Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sore Throat? Try Hannah Woolley's Sirrop of Violets, 1675

Thursday, January 27, 2011
Susan reporting:

Like many, many people in the northern hemisphere, I have a cold, which is probably why I've found the new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC so intriguing. Beyond Home Remedy: Women, Medicine, & Science is running now through May 14. While women of every rank have traditionally been the family medical caretakers, dispensing home-made remedies and folk wisdom, this exhibition shows their early recipe and housekeeping books instead as the precursors to modern medicine, and stresses the female contributions to the growth of scientific learning. 

One of the books on display is The queen-like closet, or Rich cabinet , above, by Hannah Woolley (1622-c.1675), published in 1675. Hannah came from a family where both her mother and her sisters were skilled in "physick and chirurgery," and her books on household management were among the first to be written by a woman for a female audience.  Below is her recipe for syrup of violet, a popular remedy for soothing a sore throat. Yet this same simple syrup was also employed in experiments on color conducted by philosopher and chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691). The Folger's site has a fascinating short video explaining these experiments, as well as how Hannah's concoctions, being made by a woman, would never merit the same attention as those of Boyle's, an educated gentleman and the son of an earl. 

Meanwhile, if you, too, are suffering from a malady of the throat, here is Hannah's recipe transcribed – though good luck gathering fresh violets in January.

To make Sirrop of Violets
Pick your Violets very clean, and beat them well in a Mortar, then strain them, and to one pint of the juyce take one quarter of a pint of Spring-water; put it into the Mortar with the stamped Violets which you have strained, stamp them together a while, and strain the Water well from them, and mix them with your other juyce; then put it into a long Gally-pot, and to each pint of juyce put in one pound of double Refined Sugar; let it stand close covered for the space of twelve hours; then put in a little quantity of Juyce of Lemmon, that will make it look purely transparent; then set your Gally-pot into a Kettle of seething-water covered, till you find it to be thick enough; then set it by till it is cold, then put it up.

Above: The queen-like closet, or Rich cabinet, by Hannah Woolley, London, 1675
Thanks to Michael Robinson for suggesting this exhibition to us.

9 comments:

Tonya said...

Oh Wow this is really interesting. You are right though trying to find Violets in Jan would be rather difficult thanks so much for posting this. I love your blog and enjoy each time I stop by.

Romney said...

Lots of sugar, lemon juice and hot water. Sounds like a Lemsip. (which I have been drinking a lot lately)

Jane O said...

My goodness, how many violets would you need to end up with a pint of juice?

Do you suppose putting them in a blender or food processor would work just as well?

Don't you love old recipes that say things like cook it until it is "thick enough"?

Beth Dunn said...

You have no idea how timely this was -- I've been scouring the web, looking for a source for home-brewed recipes for medical purposes from the period. AND it's available for ZERO dollars in the Kindle version! Man, I love the past, but living in the future sure has its benefits. :)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

There ARE so many vague things about this, at least to modern readers. How many violets are required to make one pint of juice? I've never really considered flowers "juicy." Does "picking violets very clean" mean washing them well, or pulling off everything (stems, leaves, stamens) except the petals? And, as Jane O asked, how thick is thick enough? Questions, questions....

Romney, I'm not sure violets have any real flavor (does anyone know?), so you're right - that lemon was probably an important ingredient.

Beth, I'm with you completely. Love visiting the past, but quite happy to live in the now. Glad Hannah Woolley was there to help you.
BTW - Amazon has a number of early cookbooks available as freebie downloads. Here's the link to Mrs. Beeton's book on household management, and from there you can find many others:
http://amzn.to/eiXhhW

nightsmusic said...

Take out the violets, add tea and whisky and you've got a hot toddy which is a wonderful thing when you have a sore throat. I prefer mine with honey rather than sugar though. I love the old recipes. My gran passed a few down to me but alas, during our moves, they were lost. Just like all my wedding photos...

Dean said...

I was taught as a child by my great aunt in making the family violet syrup recipe from the 1870's "to pick clean"-- only using the petals (the stamen will add bitterness)...... the expectation is that you put away in season, and have in your cupboard when necessary. It was always a treat to have a tea or a punch sweetened with a little of this violet syrup.... of course in the early 20th century, Creme de Violette was a commercially available liqueur which was a cocktail ingredient that was recently revivied by the retro mixology movement in recent years........ ah, makes me long for spring to gather and put away violets candied, or syrup... I'll just have to content myself with my lavender syrup from last summer- time for some Lavender and Bergamot gin punch

QNPoohBear said...

How interesting. I wonder if it works?
Here's a related blog post you might find interesting
http://pplspeccoll.blogspot.com/2010/12/olde-style-medicine.html

You can blow up the photo to read the advertisement.

Constipation Remedies said...

I have been battling a bad cold for the last two weeks and most recently it has included really bad congestion and headaches. I am hoping this is the last stage because there seems to be no relief in sight.

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