As some of you know, EMPS has been working on transcribing a medicinal recipe book written by Mrs. Carlyon. After each recipe, Mrs. Carlyon includes small, decorative marks called “flourishes” (pictured below). Along with debating whether we should transcribe these marks as “flourish, flourish, flourish” or “flourishes,” we’ve been wondering: Why did Mrs. Carlyon include all these flourishes?
Embellishments and ornate marks are common in published documents during the early modern period, especially on document covers and chapter titles. Not all published works included them, but enough did that it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Mrs. Carlyon would have come across several different types of flourishes in her day.
What’s interesting is that Mrs. Carlyon includes flourishes in places that published works do not (at least, not that I can find). In the picture above, you can see that she drew three flourishes (or flourish, flourish, flourish) after the last sentence in the recipe so that the sentence line is carried over to the right margin of the page. Within this same book, she’s included as many as nine flourishes in order to carry the last sentence over to the right margin (although we haven’t finished transcribing this book yet, so this number could very well be higher).
Perhaps Mrs. Carlyon wanted to make sure the reader knew that the recipe had ended, and it was her way of telling them that she didn’t forget to include anything. Perhaps she was practicing her flourishes for a flourish-drawing contest. Perhaps she assumed that decorative embellishments were an established convention of recipe books, and included them in hers even though her book was never published. We aren’t exactly sure, but I’d be willing to bet that it was a combination of the former and the latter. This isn’t the only book that EMPS has come across that includes a plethora of flourishes like Mrs. Carlyon’s, so it’s likely that including embellishments was not uncommon in unpublished works either.
For a few weeks, I have been searching for the perfect early modern recipe to recreate for the holidays, so when this recipe appeared on the Twitter feed for Shakespeare’s World in early December, I knew I wanted to try it:
My friends and I are certainly macaron connoisseurs, though I’ve never tried to make them myself. With very few ingredients (all likely to be easily accessible at our local Earth Fare), I figured I’d give it a try.
This past Tuesday, after a lovely lunch reunion with Kailan (our founding EMPS president), Nadia (our current EMPS president), and Robin–who, as an anecdote, has recently returned from the first semester of his PhD program at UCLA for the holidays (and who is also a founding member)–I enlisted Nadia and Robin’s help in the aisles of Earth Fare to find blanched almond flour and rosewater. It’s not difficult to find blanched almond meal; it’s a staple of health foodies like myself everywhere.
As it turns out, though, rosewater is more difficult to obtain than we assumed. After wandering around for awhile (independent introverts that we are), we finally asked a staff member, who immediately asked us whether we were looking for something to apply topically or to ingest.
They didn’t have “edible” rosewater, but they did have a rosewater spray for the skin and hair. After a phone call to Nadia’s mom, a chemist, we determined that the rosewater spray–the ingredients being simply water and rose oil–was likely safe to ingest.
We returned to my messy kitchen, ingredients in hand, and the baking commenced.
Everything went pretty smoothly until we realized that there were not nearly enough wet ingredients to make something that would resemble a moldable dough–even after seven teaspoons of rosewater. We were worried that adding too much more rosewater would render the macarons much too flowery (we were right…more on that later).
We did what any good early modern bakers would do: add water. This did help with the consistency, but we were still pretty confused about being asked to “boile it in a dish upon coals.” Of course, we used an oven, but there’s no good way to boil a doughy paste. We heated the dough a bit before deciding that we were probably missing some kind of critical macaron-making knowledge and that we should try it our own way. I wonder how often this happened for our early modern bakers?
Next step: add egg whites. We cut the recipe in half (didn’t want to use the entire bag of almond flour for such an experiment), so we just used one. The recipe states that the whites should be “beaten,” but is otherwise nonspecific, so we went with “frothy.”
