Tag Archives: health


Hippocrates, engraving by Peter Paul Rubens, 1638. Image via Wikipedia.

In this blog, I’m looking drink rather than food, and like the drinks I’ve looked at before, this one is alcoholic. Early modern people drank rather a lot of alcohol, and it wasn’t just reserved for an evening tipple – beer, and especially ale, were regularly drunk throughout the day with meals, even breakfast. Water was generally too unsanitary to drink, and tea and coffee entered the national diet sometime around the mid-to-late 17th century, so for the majority of the early modern period were not widely consumed. By the 18th century tea and coffee were very popular indeed, but heavy drinking had certainly not gone away – just look at the gin crisis.

Anyway, early modern society had what you might call a complex relationship with alcohol, though I suppose the same could be said about many societies, including our own. Drunkenness was a problem much bemoaned by many 16th and 17th century writers, such as James Hart of Northampton who, in his treatise on health and morality Klinike, or the Diet of the Diseased (1633), wrote that “Drunkenness is an excessive and unseasonable powring downe of strong drinke” that was the cause of “mischiefs there insuing to the soule, body, and good”. On the other hand, alcoholic drinks were a key part of the everyday diet, they provided nourishment, and in some cases, they were used as medicine.

This is where hippocras comes in. Also spelled hypocras, ypocras, ipocras (and others I’m sure), this was an ancient drink, popular during medieval times as well, very popular at banquets and for medicinal purposes. Hippocras takes its name from the ancient physician Hippocrates, he of the Hippocratic oath fame, though only indirectly, it is in fact named after the hippocras sleeve. This was an invention of Hippocrates, essentially a bag used to purify water. Presumably this lends its name to hippocras as the drink is made by filtering spiced wine through one of these bags. The medicinal associations of the name, however, were quite fitting given the various uses of the drink. In one 1612 text, Child-birth by Jacques Guillemeau, hippocras is suggested to help “the weake and dainty women” during labour, or alternatively they can “be fed with yelkes of egges, cullis, a tost with wine and sugar”.

The end to a great feast would often involve “wafers and hippocras” being served together. This was either served after the banquet course or was part of it. Banquet courses themselves generally consisted of comfits, sugar-plums and other kinds of sweet foods. Robert May in The Accomplisht Cook (1660) suggests serving wafers and hippocras, along with other banquetting foods, at the end two of his suggested menus:

First set forth mustard and brawn, pottage, beef, mut|ton, stewed pheasant, swan, capon, pig, venison, bake, custard, leach, lombard, blanchmanger, and jelly; for standard venison roste kid, fawn and coney, bustard, stork, crane, peacock with his tail, hearn-shaw, bittern, woodcock, partridge, plover, rabbets, great birds, larks, dowcets, pampuff, white leach, amber-jelly, cream of almonds, curlew, brew, snite, quail, sparrow, martinet, pearch in jelly, petty-pervis, quince bak’t, leach, dewgard, fruter-sage, blandrells, or pippins with carawayes in comfits, wafers, and ipocras…

…and later in another menu…

…Fresh sturgeon, bream, pearch in jelly, a jole of salmon, sturgeon, welks, apples, and pears rosted with sugar can|dy, figs of molisk, raisins, dates capt with minced ginger, wafers, and ipocras.

Medicinal or not, hippocras was a popular drink – but did it taste good? I shall soon be finding out when I try making some! It does involve leaving the wine and spices to infuse for a while though, so I won’t be posting the results right away. I have a feeling this is going to be a good one though, my previous adventures in early modern drinks have been some of the nicest things I’ve cooked. Anyway, thanks for reading, come back for the recipe in a week or so!


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Easter Special: Part 1 – Eggs in Green Sauce: History and Background

362 by Jaypeg used under a Creative Commons License – Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This week I’m looking at eggs, or more specifically, Easter eggs. I have previously written a little bit about eggs in general, you can read the post here.

Of course, eggs are associated with Easter today, and it seems that they were in the Early Modern period too. Eggs, amongst other things, were forbidden during lent. Once Easter arrived, they were back on the menu. Easter eggs appear in a proverb, recorded by John Ray in A collection of English proverbs (1678), “I’ll warrant you for an Egg at Easter” – the sense of the proverb (as far as I can tell) is something like “as sure as eggs at Easter”. James Shirley appears to have been particularly fond of a related egg-based saying – he uses the phrase “not worth an egg at Easter” in at least two plays, The Example (1637) and Love’s Cruelty (1640). Incidentally, both of those plays, and several others by Shirley, as in the Petworth collection. . One of these will likely be making an appearance soon on my other blog. Clearly, eggs were considered a common food at Easter time.

