A bowl of cherries

cherries 2To continue the theme of the last post, I thought I’d share some culinary recipes using cherries (and get some inspiration, since we’ve still got a lot on the trees!). These are from the early seventeenth-century recipe book of Diana Astry.[1]

The first is for dried cherries, which sounds rather time consuming:

Take 6 lb. cherrys; take 1 lb. sugar; stone the cherrys & strew the sugar among them on the fire & let them boyle apace, then take them of[f] & scum them clean & put them into an earthen pott & let them stand 10 dayes. Then take them out & lay them on dishes & set them in a oven after bread, turn them into dry dishes every day.

This recipe for cherry ‘bear’ or beer is alongside other recipes for wines and meads, and shows a certain familiarity with brewing:

Brue [brew] 16 gns. alle [ale] pretty strong, about 6 bushalls to the barell, & hop it well fitt to keep; & take 1 peck ripe cherrys & put them in a earthen pan in a kettle of water over the fire & lett them boyle very well till thay have lost thayre coler [colour] & the juice all out of them. Then strain them from thayr licker [liquor] & put 2 lb. sugar into it, & when your alle have down working put the cherry liquor in it & lett it work a little while; & then put a good handful of wheat in & stop it up close 2 mths.

In this recipe for ‘jam of cherrys’, currant juice is added to boost the pectin content, which in cherries is quite low:

Take 12 lb. cherrys, stone them into a bason, & let them stew in thayr owne liquor till dry,  & till thay are so tender that you may mash them. Then put to them 3 lb. loafe sugar & 1 pt. curan juice & let it boyle tell it do jelly, stur it ofthen. Then put it in potts.

Finally, this is how to preserve your very best cherries (although it’s quite tricky to stone them while leaving on the stalks):

Take & pick out your fairest morellea [morello] cherryes to preserve with the stemps [stems] & stone them. Take your smallest & redest cherryes & straine as much of the juice through a cloath, out of them. Then take 1 lb. beaten or sceared [scarced = sifted] sugar & put into the preservein pan, & put as much of the liquor of the cherryes as will melt & desolve the sugar, & set it to boyle; & when the sugar is in a parfect syrup put 1 lb. cherryes into it & let them boyle very fast; & the juice of your cherryes will turn the syrup very thinn, let them boyle very fast till the syrop is boyled, then set them to cole [cool]. Boyle your syrop after the cherryes are taken out.

Presumably you put the syrup back into the jar where you’re keeping the cherries, but, as so often in early modern recipes, that knowledge is tacit.


[1] Bedfordshire and Luton Archives, X178/1. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen the series of menus from her companion notebook, with the hashtag #dianaastry.


Cherry ripe

CherriesWe have five cherry trees in the garden here, and at the moment we’re positively deluged with plump, sweet fruit. Cherries are touted today as something of a wonder food, full of antioxidants, Vitamins A and C and melatonin. Nowadays it’s the tart version that seems to be preferred for its medicinal properties, but in the eighteenth century it was black cherries that were used, often as black cherry water.

Hester Combe’s fairly straightforward recipe for cherry water runs:

Take 2 quarts of whit[e] wine or sack, steep in 4 ounces of sinemon [cinnamon], and 6 pound of black cherries stoned, for 3 or 4 days then [di]still them in a cold still: you may sweten it with a little fine sugar, this water may be drunk in burning fevers when other cordials ar[e] to[o] hot.[1]

Another, anonymous recipe for black cherry wine to be used for convulsions is less simple:

Take what quantity of black cherrys you please[,] put them into a bason stalked[,] break them with your hand, & put them into a cotton bag and hang them up over a bason … squeezing them often untill all the juce be drained: then let it stand a while and settle. but scum of[f] the froth, then let it stand 12 hours at the least then strain it of[f] gently from the bottom and to every part of juice put in 3 quarters of a pound of fine lofe sugher be[a]ten fine[,] keepeing it stiring till it tis all dissolved so that it may not settle then let it stand uncovered an hour and then bottle it up for your use. Leave some roome for it will worke[,] when it hath done working [fermenting] tye it doune close[,] set it in a coole seller [cellar] in glase bottles. When you take of this cherey wine for fitts put to it a little whit[e] wine or ordinary cherry water.[2]

Black cherry water was also said to be good for melancholy and ‘for the passion or tremblinge of the heart’,[3] for ‘a surfeit or any stopping in the stomach’[4] and for the gout (consumption of cherries is recommended for gout sufferers today, to reduce the level of uric acid in the blood and lessen inflammation).

Or if you have a cold, you might want to try this rather pleasant sounding remedy:

Half an oun[ce] of Spanish liquorish, half an oun[ce] of black sugar candy, half a pint of pennyroyal water, half a pint of black cherry water: stir all together over the fire till it’s disolved. Take a spoonfull any time when your cough is troublesome.[5]

[1] MS 45198, British Library.

[2] Add MS 49373, British Library.

[3] MS 3712, Wellcome Library.

[4] MS 4054, Wellcome Library.

[5] MS 2767, Wellcome Library.


