Tag Archives: books

From Cure-all to Confection

The amalgamated Holidays officially kick in this week, so it’s time to think about festive things to eat and drink. Last year at this time, I seemed preoccupied with the latter, but now I’m thinking about food. I came across my grandmother’s recipe for molasses cookies–very thin, crispy and buttery, my absolute favorite, and started wondering about the principal ingredient. There must have been tons of it here in Salem in the nineteenth century, as it was the key ingredient in rum production and there were so many distilleries here. I know that molasses was imported into New England from the West Indies in the colonial era, but it think there were domestic refineries in the nineteenth century: was it produced in Salem? If so, where? Molasses-making is a messy business: was Salem ever in danger of experiencing its own version of the disastrous 1919 Great Molasses Flood in Boston? And what about consumption (besides rum): molasses does seem to have been much more in demand a century or so ago than now: why? There are so many recipes out there–for Black Jacks, still produced by America’s oldest candy shop, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie right here in Salem, as well as for another local molasses creation, Anadama bread, not to mention Indian Pudding, Boston baked beans and Boston brown bread. Molasses seems to be as characteristically New England  or “Boston” as the Red Sox. Then the English historian in me kicked in and I confronted the age-old question:  what’s the difference between molasses and treacle? Then the sixteenth-century historian in me kicked in, and I wondered what was the connection between molasses and the root of that old English word treacle, theriac, which was sold as a powerful panacea across early modern Europe. And just like that, my mind had wandered/wondered from cookies and candy to plague cures.

maryjane-directmailer

Advertisement for the famous Mary Jane molasses and peanut butter candy, made first by the Charles N. Miller Company in Boston in 1914  and later by the New England Confectionery Company (Necco).

The migration of medieval medical recipes into the culinary sphere was not always a straightforward process, but it’s best to proceed from the past rather than the other way around. Theriac was an ancient electuary (medicinal paste) used first and foremost as an antidote to venomous snake bites. In the classic case of fighting fire with fire, The flesh of the snakes themselves was an essential ingredient, along with lots of others–64 in all in the classic Galenic recipe. In the course of the Renaissance, theriac was compounded to various formulas and came to be regarded as a universal antidote and panacea, with that produced in Venice generally regarded as the most effective, and the most expensive, naturally. As poison was associated with plague in the late medieval medical mentality, so theriac became the key plague antidote and consequently its preparation was serious business: under official supervision to ensure the proper process and correct composition.

Theriac Hortus Sanitatis 1491

V0010760 An apothecary publically preparing the drug theriac, under t

L0057175 Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641

Theriac preparation from snakes (the origins of snake oil???) from the Hortus Sanitatis of Jacob Meydenbach, Mainz, 1491; woodcut illustration by Hieronymus Brunschwig of a physician supervising the manufacture of theriac by an apothecary, Liber de Arte Distillandi de Compositis, 1512, and seventeenth-century Italian majolica theriac jar, Wellcome Library.

Despite its (undeserved) reputation for efficacy, Venetian theriac could not crowd out the market in plague cures and regional recipes began to develop. In England, there were several major developments in the use and perception of theriac over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: in typical English fashion, the foreign word had long been anglicized as “treacle”, and  “Venetian Treacle” became an ingredient in variant plague cures and preservatives, rather than the exclusive antidote at about the same time that the London College of Pharmacists ruled that treacle need not contain snakes, and treacle (sans Venetian) started appearing in both medicinal and culinary recipes. Everything really changed–or came together–in the course of the seventeenth century, an era that was characterized by many, many recipes for “treacle water” as well as increasing imports of refined sugar from the West Indies, along with its by-products. These sweeter syrups, collectively called treacle, began to replace honey in the medicinal “London Treacle”, at about the same time that they started to appear as key ingredients in recipes for gingerbread, tarts, and puddings. So treacle comes to mean any syrup made during the sugar-refining process: black treacle, golden syrup, blackstrap, and molasses–all of which were relatively cheap ways to sweeten your plague water or your pudding. There were also treacle “lozenges” that soothed the throat and provided a bit of “sweatmeat” at the same time, and a recipe for gingerbread cakes that closely resembles that for my grandmother’s molasses cookies.

