Hand written books/manuscripts, held by a person, family, or group to record information of importance to them are a central source of information on day to day life in times past. Separate from correspondence, or formal texts, these types of documents often were either account books or records of information the owners found important. Examples of these types of documents include:
- Account books of monasteries and convents, tracking inputs and outputs, which have been used to support research on daily life (including the use of food and drinks like mead).
- The renowned English Liber de Wintonia, better known as the Domesday Book, the record of the 1086 Great Survey of England and parts of Wales ordered by William the Conqueror. This formed a basis for taxation and legal basis for defining land holdings.
- Household books which could contain financial accounts, but also typically were used to record recipes and cures used by the household members.
This last category is of most interest to the mead brewer. Some of these texts contained culinary recipes, including brewing, and thus mead. Other contain medical recipes, which are sometimes mead brewed with medicinal compounds.
Dating these texts is often difficult. They typically contain multiple hands, each associated with a different person writing in the book. There are not always any dates in the text, and when present, dates may not have an obvious connection to a given recipe. Use of such books over a period of 50-100 years is not uncommon (I know I use recipe cards/pages written down by my mother and mother in law some 30-50 years ago). Therefore dating of such manuscripts is almost always a bit uncertain.
There are certainly many such texts reposing in private hands, scattered in small libraries, and cataloged in larger collections requiring archive visits to review. Some larger libraries have marshaled the resources to scan these texts and made them available for public review.
One such library is the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. A search of their holdings led me to Baumfylde Folger MS568 1626. This manuscript has 76 pages, belonged to Mary Baumfylde (active 1626), and had additions as late as 1758.
Folio 20V and 21R contain this recipe ‘To Make White Metheglin’. This is not in the same hand as the 1626 note at the front of the book. The hand does not appear to match either hand with a 17—date. I’ve assigned the 1626 date to this, Although that might be a bit early. I believe the style of the recipe best aligns with the early 17th century, and therefore it is within my dates of interest, even if 1626 may too early of a date. More research might help refine that date.
MS568 Folio 20V and21R
Transcription (Laura Angotti):
To make white Metheglin.
Take iij gallons, and a halfe of water then take marisrome Winter saverie earemonir & broade tyme, of each a handfull parsely rootes, and fennel a handfull, the pithe beinge taken out, cloves and Cinamon of each halfe an ounce, put the spice in a bagge, and when the hearbs and rootes are washed, put yem into the Water and yos bagg of spice, and let it boyle together halfe an houre, then take out yos spice, and cleanse yos water from the hearbs, then put iij gallons and a halfe of cleane water to this liquor, wch is boyled, and put to it a gallon of the finest honey you can gett: then you must lave it all together six houres, then take a new layd egg and put into it, & if he swim the breadth of a groate, then tis strong enough if not you must adde more honey, and lave it as you did before, and when you think it strong enough, set it onne the fire, and as it boyles scum it very cleane, and you must have in readines the whites of thirtin eggs beaten to a froath, to put in for soone as it is scumed then take it from the fire, presentlie and run it through a Jellie bagge, and let it stand till it be very cold, then put barme to it, and let it stand foure and twentie houres, and then tun it up, and hang on the bagg of spice, and when it hathe done working stop it very close, and in a month or six weekes you may drinke of it.
This manuscript is relatively easy to read. This recipe includes both herbs and spices; the egg whites are probably for clarification.
Working through this post, I found an interesting crowd sourcing/citizen science project by The Folger Library, Oxford English Dictionary, Early Modern Manuscripts Online, and Zooniverse (at Oxford University) at https://www.shakespearesworld.org/#!/ to ‘transcribe manuscripts created by thousands of men and women in and around Shakespeare’s lifetime, 1564-1616.” I joined last week and have transcribed some pages.
Scan of Baumfylde manuscript page from Folger Library.