Though Salem is very much a foodie town today, I don’t think it has a historical culinary reputation, but there are four foodstuffs that do stand out in its long history: a daunting sour beer beverage called whistle–belly vengeance, a “Salem” suet pudding, Gibralters, a hard candy invented and marketed by Mrs. Spencer–atop–her carriage, and Molly Saunders’ gingerbread, which came in two varieties: top-shelf and lower-shelf. The latter received acclaim even in mid-nineteenth-century Boston, which liked to lord over fading Salem at every opportunity. In her reminiscences of A Half Century in Salem, Mariane Silsbee gives us perhaps the best description of this storied item: Anybody who has never tasted “Molly Saunders’ gingerbread” has missed a pleasure. In a small shop on Central Street was a door, half wood, half glass, such as formerly were so universal, and the children could peep at the destined feast before lifting the latch, thereby tinkling a bell to give notice of a customer. The common name of this gingerbread was “upper shelf” and “lower shelf”. Upper shelf had butter in it, lower shelf had none; “upper shelf” was three cents a cake, “lower shelf” was two; and both were so delicious that whoever chose the one longed also for the other, but youthful funds were limited. It appeared and disappeared with the maker. Whether she was a Mrs. or a Miss is not now known; if she retired from business during life, or left it in dying, is a doubt not to be settled. The Bedneys were the next occupants of the shop; their election cake was good, but they were merely successors, not rivals, to the immortal Molly Saunders. There was a reappearance of Molly Saunders’ gingerbread in the twentieth century in the form of recipes in What Salem Dames Cooked (1910) and my favorite Hamilton Hall Cookbook (1947), but who knows which of these (variant) recipes are authentic—if either? (The Dames top shelf recipe doesn’t even have ginger in it, and contrary to what Mrs. Silsbee asserted, both varieties have butter as an ingredient). How were they passed down from the “immortal” though rather mysterious Molly Saunders?
Recipes & stories of Molly Saunders’ famous gingerbread were passed down in a variety of publications over the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries…..
I am no culinary detective but I don’t really trust any of those twentieth-century recipes. Instead, I decided to refer to a publication closer to Molly Saunders’ own time: Mrs. Putnam’s Receipt Book, and Housekeeper’s Assistant, first published in Boston in 1849. This is such a great book: it has such an air of confidence about it and also of tradition: Mrs. Putnam and Mrs/Miss Saunders were coming from the same place and time and so I think their gingerbread recipes would be similar. New England cooks in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries discerned between hard and soft sugar and molasses gingerbreads, and I think this might also be the distinction between Molly Saunders’ top- and lower-shelf varieties, but whether it’s the hard or the soft or the molasses or the sugar I do not know! In any case, here are Mrs. Putnam’s receipts, and it is perfectly clear that we are talking about cake gingerbread here, and not the snaps or cookies that were sold more on the fly, at musters and fairs. And in addition to all of these recipes, I’m also offering up a book recommendation in this post (or two, as I think I have recommended Mrs. Putnam as well): Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread, which also references a mysterious gingerbread recipe and started me on my little quest.
In the first few months of 1918, the Boston-area newspapers all carried a story about a local Salem family, the Gibneys of Oak Street, who had received a letter from President Woodrow Wilson thanking them for the service of their four eldest sons. All the stories printed the President’s letter verbatim, and detailed the service of the young Gibney soldiers, but they also directed a spotlight on their mother, Mrs. John (Alice) Gibney, who clearly represented the perfect wartime mother: an expert war gardener, frugal cook, and Red Cross volunteer. There are lots of stories about women rising to the challenges (and opportunities) of the home front during World War One, but I think Alice Gibney’s service was quite simply her life (and vice-versa).
Boston Sunday Post, February 3, 1918 & Boston Sunday Globe, April 7, 1918.
