Deep in the depths of First Libe, there lies a mysterious treasure trove known as “Special Collections.” If you’ve never been, it’s the part of the library that holds all of Carleton’s most rare, historically significant, or otherwise unusual books. Now, if there’s one thing we love at the Second Laird Miscellany, it’s books. And if there’s anything else we love, it’s food. So, we thought we’d combine the two. Keep reading to learn more about an item from the collection you may not have heard of — and maybe find something good to eat on the way.
As Special Collections librarian Rebecca Bramlett let us know, the collection contains a variety of recipe collections: “A Plain Plantain, country wines, dishes, and herbal cures“, “My Cookery Books“, “Dinners Long and Short“, “The American Frugal Housewife” (1835) and “Festive Dessert Cookery” (1967), just to name a few. But the oldest of these is a 17th century collection known by the catchy title The Queen’s Closet Opened: Incomparable Secrets in Physick, Chyrurgery, Perserving and Candying, &c. Which were presented unto the QUEEN, By the most Experienced Persons of the Times, many whereof were had in esteem, when she pleased to descend to private Recreations. Corrected and Reviewed, with many Additions: Together with three exact Tables. (Really just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? We’re just going to call it “The Queen’s Closet Opened” from here on out.)
If you were wondering exactly what encompasses “physick, chyrurgery, preserving, candying” et cetera, et cetera…. it’s a lot. (Apparently “chyrurgery” has a similar meaning to “surgery.” Don’t worry, I had to Google that one too.) This book has everything: recipes for how to cook a chicken. Cures for the plague. Walter Raleigh’s cocktail of choice. Inexplicable uses for snails.
The Queen’s Closet Opened starts with semi-medicinal cures for practically every ailment you’ve ever heard of — and some you haven’t. (“The purples,” apparently, refers to a rash.) Depending on whose method you want to try, you might be able to cure the plague by drinking a curious herbal infusion of white wine and white wine vinegar. We were going to say that if nothing else, it would at least make a tasty drink, but then we got to the vinegar part.
Alternatively, you could try mixing your herb-wine with treacle — “for there was neither Man, Woman, nor Childe, by this deceived.” If that doesn’t work, why not hold a live chicken to your sores until it dies? If it’s good enough for the queen, it’s good enough for you. (Note: the Second Laird Miscellany does not endorse using live animals for medicinal purposes. Please do not try to cure Covid with animal abuse. Or white wine vinegar.)
We found remedies for flatulence, for toothache, even for a lack of mouth moisture. Some of them even seemed like they might work — I’m pretty sure if you burned black pepper right in front of my nose I would probably wake up. (Trust me, I’ve smelled smelling salts before so I’m basically an expert. Did you know they still sell those? For athletes? I thought they could only be found in the pages of Victorian novels.)
But we had to wonder whether there’s any sort of scientific basis in some of these cures. Sure, they sound wacky to us, but it’s not as though people have only grown brain cells in the past few centuries — they must have done something in order to make it into this book. While we can’t vouch for the effectiveness of any of these recipes, we had to admit that it probably made you feel marginally better to pretend that drinking a vinegar concoction every morning would prevent your imminent death from a disease basically untreatable with the medicine of the time. Not sure that snails would do anything to cure rickets, though. (Although, this editor has a roommate who uses a facial serum that claims to be infused with “snail mucin,” so who knows. Maybe snail slime is magic.)
The Queen’s Closet even has instructions on making old-fashioned invisible ink, if you felt like trying a 17th-century science experiment.
But what we were really there for was a recipe. You see, we didn’t just want to read about food. We wanted to get some inspiration for our own 17th-century style cooking night. Once we had waded through pages of “physick” and “chyrurgery,” we finally got to the good stuff.
There’s countless recipes for various meats and meat pies, which sound like they’d probably be good if you aren’t a vegetarian. There’s fritters, breads, and a surprising number of recipes for almond milk (and almonds in general). There’s instructions telling you how “To make Toasts” that seems like a pretty decent French toast recipe. (“Take two peny Loaves in round slices, and dip them in half a pint of Cream and cold water, then lay them abroad in a Dish, and beat three Eggs and grated nutmegs, and Sugar, beat them with the Cream, then take your frying Pan and melt some butter in it, and wet one side of your Toasts and lay them in on the wet side, then pour the rest upon them, and so fry them; send them in with Rose-water, butter and sugar.” Voila. Breakfast.) But the recipe that really caught our eye was one that seemed perfect for the season:
Just in time for Saturday sundaes! But what about…
Never fear. A certain big name in the historical scene supplied a recipe that caught our eye. You might have heard of him:
That’s right, celebrity chef Walter Raleigh has his own (completely authentic, we’re sure) contribution to the book. The term “perfume” is a little confusing here, but we’re pretty sure the cordial water is meant to be consumed — and Walter sounds like he had pretty good taste, to be honest. (If we’re completely wrong, somebody get Jeremy Fragrance on the phone because we’re about to drink perfume.)
We at the Miscellany are talented chefs—this is well known— and as we’ve become experts on 17th-century medicine and cookery now (obviously), it’s time to put ourselves to the test and see how we fare. Tune in next week to see us attempt Cream with Snow, and Walter Raleigh’s Cordial Water. Maybe we’ll cure ourselves of ailments that we didn’t even know we had…
But until we’ve all quenched our taste for it, here’s another little something sweet to tide you over:
Signing off for now, and a happy end of 9th Week to all!