With the addition of the egg white, the dough was finally stiff enough to mold into wafer-like shapes, but at this point, we realized that knew very little about what we were doing. I hesitate to even admit that we hadn’t thought that early modern macarons might not be the same as their postmodern, cream-filled counterparts, but they certainly weren’t. Without a “wafer,” which we assume to be the nickname for a wafer-iron, we had to make do with a cookie sheet and hand-pressing our macarons into cookie/wafer-like shapes.
After about 20 minutes of baking in an oven set to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, we noticed that the bottoms of the macarons were beginning to burn, but they were nowhere near “dry through.” We tried a bite and were initially overpowered by the rosewater–turns out 7 teaspoons are excessive and rendered the dough much too flowery–but the texture was good overall. We transferred our little pastries to a glass pan and turned down the oven temp to 290, letting them bake as long as we felt comfortable. They still weren’t dry, but they certainly tasted better.
As we waited for them to cool so we could try the finished product, we tried to think through what we might have done wrong this time around. The macarons never did dry out; they turned soggy in the refrigerator after just a couple of days, clearly from the excess water. But we still weren’t sure what we missed. How would this have worked for an early modern baker?
The conclusion we came to is this: it’s the fault of the store-bought almond meal. I’ve never blanched my own almonds, but if we had followed the recipe exactly from start to finish–including the 24-hour almond-blanching soak–we would have begun with moist ground almonds instead of the dry powder that comes from a bag. Add to that the oils that aren’t necessarily present in pre-ground almond meal and we likely would have ended up with a naturally wet dough. We thus wouldn’t have needed to add water and they probably would have actually dried out in the oven.
And, now that we know (thanks to a Google search we should have done before commencing) early modern French macarons were more like thin wafers than the fluffy cookies we are so used to now, we’ll make them thinner next time and bake them longer on a lower heat.
Despite the mishaps, Nadia and I were pretty proud to have produced a recipe on our own, especially considering how much experiential knowledge of early modern baking we are obviously missing, despite our expertise in our own postmodern kitchens. I’m all the more impressed at how much our recipe book authors knew about food and medicine. We’ll be trying our hands at more recipes in the near future, I think, and we might even make more macarons. We have plenty of rosewater left, after all.
J. Murray Atkins Library, on UNC Charlotte’s campus, is currently hosting a Harry Potter exhibit through January 7th titled Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance, Science, Magic, and Medicine. In celebration, several events were coordinated, including a Fantastic Beasts drawing contest (did you see the move?), a Harry Potter movie marathon (epic), and Harry Potter Yoga (I don’t know what makes it Harry Potter, but sounds like fun)! However, the event I was most excited about was Lunch and Herbology at the greenhouse.
If you are ever in the area, you have to check out UNC Charlotte’s greenhouse and gardens, both which are free to the public. The greenhouse has several themed rooms including a Dinosaur Garden, Orchid Room, and an Economic Room with plants like a chocolate tree and vanilla vine. They are the only botanical garden in the Charlotte area that feature carnivorous and bog plants, and they offer classes that anyone, including the public can attend. Armed with my lunch (a salad and cinnamon doughnut holes), I met instructor Paula Gross and several other participants in the greenhouse classroom
During the class, I learned about some plants in J.K. Rowling’s world. The plants Harry and his friends encountered are meant to be fantastical, but Rowling based them all on real plants in our world. Some plants were completely made up, like the Shrivelfig, but were based on real plants. The figs we eat have flowers that develop on the inside of the fruit. Wasps travel inside the fruit to reach the flowers and die – that’s what makes fig Newtons taste so good. Devil’s Snare, one of the plants guarding the Chamber of Secrets, is not real, but there was a legend from a nineteenth century German herbal explorer. He visited Australia and reported that there was a man-eating tree that would grab, and strangle person—it would be an Australian plant, wouldn’t it…
Mandrakes, however, are real plants. It was believed that their roots took a human form, and when pulled up, they would scream and the scream would really kill you. Mandrake had medicinal properties and though to help with fertility. It was in demand, but was “dangerous” to get. If you do a google image search of “mandrake and dog” you will find many drawings of dogs tied to people with leaves on their head. This is how the mandrake was “safely” harvested. Instead of using earmuffs as protection, you would tie a dog to the root, stand outside of hearing range, and call the dog which would pull the root out of the ground. I’m not sure how the dog didn’t die, but it worked out somehow!
