.  A good example is the two notebooks copied by Sir Peter Temple for his daughter Eleanor which present not only medical and culinary recipes and medical advice as to the efficacy of the drugs.(9)    Sons were also just as keen as daughters to inherit the family notebook of recipes.  One good example is the collection of Lady Frances Catchmay which has inscribed on the first folio:

this booke with the others of medicins, preserves and cookerye, my lady Catchmay lefte with me to be delivered to her sonne Sir William Catchmay, earnestly desiringe and charginge him to lett every one of his brothers and sisters to have true copyes of the sayd bookes, or such parte thereof as any of them doth desire.  In witness that this was her request, I have thereunto sett my hand at the delivery of the sayd bookes. Ed. Bett.(10) 

The inscription reveals that the gift of these books to William Catchmay came with the responsibility to disseminate the knowledge contained within.  Frances Catchmay does not merely pass her collection to her eldest daughter or son but to all her children, hinting at the high worth she placed upon medical and culinary know how.  

The act of gathering, selecting and constructing a recipe collection was therefore strongly influenced by personal, social and practical circumstances.  Compilers came into contact with recipes through their family and acquaintances and thus recipes circulated in a somewhat controlled arena.  After all, one could only obtain recipes which were circulating amongst one’s extended social group.  While recipes no doubt passed both above and below stairs and between commercial and lay medical practitioners, the exact recipes which compilers could get their hands on depended on whom they met and what sorts of recipes their acquaintances might possess.  The general mix up of recipes means that it is fairly difficult to separate out these strands when it comes to looking at recipe collections.  The recipes of ‘professional’ medical practitioners such as physicians and apothecaries were then absorbed, passed on and entered into the general realm of recipe exchange.

In line with other compiled texts such as commonplace books and miscellanies, the size and content of manuscript recipe collections varied according to the interests of the creator.  Some collections were handsome folio volumes bound in gilded leather; others were unbound gatherings of quarto papers; others, small octavo notebooks. While a small number of collections were dedicated to either medical or culinary recipes, most of the notebooks contain a mixture of information useful for the everyday running of a household.   To modern minds, this mixture of information might appear striking; however, the practice of combining medical remedies with culinary or preserving recipes was a common one, partly due to the close association of food and medicine.  Contemporary medical theory placed emphasis upon regimens – recommendations of exercise, food intake and remedies – as a pathway to health.  Food was traditionally seen to provide substances to nourish the body and was used, alongside medicaments, to rebalance the humours.  Physicians and other medical practitioners alike employed regimens or dietary and exercise recommendations in addition to medicaments in order to heal the body.  At the same time, the equipment, ingredients and household space used to produce both medicines and food overlapped encouraging the pairing of the two types of knowledge.

Many of the notebooks presented here seemed to have had multiple lives serving different functions.  A number of the collections were written into notebooks which had once been put to other uses such as commonplace books or household accounts; notebooks once dedicated to recipes were also used by later owners for other purposes.  The types of texts which accompanied remedies varied a great deal from household books of rents and copies of land leases, to astrological and medical texts, to books of legal cases, to extracts from books of history, philosophy and poetry.  A number of the notebooks in the Folger collection were once commonplace books and traces of the headings used for the commonplace practice are still evident.  These include the notebook of John Conybeare (MS v.a. 467) and several anonymous notebooks dating from the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (MSS e.a.5, v.a. 159, v.a. 260 and v.a. 391).   Manuscript v.b. 197 witnesses the combination of recipes with a collection of sacred and secular songs.  We also see culinary recipes written into a book of sermons as in the case of the notebook of Dorothy Philips (MS v.a. 347).  The Hammond family, on the other hand, chose to combine their household account book with their family recipe collection. As a result, manuscript v.a. 422 contains accounts and an inventory of the family’s book collection in the front and recipes with a table of contents in the back.  The presence of other texts associated with the private sphere seems to reflect recipes’ place within the household.

