UPenn Mead from Digby

The third recipe from UPenn Ms. Codex 252, known as the Maddison Family Receipt Book, is for ‘white metheglin’. Among its 17 named flavor additions is musk, which is derived from a gland of the male musk deer (by killing the deer, which is now endangered).

Musk Deer

This recipe can be used to demonstrate some of the many difficulties with dating manuscripts. Even if dates are given within the text, they may be contemporary, refer to an event in the past for the writer, or be added later with notes.

As mentioned last week, dates in the manuscript include 1663, 1668, and 1673; ownership inscriptions inside the front cover are dated 1675 and 1710.

C.M. appears throughout text as a notation. If a Maddison family member with initial C. could be identified within the time frame known for the creation of this manuscript, it could help solidify the dating.

This recipe in particular references Sir Kenelm Digby, and indeed this recipe can be found on page 104 of Digby’s 1669 book. The version in Digby’s book, is longer than the one in the manuscript, and includes the two phrases marked with <<   >> in the transcription below; these greatly enhance the recipe’s clarity. The latter part of the recipe is also more detailed in Digby. The two sections omitted are each an appropriate length to mark a line accidentally skipped during transcription (particularly considering the partial word), but do not match the line breaks in Digby, suggesting there may be an intermediary version that itself was copied from Digby (changing the line breaks in the process).

Another approach to dating is in the name of the recipe. I found a Sir Edward Bainton who appears in court documents in 1643, when he appears to have been challenged by a Colonel Fettiplace, regarding which Sir Bainton was instructed by a committee on disputes not to fight and Fettiplace was taken into custody. (House of Commons, 1803, p.808)

Finally, for those with significant expertise, the handwriting itself, particularly the form of the letters, can be used to help date manuscripts.

Again, a partial story for the time being, but the data taken in aggregate would suggest a date between the 1640’s and 1660’s for the original recipe. And the connection to Digby’s text implies the manuscript version was written after 1669 and perhaps 1710 (the later dates in the manuscript).

Hill (17th c.) recipe book on p.131[=124] tells us:

Sir Edward Bainton’s Receipt to make white Metheglin, which my Lord of Portland (who gave it to Sr Kenelm Digby) said was ye best he ever drank.

Take sweet marjoram, sweet bryar buds, Violet leaves, Strawberry leaves, of each one handful, and a good handfull of Violet flowers (ye double ones are ye best) broad Time, Borage Agrimony, of each half a hand full, & two or three branches of Rosemary, ye seeds of Caroway, Coriander, and fennel, of each two spoonfuls; and three <<or four blades of large-mace. Boil all these>> in eight gallons of running water, three quarters of an hour, then strain it, & and when it is but bloud-warm, put in <<as much of the best honey, as will make the Li>>quor bear an Egg ye breath of six pence above scum will rise Then boyle it again as long as any & when it is almost cold, put in half a pint of good Ale-barm; and when it hath wrought, til you perceive ye barm to fall, then Tun it and let it work in ye Barrel till ye barm leaveth rising, filling it up every day with some of ye same liquor. when you stop it up, put in a bag with one Nutmeg sliced, a little whole Cloves and Mace, a stick of Cinnamon broken in pieces, and a grain of Good Musk.

You may make this a little before Michaelmas, and it will be fit to drink at Lent.


This recipe is very typical of 17th century metheglin recipes. It contains 12 flavors added to the boil, and another 5 added later into the secondary fermentation. Balancing the flavors to produce a tasty result could be a challenge.


Musk Deer Credit Wellcome Collection https://wellcomecollection.org/works/xj76a3z7

Digby, K. (1669/1967). The closet of the eminently learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. opened. St. Louis: Mallinckrodt Chemical Works. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16441. Scan of 1669 edition https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100618178.

Great Britain House of Commons. 1803. Journals of the House of Commons. HMSO. Retrieved from Google Books https://books.google.com/books?id=RBRDAAAAcAAJ

Hill, Martyn. 17th c. Recipe Book. MS Codex 252. Retrieved from University of Pennsylvania http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/medren/9915808403503681

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