These plants were fun to learn about, but what I ultimately took away from the lecture was that plants, even if they are not fantastically magical like in Harry Potter’s universe, have so much power. They support every aspect of our life by harvesting and transforming energy from the sun, but we hardly notice them. One of the most important functions that plants perform is that of medicine. Today we make a distinction between botanists and medics, but that did not start until the English Renaissance. Botany is a descendant of herbal texts rather than medical texts, and is based on the scientific method. It is not medicine, rather, it is a way to understand plants and their ecology. Herbalism is more of a catch-all. The writers of the recipe books we transcribe included knowledge of plant ecology, medicine, and even cooking in the broader category of herbalism. In fact, many of the books we see are a mix of medicinal and culinary recipes.
As I write this, I am in the middle of finals week, and as a result of the stress, lack of sleep, and cold weather moving in, I feel the beginning of a sore throat coming on. I tend not to take conventional medicine if I don’t have to, so I thought about using one of the recipes in Mrs. Carlyon’s book, which we are currently transcribing. Pages 180-181 have promising recipes such as A Syrrope or water to break any colde and scower the pipes, it will besides strangly cleare the bloode and keepe the Lunges in good temper or the next recipe on that page simply titled, A Syrropp to restore Nature.
Instead, though, I will turn to a recipe that I learned from my mother, who learned it from her mother and so on; a recipe that was handed down through generations of women in my family just like the recipes in the Early Modern books. We like to call it a Witch’s Brew, and I find that the name fits nicely with this post. We call it that because my mother is a chemist and she likes to create concoctions. In addition, I think it works like magic to get rid of a sore throat/cold. I now see that the name can comment on the power of plants. Not only do plants have the power to heal, but they also have the power to hurt. Possessing this knowledge was once attributed to witches: even if you were only healing, you also had the knowledge, and therefore the power, to hurt.
If you find yourself with a scratchy throat this season, try this recipe. I have written it in the binder that holds all of our family recipes, and the amounts are even as ambiguous as those in early modern recipes! As you’re experimenting, keep in mind that lemon and honey, as well as garlic, are the most important ingredients. Try small batches and figure out what proportions work for you. Don’t be afraid to be liberal with the sweetness if that’s the way you like it. Once you have perfected your recipe, cackle like a witch and, revel in the power of the plants.
I’m not really sure who decided that the Sound of Music song should be played at Christmas, but I’m a fan. The holiday season is when we spend a lot of time reflecting on the events of the past year, so it seems apt to incorporate into our holiday-song-corpus one that encourages us to focus on that which makes us happy. That’s what I aim to do with this post: share a few of my favorite things from this year, including a few of the many wonderful things to be found among the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection.
Despite the widespread social chaos, 2016 was actually a great year for me personally. I graduated from UNC Charlotte in mid-May with my MA in English; I spent the entirety of June interning with Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) at the Folger; I toured London, Stratford, Oxford, Canterbury and the beautiful White Cliffs of Dover with my husband for our four-year wedding anniversary; and this past semester, I began teaching writing and literature full-time at my alma mater. The list could go on for ages.
One of my favorite events of the year, though, was the 2nd Annual EMROC Transcribathon. I, along with our EMPS officers, was invited to attend and participate onsite at the Folger this past November. Like the 2015 EMROC Transcribathon, it was an incredible bonding experience for those of us who were able to go. I could write for ages about the wonderful community that EMROC is, how they have always welcomed EMPS members with open arms to their events (in fact, I wrote on this very thing for their blog after the 2015 Transcribathon), and how EMPS spent our evenings ordering in delicious DC food and drinking wine and talking into the late hours of the night (one of those nights was spent contemplating the election results, which had come in while we were there). What I’d like to do here, though, is share some of the amazing things we found during our day in the Reading Room.
