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 https://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2018/10/the-royals-are-here.html)

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.

Plague Water

Over the past few weeks, friends, family members, students, and colleagues have been asking me about plague and recipes. Outbreaks of the plague, and restrictive public health initiatives designed to stop the spread of the disease, were a regular feature of life in the early modern period. (I’m not an expert on this topic, but I’ve found these accounts especially engaging: on the history of quarantine in Italy, on the 1665 plague in London, on Shakespeare’s writing during times of plague.)


Plague correspondingly leaves its marks in manuscript recipe books. During outbreaks, early modern people used “Plague Water” as a preventative and a cure for the disease. Samuel Pepys writes in his diary for Thursday 20 July 1665 — a week when 1089 people died from the plague in London by his account —  “My Lady Carteret did this day give me a bottle of plague-water home with me.” Recipes for “Plague Water” are so common that a single manuscript will often include multiple, different recipes for this healing water. What these recipes have in common is that they require a range of fresh and dried herbs that are infused in alcohol before the water is distilled. Although “Plague Water” likely had antibacterial effects due to its alcohol content, it is unlikely that it stopped the spread of plague as the pestilence was carried by small animals and transferred to humans by infected fleas.

This recipe “To make Plague water” is from Folger Shakespeare Library Ms. V.b.380 and, from what I’ve seen, a typical recipe for this preventative tonic. I’ve been researching this manuscript alongside a team of undergraduate researchers and librarian colleagues since early 2019. (See related posts here.) The paper in the manuscript dates from 1667 and accordingly this recipe for “Plague Water” was collected, saved, and perhaps prepared in the aftermath of the 1665-1666 plague.

plague water v.b.380 cropped.jpg

55 To make Plague water.
Take Rue, Agremony, Wormwood, Selandine, Red Sage,
Balm, Mugwort, Dragons, Fetherfew, Burnett, Sorril,
Tormentil, Scordium, Cardus-Benidictus, Dittanter, Bittany, Mary-
-golds, Scabius, Peniroyal, of Each half a pound, Rosemary
one pound, a quarter of a pound of Angellico leaves, a good
quantity of Elingcompane roots: Cowslips, Marygolds, Burage
Clovegilly flowers, of each a good quantity, Anniseeds & Corrander
of each 2 ounces, strip and pick all your herbs, then cut them
very small and put them in a vessell close cover’d, put to them​
3 Gallons of sack or white wine and 2 quarts of Brandy
stirr it 2 or 3 times a day for 2 or 3 days together, then
distill them in a Cold Still or Limback.

Unfortunately, I can’t test this recipe for you.* Even if I could correctly identify, purchase, or forage for these herbal ingredients, I don’t have distilling equipment – a cold still or an alembic – at home. I also cannot recommend that you prepare this recipe yourself as a number of the ingredients are now known to be toxic. For example, “Peniroyal” or Pennyroyal, an herb that I’ve seen listed in many medicinal recipes, causes liver damage.

Ultimately, recipes for “Plague Water” offer us an insight into the medical landscape of early modern England. In times of sickness and in health, households would collect medicinal recipes from members of their local and extended social networks seeking out efficacious cures for immediate use or future preparation.** Households would consult printed texts, such as Nicholas Culpeper’s ground-breaking English Physitian published in 1652 to seek out medical information (this page includes a list of plants mentioned in Culpeper’s book). Household members would gather herbs, purchase ingredients, and distill healing waters in the home. My students are often surprised (and intrigued!) to learn that family members would, essentially, test new medicines on their sick relatives. Indeed, recipe manuscripts are a unique repository of medical practice within the household in times of plague and prosperity.

*If, however, you find yourself in Minnesota, you might be able to taste some Plague Water made in a collaboration between Tattersall Distilling, Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) and the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine at the University of Minnesota.

** My discussion of recipe collection practices here draws on Elaine Leong’s recent monograph Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England (Chicago, 2018).

I’d like to thank Joseph Malcomson for the helpful discussion of Nicholas Culpeper and medicinal plants that shaped the final form of this post.