“Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron”

Ingredients, instructions, and the early modern recipe book

Authored by: Gitanjali Shahani , Emily S. Farris

Routledge Companion to Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early British Colonial World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472479945
eBook ISBN: 9781315613772
Adobe ISBN:


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This essay takes as its subject, one of the most popular seventeenth-century genres in print—the book of receipts. An itemized list of heuristic instructions, early modern receipts straddle the realm of the culinary, the cosmetic, and the curative. Women were as likely to find in them advice on how to make a remedial water for the plague, as they were to see stencils for cutting their pies and secrets for augmenting their breasts. Printed receipt collections, in particular, provide us with an invaluable understanding of early modern women’s textual practices and material labors, functioning as a kind of interface between the two. Drawing on the recipe collections of Hannah Woolley as a case study, our essay turns to particular ingredients and particular instructions associated with their incorporation into domestic life. But as our title suggests, the ingredients and instructions we examine here are not always familiar or quotidian. Drawn from the incantations of Macbeth’s witches as they stir their brew, our title points to the unknown, even sinister, aspects of approximation and experimentation that recur in the printed receipt collections of the seventeenth century. We argue that this mode of experimentation reveals much about women’s work and workspace in the period. We examine the kitchen as a kind of laboratory of trial and error in which ingredients continually took new forms and were put to new uses. We look to both domestic ingredients and newly imported commodities and the printed “how-to” instructions associated with their use in the receipts of the period.

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