EMPS + The Folger
Given my interest in Christopher Marlowe and early modern print culture (and that my writing sample for PhD applications concerns both), I was excited to find out that the Folger owns a few first quartos of some of Marlowe’s works, including his translation of Lucan’s first book and the earliest known printed version of The Jew of Malta. I called up each one not really expecting to be able to handle them, but to my surprise, they are not restricted. My favorite was this 1594 quarto of Dido, Queen of Carthage, one of three extant copies and the only contemporary printing of the play (Marlowe died in 1593):
I also called up this recipe, not realizing that it was hastily scribbled in the cover of a Scottish book of Psalms. I won’t transcribe the whole recipe here for sake of space (and also because this is likely going to be the subject of a 2017 blog post), but for interested parties, it calls for “halfe a pint of frog spawne.” Sounds delicious (not really).
I can’t take credit for the next discovery (this one is thanks to Monterey Hall), but it’s one that intrigued all of us! She called up the Lady Castleton manuscript that we transcribed for the Transcribathon, and we found a recipe that intermingles medical knowledge, plant knowledge, and astrological knowledge. This, too, will become the subject of a 2017 blog, but for now, here’s the part that most interested us (see caption for transcription):
Eileen spent most of her time in the Reading Room downstairs at the microfilm readers, examining images of a manuscript on which she wrote her senior honors thesis. You may get to read more about her project at a later time, but we spent some time discussing her unusual discovery that parts of the manuscript that were thought to have been written by one person were actually written by another.
I have so many more photos and stories to share, but for now, I leave you with this defaced portrait of Shakespeare, which I ran across in a very large (and very strange) commonplace book:
I’m not sure what that’s all about, but here’s to all of these interesting discoveries and the many more we hope to have at our next trip to the Folger!
In place of a more casual post (which tends to be my style), this week we’re focused more on academic works. I’m currently working on researching the cross-section of the fields of medicine and technical communication during the English Renaissance, and thought I’d share some of my findings! Are you ready?
Although technical communication did not exist as a field during the early modern period, there are several forms of technical documents that were published in the field of medicine. Most of the technical instructions on midwifery were written and published by men, even though women were traditionally the ones practicing midwifery. Typical, right?
It wasn’t until 1671 that a woman named Jane Sharp wrote and published her own work on midwifery instruction, titled The Midwives Book. Sharp conducted extensive research by reading and studying medical works published by men in the field and combined their knowledge with her own work as a midwife of 30 years. This was the first piece of technical writing in the field of medicine published by a woman in England, and (from what I understand) only one of four books to be published by a woman during the English Restoration. That’s a HUGE achievement considering the cultural gender roles during this time.
In short, women’s roles in medicine during the early modern period are largely understood through these works of technical instruction. When we study history (particularly in medicine), we tend to focus on the important male figures, and less on important women. The history (nor herstory) behind the field of technical communication hasn’t really been explored. Elizabeth Tebeaux (and a few other scholars/powerwomen) attempted to fill some of this gap, but it still remains wide open.
