Mrs Ann Newbery's Cookbook
'A Florandine of all sorts of Fruit.
Cherreys & Damsins & Gooseberryes, put in no
seasoning but sugar, if Apples stew them in water,
with Cinnamon & Cloves, put in sugar, fill
At first glance, Shelfmark 206.98 is an unprepossessing notebook stitched into a dark brown paper wrapper, however, on closer inspection, its pages reveal a great deal more, and is an instance when the adage ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ truly applies. On the flyleaf, owner Mrs Ann Newbery has inscribed her name and the date ‘November the 23th 1689’, when we assume she commenced the exercise of transcribing her collection of recipes, and the ensuing pages of the untitled manuscript represent a wonderful record of the culinary inclinations of the seventeenth century.
The manuscript has three clear divisions. The first with 74 recipes ends on page 30 with instructions for stewing carp, and is completed with the word Finis and several decorative flourishes. In the following two sections there are several stylistic changes in the presentation of the recipes and discernible changes in the handwriting, which suggest that the manuscript contains several hands. It is not uncommon for a collection of recipes to be passed down a generation, from mother to daughter, and that recipes are added over the years. I will concentrate on the first section which can be by the consistency the orthography and handwriting comfortably attributed to Ann Newbery.
Although we know nothing conclusive about Ann other than she was married, as indicated in the inscription, we can glean that she was an educated woman, able to read and write. As few as 10 per cent of the female population in the seventeenth century were literate. Women of the gentry and noble classes fared better, and while many would have been taught to read, not all would have been able to write. Ann writes with ease, accuracy and great fluency. Her penmanship is confident and soberly elegant; her letter shapes are consistent to reveal someone who wrote with frequency.
Ann is not jotting down the recipes for her own purpose; she writes with an awareness of her audience, addressing them with gentle imperatives. To make ‘sett Custards’ she instructs the reader to ‘Let your flower be very fine, your liquour halfe milk and halfe water, if you will, you may put in a little butter’. She makes suggestions for alternatives if, for instance, the reader ‘cannot get John Apples, you may take Pippins’. It is tantalizing to imagine for whom she is writing– perhaps her daughters, her kitchen staff? As the mistress of the house Ann would have been charged with the management of the household which would have included deciding on the meals for the family and supervising the kitchen and her domestic help. It is unlikely that she would have cooked the dishes herself, rather she would have instructed her kitchen staff, who most probably were illiterate, on how the dishes were to be prepared. However, in just one recipe, does she does reveal herself. To ‘Baked Pudding’, she adds the personal note of ‘sometimes I put in a little Butter’, which suggests that there may have been favourite dishes that she may have enjoyed making.
Ann’s recipes reflect the rich tastes and food choices of the 1600s: cream and eggs were plentiful, so too meat, and hare, rabbit, venison, beef, mutton, pork, goose, turkey, duck, chicken, pigeon and even larks’ tongues found room on the Newbery dining table. Sugar, citrus fruits and spices, all expensive items for the kitchen were used abundantly and indicate that Ann was mistress of a wealthy household. Her collection of recipes heeds the seasonality of food – she pickles, conserves and preserves and makes marmalades. There are two recipes for pickling cucumbers; of the English variety, her recipe calls for 3000 concumbres. Either she was providing for a large family or she was taking her pickles to market.
The presentation of her manuscript is exceptionally clean and orderly, there are very few corrections and there are no telltale signs that it has been used in the kitchen. These factors combined with her professional style of writing prompt the question whether Ann had an eye to following in the footsteps of the immensely successful female writer Hannah Wolley, who by the time Ann was writing up her recipes was already in the sixth edition of The Queen-Like Closet, a general cookery book with medical remedies and confectionery. Wolley was the first woman to have her name attributed to such a book, and the first to have attempted to make a living from writing about cookery. The eighteenth century saw a steep growth in new cookery books, and perhaps Ann had ambitions to join the growing ranks of female authors.
Ann Newbery's Cookbook is from the Rix collection.
By L. Baird.