Don’t try this at home (unless you are a professional brewer)

Here’s a little transcription exercise for our Crocodile readers:

recipe title

Folger MS V.a.429, fol. 29r.

This is the title of a recipe in a book of culinary and medical receipts compiled between approximately 1675 and 1750 by a few generations of related women: Rose Kendall and Ann (Kendall) Cater of Kempstone, Bedfordshire, 1682; Elizabeth Clarke; and Anna Maria Wentworth of Wolley, Yorkshire, whose grandfather was Giles Clarke of Lyons Inn, London, and who later married Peter Bold of Bold Hall, Lancashire, 1725/26 (I’ve taken this information directly from the Hamnet record).

When paleography students encounter the title, they typically provide three alternatives for the third word. For example:

variant readings

Three variant readings for the title of the recipe.

The recipe is written in a straightforward secretary hand, but the letters are mostly unjoined. This is unusual for a cursive script such as secretary and suggests that the writer might have learned from a manual rather than a tutor (manuals rarely provide instruction on how to make the strokes that connect individual letters together). For a new paleographer, the lack of joins makes the hand somewhat disorienting because the flow is interrupted by all the spaces. Students also expect to see a mixed or round hand by the date that this receipt book was compiled, which leads them to overlook some basic secretarial letter forms.

One of the dangers of transcription is that if you confidently and repeatedly mis-transcribe a key word in a manuscript, the transcription becomes increasingly confusing. And if you fail to question your initial premise, you end up going to great lengths to try to make the text make sense.

Take a look at the entire recipe (and the one below, for cowslip wine, if you like).

V.a.429 fol 29r

Folger MS V.a.429, fol. 29r.

Line 3 of the recipe refers to a “large red [Dark/Cork/Cock].” And lines 3 to 5 instruct the cook to “cut him in peeces … and put him into A clean earthen pot.” It is always interesting to listen to students in my paleography classes try to make sense of this passage in light of the title of the recipe: Huh? Him? What’s that about, in a recipe for ale? Are there male and female cork trees? Does anyone know how to make stout? Eeeewwww, how disgusting!

If you haven’t already guessed, the title of the recipe is “To make Cock Ale,” with a secretary “hot cross buns” majuscule C and a secretary “right angle” minuscule c. Yes, as in a male chicken. The full transcription of the recipe reveals that the concoction includes not only the aforesaid large red cock, but also strong ale, raisins, nutmeg, ginger, dates, sack, and sugar. I’d love to see one of our local microbreweries have a go at making it!

Click here to see all the pages that have been digitized from this manuscript so far, including another version of the cock ale recipe, and here to read a transcription of the cock ale recipe discussed in this post.

Author: Heather Wolfe

HEATHER WOLFE is Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and teaches early modern English paleography for the Folger Institute and Rare Book School.

5 Comments

  1. This is terrific, Heather! I may even know someone willing to give the recipe a whirl…

  2. So someone on twitter (@pixelparchment) found that someone has made Cock Ale! I’m still a bit skeptical…

    http://www.kaiserpenguin.com/ye-olde-cock-ale/

  3. There is a similar recipe in Charlie Papazian’s Joy of Homebrewing.

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