Friday, September 7, 2012

17th Century Recipes

by Katherine Pym

From the book: Samuel Pepys' Penny Merriments, Being a Collection of Chapbooks, full of Histories, Jests, Magic, Amorous Tales of Courtship, Marriage and Infidelity, Accounts of Rogues and Fools, together with Comments on the Times. Selected and Edited by Roger Thompson of the University of East Anglia at Norwich, 1977.

Whew, what a mouthful. Our titles these days are much shorter, with less syllables, easier to remember. To remember this, I simply refer to it as: Penny Merriments, a tome I found in a bookstore and considered a great find. It has all sorts of wonderful information, like recipes to make one beautiful, or a recipe for the newest way to roast a hare. It sends me right back into the era of my choice...

17th century England started out with traders going to far distant shores, but the cost was extensive. Spices were gathered through the Levant Company (owned by noblemen and gentlemen of quality) and the fledgling East India Company. As the century moved forward, their ships went to places already taken by the Spanish and Portuguese. 
Battle during First Anglo/Dutch War
The Dutch East India Company (VOC) began at about the same time as England's, but they weren't hampered by the religious upheaval and civil wars England endured during the first half of the century. The Dutch VOC had a leg up on English merchant shipping until Cromwell decided enough was enough and went to war with Holland. This is known as the First Anglo/Dutch war (1652-54), and fought entirely at sea. These wars were over trade, who could monopolize which ports in the East and West Indies.

With that said, the recipes below show an inordinate amount of spices, which were very costly. During the reign of King James I, a fight to near death took place between VOC and English Merchantmen in the South Seas that decimated the crops of nutmeg on Pulo Run Island, in the Banda archipelago.

Dutch Flagship sailing into Mediterranean Harbor
Through the Levant Company, citrus fruits, dates, pepper, cotton cloth, and other fruits and spices were trekked across the desert sands to ports the Levant held in the Mediterranean, then imported via ship to London. (I won't even mention the pirate contingent that upped the cost of goods.) Once these commodities hit the London markets, they proved costly for the middling English household.

The below recipes can only come from later in the 17th century, and were directed to the more well-to-do. Middling folk who could read, enjoyed the thoughts of these, though... 

"To Roast a shoulder of mutton with Oysters the best way.
"Take one not too fat nor too lean, open it in divers places, stuff your oysters in with a little chopt penny-royal (of the mint family), baste it with butter and claret wine, then serve it up with grated nutmeg, yolks of eggs, ginger, cinnamon, butter and red wine vinegar."

"To Stew a Leg of Lamb the best way.
"Slice it and lay it in order in your stewing-pan, seasoned with salt and nutmeg, adding a pound of butter, and half a pint of claret, with a handful of sliced dates, and the like quantity of currants, and make the sauce with the yolk of two eggs, a quarter pint of verjuice (acid juice from sour or unripe fruit, very sour), and two ounces of sugar. Boil them up, and put them over the meat, serving up hot together." 

"The Art of Beautifying the Hands, Neck, Breast and Face: Harmless and Approved, with other Rare Curiosities.
"To make the hands arms white, clear and smooth. Take a quarter of a pound of sweet almonds, blanch and bruise them, with a quarter of a pint of oil of roses, and the like quantity of betony-water (plant of the mint family): heat them over a gentle fire; and then press out the liquid part, and it will serve for either hands or face anointed therewith."

"To take away Freckles, Morphew (scurfy skin) or sunburn.
"Steep a piece of copper in the juice of lemon till it be dissolved (can copper dissolve?), and anoint the place with a feather morning and evening, washing it off with white wine."

"To take off any scurf from the hands and face.
"Take water of tartar, that is, such wherein calcined (burnt to a powder) tartar has been infused, anoint the place, and wash it as the former (with white wine)."

And now, for the final and most excellent recipe...

"To sweeten the Breath, and preserve the Teeth and Gums.
"Boil a handful of juniper berries, a handful of sage, and an ounce of caraway seeds in a quart of white wine, til a third part be consumed: strain it and wash your mouth with it morning and evening, suffering a small quantity to pass down: you may whiten the teeth by rubbing them with pumice stone."

So, who wants to try one of these recipes and let me know how it works? I'd especially like to know the results of whitening your teeth with pumice stone. Or should I do a disclaimer? Don’t do this without the guide of a professional!

Katherine Pym's novel Twins, a 2012 EPIC finalist, delved into trade with the Levant Company. Find all of Katherine's works at: 


  1. Enjoyed the post, Kathy. I have a book on Cookery in the eighteenth century, and its full of interesting tidbits like this.
    Egg yolks in the first receipe or receipt as they called it, is unusual.

    1. Diane, all those recipes seem out of this world, especially whitening your teeth with pumice stone. I would wonder with so much spice in a dish, they would counteract or muddy the taste. Speaking of pumice stone, I've read men shaved with it on occasion. Ouch!

  2. Fascinating. The cure for bad breath is tempting, although I'd probably leave out the juniper berries. And the sage. And the caraway seeds. :)

    As far as the pumice stone technique for whitening teeth goes, it sets my teeth on edge just to think of it! What a frightening thing!

    Thanks for sharing these--very entertaining.


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