Treacle Water 1660

PicMonkey Collage

Treacles

A mid-17th century recipe for Treacle water containing Venice Treacle and less exotic ingredients, Wellcome Library Manuscripts; recipes from Mary Kettilby’s Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in cookery, physick, and surgery: for the use of all good wives, tender mothers, and careful nurses (1714–Thick Gingerbread) and Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747–Gingerbread Cakes); The two British treacles: plain treacle or “golden syrup” and “black treacle”, the closest approximation of American molasses.

 


Architectural Alphabets

Architecture and Alphabets: two of my favorite things, together. I’ve been meaning to post some images from Jean Baptiste de Pian’s clever alphabet ever since I discovered it a year or so ago, but just never got to it. There’s already some images and admirers out there, but I’ll add more. The lithographs below, part of a series of 26, were actually created and colored by Leopold Müller in 1842 after paintings by Pian. The series is very rare and valuable: one set sold for over $32,000 at a Christies’ auction last year, and another is currently available at Bromer Booksellers for $65,000. Apparently a facsimile edition was published in 1973 but I can’t find it anywhere. As you can see in the images below (which I have taken from the Christies’ listing), the letters are not just affixed to the structures but rather an integral part of them.

Architectural Alphabet 1842

Architectural Alphabet F

Architectural Alphabet U 1842

As impressive as they are, Pian/Müller’s letters are not completely original conceptions: just a few years earlier the Italian artist and theater designer Antonio Basoli had published his own, predominately classical,architectural alphabet, Alfabeto Pittorico, comprised of 24 letters and an ampersand. Basoli’s Alphabet, as it came to be known, is rare today as well, though apparently not quite so rare as that which it might have inspired: it fetched $15,000 at the same 2013 Christies’ auction. Before Basoli, there was the plan-based architectural alphabet of the German architect Johann David Steingruber, published in 1773. Viewed individually, I don’t think Steingruber’s letters are as impressive as the more consolidated forms of Pian/Müller and Basoli, but collectively (as in this canvas by Ballard Designs from a few years back) they pack a punch.

Alphabetical Alphabet Basoli

Architectural Alphabet Z

steingruber1

steingruber6

Steingruber Ballard Designs

Scans of Basoli & Steingruber at the venerable blog Giornale Nuovo, a feast of information and images.

The architectural alphabet looks like a seventeenth-century invention to me: a direct consequence of the rebirth of classicism and the emergence and development of the printing arts in the centuries before. But I think I’ll move up (back) to our own time, where the architectural alphabet still survives, indeed thrives! Two great examples: Federico Babino’s alphabet of architects, cleverly titled Archibet (he also builds an Archibet City), and the (less integrative but more whimsical) Architectural Alphabet of Andrew Zega and Bernd Dams.

Archibet-alphabet-of-architects-by-Federico-Babina_dezeen_A-01

Archibet-alphabet-of-architects-by-Federico-Babina_dezeen_Z-01

zega and dams


Mapping the Twentieth Century

In the recent tradition of Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects and Jerry Brotton’s History of the World in 12 Maps, the British Library published A History of the 20th Century in 100 Maps last month, and my copy arrived in the mail yesterday. The book consists of 110 maps actually, compiled for the most part from the Library’s vast map collection by Tim Bryers and Tom Harper. The maps are arranged chronologically and presented with detailed introductions: the end result is a perfect book. It occurred to me while browsing through it last night that the physical book is the preferable vehicle for the presentation of maps: they require close reading, although I suppose the zooming abilities of a Kindle would be helpful too. As I’ve written here time and time again, whether discussing maps in the form of animals, or hearts, or featuring octopuses bent on world domination, maps are an essential teaching tools, and this new book contains some great material. Though I do disagree slightly with Bryers’ and Harper’s thesis that the twentieth century is the map century: in terms of sheer cartographic impact, I would place my bet on the sixteenth.

Maps cover

Map London Underground BL

Map Dogs 1914

Map Blitz 1940

Map April Fool 1977

Map Orwell 1984

Selections from A History of the World in 100 Maps: London Underground Map, 1908 (20+ years before the iconic map was created in the 1930s); Hark, Hark! The Dogs do Bark map by Johnson, Riddle & Co., 1914; secret Luftwaffe map of London at the beginning of the Blitz, 1940–with places marked for bombing and avoidance; Artwork for the Guardian’s article on the fictional islands of San Serriffe, published on April Fool’s Day in 1977; “The World of George Orwell’s ‘1984’, published in 1984.