Thomas Dawson’s The second part of the good hus-wiues iewell (1597) offers some advice on the foods to be eaten at Easter-time. Here is what he has to say:

Fyrst on that day yee shall serue a calfe sodden and blessed, and sodden egs with greene sauce, and set them before the most principall estate, and that Lorde because of his high estate, shal depart them al about him, then serue potage as worts, roots or browes, wt béefe, mutton, or veale, & capons that be coloured with saffron, and baked meats: and the second course, Jussel with mamony, & rosted endoured, & pigions with bake meates, as tarts chewets, and flaunes, and other, after the disposition of the cookes: and at supper time diuers sauces of mutton or veale in broth, after the ordinance of the steward and than chickins with bakon, veale, rost pigions or lamb, & kid rost, with the heade and the purtenance of Lambe and pigges féet, with vineger and parcely theron, and a tansie fryed, and other bake meates

Quite a feast! Sadly I will only be cooking one of these foods this year, however. For my Easter dish I will be cooking “sodden egs with greene sauce”. “Sodden” means boiled, rather than “wet” or “soaking” as it does today. According to the OED it is the strong past participle of “seethe”, suddenly the phrase “seething with anger” makes sense now I know it means “boiling”.

There seem to be as many different ways of making green sauce as there are cookbooks – it is a herb based sauce, usually made with sorrel, along the lines of pesto, mint sauce, or salsa verde. Henry Butts’ 1599 regimen Dyets Dry Dinner  describes some of the properties of green sauce – “Eaten with flesh (as mustard) exciteth appetite: commendeth meates to the Palate: helpes concoction: breaketh fleame in the stomack”. Butts also gives a “Story for Table-talke” (table talk being a kind of anecdote or other interesting information told at dinner) relating to green sauce:

This kinde of Sauce, I neuer tasted my selfe: yet am bold to communicate and commend it to my friends, as I find it described by the Italian Freitagio. The Italian (as all the world knowes) is most exquisite in the composition of all sorts of Condiments, they being indeede the better part of his Diet. All kind of Greene-sauce, is questionlesse best in season, while herbs retain their full strength and perfect vigour.

I’ll be cooking the eggs in green sauce later today and will post the recipe shortly after.

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Golden Apples: Part 1

Peter Paul Rubens, Judgement of Paris. C 1636. (image via wikipedia)

As I said in my last post, I’ve been working on a piece of of a chapter about about Thomas Dekker’s The Pleasant Comedy of Old Fortunatus – I will be posting something in my new blog later this week about it. Anyway, I’ve been looking at the use of food as a prop in the play, specifically golden apples.

Golden apples were a popular trope in art and literature during the early modern period. The apples from the tree of knowledge are sometimes depicted as golden, but a more common reference point is the apple of discord, from the Greek myth of the Judgement of Paris. Plucked from the garden of Hesperides by the goddess Eris, and engraved with the word “fairest”, the apple is rolled into a wedding party. On finding it, Aphrodite, Athena and Hera ask Paris to judge which of them the apple should belong to, who is the fairest. Paris chooses Aphrodite, and as a reward, she “gives” Helen of Troy to him, which results in the Trojan War. The apple of discord is often cited as the starting point of the war, Early Modern sources often place it as such. In one of his “Songs and Sonnets”, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey refers to it as:

The golden apple that the Troyan boy,

Gaue to Uenus the fayrest of the thre,

Which was the cause of all the wrack of Troy

Spenser also refers to the apple of discord in The Fairie Queene. The apple itself is once again positioned as the catalyst for the war:

 Here eke that famous golden Apple grew,

The which emongest the Gods false Ate threw:

For which th’Idaean Ladies disagreed,

Till partiall Paris dempt it Venus dew,

And had of her, fayre Helen for his meed,

That many noble Greekes and Troians made to bleed

Spenser demonstrates how Paris’ choice of beauty – Venus and “fayre Helen” herself – ahead of anything else is the reason for the war “That many noble Greekes and Troians made to bleed”. The golden apple, however, is the “famous” mythic object associated with the situation, this story imbues it with associations of danger, warmongering, the unwise choice of beauty and outward appearance over other qualities.

