Cornish Cakes

This recipe for “Cornish Cakes” caught my eye a few weeks ago when I was sitting in the reading room at the Huntington Library looking at  mssHM 84007, a recipe book that was compiled in the last decade of the seventeenth century and the early decades of the eighteenth century. I was intrigued to see a recipe for a cake that began with claret, an imported Bordeaux wine, and called for mace, a spice made from the husk of a nutmeg,  as its primary seasoning. The Cornish cakes that I prepared this weekend are sweet, purple-hued spice cookies.

Original Recipe

image of Cornish Cakes recipe in original manuscript

Cornish Cakes

Take Clarret, and the yolks of Eggs, mace and
sugar and salt and mingle altogether in flower
knead them altogether then put in a Good
Quantity of Butter and knead it Stiff together

[Huntington Library  mssHM 84007, 85v]

I was initially curious to learn if Cornish Cakes were similar to any traditional Cornish recipes. Although my searches turned up many recipes for Hevva Cake (which I’m now eager to try),  I did not find any traditional cakes that look like these  — readers if you have any insights, please share!

I did, however, find a similar recipe for “To make Cornish Cakes” in Hannah Woolley’s The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet: Stored with all manner of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying and Cookery. Very Pleasant and Beneficial to all Ingenious Persons of the Female Sex (1670), G1v:

CXCII. To make Cornish Cakes.
Take Claret Wine, the Yolks of Eggs, and Mace beaten fine, and some Sugar and Salt, mingle all these with Flower and a little Yeast, knead it as stiff as you can, then put in Butter, and knead it stiff again, and then shape them and bake them.

Given the similarity in wording, it seems very likely to me that the compiler of mssHM 84007 copied their receipt for “Cornish Cakes” from Woolley’s printed cookbook sometime between the 1690s and the 1720s. The order of ingredients is the same and the verbs “mingle” and “knead” instruct the user to prepare the stiff dough. There are, however, some distinct differences. Woolley’s recipe calls for yeast and instructs the cook to shape and bake the cakes. The manuscript omits these details. (Learn more about Woolley’s cookbooks in this post and see other recipes I’ve adapted from her work here.)

When I got home to my kitchen and began to update this recipe, there were many variables to consider: what amounts of ingredients would create a “stiff” mixture?  how much mace would create a pleasing spicy flavor? Mace is a lovely warming spice made from the membrane that surrounds the nutmeg kernel, but it can be quite intense. It is sold dried in fragrant blades and also sold ground. I also pondered: how much sugar should I add? how much sweetness would come from the wine versus the sugar (in 1690 , 1720, now)? The modern Merlot that I used in my recipe test is much drier than eighteenth-century claret. (I discuss claret and wine imports in more detail in this post.) Starting with a single egg yolk as my guiding proportion from the original recipe, I stirred together a rosy pink dough and tasted for spiciness and sweetness as I went.

Updated Recipe

This recipe made 12 spice cookies. Double or triple to make a larger batch.

1/4 cup (57.5 grams) red wine (such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Bordeaux blend)
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon mace
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (68 grams) flour
2 tablespoons (28.4 grams) butter

Take your butter out to come to room temperature. It should be soft and spreadable before you integrate it into your dough.

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C). Line baking sheets with baking parchment (or thoroughly grease).

Whisk together the wine, egg yolk, mace, sugar, and salt. Stir in the flour with a spoon. The dough will be a pink paste.

Add the butter. First stir with a spoon and then knead with your hands until well combined.

Shape small cookies (approximately 2 teaspoons of dough each) and place on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes. The bottoms should be golden brown and the tops will still be light.

Allow to cool before eating.

As the cookies baked, the reddish pink color faded to a light purple — violet, light magenta as the light shifted. The fragrance of mace and wine wafted off them as they cooled. Like a mulled red wine, these Cornish Cakes are a sweet and spicy treat.

To Make Ginger Bread (Bridget Parker)

I’ve baked a number of spicy and surprising gingerbread recipes as I’ve worked on this site over the past eight years. When I saw this one in Bridget Parker’s 1663 recipe book at the Wellcome Collection reading room in London this past June, I was intrigued by the fact that this gingerbread contains no ginger. What is gingerbread without ginger?

gingerbread on plate

This gingerbread is sweet and spicy. The cookies are fragrant with clove, mace, and cinnamon, and crunch with floral coriander seeds. Even without the ginger, they have the classic warming taste of other gingerbread cookies. Since ginger was certainly available to Bridget Parker in 1660s England, the choice to call this recipe “ginger bread” might speak to a slipperiness in naming, a metonymy wherein “ginger” stands in as a catch-all term for other spices.

