Historical recipes – both good and bad

I was interviewed by Andy Twigge for BBC Radio Derby today and we discussed a few recipes from our many historical recipe books.  I made a couple of things for him to try: one was the gluten-free rice cake which I’ve blogged about before, and the other was Jumbles from Mary Swanwick’s 1740s recipe.

The one I didn’t make, but rather tickled me, was from a seventeenth century book.  It’s from the archive of the Gell family of Hopton Hall and like all such home recipe books, it contains a mix of medicinal and cookery recipes.   I would strongly recommend that you don’t try this one at home.

Recipe for convulsion fits

Reference no: D258/32/15/1

Here’s my transcription with modernised spelling and punctuation:

Mrs Evelyn’s excellent powder for Convulsion Fits

Take a dozen young moles, flay them, draw them and quarter them, lay them abroad in a dish and dry them in an oven until they will powder. Take elecampane root, cleanse, slit and dry them in an oven to powder. Take red peony roots and Jews ears [a kind of mushroom], powdered after the same manner.  Take also a little of the                      of a healthy woman when it is burnt to powder.  Beat them severally and take of each powder a like quantity by weight.  Mix them well together and keep them close tied up for use.

Take of it 3 mornings before and after the full and change, in a spoonful of black cherry water as much as will lie on a shilling, fasting, and drink 2 or 3 spoonful of black cherry water after it.

The black cherry water definitely sounds like the best bit!  I’m not entirely sure about ‘the full and change’ but I think that is referring to the moon, the full moon often being seen as the culprit for fits of insanity.  As for what you should be powdering from a healthy woman, if you have any suggestions, let us know in the comments.

You can hear snippets of my conversation with Andy Twigge by listening to his lunchtime radio programme every day this week at around 2.15pm – or catch up with it on the BBC Radio iPlayer.  I’ll post the Jumbles recipe later this week, for those that would like to give it a try.  I promise that it’s much more palatable than the recipe above!

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