 


Scary Vegetables

In honor of Halloween and the ongoing harvest season, as well as my continuous fascination with anthropomorphism, today I have a portfolio of images which I have labeled “scary vegetables”, some of which are scary because of the human-like characteristics assigned to them (in both the mandrake and pumpkin-head traditions) and others which are simply scary. I’ve featured this topic before, but this variation is a bit more creepy and much more focused on vegetables in general and root vegetables in particular. There’s nothing particularly modern about these images: the aforementioned mandrake with its humanoid roots was a medieval forerunner, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s whimsical portraits definitely made plants-in-human-form the embodiment of grotesque in the Renaissance and influenced surrealistic expressions centuries later. Some plants are scary just on their own–especially their roots–but others require a bit of artistic embellishment. I’m not quite sure why Diego Rivera’s radishes are so very menacing, but they certainly are!

Scary Plants Blood Root p

Scary Vegetables Kirby

PicMonkey Collage

Scary Turnipp

Scary Vegetables diegorivera_1947

Scary Vegetables Etsy Dewey

Scary Vegetables Horner

Sources of Scary Vegetables:  Bloodroot from Bigelow’s American Medical Botany, 1817; Turnip, Radish & Parsnip “Roots” from Kirbys Wonderful and eccentric museum; or, Magazine of Remarkable Characters, 1820; C.J. Grant colored lithographs/”advertisements” for Morrison’s vegetable pills, 1831, Wellcome Library; an old postcard from my collection, c. 1910-30?; Diego Rivera’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1947, Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City; “Tragedy 29: Turnip Seeds” print by BenjaminDewey;”Look Pa” print by CathyHorner.

 

 

 


Ann Putnam

October 18, 1679 marked the beginning of the short and miserable life of Ann Putnam, one of the principal accusers in the “circle” of girls who initiated and sustained the Salem Witch Trials in the spring, summer and fall of 1692. She claimed to have been afflicted by 62 people, and testified against many before the Court of Oyer and Terminer, in a series of well-attended dramatic performances (you can read her testimonies here). It is easy to paint Ann as a villain, despite her youth, but many historians believe that she was manipulated by her powerful and vengeful father Thomas, along with her equally-afflicted mother Ann Sr., who shared the stage with her.

Ann Putnam Pyle 1893

“There is a flock of yellow birds around her”: Ann Putnam and the “Afflicted Girls” in the courtroom in an illustration by Howard Pyle for “Giles Cory, Yeoman,” a play by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Volume LXXXVI, 1893.

I am wondering how the Putnams were perceived by their neighbors after Governor William Phips dissolved the Court in late October of 1692. One very strong indication might be the fact that Thomas and Ann, Sr., who both died within weeks of each other in 1699, are buried in unmarked graves in the Putnam family cemetery in Danvers, Massachusetts, along with their daughter Ann, who died in 1716 at the relatively young age of thirty-seven. Ann’s post-Trials life seems to have been characterized by drudgery (caring for her nine younger siblings after their parents’ deaths), isolation, and contrition: she is the only one of her Circle to apologize for her actions in 1692. This very public apology, written as a condition for her re-admission to the Salem Village Church and read aloud to the congregation by the Reverend Joseph Green in 1706, remains a powerful statement merely because of its exclusivity, even though its references to the delusions of Satan might be unsatisfactory for modern mentalities:

“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father’s family in the year about ’92; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.”