Original Recipe

Image of recipe in original manuscript

To Make Ginger Bread
Take 2 pound of surop one pound of but
ter half a pound of suger a spoonfull
of beaten cloues a litle sinomon & mace
corander or caraway seeds mix these all
togather on a chafindish of coals till it
be scalding hott then lett it be cold againe
then put as much fine flower into it as
will make it into a past make it into forme
of which fashon you please & bake them

This recipe also has a curious method in which the butter and spices are heated together in a sugar syrup. I had initially wondered if there would be enough spice in the batch when I quartered the original recipe. My fears were misplaced. As a result of the warm infusion method, the flavors of the spices were beautifully dispersed through a very large batch of gingerbread.

At the recipe’s invitation, I decided to use coriander seeds instead of caraway seeds. I also had to think through the syrup and sugar used to sweeten the gingerbread in the original recipe. I decided to make a “rich” simple syrup with a two-to-one ratio of cane sugar to water (instead of a classic one-to-one ratio).

gingerbread on baking sheet

Updated Recipe

Quartered from the original.
This recipe makes about 5 dozen cookies.

2 cups sugar (402g)
1 cup water (240g)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick, 113 g)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
4 cups flour (480g)

First, prepare the syrup. Put the water and the sugar in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Add the butter. Stir until the butter is melted. Reduce heat as necessary so that the mixture does not boil over. Stir in the spices. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C). Line baking sheets with baking parchment (or thoroughly grease).

When the syrup is cool, pour it into a mixing bowl. Add flour one cup at a time, stirring until each is fully combined before adding the next one.

Shape cookies of about 1 tablespoon of dough and place on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes. The bottoms should be golden brown and the tops will still be light.

Allow to cool before eating.

The Results

Spicy, sweet, and unexpectedly chewy, this gingerbread was a big hit when I shared it with friends.

I’d be curious to taste a version with caraway, rather than coriander seeds. Given the preparation method with the infused syrup, it was not easy to make a half coriander and half caraway batch. I also found the dough very sticky and difficult to work with despite the recipe’s suggestion to “forme” it into shapes and the widespread use of gingerbread molds in contemporary recipes. Next time I might try to pipe it into more appealing shapes. For readers based in the UK, I’d be curious to hear how this recipe works with golden syrup and additional cane sugar.

Christian Barclay’s Almond Jumballs

See the end of the post for information about the third annual Great Rare Books Bakeoff!

almond jumballs on a plate

There are so many recipes for jumballs in seventeenth-century recipe books. Even though I’ve been baking jumballs since I started this project in 2014, I’m still surprised by the major differences in flavor, texture, and method between recipes. As Stephen Schmidt explains in this helpful glossary entry, “When jumbles first came to England from Italy, in the sixteenth century, they were sugary, anise-flavored cookies formed by tying ropes of dough in elaborate two-sided knots, such as a figure-eight or a pretzel knot.” By the last decade of the seventeenth-century, when Christian Barclay wrote this recipe “To make Almond Jumballs” in her recipe book, they could either be sugary confections or buttery dough shaped in elaborate forms.

When I came across this recipe while looking at the manuscript with colleagues and undergraduate students working on my “What’s in a Recipe?”  project, I immediately knew I wanted to try it. Barclay’s jumballs are like macaroons. They only contain ground almonds, orange blossom water, sugar, water, and egg white. The method of preparation draws on confectionary practices as well as baking techniques. I spooned some of the thin jumball batter into rounds and piped the rest into letters and knot forms.

Original Recipe 

almond jumballs recipe

To make Almond Jumballs
Take half a pound of Almonds, blanch
them in cold water, & beat them very
fine, put in a spoonfull or 2 of
orange flower water to keep them
from oylling, when they are beaten
small, boyll half a pund of double
Refined sugar to a Candy not too high
when it is cold work into it 2 ounces
of fine searcht sugar, & a litle of the
froth of ane egg & squirt into a
paper, bake them in ane oven not too

The recipe uses a sugar syrup to bind the almonds and capture the fleeting scent of orange blossom water. A “frothed” egg white adds body and lift during baking. These almond jumballs are sweet, fragrant, and have a pleasing crunch on the outside and a slight chew in the center.

