A Georgian beauty secret, shared

A cold cream is a cooling ointment that is applied to the skin as a moisturising cosmetic and cleanser. In the 1920s and 1930s, celebrity endorsements of brands such as Pond’s and Elizabeth Arden led to a huge uptake in commercially-produced emollients, with the verb ‘to cold-cream’ entering common parlance around this time. Cosmetic manufacturers began to market their creams with a liberal sprinkling of glamour: as a Hollywood actress’s beauty secret, or as the preferred cosmetic of European royalty.

Adverts for cold creams were so prevalent in the first half of the 20th century, one would be forgiven for thinking that they were a relatively recent invention. Far from it! Cold creams had already been a staple of women’s cosmetic drawers for centuries, long before mass-production came on the scene.

The ladies who wrote our Georgian Cookbook recorded this recipe for home-made cold cream, which they attribute to an ‘Aunt Preston’. With ingredients including trotter oil and spermaceti, a wax derived from the head cavity of the sperm whale, it’s a far cry from the glamorous image projected by early 20th century cold cream brands. On the other hand, its high fat content should have made it an effective moisturiser, and an effective defence against the harsh winter weather:

"My Aunt Prestons Cold Cream", a Georgian recipe from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“My Aunt Prestons Cold Cream”, a Georgian recipe from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

My Aunt Prestons Cold Cream

Half a pint of trotter oyl, 3 ounces of white wax, 3 quarters of an ounce of spermaceti, all put in to a silver vessel till melted. Yn put into an earthen pan & beat up wth water till it grows white & doos not stick to ye pan.

Peristaltic Persuaders

Our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies contains quite a number of home remedies, tackling anything from rheumy eyes to whooping cough. Today’s recipes take on common but uncomfortable ailments. The first up is the wonderfully titled ‘peristaltic persuaders’, Dr Kitchiner’s cure for constipation:

These "peristaltic persuaders" contain a laxative, rhubarb, would have been taken in cases of constipation

These “peristaltic persuaders” contain a laxative, rhubarb, would have been taken in cases of constipation

To Make Forty Peristaltic Persuaders

Turkey rhubarb, finely pulverized, two drachms
Syrup, by weight, one drachm
Oil of caraway, ten drops (minims.)
Make into pills, each of which will contain three grains of rhubarb.
Two or three to be taken according to the constitution.

Rhubarb was a well known laxative, and was easy to get hold of. It was even sold by itinerant street traders in Regency London. To find out more, check out our ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb‘ post.

The next recipe claims to combat ‘gravel’ – that is, pain experienced when passing urine, sometimes due to crystalline deposits. Ouch!

"For Ye Gravel": an 18th century home remedy from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“For Ye Gravel”: an 18th century home remedy from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

For Ye Gravel

Take two table spoonfuls of syrup of march mallows & one spoonfull of oyle of sweet almonds in half a pint of spring water, every morning before breakfast & every night going to bed for thirty one days & nights without missing a dose. You may warm the water a little if you chuse, but dont boile it.

As with all our Georgian recipes, please don’t try these at home! If you’re suffering from either of the above ailments, best check in with your doctor or pharmacist for modern medical advice.

Winter remedies

The Georgian cookbook of our unknown ladies was not only used to record recipes for puddings, pies and other dishes for the dining table. The ladies also noted down home cures for a number of ailments. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the medicines they may have turned to when winter started to bite.

As with other the medicinal recipes in the Cookbook, we’d advise you not to try these ones at home!

The first is for watery eyes, a common ailment when out and about in bitter winds. Our ladies advise the following remedy:

A Georgian remedy for watery eyes, recorded in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Georgian remedy for watery eyes, recorded in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

For Weak Eyes That Run Water

A pint of rose water, ten grains of white powder of vitriol. Wash frequently with it.