Horse sense

Manuscript recipes are not always for food or medicine – they may be for household necessities such as ink, paint or polish, for cosmetics such as face wash, moisturiser or tooth powder, or for instructions in other areas of life, such as gardening and even knitting.

One anonymous compiler of an extensive and closely written book of recipes[1] includes a section on ‘Curiosities’. Among these are the following recommendations for managing your horses. First, if you want to make out you’re a horse whisperer, try this:

To make a horse follow his master find him out & challenge him amongst never so many people

Take a pound of oat meal to which put a quarter of a pound of honey and half a pound of liquorice, make a little cake thereof & put it in to your bosom next to your naked skin, then run & labour yourself till you sweat & so rub all your sweat upon your cake, then keep the horse fasting a day & a night & give it him to eat, which done turn him loose & he shall not only follow you, but also hunt & seek you out when he has lost you.

That may be bad enough, but the coda is even worse:

And when he comes to you spit in his mouth & anoint his tongue with your spittle & thus doing he will never forsake you.

The other two apply if you don’t like the horse’s colour (or maybe you’re trying to trick a prospective buyer?):

How to dapple a horse

Take in the spring the large buds of young oak trees,[2] mix them among the horse’s provender & give it him 3 or 4 times to eat & he will be dappled, and continue so for a whole year. The buds of young elm trees will have the same effect.


To spot a white horse with black spots

Take litharge[3] 3 oz. Quick lime 6 oz. Beat them fine & mix them together. Put the mixture into a pan & pour a sharp lee[4] over it, then boil it & you will have a fat substance swim at top with which anoint the horse in such places as you design to have black & it will turn of that colour immediately.

Should you be unhappy with your own appearance, the author has some advice about this latter recipe:

It has the same effect in changing hair that is red into black colour with only this difference viz you are to take an equal quantity of lime & litharge & instead of boiling it with lee, boil it only with fresh water. What swims at top is fit for use & will answer your expectation. What hairs you anoint with it in the evening will be black next morning.

The inclusion of the caustic quicklime means you might not want to try that at home!


[1] MS 7893, Wellcome Library.

[2] Oak galls were used in ink and oak bark in dyes, so the tree evidently has some colouring properties.

[3] Lead monoxide, used as a red pigment.

[4] Sediment after fermentation of wine or beer.

Works like a charm

Enlightenment medical thinking reflected the belief that illness and death could be avoided through the development of knowledge and human ability, and a vast variety of remedies existed for ailments both large and small. Nevertheless, in diaries and other writings – as well as the occasional recipe, for instance a remedy ‘To heal an old cough’, which ‘will help you by Gods Grace’,[1] or one for gout ‘which I have taken and by Gods blessing found great good by it’[2] – a belief in divine assistance can still be ascertained. Folk practices did not entirely disappear either, with the use of charms as remedies persisting into the nineteenth century; Alun Withey notes that ‘healing charms… dovetailed easily with humoural notions of illness as a foreign matter which needed to be driven out’.[3]

The commonplace book of William Grasing, a yeoman from Minsterworth,[4] includes a theologically mixed charm ‘For the ague’:












Gloria Excelsis Deo

If you suffered a burn or scald, you could repeat this one (although I’m not quite sure where that episode is in the Bible):

Mary mild as burned her child and on a spark of fire out fier in frost in the name of the father son and holy gost, amen amen amen

To stop bleeding, repeat this charm five times:

I believe Jesus Christ to be the son of god, he was born of the virgin Mary and was baptised of John the Baptist in the River Jordon the water was wide and red he commanded and it stod so stand the blod in the name of the Father Son and Holy Gost three persons in Trinity & one God Good Lord do this in Charity for thy servant Amen.

For ‘the prick of a thorn’, he recommends this analogous entreaty:

In Bethlehem our Christ was born thay crowned his head with Nails and Thorns Let no flesh corropt in here I tuch and the Lord heal, pray God prosper my handy works Amen Amen Amen

And finally, a rather strange couplet, ‘a night spel to catch theeves’, which ‘will drive away aney eevil sperit that hants aney house or any other pleas to prevent aney garden or orcherd fram being robed or a house hee canot go[,] before sunrising having in every fower corners of the hous garden or orcherd this sentiments having of thee’:

All sperits prays God allso Moses Profets

Entertayn God and gosin the garden

Doesn’t quite have the ring of Expelliarmus, does it?

[1] D5336/2/26/9, Pares of Leicester and Hopwell Hall, c.1739, Derbyshire Record Office.

[2] D3155/WH 2702, Isaac Borrow, Derbyshire Record Office, letter from Mary Gregg dated 7 June 1743.

[3] Withey, Alun (2011) Physick and the Family: Health, Medicine and Care in Wales, 1600–1750, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

[4] P218/MI/1, accounts of William Grasing of Minsterworth (d. 1798), yeoman, 1770–96, Gloucester Archives. This charm is claimed to be Hebrew in origin and, without the final line, is included in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) as one way ‘the deceived’ attempted to ward off plague.