So let’s look at the life of Alice Marion O’Brien Gibney (1869-1945) in the Spring of 1918. She was a Lynn girl who married a Salem boy in 1890: they had fourteen children, three of whom died in infancy. The family home on Oak Street looks like it might have acquired some additions over the years, but even in its expanded state it’s a bit difficult to envision it containing a family of thirteen although obviously there was more room with the four oldest boys in the service. At around the same time that Alice and John Gibney received their letter from President Wilson, he was laid off from his job at a Lynn shoe factory, so he fell back on what seems to have been a secondary line of work, ferret-breeding (and later, extermination). So Alice not only had a houseful of children but also ferrets out back. Nothing phased her: she told the Boston Post reporter that “surely we haven’t the right to grumble over a little personal discomfort” when boys such as hers “have taken their lives in their hands for the sake of their country.” In addition to her work as one of the founding members of the Bowditch (School) Parent-Teacher Association, she established the Company H Woman’s Auxiliary, which “carefully looked after 150 boys….even if they are far away in France (with her son Alfred): for Christmas of 1917 she personally packed 150 Christmas parcels for these soldiers. Along with the ferrets, there were several gardens out back: a vegetable garden which enabled Mrs. Gibney to can 150 quarts of tomatoes and 32 quarts of beans and “put down” bushels of carrots, parsnips, and celery in her cellar, and a flower garden “which brought forth 10,000 blossoms” in 1917, which were sold in the market. She made jars of pear preserves and grape “catchup”, all the while also supervising the war gardens of her younger children, who took top prize in the Salem Chamber of Commerce garden contest several years in a row.
The standard war-time recipe for grape “catchup”, sometimes called catsup and later ketchup: it evolves into a relish over the twentieth century, but earlier in the century there were many different types of catchups: cranberry, mushroom, any fruit or vegetable really, and it was recommended that such sauces be served with roasts. I bet Mrs. Gibney had a more economical recipe for her grape catchup as 2 pounds of sugar would have been very dear in 1918.
Every day, in her free time, Alice Gibney went to the Red Cross headquarters in Salem to work on surgical dressings, baby layettes, or knitting projects, “wherever the need is greatest”. She also turned her practical experience at provisioning and feeding her large family to account in the service of Salem’s food conservation campaign. All four Gibney soldiers came home at the end of the Great War, several had families, and Mrs. Gibney lived to see her grandsons go off to war as well. She died at the close of World War II and is buried in Harmony Grove cemetery, not very far from her lifetime home.
We just discovered that Hamilton Hall served as a Surgical Dressings center for the Salem Red Cross in the summer of 1918, so Mrs. Gibney might have worked there—my attempt at a ghost sign for the Hall!
I was researching the major tea importers and purveyors in Salem in light of the upcoming anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, but another commodity kept popping up in the sources: turkey figs. I didn’t look at any customs records, but newspaper adverts both before and after the Revolution provide evidence of large imports of Turkey figs in Salem, and presumably a corresponding demand. I’m wondering if this is a by-product of what we now know was a very vibrant trade in fish and wine between Salem and the Iberian peninsula? It’s clear that figs were used for both medicinal and culinary purposes, although some purveyors favored one utility over the other. The very entrepreneurial apothecary Philip Godfrid Kast, for example, who had prosperous businesses in Boston, Salem, and Haverhill, clearly marketed them as a medicine in the 1770s and 1780s (though it also looks like he is providing Salem cooks with many of the ingredients for a Christmas “figgy pudding”). This was nothing new to me—I’ve spent the last year reading early modern medical manuals for the book I’m working on and figs are always listed as one of the few “useful” fruits by Elizabethan authors—and the prescription of figs for various cough syrups and digestive tonics continued into the twentieth century. I presume New Englanders were eating lots of figs too but I can’t find any recipes in the early American cookbooks, and apparently Thomas Jefferson brought back a cutting of this particular variety, now called Brown Turkey Figs, only when he returned from Paris in 1789.
Philip Godfrid Kast’s advertisements for Turkey figs in the 1770s and his 1774 trade card, American Antiquarian Society; Figs for sale in Salem, 1804-1829.
Not only do I not know what is happening to all those cases of figs being sold in Salem in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; figs are also difficult to identify as a culinary commodity in English cooking before the twentieth century. The classic “figgy pudding” seldom has any figs in it as the word was just a synonym for “plum”, denoting any dried fruit. Figgy pudding originated as a steamed savory potage and evolved into its sweeter, more Dickensian ideal over the early modern era and into the nineteenth century. Of course the Victorians invented Christmas as we know it, and the recipe for figgy pudding of Queen Victoria’s own chef, Charles Francatelli, contains no figs at all. In America, fig cultivation seems to have become centered on the South and California (particularly the valley surrounding Fresno) and so growers marketed a variety of fig recipes, encompassing everything from ices to jams to whips to “pickles”, and the use of figs in syrups for coughs and constipation continued into the twentieth century.