Updated Recipe

Makes approximately 24 jumballs.

This recipe requires a candy thermometer, a mixer, and baking parchment.

1 cup ground almonds (110 grams)
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
1 cup sugar (201 grams)
¼ cup water
1 egg white

Preheat your oven to 320F (160C).

Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Stir together the ground almonds and orange blossom water in a metal or ceramic mixing bowl.

Separate the egg and put the egg white in the bowl of a stand mixer. (You can also use a handheld mixer for this.) Whip the egg white until it is frothy, white, and full of small bubbles. It does not have to achieve stiff peaks to work in this recipe.

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Affix a candy thermometer to the side. Bring the mixture to a boil and a syrup will form. Heat the syrup to 238F (114C). This is often called the “soft ball” stage.

Pour the sugar syrup into the ground almonds immediately. Stir until there are no almond clumps. Fold in the egg white. A thin batter will form.

Shape the jumballs on the prepared, parchment-lined baking sheets. (I used a tablespoon to measure out twelve even cookies. I pipped the rest of the batter into shapes, but they expanded substantially during baking and did not retain precise details.)

Bake for 10-12 minutes. (This will vary depending on the size and shape of your jumballs.) They are finished when they are golden at the edges and still pale in the center.

Allow the jumballs to cool completely on the baking sheet.

The Results

Crisp, floral, and sweet, Christian Barclay’s almond jumballs are a delicious treat. If I make them again, I may try to create more elaborate shapes now that I’ve seen how the batter expands when baked.

This recipe is naturally gluten free. I’d be curious to hear how an egg substitute would work if any of my readers prepare a vegan version.

Today I’m also inviting you to a virtual baking competition: the third annual The Great Rare Books Bake Off, a friendly contest between the sister libraries of Penn State University and Monash University. There are fourteen intriguing recipes to try from library collections. An engraved pie pan trophy will be awarded to the library that receives the most social media posts featuring photos of your baked goods tagged with its hashtag: #BakePennState or #BakeMonash. The competition runs 1-9 October 2022 so you have lots of time to read the recipes, shop for ingredients, and get baking. All the details are on the site linked above.

If these jumballs are not inspiring you to get baking, there are a lot of other recipes to choose from. In past years I’ve updated recipes for a lemon tart and for doughnuts. I’ve also enjoyed baking Suffrage Angel Cake, Cinnamon Buns,  Lamington Cake, and Pavlova in past years.

Heartsease Cordial

This post was first published on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s blog Shakespeare in Beyond: “Love-in-idleness, Part One: Adapting an early modern recipe for heartsease cordial

You can also read more about heartsease in Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a second blog post that I wrote for the Folger: “Love-in-idleness, Part Two: Intoxicating botanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Pansies were intertwined with matters of the heart – both lovesickness and cardiac ailments – linguistically, in the herbal tradition, and in recipe manuscripts that were created and used by early modern households as repositories of culinary and medicinal knowledge. The etymologies of the various names for this flower – pansies, heartsease, and love-in-idleness – attest to the connection between the botanical and the medical.

Common understandings of the body in Shakespeare’s England were rooted in humoral theory in which bodily and emotional health were deeply intertwined with the natural world. Discussions of the names and uses of flowers for healing physical and emotional ailments in herbals, practical handbooks, and recipe collections derive, in turn, from humoral thinking.

The English translation of Rembert Dodoens’ A nievve herball, or historie of plantes (1578) explains that the pansy flower is called, “in English Pances, Loue in idlenes, and Hartes ease: in Frē[n]ch Penseé” from which pansy – here “Pances” – derives and conveys the sense of pensiveness or musing (p.148, sig. Aiiir). Heartsease is also a descriptive name that captures the flower’s capacity for promoting well-being by easing ailments of the heart such as grief. The name “loue in idlenes” carries the common connotations of frivolity, emptiness, or time-wasting, but also would have conveyed a sense of love-sick idleness characterized by folly, foolishness, or delirium.