Dietary regimens and herbals of the period often seem concerned with the question of what kind of fruit the mythic golden apple actually is. John Maplet, in A Green Forest (1567), in a section on quinces, says “Many thinke this is the fruit which the Poets call golden Apple”.  Rembarte Dodoens in A Niewe Herball (1578) gives the name golden apples to tomatoes, or “Amorus Apples” as he also calls them. Tomatoes were a relatively new food at this time, and Dodoens seems cautious about recommending them:

The complexion, nature, and working of this plante, is not yet knowen, but by that I can gather of the taste, it should be colde of nature, especially the leaues, somwhat like vnto Mandrake, and therefore also it is dangerous to be vsed.

In Foure Bookes of Husbandry (1577), Conrad Herebach identifies oranges and other citrus fruits as “Golden apples”, stating that “the fruite is called in Latine Hipericum, and Aureum malum, the golden Apple, also the maryage Apple of Iupiter and Iuno: such of them as are yellow, and of a golden colour, they commonly call Oranges”.

For the second post, I’m going to be cooking something called “apple-moyse”, which is a dish made from apple pulp and other things, it’s golden in colour, and (fingers crossed) it does sound very tempting.

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Oyster pie: Part 1

A pie I made a few years ago for a friend's birthday. I believe it was chicken and mushroom.

Apparently it’s British Pie Week this week. I am a big fan of pies, and I have been wanting to make one for this blog for a while – pie week seems like a good time a try a recipe out.

References to pies are fairly frequent in the literature of the period. Much like today, they seem to have been a popular, if unhealthy, food – readily available on city streets and at courtly banquets alike.

With that I marked all the trades
Were round about the Cittie,
The cryes of youngmen, boyes, and maydes,
And all their pleasant dittie:
Ripe Cherrie, ripe ripe,
Hotte Pippin- pies; they pipe:
Hay’ny Boules or Trayes to mende?
White young Radish, white.
I haue fresh Cheese and Creame

The verse above is from an anonymous 1610 broadside ballad, I Have Fresh Cheese and Cream. The ballad is about a young man who is in love with a London dairy maid, and this verse is wonderfully evocative of the various foods and other items available on the London streets, including the delicious-sounding “Hotte Pippin-pies” (pippins are apples).

Pies were popular with the upper classes too. In 1672, Elias Ashmole published a book containing details of the activities of the Order of the Garter, The institution, laws & ceremonies of the most noble Order of the Garter collected and digested into one body. Menus for various feasts are contained in the book, one such banquet included seven different types of pie – pigeon pie, venison pie, oyster pie, beatilia pie, tongue pie, skerret pie and lamprey pie.

Unsurprisingly, most regimens and diet books do not recommend pies as a healthy food, particularly for sick people:

When a man getteth the Stranguria or difficultye to make water / the~ anoynt him his nauel wt suet warmed & no more / & it auoydeth very shortly.

Such diseased must beware of salt meates & smoked / as Hering / Ling / Coddes / grene Places / smouth fishes / as Iles / La~priles / Barbels / Te~ches: also must he beware of fat meates as baco~ / pasteys or pyes / fatt chese / raw milke

Brunschwig, Hieronymus. A most excellent and perfecte homish apothecarye or homely physik booke.(1561)

Here’s another:

The pacient oughte to vse thynges of easye digestion, and in smal quanty|ty, and ought to absteine from breade to litle leuened, cakes, tartes pasties, pies, hogges fleshe, beafe, and poudred meates, and fumishe.

Goeurot, Jean. The regiment of life. (1550) 

However, Thomas Twyne’s The schoolemaster, or teacher of table philosophie (1576) takes a slightly more positive view of pies:

Generally all sortes of Pasties and Pies yéelde but litle nourishment in comparison of meates made with brothes. Yet many times they do good to them yt are full of humours, & pleasure them that would dry vp, and make their bodies proper.

Since it’s Lent I thought I would avoid using anything that would have been forbidden during Lent in the Early Modern period – essentially that means no meat or eggs. I’ve found a tasty looking recipe for Oyster Pie, and I’ll be making it later in the week. From the looks of this line from George Chapman’s May-Day (1611), oyster pies could also have made an appearance in my Valentine’s post a few weeks ago, here they are part of an aphrodisiac feast – the setting for potential adultery:

For that sir, she is prouided: for you shall no sooner enter but off goes your rustie skabberd, sweete water is readie to scoure your filthy face, milk, & a bath of fernebraks for your fustie bodie, a chamber perfum’d, a wrought shirt, night cap, and her husbands gowne, a banquet of Oysters pyes, Potatoes, Skirret rootes, Eringes, and diuers other whetstones of venery.