I’ve been collecting all sorts of information and anecdotes about the Remonds of Salem, an African-American family who are in the center of many movements and activities in mid-nineteenth-century Salem: they were zealous pursuers of the abolition of slavery and the desegregation of schools and transportation and every aspect of daily life and work, but they also advocated for other forms of social justice in their day, including women’s suffrage and the abolition of capital punishment. They were extremely entrepreneurial: the parents, John and Nancy Remond, served as the resident caterers of Hamilton Hall right, while also operating a number of sideline businesses until well in their seventies, and their children followed suit, pursuing advocacy work and building up successful businesses in the fields that were open to them. I’ve been fascinated with the Remonds—all of the Remonds—for quite some time, I guess ever since I moved into this house, right next door to what was their base of operations at Hamilton Hall, almost twenty years ago. I posted about them several years ago when Salem announced it would be naming a new park after the prominent abolitionists Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker Remond, but I know a lot more now. The Board of Hamilton Hall secured a grant last year to prepare educational materials on the Remonds, and I supervised a Salem State intern named Katherine Stone to help with the research: she uncovered some great family history, I kept going this summer, and I’ll be offering a general presentation of the family’s activities and networks on September 24 and 29 at Hamilton Hall as part of Essex Heritage’s annual Trails and Sails programming.
Some of my Remond files; for some reason I’ve been keeping all of the genealogical information in a notebook I bought in Portugal.
There’s a lot to say about this family: and that’s my central theme, that they worked together as a family, and as part of network of African-American families, both in Salem and up and along the northeastern coast, who all worked together to improve their lives and the lives of other African-Americans at a contentious but somehow still-hopeful time. At least it seems that way to me; I’m not trained in American history so my knowledge is impressionistic. The Remonds are kind of like my window into this time, and they are so gung-ho, I’m like, let’s go! But certainly they had their share of disappointments: they left Salem from 1837 to 1842 after Salem’s schools were re-segregated, transferring all of their energy, entrepreneurialism, and activism to Newport, Rhode Island, and poor Charles Lenox Remond, intrepid agent of the Massachusetts and American Anti-Slavery Societies, was always appealing for reimbursement of his expenses. The networks are so amazing: it’s no accident that Charlotte Forten, now herself the namesake of a Salem park, ended up with the Remonds when they returned and Salem’s schools were desegregated yet again, as well as another famous future educator, Maritcha Remond Lyons.
Signatures of Susan, Nancy, and Maritcha Remond on a petition to abolish the death penalty, 1850, Harvard Antislavery Petitions Dataverse; Trade card from the Remond Family Papers, courtesy of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum at Rowley, Massachusetts. The Library staff made lovely reproductions of several Remond items for me, and Hamilton Hall, and we’ll be using these in our educational materials.
There’s so much to say that I’m worried that my presentation will not have enough focus: it’s always easier to explain the importance of someone or something if you focus. I wish I could give an entire talk on just one of the Remond’s big dinners—and there were many: for the Marquis de Lafayette, for Chief Justice Joseph Story, for Nathaniel Bowditch, for President John Quincy Adams, and more. But I think the biggest dinner happened TOMORROW in 1828, a feast for the 200th anniversary of the arrival of John Endicott in Salem. It’s probably just because I have more sources for this particular dinner, but it seems to have been a very big deal. The Phillips Library has two menus for the dinner, a clean version and an annotated one: John Remond contracted for a fixed price with the owners of Hamilton Hall for these dinners, but if the number of attendants rose above the agreed-upon number he was paid more. He was not just the cook (in fact, I think Nancy was doing most of the cooking, with his elder daughters Nancy and Susan as they came of age–not for this dinner) he was very much the event planner: and no detail was overlooked. The newspapers recorded every detail of this dinner: all the attendees, all the speeches, and decorations, including “pictures of our distinguished forefathers, and of individuals of more recent date, whose characters, and whose services, were not forgotten in the libations of gratitude poured out upon this joyous occasion.” The article in The Salem Observer also noted “the tables loaded with the richest viandes, and the most delicious wines and fruits served up in elegant style by Mr. Remond. In the centre of the Hall, stood the identical table which belonged to Governor Endicott, and covered with a profusion of pears recently gathered from the tree which he planted.” [Where is that Endicott table?]
Courtesy Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.
And then we have another, anonymous, account of a visitor who was in town for the big anniversary celebration and dinner. It was quite a day, a “grand celebration” in which it “seemed as if all Boston had moved to Salem. Many great men there beside myself.” This observer is constantly remarking upon the festivity of the day and wondering what the Puritan people of Endicott’s day would think of it: at the North Church for the anniversary program, he finds “the house blazing with beauty and fashion. Contrasted ladies with Puritan mothers. Imagined good dames of 1628 coming into assembly, and finding daughters decked out in such trim. Guessed they’d make fine havoc of laced veils, flounced petticoats, love-locks (???) and whole alphabet of sinful finery.” By the time that dinner rolls around in the later afternoon, however, our anonymous observer has forgotten 1628 and is completely in the culinary moment.