On Monday, November 7th, the EMPS officers piled into our rental car for our trip to the Folger Shakespeare Library, the site of EMROC’s 2nd Annual Transcribathon. We passed snacks, tuned into our new favorite musical, and shared worries over the graduate school applications looming over each of our heads. Since EMPS is such a big part of our current research interests, we began discussing where it fit into our “statements of purpose” that detail where we’re coming from and where we hope to go academically. In doing this, we discovered that we each view our work with these recipe manuscripts differently. Our research questions and macro-level considerations vary greatly, even as we all pore over the exact same line of nearly undecipherable text. We’re a small group of bookish folks, meeting in small places, with some very grand goals. Line by line, we’re:
expanding our understanding of textuality and where meaning comes from
considering the collaborative nature of creating a recipe book
recovering voices of early modern women left out of the canon
redefining what “counts” as literature
considering how digitizing and transcribing these texts promotes accessibility of them beyond elite academic spheres
resurfacing the place females had as prominent medical practitioners in this period despite their lack of publication
exploring the relationships that people had with nature and each other
viewing manuscripts through an archival lens, paying homage to the calculated inclusions and complex organizational systems used
Here’s what all this looks like in practice:
Before we can begin any textual analysis, we first have to read the text, a task made difficult by a lack of regular spelling and letter formation. Here’s an example of one of our favorite finds at the Folger last week:
This particular manuscript, transcribed by EMPS member Monterey Hall, is written in a style of handwriting called secretary hand, popular during the 16th and 17th centuries. As you can see, it’s a difficult hand to read for a number of reasons: the script is cramped and the ink is smudged and faded in places. It was written in multiple hands (both male and female) and contained some terrible love poetry, a list of funeral expenses, as well as a series of bawdy jokes (pictured above—think priests and wenches).
Judging by the text, I draw multiple conclusions about the authors and its use: it was kept solely for personal use among friends, these authors were likely not professional writers of any sort, and they had a sense of humor as well as romantic sensibilities. Considering the ledger mingled with jokes and poetry, it’s possible that they were disorganized and had difficulty keeping track of their money.
To demonstrate the variability among hands, I asked a number of students, faculty, and staff at UNC Charlotte to provide a sample of their handwriting in a style that they use for their own personal notes, much like the example above. I wondered what handwriting says about a person. What can and can’t we garner about an author though paleography and graphology?
Ina short questionnaire, I asked the participants to draw conclusions about themselves based on their handwriting:
“What do you think your handwriting says about you?”
You can probably tell that I write quickly, which perhaps suggests that I don’t like to waste any time (or that I’m just always rushed). I’d like to think you can tell from my handwriting that I’m also artsy, but that may be hopeful wishing.
It says that I have a lot to say but I can’t write fast enough to match my thoughts.
I’m organized and can get flustered sometimes, but adaptable.
I know that I probably press down harder when I write so that may reveal that I am a more anxious person. Also, I tend to group my words a little closer when I write so maybe that could reveal something about my desire to be closer to others.
I think that my handwriting describes how I am a neat and tidy person, but I can also get messy – like when I’m working in my garden.
I think it says that I am laid back, but also driven.
I think it shows that my thoughts oftentimes run away with me, and my hand can’t physically keep apace with the rate at which I’m trying to put my thoughts to paper.
The answers from my contemporary participants were a pleasure to read. After professing that they had never really thought about it, each of them provided such insightful connections between their hands and their character. I wondered, what might we know about these early modern authors if we heard it straight from their mouths?
As I pondered this blog post on the eve of the holiday season, my thoughts kept coming back to a recipe that captured my imagination last year when EMPS was transcribing the Cruso manuscript: “To hash a Calves head.”
Written in what we assume to be Mary Cruso’s hand, this recipe calls for meat from at least three different animals and uses some cuts that American consumers might be unfamiliar with today, such as a calves’ head (I have been informed that calves’ brain is more popular internationally). I am reminded of our modern day “turducken,” the legendary chicken-within-a-duck-within-a-turkey that someone, somewhere, crafts during the holidays. The hashed calves’ head was likely a recipe that drew the Crusos and their dear ones together in similar awe during times of celebration.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate what this recipe is asking us to do. We are to “Take a Calves head” – which implicitly means go find one, whether it be in the barn or the local butchery – and to slice it in half, filling it with pork, dairy, spices, shellfish, anchovies, meatballs (beef, perhaps?) and, last but not least, citrus fruit. Unless the Crusos had an incredibly well-stocked farm and managed to grow cloves and lemons in Britain, much of this amounts to a pretty serious shopping trip – the kind you would undertake to impress your friends and relatives with a special treat, much as we might do during Thanksgiving.