White vitriol, otherwise known as zinc sulphate, inhibits the production of eye secretions and is still used in eye drops today. The rosewater would have been selected not only for its fragrance, but also for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Our next remedy is attributed to a ‘Dr Mackbride’. The identity of this physician is as mysterious as that of our unknown ladies, but the following recipe shares one of his treatments for a cold:

Remedy for a cold, attributed to a Dr Mackbride

Remedy for a cold, attributed to a Dr Mackbride

Dr Mackbride for a cold

Tow [two] spoonfuls of rum
Tow ditto clarifyed honey
Tow ditto lemmon juice
Tow ditto sweet oyle

This remedy was unlikely to cure the common cold, but the measures of rum and honey may have gone some way to brighten the patient’s spirits!

Mamma’s lip salve

There’s a definite sense here in London that Autumn is just around the corner. Today we take a look at how our Georgian ancestors might have prepared for an imminent cold snap, with this method for ‘Mamma’s’ lip salve…

This recipe for a lip salve ("Mamma's way") has a few surprise ingredients, including red wine!

This recipe for a lip salve (“Mamma’s way”) has a few surprise ingredients, including red wine!

Receipt for a Lip Salve – Mammas Way

Take a pint & half of claret, a qr of a pd of currants, 1 pd of butter without salt, 4 or 5 ounces of Virgins Wax & 2 ounces of ye root Alkanet, otherwise call’d Alcony.  This last with ye wine & currants must be boyl’d a pritty while. Afterwards, ye butter & wax being put in, must be boyl’d a little, then strain all into a bason. If, when cold, you find it too soft, add more wax. If too hard, add more butter. When it tis cold, ye top must be taken of & melted by it self & strain’d into little cups for use. If you have a mind to sweeten it, strain it with orange flower water or what else you think fit.

Fresh (virgin) beeswax, known for its healing properties, would have helped to soften and soothe the lips. In this recipe it is combined with unsalted butter, another lubricant.

Alkanet would have lent the salve a vivid red colour. Derived from the root of Alkanna tinctoria, a Southern European plant with blue flowers, it was also thought to have soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Currants and orange flower water were added for flavour, while the alcohol in the claret would have acted as a preservative.

All in all it doesn’t look too bad – no unsavoury additions such as hog’s lard, such as we’ve seen in previous cosmetic recipes. We wonder whether it would stand up to the lip salves we buy in the shops today…

Poppy blossom cordial

It is hard to think of a more summery name for a drink than poppy blossom cordial. Today’s cordial recipe from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies uses petals from the common poppy, Papaver rhoea, which brings a splash of colour to British fields and gardens between June and August. But although the name may sound appealing, the author of this recipe would have intended it as a medicinal remedy.

The cordial combines the blooms with licorice, a host of warm spices, raisins, aniseed and sweet fennel seed, and steeps them in a brandy – a pungent mix! After 2 weeks the brew is strained and sweetened with sugar.

Poppy cordial recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Poppy cordial recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Poppy Cordial

To 2 qrts of brandy, put half a pound of red poppys, well pick’d & sifted from ye seeds & ye black cut of; one ounce of licorish, sliced very thin; half an ounce of cinnamon, broken in small bits & bruis’d; with a small quantity of cloves & mace & nutmeg; half a pd of raisins of ye sun ston’d; anisseeds & sweet fennel seeds, of each a quarter of an ounce, pick’d & sifted & bruis’d. Let these steep in ye brandy about 14 days in a black pitcher well glaz’d, close cover’d. Yn strain it well and put it into bottles with about a qr of a pd of loaf sugar to each qrt. This is good for ye collick or any surfeit.

Detail from an 18th century cartoon, showing two fashionably-dressed women holding a large bottle of medicinal cordial

Detail from an 18th century cartoon

This recipe was written in with the true sense of a ‘cordial’ in mind: a drink that would do good to the heart (‘cor’). The Georgian author recommends taking the cordial in cases of colic and ‘any surfeit’ – perhaps an instance of over-indulgence at the dinner table.

Over the course of the 18th century, cordials started to be embraced for their intoxicating properties, and as such contributed to those symptoms of gluttony and over-indulgence that they were originally intended to cure.

As the recreational use of cordials increased, so their herbal content decreased, evolving into what we, today, would recognise as an alcoholic liqueur.

The lavender of London

Last weekend, the Carshalton Lavender fields opened up to the public for their annual harvest fair. Visitors were free to explore three acres of fragrant purple flowers – an unlikely floral haven in the middle of a London borough.