A variant on Ann’s proclaimed desire to “lie in the dust” is the title of a new graphic novel, Lies in the Dust. A Tale of Remorse in the Salem Witch Trials, written by Jakob Crane and illustrated by Timothy Decker. If you are in the Salem area, there is an accompanying exhibition at the Winfisky Gallery at Salem State University. I looked at the illustrations yesterday, and then drove over to look for the Putnams’ grave, which is a slightly-elevated, unmarked mound in the family cemetery, wedged between the Massachusetts State Police headquarters and a professional office building off Route 62 in Danvers–which was then Salem Village, where it all began. The site of the cemetery is so Danvers, which quietly and respectfully acknowledges its role in the Witch Trials, in sharp contrast to SCREAMING Salem Town, the Witch City.

liesinthedustweb

Ann Putnam 063

Ann Putnam 076

 

 


One Woman’s War

As part of the World War I centennial commemorations which are slowly taking shape in the US and in full flight over there in Europe, the Massachusetts Historical Society has assembled an exhibition entitled Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War, the centerpiece of which are the nearly 250 photographs taken by Newton textile heiress Margaret Hall, who left her comfortable life in the summer of 1918 to take up work at a Red Cross canteen in France. Hall was 42 at the time, but she had been a history major at Bryn Mawr, and it is very clear to me–from both her photographs and their captions and the letters assembled in the accompanying book Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: the World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall (ed. by Margaret R. Higonnet with Susan Solomon)– that she felt honor-bound to record the devastation of the Great War. And that she did. Her photographs, which have all been digitized on the MHS website, fall into roughly three categories: life at the canteen, troop movements, and the ravages of war–the latter images include the French countryside, leveled cities (Ypres!!!! Verdun), and the battlefields, which look like wasteland and are labeled as such. She takes us (literally) into the trenches and shows us all the captured German ammunition: my favorite image is of a celebratory Paris at war’s end where a pile of German guns is topped by a triumphant French rooster. Hall takes care to show both life and death in the closing months of the war, and from her American perspective she clearly grasps the fact that this was the first world war, bringing men (and women) from all over the globe to live (and die) in France.

Just a few of Margaret Hall’s photographs:

One woman's War I

French troops on the march.

One woman's War 2

“Miss Mitchell in her Garden”: Hall’s colleagues at the Red Cross canteen in Châlons-sur-Marne.

One woman's war 3 Six Nationalities

“Six Nationalities” at the Canteen.

One Woman's War 4 Our Sausage Balloon

“Our Sausage Balloon”

One Woman's War 5 Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral, “France triumphant rising out of her ruins”

One Woman's War 7 Verdun

Outside Verdun.

One Womans War 5 Americans

Americans.

One Woman's War 8 Cemetery

“U.S.A. National Cemetery, Romagne–Argonne, June 1919″.

One Woman's War 9 Cock

 “Cock crowing for Victory“, Paris 1919.


American Gothic

The British Library’s blockbuster Gothic exhibition, Terror and Wonder:  the Gothic Imagination opened yesterday across the pond, complete with a (rather suspect-looking) vampire-slaying kit. I like the title: that’s just what makes Gothic literature so compelling, the combination of fear and curiosity. Horror is something else entirely: it’s just repulsive. Gothic is humanistic; horror is not. I hope to see the exhibition myself but it has already inspired me to think about my favorite examples of American Gothic literature: I can’t go back to the eighteenth century, where Terror and Wonder begins with Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, because I haven’t read anything by the man whom everyone identifies as the first Gothic author, Charles Brockden Brown, so my list begins with Edgar Allen Poe and then proceeds rather conventionally: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, The Yellow Wallpaper, the amazing short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which I read for the first time just last week, several stories by Ambrose Bierce, Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (I know–it’s very British but he was born American), anything by Flannery O’Connor (I know–southern Gothic deserves its own special categorization, but I’m only really familiar with Flannery, the namesake of my first cat), and also pretty much anything by Shirley Jackson:  I particularly like We have always Lived in the Castle (1962). Just a short list as my fiction-reading has been limited, for the most part, to an earlier phase of my life, but I would love more suggestions for the years to come.

Gothic

Gothic Gables Folio Society

Gothic Gillman

Gothic Bierce (1893)

American Gothic James

Gothic O'Connor

American Gothic Jackson

Harry Perkins illustration of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart (1923), from the “Terror and Wonder” Exhibition at the British Library; Francis Mosley illustration from the Folio Society’s edition of the  House of the Seven Gables; Title Page of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Stetson (Gilman), New England Magazine, 1892; Ambrose Bierce’s collection of short stories (1893); Penguin English Library edition of Henry James’ Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw; Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories; and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,224 other followers

%d bloggers like this: