Blencowe Families' Association Newsletter Vol. 22 No. 2 May 2007

“Receipt book” of 17th century Delia Smith is a fine piece of social history
Interpreted for today by Christina Stapley, published by Heartsease Books, Hardback, 164 pages, Price £7.50.

NOW here's a real novelty! The Journal doesn't normally review cookery books, but we are making an exception since this one has been published by the initiative of a one name society, the Blencowe Families Association. It has been edited by Jack Blencowe.

Lady Ann Blencowe was a kind of late 17th century Delia Smith, who was married to Sir John Blencowe of Marston St. Lawrence, Northamptonshire, a Judge of Common Pleas and Member of Parliament for Brackley, Northants, from 1690 to 1695. Lady Ann, the daughter of a distinguished scholar and mathematician Dr. John Wallis, a founding fellow of the Royal Society, was born in 1656, married Sir John in 1675 and wrote her “receipt book” in 1694.

Today we would call it a recipe book but in the 17th century the word for culinary instructions was “receipts”. The book gives a fascinating peep into the kitchen and dining room of an upper class society lady of the time, with rich gourmet fare like lemon syllabub, peaches in brandy syrup and almond flummery.

The original has been lost but a facsimile limited edition was published in 1925. Now, it has been republished for Blencowe family members and general readers. Christina Stapley, an expert on herb cultivation and historical herb uses in cooking, was asked to interpret the recipes for a modern audience. The book is arranged so that some of Lady Ann's original recipes are given, followed by the modern descriptions.

In a foreword written by Peter Blencowe, a six times great grandson of Lady Ann, he writes: “Both Ann's husband, Sir John, and her father, Dr. John Wallis, lived to a ripe old age, the former 84 years and the latter 87 years.

“Could it be as a result of sampling the healthful recipes and 'physical cures' described in Ann's Recipe Book written in 1694?”

The recipes contain such 17th century delights as To make a sack possett att a wedding, To Broyle a carp and A Good Potatoe pudding, ye best.


The book also contains herbal or “Physical” recipes for curing ailments and these come with a health warning! It says they are not for modern use and some include ingredients that are either unobtainable or could be harmful. Here is one somewhat extraordinary sample...

To make ye horse dung water Take horse dung & putt to it so much Ale as will make it like hasty puding, and put it into your still. Then putt on ye topp one pound of treakell, and a quarter of a pound of genger an powder, and a quarter of a pound of sweet anniseed, and so distill all these together This water is good for women in labor and in childbed, for Agues and feavers and all distempers.

Er .. yes, but don't try this at home!

Christina Stapley comments on this recipe: “At least the ginger and aniseed might cover for whatever flavour came from the horse dung'. We cannot help but feel sorry for the patient drinking this but perhaps they were unaware of the ingredients. If they did they must have been thankful it was distilled.”

All in all, this is a fascinating piece of social history and will be enjoyed by many more than just those keen on cooking.

Reviewed by ROY STOCKDIL
Journal of One Name Studies, April - June 2005
This is the book that Tina Stapley will be promoting and have on sale at the July Reunion.


Blencowe Families' Association   Vol. 22 No. 2 May 2007
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updated: 10 September 2007