Well, it was a long journey – five years, five months, to be exact – but I got there in the end. My thesis was submitted at the end of June: ‘The role of domestic knowledge in an era of professionalisation: Eighteenth-century manuscript medical recipe collections’.
While I wait for my viva, I thought readers of this blog might be interested in a sneak peek at the contents. I studied over 240 recipe collections from all over England, containing over 19,000 medical recipes, so of course, much of the thesis is about the recipes themselves – what form they take, what conditions they aim to treat, whether they differ regionally or over time. I offer detailed studies of recipes for coughs and colds, gout, rabies, diet drinks and Daffy’s Elixir, examining the variety of recipes, their ingredients and how they differ or are duplicated in different collections. I also consider differences by gender and by age.
But there is more to recipes than their content alone, so I take a look at the recipe books as material objects, the paraphernalia needed to create them, how they were structured, ways of finding the information easily and what else they contained. I consider the women and men who compiled the collections and contributed the recipes, and describe how recipe exchange functioned as social currency in different kinds of network. Finally, I identify reasons why the practice of collecting recipes continued through the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, despite the presence of growing numbers of professional practitioners, off-the-shelf alternatives and printed sources of information.
Want to know more than that? You’ll just have to keep your fingers crossed that I acquit myself well in my viva…