Salem Observer, September 27, 1828; turn-of-the-century Turk’s Caps from the Book of Cakes (1903) by T. Percy Lewis and A.G. Bromley.
Tables loaded with dainties of all climes…..went through the whole bill of fare from oyster-patties to transmogrified pigeon. Thought Remond best cook in the universe. I guess he still has 1628 on his mind a bit (before he gets into the champagne), as he “wonders what Pilgrim Dads would have said to such a carnival.” This is a colorful illustration of the authority that Mr. Remond (he is generally referred to as Mr., though also by just his last name) held throughout his career, and it is very clear from all the references I have collected that this is an authority that extended to his family, and that came not only from their professional achievements but also their role in the community, in Salem. So I just have to establish this is my presentation in the most succinct, but yet revealing and representative, way. And regarding this menu: it looks impressive and exotic to us, but these are some pretty conventional dishes for the early 19th century, with recipes that can be found in a succession of European and American cookbooks. I explored Pigeons Transmogrified here, Green Turtle soup is everywhere in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and teals are small ducks. Molded jellies are also very popular in this time, and a “Turk’s Cap” was a tubed and scalloped mold used primarily for cakes: in Remond’s time they look like pottery versions of a bundt-cake mold, but later on they were made of cast iron and resemble muffin tins. The use of the plural in the menu suggests individual little cakes to me, and Nancy Remond was by all account a spectacular baker well-ahead of her time–but I’m not sure her Turk’s Caps would have been quite as “Victorian” as those above. So here you have the other challenge before me: not letting the delicious little details get in the way of the big picture.
I don’t believe that I’ve posted on books that I’ve read, or am reading, or want to read in quite some time: it seems like this whole past year has been consumed by the dislocation of our local history rather than more pleasurable pursuits! In years past, I always rounded up what I read–even before I started blogging—as a form of reflection, and December is obviously the best time for that. This year was odd not only because of the PEM problem, but also because I’ve been on sabbatical this fall and am writing my own book—so I’ve been reading primary sources and very specialized scholarly texts for the most part, not the sort of books that are going to rate inclusion in a top ten list aimed at a general audience. On weekends and at night I worked through a more entertaining stack by my bedside. I’ve always been a content reader even when I’m not reading for work: some history outside my period, lots of natural history, all sorts of books about books, and books about art and various types of design. I like to read about food in historical or cultural contexts, but I don’t really like to cook. I like to read about beverages in historical and cultural context as well, and I do like to mix drinks (and drink them). Not much fiction, and the occasional guide depending on what’s going on in my life. The first three books on this list intersect with my professional and private interests a bit, the rest are just representative of my varied interests, and the last book is a work of fiction, and one of the best books I read all year.
My book is actually based on Renaissance handbooks, but not handbooks as specialized, and as beautiful, as the one reproduced, in its first English translation, in Pasta forNightingales, an Italian orinthological study by Pietro Olina produced in 1622 with watercolor illustrations produced for the “Paper Museum” of the Roman collector and scholar Cassiano dal Pozzo. The text features all sorts of charming contemporary ways to relate to birds, including a chickpea pasta recipe for nightingales. This is just the kind of intersection—of folklore and emerging “science”— that I’m hoping to capture in my book. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, by Edward Wilson-Lee, tells the story of Christopher Columbus’s illegitimate son, Hernando Colón, and his thirty-year quest to assemble–and organize–the largest private library in Europe, a collection that sadly went to waste after his death. It’s not just Colón’s constant purchasing of books from all over Europe that makes this book interesting, but also his efforts to catalog them: their problem looks slight in comparison to ours, but Renaissance Europeans actually suffered (a bit) from “information overload” in the first decades of print. I’ve always learned a lot from Theodore Rabb—in graduate school and throughout my career–and the essays in Why Does Michelangelo Matter? address one of my key teaching goals: the integration of the visual arts into historical analysis. Jumping back and then forward in time: ancient history is not my favorite era, much less the horrible twentieth century, but I love Mary Beard and I wanted to read something about the Great War in this centennial year of its end, so I’ve got The Roman Triumph and Jörn Leonhard’s Pandora’s Box. A History of the First World War on my list.
