Elizabeth Capell recipe book

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Manuscript Location
Boston College, Burns Library
Holding Library Call No.
MSS Archive BPP2014
Manuscript Cookbooks Survey Database ID#
Place of Origin
Date of Composition
mostly ca. 1699
The inside front cover of this recipe book is inscribed "Elizabeth Capell her receip[t] Book Anno Domini 1699" and "Elizabeth Capell Her Booke." A page near the back of the book includes two signatures of "John Capell," one dated 1714, and one 1715. The bulk of the book comprises 195 consecutively numbered recipes, mostly but not entirely culinary, written on 80 unnumbered pages. Fourteen additional unnumbered pages follow. These pages include two sequences of medical recipes numbered 156-161 and 171-178; 6 pages of unnumbered recipes, both culinary and medical; a page containing the "John Capell" signatures; and one page of narrative. 

Culinary researchers will be interested primarily in the 195 consecutively numbered recipes that comprise the bulk of the book. These recipes are written in at least eight and perhaps as many as a dozen different hands. Some of these hands are clearly recurring, such as one that reappears in recipe sequences beginning at recipe 52, recipe 57, recipe 67, and recipe 117. A handwriting specialist could surely uncover many other such sequences. The recurrence of hands indicates that the 195 consecutively numbered recipes were likely compiled collaboratively, within a family or among a circle of friends, possibly at the behest of Elizabeth Capell. That the compilation of these recipes was a collaborative project is also suggested by the fact that clutches of like recipes written in single hands appear throughout. For example, one hand has written recipes for meat and poultry sauces (recipes 84-88); another hand has written recipes for fruit preserves (117-120); another hand has written recipes for dessert creams (recipes 130-137); and another hand provides recipes for lamb, veal, custard, and turkey pies (recipes 149-151a).

Somewhat unusual for the period, the book focuses on recipes for the principal dishes of the elite dinner rather than on recipes for the banquet, or dessert. Most of the recipes are typical of the period. Some particularly popular dishes of the time are outlined in two or more different recipes, including Scotch collops (that is, scored cutlets, 23, 111); cucumber pickles (29, 174, 191); sausages (42, 183); artichoke pie (58, 66, 94); venison, beef, or mutton pasty (68, 188, 190); collars (boned, rolled, and pickled fish or meat, 87, 92, 164, 190); fricassees (99, 158); hams (126, 181); and posset (144, 160, 169, the last two recipes identical, in different hands).

Of special interest are recipes 54  and 55, "To make Court Fritters" and "Another way to make them." The first recipe outlines a standard batter for court fritters and a standard way of forming and frying them. The second recipe outlines a nonstandard batter that is forced into the hot fat through a spout “that hath at the end like a cross amulet.” The recipe promises that the resulting fritters “will be most delicate to the taste & mervailous to the eye of them that know not how there [they're] made in knots.”  Also of interest are the recipes “How to make bunes” (70) and “A better way to make buns” (73). The second recipe is much richer in butter than the first and also calls for some sugar, as the first does not. Recipe 182 outlines small mince pies under the title "Chuets," a medieval name that was rare by the end of the seventeenth century.

A handful of the recipes in the book are copied or paraphrased from print recipes, as is typical of manuscript cookbooks. These include recipe 2, "To make all kind of Conceits with Marchpane," which is paraphrased from A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen (1608); recipe 7, "To Rost a Capon with Oysters and Chestnutts." which is improved from Hannah Woolley’s Queen-like Closet (1672); recipe 16, "To Boil a Capon in Orange Broth," which is copied from Archimagirus Anglo Gallicus (1658); recipe 38, "To make a Quarter-tart of Pippins," which is loosely paraphrased from John Murrell’s A New Book of Cookerie (1615); recipe 41, "To make chickens fat in 4 or 5 days," which is copied from The Compleat Cook (1655); and recipe 58, "To make an heartychoke Pye," which is copied from Joseph Cooper's The art of cookery refin’d and augmented (1654).