In their herbals, Dodoens and John Gerrard largely concur in their description of the virtues – or medical applications – of cordials and tonics derived from pansies, recommending them to treat ailments of the chest and lungs as well as fever and inflammation. Gerrard suggests that heartsease might also be used in the treatment of the “French disease” or syphilis, which was known to be a sexually transmitted infection in the period. Mary Floyd-Wilson writes that “[i]ts purple color places it among the venereal plants—those herbs ruled by Venus” (187).

Heartsease and pansy both appear in early modern recipes for healing waters that involve infusing herbs and flowers in alcohol and then distilling the liquid in an alembic and sweetening the concoction with sugar before giving it to a patient.

A list of medicinal “Cordialls” in a 1675 recipe manuscript compiled by Thomas Sheppey (and now Folger MS V.a.452) begins with a recipe for a preparation of pansies and sugar “To clear the heart.” Derived from the Latin word for the heart, cordis, cordials treat the heart in both the physical and emotional sense.

The Recipe

CAPTION: “Cordialls.” from Thomas Sheppey’s recipe book, Folger Shakespeare Library, V.a.452, page 75.

To clear the heart. Take a quantity of heartsease, and putt
therto 3 times the quantity of sugar. make a conserve, and
take therof when you are sad. MS.

While this cordial could “clear the heart” in the same sense that Dodoens and Gerrard used – to treat the chest and lungs or to reduce fever – it could also potentially heal heartache and other amorous ailments: The verb “clear” can mean to brighten, enlighten, and purify as well as to remove obstructions. The dosing instruction in the recipe “take therof when you are sad” suggests that the sad – in the sense of someone who is serious, somber, or weary, as well as someone who is melancholy, lovesick, or heartbroken – might find relief from this sweet, floral syrup.

The batch that I prepared using an updated version of this recipe was a lurid purple and had a distinct floral taste unlike the subtle orange-blossom and rosewater flavors that I usually encounter in my recipe testing.


Updated Recipe

Makes 1.5 cups syrup.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup pansies, cleaned and tightly packed

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir so that all the sugar is dissolved and remove from the heat. Add the flowers. Set aside to infuse for 24 hours.

Strain the syrup through a fine strainer into a clean container. Press the flowers to capture every drop of syrup then discard the flowers.

Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Suggestions for using Heartsease Cordial:

Eat by the spoonful if you are lovesick.

Stir a tablespoon of the cordial into a glass of sparkling water or lemonade.

Sweeten cakes that call for a glaze or use in place of other simple syrups when making icing.

Add to any cocktail that calls for a flavorful simple syrup at your discretion.

Add to a glass of sparkling wine. (1 teaspoon or 1 tablespoon to taste.)

Make this cocktail, which is a twist on a classic Aviation cocktail:

  • 2 oz gin
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • ½ oz heartsease syrup
  • 1 bar spoon maraschino liqueur

Measure the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a pansy. Sip.


Further reading:

Benjamin Breen, The Age of Intoxication: Origins of the Global Drug Trade (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019)

Rebecca Bushnell, Green Desire: Imagining Early Modern English Gardens (Cornell University Press, 2003)

Mary Floyd-Wilson, “Potions, Passions, and Fairy Knowledge in A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Shakespeare in Our Time, edited by Dympna Callaghan and Suzanne Gossett (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Rebecca Laroche, Medical Authority and Englishwomen’s Herbal Texts 1550-1650 (Routledge, 2009)

Note of thanks: I would like to thank Rebecca Bushnell for sharing her thoughts about heartsease and Midsummer over email, Sally and Dave Falck for their hospitality, Joseph Malcomson for assistance with the cocktail recipe, and Claire Falck, Carissa M. Harris, and Thomas Ward for reading an earlier draft of this piece and sampling an array of heartsease beverages.

To make a Leach of Dates

Leach of Dates is a dish fit for a banquet table. (No, it’s not that kind of leech!) Naturally sweet from dates, elevated with sugar, scented with rosewater, and spiced with cinnamon and ginger, a tiny bite of this confection is immensely flavorful. In the early decades of the seventeenth century, Leach of Dates would have been served on a delightfully arranged banquet table alongside marchpane, jumbles, nuts, candied fruits, suckets, comfits, and gingerbread.