I am including Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, about the devastating destruction by fire of the Los Angeles Angeles Public Library in 1986 in particular and the impact of libraries on public and private lives in general, on my list even though I haven’t read it. It just seems appropriate for this year when I was obsessed with the loss of a library (and she is such a good writer): it’s nearing the top of my bedside stack. My food book this year (so far) is Dan Stone’s The Food Explorer, which is really about a botanist bureaucrat who transformed the American diet through his discoveries in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On to drink: I’m including a mixology book because it’s been a difficult year: gin is my spirit of choice and I’m always looking for the perfect gin and lemon drink, and Gin Made me Do It helped me to refine one. I really am a material girl at heart, and an anglophile, and I live in a townhouse, so Ros Byam Shaw’s’s Perfect English Townhouse, showcasing 14 stunning homes, is perfect for me. Finally, my last pick: Francis Spufford’s amazing novel of colonial New York City: Golden Hill. Rarely do I read fiction, even rarer still, historical fiction: essentially I have to know the author to indulge in that genre. But, much like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, this book just submerged me into into its time and setting. I devoured it: you will too, I bet.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, Thanksgiving was a very different holiday in some ways, but familiar in others. It did not become a national holiday until 1863: before that the Salem papers (I’m using the Salem Register in this post) note with each passing year how many governors have issued proclamations adopting the “joyous festival, so long the ‘peculiar institution’ of New England”. How jarring to see this phrase applied to Thanksgiving—when I thought it was an exclusive reference to slavery! I’m not sure I’m really comfortable with the phrase “Universal Yankee Nation” in this 1847 article either.
Apart from the provincial pride, Thanksgiving was also a busy public holiday, rather than merely a family gathering. It was both sacred and secular, and everyone was out and about in the morning (for church services) and the evening (for concerts and dances). I assume they ate their Thanksgiving dinners in between, as there were lots of advertisements for various foodstuffs in the weeks before the big day, which was always in November in Massachusetts despite some December dates chosen by other states. Provisioning and preparations were very important: not just for family meals, but also for the meals that were prepared by different civic groups for orphans, prisoners, “inmates of the Alms House”, and (during the Civil War) soldiers.
These advertisements from the Salem Register (from 1847-75) give some semblance of what Thanksgiving festivities were all about in mid-nineteenth-century Salem but are an under-representation: people really wanted to give thanks in as many ways as possible, especially during the Civil War. But they also wanted to celebrate: Thanksgiving is always referred to as a “festival”. Turkey–and other fowl– was definitely on the menu as you can see from the “warning” to Salem’s resident birds, and cranberries as well. I remain extremely impressed by the entrepreneurialism of Mr. John Remond, an African-American man who served as the resident manager and caterer of (a very busy) Hamilton Hall while also running several provisioning businesses downtown: he arrived in Salem from the West Indies in 1798, all alone and only ten years old, and seems to have transformed himself into one of the city’s major players by the 1820s. He and his wife Nancy (who also had her own business–and they had eight children) were also active abolitionists and do not seem to have suffered the handicaps faced by most African-Americans in the nineteenth century, but then again, advertisements only reflect one small sliver of their lives. But they can tell us that year after year in Salem, oysters, whether individually or in pies, were much in demand for Thanksgiving.
I am encountering so many references to quinces in my early modern recipe books and regimens: to eat, to preserve, in tarts and jellies and marmalade, of course. These English people really loved quinces, or they depended on them, and so they brought them to New England, where every garden apparently had a quince tree or bush; apparently only one was needed because they were so fruitful. There was even a moment in time when quinces were considered as a possible staple crop here in Salem: according to Felt’s Annals of Salem, there was a succession of crop failures which led to scarcity of corn in the 1760s, provoking a public inquiry “whether some foreign vegetables might not be introduced, which would serve as a substitute for bread”. The “quince of Portugal” was proposed, along with the “Spanish potato” (did they not know that the potato was a native North American crop?). This is a good clue, confirmed by some of the English evidence: apparently the English variety of quince was not so pleasing as the Mediterranean variety, thus it needed a lot of cooking, steaming, boiling, roasting and sugaring: just perfect for what the English liked to do to all sorts of foods. According to Thomas Moffatt in Health’s Improvement (1655), quinces were worth the trouble: though their raw flesh be as hard as raw beef unto weak stomachs, yet being roasted, or baked, or made into Marmalade, or cunningly preserved, they give a wholesome and good nourishment.” This was fine for the seventeenth century, but in the nineteenth century I think people wanted to just pick a piece of fruit off the tree and eat it, and consequently Robert Manning, Salem’s superstar horticulturist (and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s uncle) just gives a few paragraphs to quince trees in his New England Book of Fruits and seems more interested in grafting his beloved pears onto them to create dwarf varieties. As quince also served as a type of pre-modern gelatin the development of alternative sources and processes in the nineteenth century were factors that must have aided its gradual disappearance as well. By the later nineteenth century, there were only to be found in “grandmothers’ gardens” and now—nowhere.
