Collaborative English Recipe Book, ca. 1715

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[Library Title: Culinary and medicinal recipe book: manuscript, between circa 1695 and circa 1720]

Manuscript Location
Folger Shakespeare Library, Manuscripts
Holding Library Call No.
Manuscript Cookbooks Survey Database ID#
Place of Origin
Date of Composition
ca. 1715

This small notebook (approximately 7.5 X 6 inches) contains 150 pages of recipes, most of which are culinary. The book is written in as many as a dozen different hands, some of which recur, indicating that the book was compiled collaboratively. The bulk of the culinary recipes skew toward the late seventeenth century, but the presence of recipes for Tunbridge Cakes (thin, cracker-like caraway cookies, often served with tea; leaf 29v), bread-and-butter pudding (leaf 40r), and a large seed cake leavened by air beaten into the batter rather by yeast (leaf 68r) suggests that the book was compiled after 1700, as do the modern spelling “soup” (rather than the earlier “soop”; leaf 26r) and the pervasive use of italic hand. The date 1715 is written on the inside front cover of the book, and although the date refers to the return (from somewhere) of Edward Parker, possibly an owner of the book (or even its impresario), the date is a reasonable approximation of the book’s composition.

The book contains a roughly equal proportion of savory and sweet recipes. It outlines most of the favorite hot meat dishes of the day (“Scotch collops,” fricassees, ragouts, and hashed calf’s head) as well as many potted and collared meats (including an unusual potted swan, leaf 39v), but it has relatively few recipes for fish and none for meat and fish sauces. In addition, there are recipes for soups, puddings, pies and pastes (though few tarts), sweet creams and custards, small rich cakes and sweet biskets, large cakes, preserves, and fruit and flower wines.

The book includes several recipes of particular interest. “Chocolate Cakes” (leaf 13v) are a sort of fudgy chocolate macaroon. The “hard cracknels” and “puff paste cracknels” on leaf 20r are both enriched, unsweetened yeast breads that are boiled and then baked, the first made with a pound of butter to a gallon of flour (either 4 quarts or an understood weight of 7 pounds), the second, somewhat richer, with two pounds of butter to the same quantity of flour. Nothing is said about the forming of the cakes beyond the fact that they are rolled. Cracknels were understood to have a hard, cracker-like texture, but the yeast in these recipes, which is not typical, and the unusually generous quantity of butter, especially in the second recipe, would make these cracknels tender-crunchy, like modern pretzels, even flaky in the case of the “puff paste” recipe. The book includes three similar recipes for shallow-fried vegetable fritters, two made with boiled, mashed carrots (leaves 27v and 59r) and one with parsnips (leaf 52r). The parsnip recipe directs, “frye ym as you doe ye littel bread fritters,” which suggests that shallow-fried bread fritters were common at the time, though they are not common in printed cookbooks. An unusual recipe titled “To stue Cowcumbers to eat with mutten” (leaf 53v) calls for baking thinly sliced cucumbers, mixed with vinegar and salt, under a roasting mutton joint and then stewing the vegetables with wine, meat stock, anchovies, and whole spices and thickening the juices with butter. The recipe for “Sorrel Pye” (leaf 73v) gives some tantalizing, if vague, insights into the multifarious fancy covered pies/tarts called Florentines. The recipe says that the pie ‘is to be made in a dish the same as a Florentine’ (which may mean either the same kind of dish as a Florentine or else a literal dish as opposed to a tart pan or a pie dish). The recipe adds that the paste at the bottom is to be thin “but thicker toward the brim” and that the paste is to be mixed with cold water so as to be “light.”  

Many of the recipes are attributed, mostly to commoners (“Mrs.”) rather than to ladies of the peerage, as was common in many manuscript cookbooks of this time. The recipe for puff paste (leaf 51v) is noted, “This I had of my cousen Grace Butler.”