Early modern receipt books may be defined as collections of food recipes, medicinal remedies and household tips. These handwritten manuscripts were generally compiled by the housewife; she would use the receipt book as a means to record her own recipes as well as those borrowed from friends, neighbours, family, and even doctors and surgeons. Receipt books were highly valued and were often passed down through the generations; they were even formally bequeathed in wills. These manuscripts provide intriguing evidence of the homemade medicinal remedies in use in the early modern period. This blog is focused on a recipe for ‘Gripe Water’ from a receipt book attributed to Mary Chantrell, dated 1690. The manuscript can be found at the Wellcome Library in London and it is also available in a digitised format online via their website.
The layout of this recipe is interesting: it is written in prose, and there are no separate lists of ingredients or utensils as is often the case in modern-day recipes. It must have been rather difficult for early moderns to make sure they had all the ingredients required before starting to make the recipe!
One of the most striking things about this particular recipe is the number of individual ingredients used: ‘gilley flowers’, ‘rosemary flowers’, ‘borage flowers’, ‘blacke cheryes’, ‘strawberyes’, ‘rasberyes’, ‘mint’, ‘balme’, ‘angellicoe’, ‘rue’, ‘morella cheryes’ ‘coriander seeds’, ‘caraway seeds’, aneseeds’, ‘nutmeg’, ‘cloves’, ‘mace’, ‘cinamon’, ‘ginger’, ‘pennyroyall’, ‘brandy’, ‘sherye’ and ‘white wine’. Some of these herbs and spices were difficult to cultivate in seventeenth-century English gardens necessitating their purchase from specialist suppliers. Exotic spices, such as ginger, mace, cinnamon and nutmeg often had to be imported. The housewife would need to know where to obtain these individual items as well as how to judge their quality in the making of this remedy.
The quantities of ingredients is notable: a gallon each of strawberries and raspberries, 12 pounds of cherries, three gallons of brandy, a gallon of white wine and a gallon of sherry! Such quantities would have made the recipe expensive. Perhaps the large amounts used were due to the recipe being made for a large household, or maybe the intention was to share or exchange the final product amongst others in the local community. Perhaps the ‘Gripe water’ would be made once and then kept and stored for future use over the coming months or even years.
Finally, the equipment used is interesting. The recipe mentions the use of a ‘Limbeck such as the Apothecaryes use’. This ‘Limbeck’ (more commonly termed an ‘alembic’), was an apparatus used for the purposes of distillation. Using this kind of equipment supports the notion that activities commonly associated with the history of science might be performed in the home, and encourages us to consider the domestic environment as an ‘experimntal space’.
Early modern receipt books, like this one, raise many questions. But they also provide us with a tantalising window through which to view early modern domestic medicine.
- Lynette Hunter, ‘Women and domestic medicine,’ in Women, Science and Medicine 1500-1700, eds. Lynette Hunter and Sarah Hutton (United Kingdom: Sutton Publishing, 1997).
- Elaine Leong, ‘Collecting knowledge for the family,’ Centaurus55, (2013): 81-103.
- Anne Stobart, Household Medicine in Seventeenth-Century England(London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).