Quince, Cabbage, Melon & Cucumbers, by Juan Sanchez Cotan, 1602, San Diego Museum of Art; a Quince tree in Leonhart Fuchs’ De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Notable Commentaries on the History of Plants), 1542; the eighteenth-century recipe book of the Marchioness of Wentworth and a recipe for “Quince Cakes”; “Quince stock when grafted or budded with a Pear”, Robert Manning’s New England Book of Fruits, 1847; Arthur Wesley Dow, “Our Quince Bush”, 1895, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Well, except for the Bonnefont Herb Garden at the Cloisters (below) and there are a few quince boosters out there so maybe we will see a revival. Since they are small trees, they are perfect for urban courtyard gardens like mine, so I’m looking for a space…..and speaking of small urban gardens, for those of you in Salem (or nearby), the creator of one of the most impressive gardens in Salem (which you can see here) is giving a talk this Thursday night in the atrium of the Peabody Essex Museum. No doubt her garden is illustrative of her knowledge, which means we will all learn a lot!
I’m working on three projects during my sabbatical this semester, but the one that has (re-)captured my attention, and to which I have devoted the most time so far, is an old study of the more utilitarian features of the long English Renaissance, including agriculture, medicine, home-keeping, construction (rather than architecture), engineering, navigation and other individual and collective “industrious pursuits”. Food and drink are at the intersection of several of these pursuits, so I’ve spent several weeks researching not so much what early modern people ate and drank but rather what they were supposed to eat and drink according to contemporary “authorities”. This is far more interesting than the basis of my other industrious pursuits, which is of course math. Eventually I must get into math but right now I’m enjoying reading about food. There are many opinions in the early modern regimens organized around the Galenic concept of the non-naturals, external and environmental factors which affect health: air, food & drink, rest & exercise, sleep & waking, excretions & repletions, and “affections of the mind”, but in this post I’m going to focus primarily–but not exclusively– on the advice of a physician-entomologist named Thomas Moffat, which was published posthumously as Healths Improvement: or, Rules Comprizing and Discovering the Nature, Method, and Manner of Preparing all sorts of Food used in this Nation in 1655, with “corrections and enlargements” made by Dr. Christopher Bennet. Moffatt wrote the original manuscript around 1595, and he segregated diet from all the other non-naturals in a manner that is more modern than early modern: it is an orderly and due course observed in the use of bodily nourishments, for the preservation, recovery, or continuance of the health of mankind.
Even though he was a practicing physician and an avid entomologist, Moffatt’s diet advice is more ancient Greek/biblical than empirical, though he does make the interesting distinction between “full, moderate, and thin” diets, which increase, repair, and lessen flesh, spirits and vapors in the body respectively. Most adults should follow moderate diets in alliance with their designated humoral complexion or temperament, representing the particular combination of humors (blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile) with their attendant qualities, or degrees (hot, cold, moist, dry). Everything and every substance has humors, not just bodies, so foods should be chosen to preserve health according to the rule that like is sustained by the like, or restore health by employing foods with contrary degrees. That’s all pretty standard for this time, but Moffat explores food to a greater degree than many of his contemporaries: its taste and distaste, its preparation, when to eat it—and when (and how) to kill it if it is a beast. All beasts are fair game, both domestic and wild (even hedgehogs) and all parts of all beasts (believe me). A few expressions of vegetarianism will emerge over the course of the seventeenth century, but Moffatt’s treatise is not among them. Nearly every food is good for someone at sometime, but the when must be considered along with the what, as for example, seemingly-harmless butter, which is best at break∣fast, tolerable in the beginning of dinner; but at supper no way good, because it hinders sleep, and sendeth up unpleasant vapours to annoy the brain, according to the old Proverb, Butter is Gold in the morning, Silver at noon, and Lead at night. It is also best for children whilst they are growing, and for old men when they are declining; but very unwholesome betwixt those two ages….a veritable lifetime of no butter! Thankfully, Moffatt seems to be the only one proffering this advice; most regimen writers assert that butter is just fine, especially when salted and mixed with honey and/or sugar, the universal panacea of the early modern era (for those who could afford it).
Making miraculous sugar in Nova Reperta (New Inventions of Modern Times), engraved by Jan Collaert I, after Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus, and published by Philips Galle, 1600.