Leach of Dates

As Ken Albala writes in The Banquet“The word [banquet] itself derives from a board or bank mounted by a street performer or mountebank, or set on trestles for dining. Thus banquets could be staged anywhere, because in Renaissance-era Europe, homes lacked a fixed room with stationary tables for dining. The term took an odd twist in England, where it denoted the final portable dessert course of sweetmeats and fruit. Elsewhere it meant an entire meal, the grandest that could be imagined at European courts” (vii). Banquets were feasts for all senses and even the smallest confections were beautifully designed and highly flavorful.

Leach is a thick preserve of fruits that can be molded or sliced. Some recipes include nuts and emulsifying agents to add structure to the confection. As Stephen Schmidt writes in an excellent blog post about banqueting, “There was also a specialized jelly called leach (from a French word meaning slice), which was creamy and rose-water-scented and was set with the new-fangled isinglass, made from sturgeon swim bladders.” The recipe for Leach of Dates relied on the natural viscosity of the dates and bread crumbs for structure, rather than isinglass.

Like my last post about a cure “ffor a cold,” this recipe “To make a Leach of Dates” is from an early seventeenth-century recipe book from the library of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612). It was likely created around 1610 and is now held at the Indiana University, Lilly Library. As Schmidt notes, the final pages of this manuscript list “Severall sort of sweet meates fitting for a Banquett” and fruit pastes and jellies form the bulk of this list.

Original Recipe

recipe in original manuscript

To make a Leach of Dates.
Take and beate your Dates in a morter
with suger, synamon, ginger, sauders and
rosewater till they bee fine, then putt
in grated bread and beate them together
till it bee thikke and soe serve it forth
in moylde or loves.

After transcribing this recipe, I was left with some questions about “sauders.” On the one hand, this could be a misspelling of “saunders,” a common spelling for sandalwood in the period. Sandalwood was commonly added to sweet, savory, and medicinal recipes in the form of a powder. On the other hand, “sauders” could be connected to isinglass or other emulsifying agents that might help this leach set into a harder paste. Finally, I tested this recipe with Cinnamon Verum. If you’re using Cassia Cinnamon it will taste slightly different. Readers, I would love to hear what you think about “sauders” and if you happen to test this recipe using cassia.

Updated Recipe

4 dates
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 Tablespoon bread crumbs

Remove the pits and stems from the dates. Chop them finely.

Put the chopped dates in a mortar and pestle with the sugar, spices, and rosewater. Beat into a uniform paste. Add bread crumbs and combine until thick.

Shape the paste freeform or using molds.

The Results

Sweet and spicy, the Leach of Dates reminded me of panforte. Each tiny morsel was full of flavor and the scent of rosewater dominated.

I was immediately able to slice the confection into small wedges. I’m planning to check on the Leach in the coming days and see if the texture changes. I anticipate that it will set more as it sits in my kitchen cupboard.

Ultimately, Leach of Dates surprised and delighted me. In the concordia discors of the banquet table, this petite confection invites as much pleasure as an elaborate marchpane sculpture or a prettily arranged plate.

I’ve been thinking about banquets quite a bit in the past weeks as I collaborated on the creation of a performance at Penn State Abington called Exit: A Banquet Piece. I’d like to thank Jac Pryor, for collaborating on this experimental course and performance with me, and I’d like to thank Jonathan Bercovici, Madison Branch, Kyleigh Byers, Jaleel Hunter, Trim Walker, George Ye,  and Aman Zabian for inspiration and conversation. As always, thank you to Joseph Malcomson for taste testing and brainstorming.

ffor a cold

Lately I’ve been writing a piece about recipe manuscripts and William Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. I’m reading and transcribing  a unique early seventeenth-century recipe book from the library of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612). The description of the manuscript in the Indiana University, Lilly Library catalog (where it is now held) and the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey description concur that the manuscript was likely created circa 1610 around the time of Prince Henry Frederick’s investiture as Prince of Wales. The young prince died of typhoid fever a few years later in 1612 when he was 18.

cover of manuscript with Prince Henry Frederick's arms

The cover of the manuscript is embossed with Prince Henry Frederick’s coat of arms. (The Stuart arms with specific features denoting the Prince of Wales. For more info, see

The majority of the recipe books that I’ve cooked from and written about on this site are from later in the seventeenth century or the eighteenth century. As I’ve been researching and writing, I’ve noted a number of recipes from the Prince Henry manuscript that I look forward to sharing with you. Today, I want to start with this recipe “ffor a cold.” Although this recipe appears in the “Chirurgery” section of the manuscript, I thought it also had culinary potential when I first read it. I was right.