I’ll be cooking the oyster pie on Thursday afternoon, and I’ll hopefully be posting the recipe later that evening if all goes to plan.

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Valentine’s Special – Asparagus: Part 1

Purple passion asparagus by weretable used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license

In honour of Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be interesting to look at an Early Modern aphrodisiac – asparagus, also known as sperage or sparagus in many Early Modern texts.

Most people have probably heard of the supposed aphrodisiac properties of asparagus. Whether you believe aphrodisiac foods truly exist or not, you probably know about this vegetable’s reputation. Confusingly, there seems to be some debate over whether anyone in the Early Modern period actually bought into the idea that asparagus could really “stirreth up bodily lust”. The following exchange from Richard Brome’s The Sparagus Garden (1640) shows two characters discussing the nature of the vegetable:

Moneylack: Have you this Spring eaten any Asparagus yet?

Rebecca: Why is that good for a woman that longs to bee with Child?

Mon. Of all the Plants, hearbes, rootes, or fruits that grow, it is the most provocative, operative and effective.

Reb.Indeed Sir Hugh?

Mon. All your best (especially your moderne) Herballists conclude, that your Asparagus is the onely sweet stirrer that the earth sends forth, beyond your wild Carrets, Cornflag, or Gladiall. Your roots of Standergrasse, or of Satyrion boyld in Goates milke are held good; your Clary or Horminum in divers wayes good, and Dill (especially boyld in Oyle) is also good: but none of these, nor Saffron boyld in wine, your Nuts of Artichoakes, Rocket, or seeds of Ash-tree (which wee call the Kite keyes) nor thousand such, though all are good, may stand up for perfection with Asparagus.

This would seem like fairly solid evidence at first, but in an article entitled ‘Asparagus and Brome’s The Sparagus Garden’ (1971, Modern Philology Vol 68 No. 4), Leroy L. Panek argues that many herbals of the period do not actually mention the aphrodisiac effects of asparagus at all, referring much more frequently to carrots, dill, standergrass, and others. The point of the scene, Panek says, is that Moneylack is misleading Rebecca so that she will buy some asparagus.

Having delved into a few herbals and diet books, I do think Panek makes a good point about Moneylack talking up the effects of asparagus in the play, indeed I have noticed that it’s quite often mentioned without any reference to it’s more racy benefits. However, on the other hand I don’t think this means that asparagus wasn’t considered to have any beneficial effects relating to sex at all, and I have spotted a few. William Langham’s The Garden of Health (1597) lists sperage under the heading “Seed, to increase”, and William Bullein’s Bulwarke of Defense (also from 1579) states that a syrup of asparagus “doeth increase seede of generation”. Those texts are both from the late 16th century, but asparagus was still thought of as a lusty vegetable by some 30 years later,  in John Gerard’s 1633 The Herball or General History of Plants he mentions that “they are thought to increase seed, and stir vp lust”.

It seems by no means a cut and dried case for whether or not asparagus was really considered an aphrodisiac. The section on asparagus from Culpeper’s The English Physitian indicates that the benefits of the vegetable were perhaps in dispute in the 16th century:

“[asparagus] being taken fasting several mornings together stirreth up bodily lust in Man or Woman (whatsoever some have written to the contrary.)”

I’m siding with Culpeper on this one for the purposes of this blog, and now I’m off to cook chicken with asparagus a la Hannah Wolley. I’ll be using her 1675 book The Accomplish’d lady’s delight in preserving, physick, beautifying, and cookery, and I’ll report back once the experiment is complete!

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Stuffed eggs: Part 1

Well. Eggs. Surely one of the best and most versatile foodstuffs known to man? I love eggs, particularly when I was growing up – whether it was baked eggs with mustard (my family’s Christmas morning breakfast of choice), the near-weekly egg mayonnaise with cheese and a jacket potato my nan would give me when I went to her house for tea, or in my teenage years, the fried egg sandwiches I always swore by as a preventative hangover cure – to be eaten in the middle of the night after a long night out.

But enough with the memories, that kind of history is far too recent for this blog!

Eggs have always been a popular and common food, so mentions of them are rather frequent. I had trouble tracking down any specifically about stuffed eggs, but here are a couple of interesting egg-related excerpts (I refuse to stoop to the level of writing “egg-cerpts”. Oh damn, too late, I just did it!).