Sweeteners make everything better—water, wine, butter–not just better-tasting, but better, according to all opinions: “Sugar agrees with all ages and all complexions”, wrote Thomas Cogan in his Haven for Health (1584). Water should be avoided at all costs, unless it was pure rain water or mixed with sugar or honey; ale, beer and wine were much preferred, especially “Rhenish” (white) wine. Writing several decades before Cogan, Philip Moore summarized his diet advice according to ease of digestion and engendering of “good juice” in his Hope of Health: partridges, pheasants, chickens, capons, hens, small birds, newly-laid eggs, rare or poached, young pork, veal, new milk, fresh fish from gravelly and stony rivers…bread made of the flour of good wheat, being well-leavened, sufficiently salted and well baked in an oven, being two or three days old. And also pure wine. Even though “meate” is often used to refer to all food, it’s not difficult to glean that meat (or flesh) was key to a healthy diet, and chicken and mutton were generally preferred, “boiled and eaten with opening (fresh) cordial herbs”, a beefed-up version of the pottage most people probably were eating.
Two calendar illustrations from Thomas Trevilian’s marvelous Miscellany, 1608: Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.b. 232 (formerly Folger MS 450517).
There is still a reticence about fruits and vegetables among seventeenth-century regimen writers, particularly the former, although that is changing: a terrible famine in the 1590s inspired a major reconsideration. William Vaughan, in his Approved Directions for Health, both Natural and Artificial (1600), asserts that fruits are eaten more for wantoness than for any nutritive or necessary good”, but he praises many vegetables, and gives us a recipe for the very best “sallet” made of pennyroyal, parsley, lettuce and endive, which “opens the obstruction of the liver and keeps the head in good plight”. Moffatt is more open to fruit, but like most of his contemporaries, he warns against the raw state: all apples are worst raw, and best baked and preserved (with rosewater, honey and/or sugar, of course). But by all means avoid “melomachia, the ‘apple-fight”; [as] cruel fluxes surprised the Army upon this, and many died of intolerable gripings. It seems as if most fruits are acceptable if they are baked, roasted, or “cunningly preserved”, with sugar, and taken with wine: figs, in particular, draw much commentary as a wholesome fruit, but only if consumed in the right way. According to Moffatt, figs are dangerous without wine, but wholesome with it. Vegetables can be nourishing as well, but only if you pick the “whitest and tendrest-leafed” and steep and cook them for quite some time. In addition to the application of fire, the accompaniment of wine, and sweeteners, garden herbs and spices, both “homebred” and imported or “outlandish”, can change the nature of everything, particularly sage, the versatile herb of salvation from time immemorial. Moffatt (and Bennett) leave sage to the herbalists, an indication of the increasing specialization of medical texts in the seventeenth century, but Vaughan gives us a “wholesome diet drink” for everyone, made of a variety of the most useful domestic herbs, processed in seventeenth-century style.
Salem is such a foodie/libations town now; I’m surprised there is so little culinary history served up. With countless restaurants, several bakeries and food shops, one brewery and another on the way, a cidery and distillery—all very busy—you would think there would be an ongoing audience for deep dives into the historical production and distribution of foodstuffs and beverages, but the only serious purveyors of such presentations (with ample samples!) are Salem Food Tours, and their affiliated attraction, the Salem Spirits Trolley, which runs in October. Good for them, but I think there’s room for more food-and-drink history, because Salem is not just a foodie town now; it always has been. The Peabody Essex Museum is hosting a brewing-themed event this week for which several area brewers have produced beverages based on the Museum’s collections: but only those collections that are right here in Salem so that’s not much to go on—the results must be somewhat watered-down if historical inspiration is the objective. A few trips up to the almighty Collection Center in Rowley and its encased Phillips Library would reveal more sources and more inspiration: here are some avenues of exploration that look particularly promising:
Women Brewers & Tavern-Keepers: there seem to have been quite a few in Salem! One old Salem source that is quoted in all of the books about early American taverns and libations (quite a large genre) is a bill presented to the Parish Committee of the East Church for “Punch, Flip, Sangrey, etc.” by Abigail Brown, Tavern Keeper in 1767, and when Katherine Clarke inherited the Ship’s Tavern, one of Salem’s first, from her husband in 1645 she was licensed to keep it as long as she found a “fit man yt is godlie to manage the business”. Hannah Lemon Beadle also became the keeper of her family’s tavern on Essex Street following her husband’s death a bit later in the seventeenth-century, before it became the site of Witch Trial interrogations in 1692. 10 boxes of inn, tavern & retail licenses will yield lots of more information about just who was selling what.
New England Magazine, 1892.
