RECEIPT BOOKS, c1575-1800, from the Folger Shakespeare Library
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 toothache? Receipt Books opens up 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 Shakesperean England
- The cleaning of clothes
This project brings together over 80 manuscripts from the holdings of the Folger Shakespeare 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 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.
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.
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.