Carshalton's community lavender field in July 2013

Carshalton’s community lavender field in July 2013

The lavender field is at the centre of a community-led project with an impressive vision: to revive the lavender industry in the south-west reaches of Greater London.

Up until the First World War, Mitcham, Sutton and Waddon were host to acre upon acre of blue lavender: a flourishing industry that had grown up from the beginning of the 18th century. The flowers were destined for a variety of uses. Some were cut, dried and sold on the streets of London, while others were sent to the distilleries for the fragrant oil to be extracted.

A lavender seller from William Marshall Craig's prints of 'Itinerant Traders'

A lavender seller at Temple Bar in the early 19th century

In the Victorian era, the Mitcham area became important supplier for cosmetic companies such as Yardley’s. But the flower was also historically prized for its medicinal properties.

Today’s recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is for ‘compound spirit lavender’, a powerful infusion of fresh lavender flowers, brandy and spices. Our unknown ladies don’t indicate what the concoction was to be used for, but lavender was commonly thought to aid recovery from fainting and dizziness. Some even believed that it could help to cure infertility.

18th century method for making compound spirit lavender

18th century method for making compound spirit lavender

To Make Compound Spirit Lavender

Take a quart of lavender flowers, pickd from the stalks, & put them into a q[uar]t of brandy. Cork them close. Put half a pint of brandy into another bottle with the size of two large nutmegs of ginger, a quarter of an ounce of mace bruised, a drachm of cochineal, half a quarter of an ounce of saffron & a quarter of an ounce of cloves, all beaten togather. Let them stand a month or more, then filter them off. Mix them & you may put a little fresh brandy into the bottles to extract the virtue.

As with all the medicinal recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies we’d advise you not to try this at home! But if you’d like to experience a bit of London’s lavender heritage, do take a trip over to Sutton.  Carshalton Lavender will be closed until next year’s harvest, but commercial field Mayfield Lavender will be welcoming visitors until late September…

There’s also a great article on the history of local lavender production on the Sutton Council website. Enjoy!

Daffys elixir

Daffy’s Elixir was a well-known remedy, popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Reverend Thomas Daffy (1616/17–1680) was responsible for the original version of this concoction, which was sold as ‘elixir salutis’, a cure for colds, fevers and stomach complaints.  The recipe was passed down the family, and was soon picked up by other apothecaries. The brand of ‘Daffy’s’ was so strong that it was taken up by herbalists and chemists for their cure-all potions, even though their recipes sometimes bore only fleeting resemblance to the Reverend Daffy’s original.

Here, our unknown ladies cut out the middlemen by making a home-brewed version of Daffy’s famous cure:

Recipe for homemade Daffy's Elixir from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for homemade Daffy’s Elixir from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Daffys Elixer

Take six quarts of spirit of malt & the same quantity of sack or white wine; four pounds of raisons stoned; allicampane root sliced, the best greene liquorice shred, senna, anniseeds, caraway seeds & coriander seeds, of each eight ounces; guiacum, 3 ounces; cochineal, three quarters of an ounce. Infuse all these in a crock, close stopped, for three weeks. Then, pour it off & put to the drags half the quantity of spirits & wine that you put on at first, & let it stand three weeks longer. Then, strain it off & mix it with the first you took off. Let it stand a few days after before you bottle it.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the ingredients:

Spirit of malt, an alcoholic distillation that would have helped to preserve the elixir

White wine, 
for creating the suspension

Raisins,  to sweeten the mix

Elecampane root, used to relieve asthmatic complaints; also a stimulant

Green licorice – known as an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, but also used to make medicines more palatable

Senna, a laxative

Aniseed, to combat flatulence

Caraway seed, another antiflatulent!

Coriander seed, for its aromatic properties

Guaiacum, a type of wood, first brought over to England from Central America and the West Indies in the 16th century. Used in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, but used in excess it could turn the patient’s skin yellow!

Cochineal, derived from crushed beetles. Attributed with diuretic and purgative qualities, but most commonly used for its red colouring

Perhaps Daffy’s elixir was useful for a spot of indigestion, or maybe even a cough of cold, but its effectiveness as a universal cure is doubtful!