Within the collections of recipes from the Folger Shakespeare Library which have been selected for this publication are three early printed books.  STC 296 copy 1 is the 1562 edition of the The Secretes of the Reuerend Maister Alexis of Piemont which bears the ownership note of George Coldham 1679 and a number of recipes on the back blank endpaper. STC 7648 copy 1 is an edition of Sir Thomas Elyot’s popular The Castell of Helth in which a handful of recipes have been entered at the end of the book.  The final printed book included in this selection is a 1602 Scottish Book of Common Order which has a recipe inscribed on its front fly-leaf.  The presence of these three volumes not only highlights the flourishing print tradition which existed alongside the above described manuscript notebooks but also draws our attention towards the interaction between the two – manuscript and print – traditions.  As the three examples from the Folger Library show, readers of contemporary practical handbooks often augmented the printed text with information gained from their compilation activities.  The creators of manuscript notebooks of recipes drew heavily upon the offerings of the early modern printer/booksellers for household instructions.  Popular books of secrets such as The Secrets of the Reverend Maister Alexis of Piemont and medical guides such as the works of Thomas Eylot served to provide early modern readers/householders with a plethora of practical information.  A number of the manuscripts included in this selection show traces of the compilers’ reading habits.  Thomas Sheppey’s huge recipe collection (MS v.a. 452) included selections copied from a number of other contemporary printed texts such as Nicholas Culpeper’s translation of the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis and the early seventeenth-century anonymous volume of medical information contains recipes copied from The Secrets of the Reverend Maister Alexis of Piemont.  It is important to note here that compilers did not restrict their ‘borrowing’ of groups of recipes to printed texts, but also took sections from other manuscript notebooks.  Sheppey annotated several of the recipes in his collections as from ‘old ms’ and the anonymous collection MS v.a. 361 contains a selection of recipes which had been approved by a ‘Lady H’.  The early modern recipe gatherer’s need to assemble a set of instructions meant that practical knowledge was transmitted in print, in manuscript and via oral transactions.

The 89 manuscripts from the Folger Shakespeare Library included in this microfilm publication well represent the manuscript recipe book genre.  Created by men and women throughout the early modern period, these texts demonstrate the types of practical knowledge which were essential for the day-to-day running of a household.  They also highlight the enthusiasm and need which drove the recipe gathering and exchange.  Finally, the varied appearance and content of these texts are revealing of early modern attitudes towards circulating information and compilation practices.    

Select Bibliography:

Abala, K., Eating Right in the Renaissance (Berkeley, CA, 2002).

Anselment, R., ‘“The Want of Health”: An Early Eighteenth-Century Self-Portrait of Sickness’, Literature and Medicine 15, 2 (1996), pp. 225-43.

Beal, P., ‘Notions in Garrison: The Seventeenth-Century Commonplace Book’, in W. Speed Hill (ed.), New Ways of Looking at Old Texts: Papers of the Renaissance Text Society, 1985-1991 (Binghamton, N.Y., 1993), pp. 131-47.

              , In Praise of Scribes: Manuscripts and their Makers in Seventeenth Century England (Oxford, 1998).

Beier, L., Sufferers and Healers: The Experience of Illness in Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1987).

Burke, V., ‘Ann Bowyer’s Commonplace Book (Bodleian Library Ashmole MS 51): Reading and Writing Among the “Middling Sort”’, Early Modern Literary Studies, 6 (2001), p.1-28 <URL http://purl.oclc.org/emls/06-3/burkbowy.html>. 

Carroll, R., ‘The Middle English Recipe as a Text-type’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 100 (1999), pp. 27-42.

Eamon, W., Science and Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture (Princeton, 1994).

Görlach, M., ‘Text-types and Language History: the Cookery Recipe’ in M. Rissanen, O. Ihalainen, T. Nevalainen and I. Taavitasainen (eds.), History of Englishes: New Methods and Interpretations in Historical Linguistics (Berlin and New York, 1992), pp. 736-61.

Hartley, D., Food in England (London, 1996).

Havens, E., ‘“Of Common Places, Or Memorial Books”: An Anonymous Manuscript on Commonplace Books and the Art of Memory in Seventeenth-century England’, Yale University Library Gazette, 76 (2002), pp. 136-53.

Hess, K., Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery (New York, 1991 and 1995).

Hewitt, J., ‘Medical Recipes of the Seventeenth Century’, The Archaeological Journal, 29 (1872), pp. 71-7.

Hunter, L., ‘Women and Domestic Medicine: Lady Experimenters, 1570-1620’ in Hunter and Hutton (eds.), Women, Science and Medicine 1500-1700, pp. 89-107.

              , ‘Books for Daily Life: Household, Husbandry, Behaviour’ in Barnard, McKenzie and Bell (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, pp. 514-32.

Hunter, M., ‘“The Reluctant Philanthropist: Robert Boyle and the ‘Communications of Secrets and Receits in Physick’”, in O.P. Grell and A. Cunningham (eds.) Religio Medici. Medicine and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England (Aldershot, 1996), pp. 247-72.

Love, H., Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford, 1993); reprinted as The Culture and Commerce of Texts: Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (Boston, 1998).

Marotti, A., Manuscript, Print and the English Renaissance Lyric (Ithaca and London, 1995).

Nagy, D.E., Popular Medicine in Seventeenth-Century England (Bowling Green, OH, 1988).

O’Hara May, J., ‘Foods or Medicines? A Study in the Relationship between Foodstuffs and Materia Medica from the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Century’, Transactions of the British Society for the History of Pharmacy, 1 (1971), pp. 61-97.