What connects this recipe to the holidays is not only its radical variety of ingredients. The presentation is important – it’s simply not enough to stew all this meat together and serve it although it were any other rainbow-of-meat casserole. One should “lay the / halfe head on the top of the meat” and later “lay Slices of / Lemon and bacon up and down upon it” before they “serue / in to the Table.” Focusing on instructions for serving at the end of the text is another clue that this recipe is meant to bring people together.
Although “To hash a Calves head” is a surprising recipe that elicited laughter from us as contemporary readers, the festivity of the recipe is what most endeared it to me. I like to imagine the early-modern Crusos celebrating togetherness, much in the same way my friends and family will this season, and in the way we do whenever we come together to study these fascinating texts.
Excerpt from page 3v|4r of X.d.24: Cookbook of Mary Cruso and Timothy Cruso
To hash a Calves head
Take a Calves head wash it and halfe boile it then take it up and
cut it in two cut one halfe in slices take some of the broth and larg
mace nutmeg sliced. some whole pepper and cloues some sweet
hearbs and sweet butter set it on the fire when it is warm put
in your meat let it stew half an hour then put in ox pallets –
blanched and sliced Coxcombs litle slices of lean bacon take the
other halfe of head sliced cros set it before the fire to broile then
take some Oysters stew them in their own licquour fry some forcd
meat balls and some slices of bacon – shread an anchouye, put it into
the meat a Stewing with a litle grauy then garnish your dish put
it into the meat a stewing with a Litle grauy then put your hash in lay the
halfe head on the top of the meat then put a picee of butter in the
Licqvour put the Licqvour in the dish upon the meat lay Slices of
Lemon and bacon up and down upon it with stewed and fryed –
Oysters and forced meat balls Laid up and down upon the hash serue
in to the Table thicken the Sauce with 3 or 4 yolks of eggs and put
it in the dish – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
In October 2015, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we started the Early Modern Paleography Society. Our faculty mentor, Dr. Jen Munroe, recently wrote a post for the Recipes Project about our founding, which inspired us to reflect on our achievements this past year and to update everyone on just how quickly EMPS has grown.
EMPS has achieved many of our initial goals. We settled into a rhythm for group meetings, which doubled in size during the spring semester, and joined forces with Berlin transcriber Julia Jaegle to finish a double-keyed transcription of the “Cookbook of Timothy and Mary Cruso” (Folger ms X.d.24). Our founding officers traveled to the first annual EMROC transcribathon in October and contributed to the completion of the Winche manuscript transcription; two of them were subsequently offered internships with the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) database project, transcribing and vetting hundreds more pages of their manuscript collection in June. Perhaps our greatest achievement was our first EMPS transcribathon in April 2016, which hosted over 70 attendees locally and across the U.S. and resulted in a completed transcription of an anonymous 17th century cookbook (Folger ms W.b.653). For the first year of a student organization, these are amazing achievements and we are very proud.
We began our second year with many new goals and EMPS continues to grow at a rapid pace. We planned from the outset to send our officers to the second annual EMROC transcribathon in November and are excited to see another project through to completion. Another of the first things we did was enlist the help of a graduated member to develop a logo, which we love and feel represents the spirit of EMPS perfectly:
As we write this post, social media banners and t-shirt designs are also in the works. We have also created Facebook and Twitter pages, which we update regularly, to share more immediately what we’re up to and what we find among the pages of the texts we transcribe. And, while many of our members continue to contribute blog posts to EMROC and the Recipes Project, we also launched our own EMPS blog. In providing this platform, we encourage our members to actively contribute not just to our projects but also to the academic and social community that surrounds them.
In terms of our meetings, most of our members have become confident in their paleography skills and have asked to be responsible for transcription of their own pages. Instead of spending all of our group time transcribing one page together, then, we assign pages and work collaboratively when needed. This has resulted in much more efficient transcription time, and we’re seeing the effects of this change: since our first meeting this year, we’ve triple-keyed 8 pages, double-keyed 16, and single-keyed 2 pages from the Carlyon manuscript (Folger ms V.a.388). This almost meets our single-keyed page total from meetings last year!