Original Recipe

manuscript image of recipe

ffor a Cold.
Take Garleeke and seeth it in
two or three waters and when
it is very softe then take it vpp
and mingle it with yealowe suger
Candy well together and eate of
this when you goe to bedd five
or six nighte together.

I was immediately intrigued by the combination of cooked garlic and sugar because I love roasting garlic to reveal its natural sweetness. As Sarah Lohman writes in the “Garlic” chapter of her wonderful book Eight Flavors, “A clove of garlic, the part of the plant we cook with most often, is actually a leaf: a storage vessel that packs away energy for the next growing season. The energy stored in the cloves is in the form of sugar — specifically fructose — which is why a clove tastes sweet when it is cooked slowly and caramelizes when roasted” (150).* Now I had never mixed garlic with sugar before and ground it into a paste, but memories of garlic ice cream recipes and sweet braises with garlic came to mind.

In the early decades of the seventeenth century, English cooks were more interested in garlic’s medicinal properties than its culinary potential. In Food in Early Modern Europe, Ken Albala explains that outside of Southern Europe, garlic eating was associated with the lower classes and with medicinal preparations. He writes, “The therapeutic virtues of garlic were also recognized from an early date, and as the ‘poor man’s theriac’ or medicine, it was recommended for those who could not afford more expensive spices. But it was also thought to be difficult to digest, which is why, they claimed, it causes bad breath” (34-35). It’s curious to me that a manuscript from the elite household of the Prince of Wales would take note of humble remedies like this one alongside heavily spiced preparations. A perfume recipe follows directly after this cold cure and would have been prepared and used to ward off miasma, or bad air, associated with diseases like plague.

Gerrard’s Herbal, however, persuasively claims that the warming humoral properties of garlic are especially well-suited to disperse a wet, sniffly, drippy cold symptoms as “Garlic is very sharp, hot, and dry, as Galen saith.” The Herbal also notes “But if it be boiled in water until such time as it hath lost his sharpeness, it is the less forcible, and retaineth no longer his evil juice, as Galen saith” and thus the boiling diminishes the abrasive properties of garlic. Boiled and sweetened with “yealowe suger” — similar to Demerara sugar — this garlic concoction is both a tasty medicine and a culinary treat.

Updated Recipe

3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sugar

Boil the garlic in water until tender, approximately 20 minutes. (I put three cloves of garlic in cold water in a small pot. I brought the water to a boil, reduced the temperature, and let is simmer for 5 minutes. I drained off the water, let the garlic rest for a bit and then repeated the process and simmered the garlic for 15 minutes. I did this to honor the “two or three waters” instruction in the recipe, but I doubt that the results would be different if I had simply simmered the cloves for 20 minutes.)

Mash the garlic with sugar.

Eat before bed for five or six days to treat a cold. Spread on a cracker or toasted bread to enjoy non-medicinally.

The resulting garlic paste tasted like extra-sweet caramelized garlic cloves that had been slowly roasted in an oven. If I did have a cold, the sugar would help this medicine go down. I enjoyed it spread on a cracker and I think it would be delicious on a piece of hearty, toasted bread. It is worth noting, however, that garlic breath is an inevitable side effect whether this recipe wards off a cold or simply delights the palate.

*For a preview of Lohman’s garlic chapter, see this post on The New York Academy of Medicine Blog, but for the longer story (near and dear to my heart) about garlic, Italian immigration, and the post-Julia-Child garlic boom as French cooking trends swept through America, you need to read her book.

Lecture and cooking demo announcement!

I will be giving a public lecture and cooking demonstration about this project (and this recipe for Knotts) at 1:30 EST on Saturday February 12th as part of a Ohio State University’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies conference — Popular Culture and the Deep Past 2022 – The Experimental Archaeology of Medieval and Renaissance Food. 

All are welcome (there are also many interesting sessions being held at the conference in Columbus, Ohio).