I don’t think we really need to look at the OED for a definition of eggs. Let’s see what William Bullein has to say in The Government of Health – a diet treatise from the 16th century:

New laide eggs of hennes potched and supped vppon an emptie stomacke, doeth clense the lungs and the raines of the backe. Harde egges are greately discommended, vnlesse it bee to stoppe flixes

“Flixes”, or “the bloody flux”, was an Early Modern term for dysentery, and I don’t think we should spend any more time dwelling on that in a food blog.

Eggs do seem to get something of a bad rep, while Bullein does his best to “discommend” hard boiled ones, Thomas Hill’s 1576 text The moste pleasuante arte of the interpretacion of dreames explains that, in a dream, “to eate egges, signifyeth stryfe”, though he does not offer a reason why.

My favourite egg reference is from Caxton’s preface to the Eneydos (1490). It will most likely be familiar to language students, as it often comes up in text books in relation to language change. Caxton describes the differences in regional vocabulary, and raises the question of which one is “right”. He tell the story of two travelling merchants who stop at the house of a “good wfy” in search of food:

And one of theym named sheffelde a mercer cam in to an hows and axed for meet. and specyally he axyd after eggys And the goode wyf answerde. that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaut was angry. for he also coude speke no frenshe. but wolde haue hadde egges / and she vnderstode hym not / And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue eyren / then the good wyf sayd that she vnderstod hym wel / Loo what sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte. egges or eyren / certaynly it is harde to playse euery man / by cause of dyuersite & chau~ge of langage.

Here’s one with modernised spelling and punctuation:
And one of them named Sheffied, a mercer, came into a house and asked for meat. And specially he asked after eggys. And the good wife answered that she could speak no French. And the merchant was angry, for he also could speak no French, but would have had egges, and she understood him not. And then at last another said that he would have eyren, then the good wife said that she understood him well. Lo, what should a man in these days now write, egges or eyren? Certainly it is hard to please every man, by cause of diversity and change of language.
You can find the full text here, if you are so inclined: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/eneydos.html
Very soon, the recipe for my stuffed eggs will be here…

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Posset: Part 1

So, this week’s experiment is posset. As before, I’ll start with a definition from the OED:

1. A drink made from hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other liquor, flavoured with sugar, herbs, spices, etc., and often drunk for medicinal purposes (now hist.); a kind of syllabub made from similar ingredients. Freq. with distinguishing word.

Note the second related sense “a kind of syllabub made from similar ingredients” – if you’ve ever come across a posset on a menu or in a cookbook today it would have been one of these. Lemon posset is the most common – a quick search around the internet revealed this particularly lovely looking recipe:


What a beautiful blog, those pictures in particular put me to shame. I really must get myself a proper camera/learn how to take decent photos. While we’re looking at modern posset recipes, I bet this one is nice: http://www.carnation.co.uk/pudcasts/200807-lemon-posset?section=Recipes

I love condensed milk!

Anyway, carnation condensed milk was still a few hundred years away in the Early Modern Period, and posset was not the cold dessert we know of today. Instead, it was a warm, creamy, spiced drink that was commonly used as a cure-all.

“Oh my sides ake in my loines, in my bones? I ha more need of a posset of sacke, and lie in my bed and sweate, than to talke in musick:”

Westward Ho!, John Webster and Thomas Dekker, 1607

To use something akin to hot eggnog for medicinal purposes might seem odd, but I imagine the thinking lies in the alcohol having a sort of sedative or anesthetising effect, and the eggs being somehow nourishing. Hot milk feels calming, as a little girl I was often given warm milk and honey when I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes I still have it now. I’m sure lots of us consider hot cocoa to be a relaxing or comforting drink.

Another thing I’ve noticed from recipe books is that posset is often used as a base for medicines, carrying other spices and medicial ingredients. William Bullein’s The Gouernement of Healthe (1558) mentions it often, for example suggesting that mint “sodden in posset al with fenill, it helpeth collike, it encreaseth vital sede”. Yes, increasing vital seed. I guess they’re talking libido rather than gardening there?

I have an ever-developing theory that in the late 16th and early 17th century particularly there was a certain amount of suspicion around various types of eating. I mentioned it last time with sweet foods in the The Witch, and I’m sure I’ll post more on this at some point, but I think there are definitely undertones of restorative foods being potentially sinister, and possibly having different effects to those intended. I leave you with this famous soliloquy from Lady Macbeth that I think highlights the fine line between administering medicine and “drugging”:

That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold;
What hath quench’d them hath given me fire.
Hark! Peace!
It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern’st good-night. He is about it:
The doors are open; and the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores: I have drugg’d
their possets,
That death and nature do contend about them,
Whether they live or die.

Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2

See the next post for the posset recipe!

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