The definition of the term “collection” is loose. A manuscript may have only a handful of recipes, or more than five hundred; they may be scattered across the codex, or grouped neatly in one quire. These recipes are often added and emended over time, in many cases by multiple generations of readers. One example is Huntington Library MS HU 1051, a medical and scientific miscellany written by at least thirteen people throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Equally capacious is the term “remedy.” Many manuscripts include a mixture of medical and domestic, cosmetic, and even illusion recipes. British Library MS Harley 2389, for example, contains cosmetic recipes (for depilation), obstetric remedies (for the delivery of a stillborn child) and instructions for the care of young children, including a remedy for worms in a child’s stomach and directions for the administration of medication to a newborn unable to receive oral remedies. It also includes directions for ridding bedrooms of spiders and flies; for protecting herb gardens from insects; and for removing stains from a variety of fabrics.
These texts suggest an epistemological fluidity, a form of domestic knowledge that encompassed culinary, medical, and cosmetic acts of bodily maintenance and did not, formally at least, distinguish many rigid boundaries between them.
Some digitized medieval remedy collections
- San Marino, Huntington Library
- MS HU 1051 (c. 1475-1575)
- London, British Library
- Harley MS 2378 (c. 1360-1722)
- London, Wellcome Library