Spruce Beer. Logic tells me that Salem would have been a big producer of Colonial North America’s major contribution to the global world of beer, spruce beer, which compensated for shortages of both barley and hops in the New World and at the same time was recognized as a cure for scurvy. It was increasingly popular on both sides of the Atlantic in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: Dr. Bentley refers to it in his diary, and Jane Austen in her letters. It’s generally referred to as a home or “family” brew, however, so I supposed it was not produced commercially. I think there were alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions, and it seems to have been particularly popular in the summer. Here is General Jeffrey Amherst’s (of smallpox infamy) recipe:
And here is Amelia Simmons’ recipe, with hops, from American Cookery (1796): it is notable that this is the only beverage recipe in the acclaimed “first” truly American cookbook:
Take four ounces of hops, let them boil half an hour in one gallon of water, strain the hop water then add sixteen gallons of warm water, two gallons of molasses, eight ounces of essence of spruce, dissol|ved in one quart of water, put it in a clean cask, then shake it well together, add half a pint of emptins, then let it stand and work one week, if very warm weather less time will do, when it is drawn off to bot|tle, add one spoonful of molasses to every bottle.
What’s in the mix? I suspect that a lot of brewing was home-based so it might be in the “black box” which historians cannot open, but the Phillips Library has manuscript and printed recipe collections which might yield some interesting intructions for all sorts of beverages. The most comprehensive of the latter seem to be Joseph Coppinger’s American Practical Brewer and Tanner (1815) and MacKenzie’s five thousand receipts in all the useful and domestic arts: constituting a complete practical library … : a new American, from the latest London edition(1829), but there are “small beer” recipes in many contemporary cookbooks. Beer is seldom advertised before the later nineteenth-century: I looked through the Salem Gazette and found every single beverage BUT beer referenced in the first decade of the nineteenth century, although Mr. Ropes (below) was always in the market for barley!
There are more references to beer when it is mixed with something else: as in flip (which Abigail Brown furnished to the East Church Parish Council), the famous and “terrible” Salem drink Whistle Belly Vengeance, Bogus or Calibogus (spruce beer with rum), and Rattle-Skull ( dark rum and/or brandy and beer). Rum improved everything, of course, including cider (Stone-Wall or Stone-Fence).
Where are all the Tavern signs? I’ve got to admit that I’m as much, or more, interested in the material culture of taverns as the consumption–especially tavern signs. Salem tavern licenses were granted with the requirement that “there be sett up in some inoffensive sign obvious ways for direction to strangers”, and apparently signs for The Sun and the Bunch of Grapes once existed in the collections of the PEM’s predecessor, the Essex Institute, but all I can find are Washington Hotel signs at present: as you can imagine, Washington taverns and hostelries were as common in every American town as Washington streets in the nineteenth century.
Peabody Essex Museum and Alice Morse Earle, Stage-Coach and Tavern Days (1900).
There were lots of shoppers out and about in Salem yesterday for Small Business Saturday, a warm and sunny day which encouraged the pedestrian procurement that the city offers. Front Street is clearly the hub of Salem shopping, even though (or because) Essex Street is a pedestrian mall, but there were quite a few people at Pickering Wharf and in several other spots around the city as well. I try to buy all of my Christmas presents in Salem, which is getting easier with every year, as new shops like Mark Your Spot on Lafayette and Oak + Moss on the corner of Washington and Front (the very latest venture of the power duo who brought Roost to Salem years ago) open up. There’s been an interesting movement of Etsy and Instagram shops like Witch City Wicks and Hauswitch into brick-and-mortar buildings in Salem, and I find the two “institutional” shops, Waite & Pierce at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the Peabody Essex Museum’s shop to be extremely reliable sources of gift-giving. And as Salem is a foodie town, with more restaurants than I can count at present and more coming, it makes sense that it’s also a great place to buy food and drink gifts: at the Cheese Shop of Salem, the venerable Pamplemousse and even more venerable Harbor Sweets, among other purveyors.
Just a few Salem shops and wares: the newly-opened Oak + Moss which is full of gorgeous housewares, Salem “maps” at Hauswitch, pigs at Roost (+ a Thank You sign), ornaments at Curtsy, Mark Your Spot on lower Lafayette, packed with an eclectic variety of vintage merchandise, books at the Marble Faun, which has moved to Pickering Wharf from Essex Street, a PEM window and silhouettes, mead at Pamplemousse, absinthe set-ups at Emporium 32 on Central Street, candles and cards at Witch City Wicks, and a very local pillow at Grace & Diggs on Artists Row.