We’ve also expanded our meetings to include other activities. During our last meeting, we used Dr. Munroe’s alembic still to distill rosewater, a process we had read about but never seen in-person. We also held a workshop on Secretary Hand for our members: we taught the alphabet and worked through the ingredients list of a recipe for a “wounde drincke” (Folger ms V.a.140). At our next meeting, we’re hosting a local herbalist, who is going to teach us about modern herbal medicine and the process of making tinctures.
Spring semester will bring even more exciting EMPS activities. Experimenting with cooking is our favorite way way of bringing recipes to life, but this year, we endeavor to recreate a recipe for ink in order to try writing our own recipes the way early moderns did: from memory, and with quills. In addition, we will start transcription on a new recipe book dedicated solely to EMPS; there is nothing like the thrill of finishing a full keying of a book cover to cover. Of course, a year in EMPS wouldn’t be complete without the culmination of our transcription efforts: the Second Annual EMPS Transcribathon.
Even though EMPS seems unstoppable, there is one difficulty that we are facing: recruiting members. Who could resist the enthusiasm of members, the challenge of a difficult hand, and the plain ol’ fun of transcribing during EMPS meetings? Usually no one, but our current recruits have only been English majors because that is where the organization originated. In order to reach out to students all over campus, we will be contacting faculty in departments such as history, gender studies, and nursing, to offering a short transcription workshop for their classes.
Like one of the herbs used in the recipes we transcribe, EMPS is growing strong and healthy at UNC Charlotte with its amazingly dedicated officers and enthusiastic members to tend it. Many of our members will be graduating in May, however, and moving on to complete additional degrees at other universities. Although they will be missed, we know they will be carrying an EMPS seed with them, a seed that may sprout EMP Societies across the country, and perhaps even the globe.
This semester, EMPS has been diligently transcribing pages from A booke of such medicines as have been approved by the speciall practize of Mrs. Corlyon. If you’ve been following along on Twitter, you know of the many recipes with surprising ingredients or measurements that we’ve found, like a “lappfull” of mallow leaves or a cough remedy requiring the shoving of a licorice stick and piece of linen down your throat. One recent recipe, though, really caught our eye:
An other Medecine for the Stitche Take a turfe of the paring of a flower, where much goynge is, broile it vppon a Grediron and bast it wth vineger on both the sides, and when it is well broyled, then putt it betwixt the fouldes of a linnen clothe and lay it to the place where your paine is, as hotte as you can well endure it, and as the paine shifteth followe it and wthall you muste drincke of the powder of Baye berryes. Doe this as long as you shall feele cause, and it will helpe you.
The recipe is for a fairly standard remedy for side stitches. Take some ingredients, heat them up, make a hot pad of sorts and put it where it hurts. What’s fascinating about this recipe, though, is the phrasing of the first two lines.
Nadia (EMPS President) and I each initially keyed this recipe without consulting the other, but when we spoke about it we discovered that we were equally puzzled by the first two lines. We found ourselves together in my office, poring over the digital image of the manuscript page, flipping between the image, the Oxford English Dictionary, and Google to figure out just what this recipe’s author is asking us to do when we make this “Medecine for the Stitche.”
What really drew our attention was the second clause, “where much goynge is.” What is that supposed to mean? What’s a “paring of a flower?” Or is the phrase “turfe of the paring” instead of “paring of a flower?” Though it seems to clearly say “turfe,” we debated whether the third word might actually be “turse” – both words make sense depending on the context (a “turse” is a bundle, which, if you’re collecting flower shavings and splinters, makes sense; a “turfe” is, as it sounds, a piece of ground cut in such a way as to preserve the grasses and herbs that sit atop the soil). We assume “where much goynge is” refers to ground where flowers have been trampled by people or animals who have worn a path through them. And later in the recipe, the writer tells us to put this concoction, which appears to have been subjected to an early modern grill, “betwixt the fouldes of a linnen clothe.” If we’re right about the trampled ground, and if we have to grill and place the thing in a linen cloth to make some kind of heating pad, then “turfe” makes more sense. I can’t imagine trying to grill a bundle of flower splinters on a gridiron like this one, they’d simply fall right through into the fire:
We’re still not entirely sure what Mrs. Carlyon (if she is, indeed, our writer here) is asking for here, or what a “turfe of the paring of a flower” might look like, but we did come to three conclusions about the whole process:
During EMPS meetings, we always discuss how much these recipe books assume that the user possesses specific kinds of knowledge, and this recipe is a great illustration. Our recipe’s author assumes that the user knows what it means to “take a turfe of the paring of a flower, where much goynge is,” even if we don’t, 400 years later.