Info for registration here:

John Locke’s recipe for Pancakes

cooked pancake on a plate

A collection of philosopher John Locke‘s papers at the Bodleian Library includes letters, accounts, poetry, notes on medicine and books, and recipes. When David Armitage posted this recipe for pancakes in the Bodleian collection on Twitter, I knew that I wanted to try it. These rich, nutmeg-scented pancakes are absolutely delicious. (Many thanks to Rhae Lynn Barnes and the other readers who immediately sent this recipe my way.)


In Philip Long’s catalog of the collection at the Bodleian, he notes that this recipe, and a few others, were written by Locke: “A collection of twelve recipes dated 1675-94, of which three (fols. 85, 89, 91) are in Locke’s hand” (2). The next time I visit Oxford for research, I will be excited to see this recipe as well as the eleven others in this set of miscellaneous papers.

coffee in cup, pancake on plate

Original Recipe

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries MSS. Locke c. 25, fol. 85. (Photo from David Armitage)

Take sweet cream 3/4 + pint. Flower a
quarter of a pound. Eggs four 7 leave out two 4 of
the whites. Beat the Eggs very well. Then put in
the flower, beat it a quarter of an hower. Then
put in six spoonfulls of the Cream, beat it a litle
Take new sweet butter half a pound. Melt it to oyle, &
take off the skum, power in all the clear by degrees
beating it all the time. Then put in the rest of
your cream. beat it well. Half a grated nutmeg
& litle orangeflower water. Frie it without butter.
This is the right way

From the start, I was intrigued by the cross-outs and other notes in the recipe. It appears that it was first drafted (or prepared) using significantly fewer eggs. The modifier “new” was added before “sweet butter” at some point. Locke may have written the final note “This is the right way” as part of the initial draft or after the recipe was prepared. Locke was attentive to the details of separating and whisking eggs as well as adding just the right amount of orange blossom water (“litle”) and nutmeg (“Half a grated nutmeg”) – an exceptional, expensive amount.

Like the other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century pancakes that I’ve tried, these fall somewhere between crêpes and American pancakes: They’re a bit fluffier and fattier than a classic French crêpe and have far less rise than my favorite American breakfast version. My spouse, Joseph, described Locke’s pancakes as somewhere between a classic English pancake and a Scotch pancake (or Scottish pancake).

Many of the commenters on Twitter balked at the instruction to beat the eggs and flour for a “quarter of an hower.” These extended mixing times, however, are common in early modern recipes. While I did prepare my version using a hand-held mixer to ensure thorough beating, I did reduce the mixing time to avoid over-mixing which can lead to a chewy pancake. From what I know about historical and contemporary flour milling, this would not have been a concern for Locke or his cook.

Updated Recipe

Makes approximately 10 8-inch pancakes

1 cup butter (2 sticks, 1/2 lb, 226g)
3 whole eggs plus 4 additional egg yolks
1 cup flour (1/4 lb, 113g)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 Tablespoon orange blossom water
half a nutmeg, grated

First, melt the butter. Set it aside.

Put the whole eggs and egg yolks in a large bowl. Beat with a whisk or hand-held mixer until well combined.

Add the flour and beat until smooth and completely combined. Add 6 Tablespoons of the cream to the egg flour mixture and mix until combined. While stirring or beating, pour in the melted butter. Add the remaining cream and orange blossom water and stir to combine. Grate 1/2 a nutmeg and stir into batter.

Heat a frying pan or skillet on a high heat until a drop of water skitters across the surface. Lower the heat to medium.

Pour approximately half a cup of batter into the center of the pan and spread by swirling the pan to create an 8-inch pancake. Cook for 1 minute or until the edges of the pancake lift and appear lacy and the middle looks mostly set. Flip the pancake and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Repeat until your batter is gone. Serve the pancakes immediately.

1/3 eaten pancake

The Results

Between the rich dairy and the fragrant nutmeg, these pancakes made for a decadent breakfast. When Locke wrote down, and perhaps prepared this recipe, the eggs, cream, butter, and flour would all have been ingredients ready to hand in many households. The addition of so much nutmeg and a dash of orange blossom water elevates this specific pancake recipe to a special treat.

I certainly enjoyed sitting down with a plate of pancakes drizzled with a little bit of honey, a cup of coffee, and an old, heavily annotated copy of Locke that I read for a class that I took more than a decade ago. If you make these pancakes on a future winter morning or as part of your holiday vacation, be sure to let me know.

book Locke's two treatises, and plate with pancakes and fork