              , Elizabethan Dyetary of Health (Lawrence, KS, 1977).

Pelling, M., ‘Food, Status and Knowledge: Attitudes to Diet in Early Modern England’ in The Common Lot: Sickness, Medical Occupations and the Urban Poor in Early Modern England (London and New York, 1998), pp. 39-62.

Pennell, S., ‘Perfecting Practice? Women, Manuscript Recipes and Knowledge in Early Modern England’, in V. Burke and J. Gibson (eds.), Early Modern Women’s Manuscript Writing. Selected Papers from the Trinity/Trent Colloquium (Aldershot, 2004), pp. 237-58.

Pollock, L., With Faith and Physick: The Life of a Tudor Gentlewoman, Lady Grace Mildmay 1552-1620 (New York, 1993).

Porter, R. (ed.), Patients and Practitioners: Lay Perceptions of Medicine in Pre-Industrial Society (Cambridge, 1985).

Porter R. and D., In Sickness and in Health: The Experience of Illness in Seventeenth-Century England (Routledge, 1987).

Slack, P., ‘Mirrors of Health and Treasure of Poor Men: the Uses of Vernacular Medical Literature in Tudor England’, in C. Webster (ed.), Health, Medicine and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 237-74.

Spurling, H., Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book: Elizabethan Country House Cooking (London, 1986).

Stannard, J., ‘Rezeptliteratur as Fachliteratur’ in W. Eamon (ed.), Studies on Medieval Fachliteratur (Vrijheidslann, 1982), pp. 59-73.

Teigen, P., ‘This Sea of Simples: The Materia Medica in Three Early English Receipt Books’, Pharmacy in History, 22 (1980), pp.104-8.

Wear, A., Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine 1550-1680 (Cambridge, 2000).

Webster, C., The Great Instauration. Science, Medicine and Reform (London, 1975).

              , (ed.), Health, Medicine and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, 1979).


Field, C.,  ‘“Many Hands”: Early Modern Women’s Recipet Books and the Politics of Writing Food for the Nation’ (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland, 2006)

Leong, E., ‘Mrs Elizabeth Freke: Her Booke. The Recipe Collection and Remembrances of a Seventeenth-Century Gentlewoman’ (M.Sc. Dissertation, University of Oxford, 2001).

Leong, E., ‘Medical Recipe Collections in Seventeenth-century England: Knowledge, Text and Gender’ (D.Phil. Thesis, University of Oxford, 2006).

Macgill, E.R., ‘“This Book of Sovereigne Medicines”…An Edition of Folger MS. v.b. 129 (ca. 1570)’ (Unpublished Herb Society of America funded project, 1990 UMI order number LD01657).

Pennell, S., ‘The Material Culture of Food in Early Modern England, circa 1650-1750’ (D.Phil. Thesis, University of Oxford, 1997).

Stine, J., ‘Opening Closets: The Discovery of Household Medicine in Early Modern England’, (Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 1996).

Teigen, P., ‘Richard Seymer’s “Golden Workes of Physicke and Surgery” (ca. 1576): An Edition with Introduction and Glossary’ (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1976).

(1) E.R. Macgill, ‘“ This Book of Sovereigne Medicines”….An Editionn of Folger MS V.B. 129 (c. 1570)’ (Unpublished Herb Society of America Funded Project, 1990, UMI order number LD01657)

(2) New York, New York Public Library, MS ‘Collection of Household Recipes’, fol. 8v.

(3) London, British Library, Additional 45718, fol.

(4) Jennifer Stine, ‘Opening Closets: The Discovery of Household Medicine in Early Modern England’ (Stanford University Ph.D. Dissertation, 1996), pp. 146-9.

(5) Archdale Palmer, The Recipe Book 1659-1672, of Archdale Palmer, Gent., Lord of Wanslip Manor in the County of Leicestershire, ed. G. Udang (Wymondham, 1985), pp. 66-7.

(6) Ibid., pp. 8-9.

(7) Ibid., pp. 19-20 and 17-9.

(8) The notebook was compiled between 1640 and 1750.  Mary Granville was the daughter of Sir Martin Wescombe, who was the English Consul in Cadiz, Spain from 1663-1688.  Anne Granville D’Ewes married John D’Ewes of Wellesbourne, Warwickshire and resided in Bradley, Worcester: C. Field, ‘Kitchen Science and the Public/Private Role of the Housewife Practitioner’ (Unpublished conference paper given 14 May 2003 at the ‘Women on the Verge of Science’ Seminar at the Folger Institute), p. 4.

(9) London, British Library, Stowe MSS 1077-8.

(10) London,  Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, Western MS 184a, verso of second preliminary leaf.




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