The phrasing itself is so dependent on understanding the whole of the recipe. Part of the reason Nadia and I were so confused about what’s happening here is because we don’t really know what the phrase “where much goynge is” means or how the words in the first clause work together. We assume that the first word is likely “turfe” simply because we’ve worked through the rest of the recipe and it seems to make the most logical sense (as far as we can envision, anyway).
As paleographers and contributors to this community, we often stress the importance of collaboration when it comes to transcribing and understanding these manuscripts we work with. I myself have written on this very thing, as have other members of EMPS (see Eileen’s post). But it really is these behind-the-scenes collaborations that take place in tiny windowless offices or basement boardrooms or on your living room sofa that make this work so exciting. As we unpacked the recipe, Nadia and I fed off each other’s energy, tossing around ideas and potential meanings, excited to share our confusion and excitement with all of you. As I’ve said before, the fact that a community which studies and recreates and celebrates these recipes exists 400 years after this book was handwritten – that is the real magic of what we do. Recipes are still doing what they were created to do: bring us all together.
Transcription. When first approached about the topic, I wanted to back away with my hands in the air. But when your sister is the vice president of the transcription club at your university, you say yes. Always.
I milked getting involved. I had class, work, millions of papers due all on the same day, because we all know professors congregate and select their due dates at the same time. But the day finally came where I couldn’t say “no.” The day of the transcribathon.
Now, let me tell you, transcription sounds extremely intimidating. Trying to decipher handwriting from hundreds of years ago and then submitting it to a huge database creates a large amount of pressure, especially if you are a perfectionist like me. But I said yes. Free food and prizes were involved, and we all know how much college kids love free things…especially food.
Walking into the transcribathon, I saw a few familiar faces which made the awkwardness subside a little bit (shoutout to Professor Orbaugh for being my computer buddy!). There were circular tables, and everybody was just doing their own thing, which helped diffuse some of the anxiety I had going in. It also was a drop in, so I didn’t have to stay for the full time, which made for a perfect escape plan. The instructions were simple and direct: log onto the website, pick a page and make sure to ALWAYS SAVE YOUR WORK. The book being transcribed was a 17th century cookbook. I chose a page of old wine recipes. Let me tell y’all, people knew how to make wine back in the day. Some of the recipes called for 50 pounds of sugar! It also involved “scuming.” If you want to know what “scuming” is, get involved in a community like EMPS.
Throughout the event, competitions were held to see who could transcribe the most words correctly, and there was a panel discussing the importance of transcribing recipe books. There was also a recipe to try from the cookbook itself! Candied angelica is one of the strangest things I have ever eaten to this day. But the best part of the transcribathon was not only the information I gained, but the friends I made. When I struggled through countless words that I had no idea what in the heck they were, I asked the people next to me for help. Some of the answers we came up with were quite hilarious.
What I’ve concluded: transcription is awesome. New friends are awesome. Preserving history is especially awesome. So if you’re on the fence about coming to a meeting, or getting involved, a word of advice: do it! You won’t regret it. Not only are you helping future generations to look back on the past, you are connecting with other scholars from around the world, literally. Overall, the transcribathon was a great experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I would encourage anyone that has a love for both History and English to at least check out transcribing, you won’t be disappointed.