Dr Samuel Johnson’s famous dictionary was first published in 1755, paving the way for standardised English spellings. Many of the recipes in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies were compiled long before this benchmark in written English appeared on British bookshelves.
Our unknown ladies lived in a world without dictionaries, spelling cribs or spell-checks. Their spelling often reflects the way they pronounced words. On other occasions, it reveals how words evolved to incorporate local legend and lore.
Let’s take the humble artichoke as an example.
Across much of continental Western Europe, local terms for the artichoke reflected the vegetable’s form and growth. The French ‘artichault’ evoked the globe artichoke growing high (‘haut/hault’) on a stem, while the old Italian ‘articiocco’ may have drawn on the idea of the plant’s stump (‘ciocco’).
Today’s 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies gives the spelling ‘harticholk’.
Although the word is clearly closely related to its continental equivalents, this particular variation may reflect the folk belief the plant could ‘choke’ you.
The prefix ‘hart’ drew comparisons between the vegetable and the human ‘heart’, leading to other charming variations such as ‘h[e]arty choaks’.
To Keep Harticolks Bottoms All Ye Year
Take the harticholks, soak them in salt & water 6 hours, then boyle them till you can pull of the leaves. Cut them very smoth. Put them on a wierd seive in a slow oven, turning them very often till they are very dry. Keep them on a string hung in an earthen crok in a dry place. When you go to use them, soak them in water & a bit of butter. Warm to plump them.