I finished reading Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt: A World History. Who knew that an almost 500 page book about salt could be so fascinating? I was inspired to try creating salt in one of the traditional methods: by boiling sea water. While elaborate systems of naturally evaporating ponds were used in many places, and is the method many are familiar with, areas without the requisite climate boiled the seawater instead. This is faster, but requires a lot of fuel.
Since I live near the ocean obtaining sea water was not difficult. I filled up a five gallon bucket and brought it home. My first attempt failed because I was unwilling to leave it boiling overnight, and when my roommate found what appeared to be a pot of water just sitting on the stove he poured it out. My second round I made it very clear what I was doing. I should have timed exactly how many hours it boiled, but I didn’t keep good records, in part because I mostly turned the stove on when I thought about it. It took a few days of coming home from work and turning on the stove for a few hours. But eventually the salt precipitated out just as described. I’ve got it on a tray now, waiting to fully dry. I’ll wait to measure it until it’s completely dry. I’m miserable at visual estimates but I’d say I have at least 3/4 of a cup, possibly more. I might have managed to extract even more by continuing to boil the vessel dry.
Here is the last in my series of stain removal recipes from I secreti de la signora Isabella Cortese translated into English with Google Translate and then edited to fine-tune the initial rough translation.
Levar macchie d’ogni drappo e d’ogni colore. Cap. 61.
Piglia libra mezza di mele crudo, un rosso d’ovo fresco, quanto una noce, e sale armoniaco, incorpora ben insieme, e di ciò ne metti sopra le macchie di panni di seta d’ogni colore, lasciandolo sopra per un pezzo,& andrà via la macchia, lavandola poi co acqua fresca, lasciala asciugare.
To remove spots of every cloth, and of every color. Cap. 61.
Take half a pound of raw apple, a red fresh egg, as a walnut, and salt armoniaco*, incorporated well together, and put it on the stained cloth, of silk cloths of every color, leaving it on for a while, & the stain will go away, then washing it with fresh water, let dry.
* Quanto is translating as “as much as” or “how much”. I wonder if perhaps the intention was to say as much salt ammoniac as is the size of a walnut? Certainly a fresh egg or half a pound of apples would not need specification as to the size (unless they either have very large (unhusked walnut) or very small (husked walnut) eggs.)
a cavar macchie di raso e di veluto
Fa bollire la semola nel sugo di bietola & poi con quella acqua lava la macchia
To remove stains of satin and of velvet
Boil the flour in the sauce of beets/chard** and then with the water washes the stain
** Google Translate renders bietola as “beets” when part of the sentence, and as “chard” or “swiss chard” when entered in isolation. It’s not clear which was meant, but I have seen references to beets in other recipes, so I went with that as the initial translation. In case that seems an odd choice because of the red color modern people associate with beets, remember that most beet varieties at this point were white beets.
a cavar macchie
Un boccale d’acqua comune, sapone negro, sal alcali an marchetti due, un fiele di bue, mistica ben insieme, che ben s’incorpori, e di quello lava la macchie.
To remove stains
A common water jug, black soap, alkali salt* an marchetti two, one ox gall, mix well together that is well incorporated, and that washes the stains.
* a recipe is given in another part of the manuscript for sal alcali, but I haven’t fully figured out a sensible translation yet: sal alcali si sol far di piu cose, cioe di cenere di cocomeri asinini, cio della sue radici della piata, e delle frutta, brugiate e fatte in cenere & ancora a cenere del guado, cenere delle fusti di fave, cenere di felice, cenere di cavoli vecchi, cenere di titimaglio, cenere della squilla, cenere dell’herba sal sola, della quale si fa la cenere di vetro, e la detta cenere si dissolve in acqua comune, distillasi per feltro, e congelasi tre, o quatro volte, & e fatto.
alkali salt sol do more things, i.e. cucumbers donkey ash (????), ie the roots of the piata, and fruit, and burn to ashes and again the woad ashes, ashes of bean stalks, ashes of happy, ash of old cabbage, titimaglio of ash, ash of rings, ash of herbs salt alone, which makes the glass ash, and said ash is dissolved in ordinary water, distill for felt, and congelasi (possibly freeze?) three or four times, & it’s done.
sugo di saponaria con altrotanto sapone negro fa l’effetto
Equal parts sauce of soapwort and black soap is the effect.
piglia della soda, e mettila in sul fuoco de carboni soffiando con li mantici tanto che diventi bianca ben bene, della quale & pesta e fa bollire in una caraffa d’acqua comune, e con quella lava la macchia, & poi rischiara, con l’acqua fresca, e sera fatto
Take the soda, and put it on the fire of coals by blowing them with bellows so much that it becomes very fine white, of which pound and boil it in a jug of common water, and with that wash the stain, and then clear with fresh water, and evening make.
For the first post on finessing the initial Google Translate results, see here.
Per levar macchie di panno di lana o di seta, o damasco. cap. 34.
Prendi calce viva e mettila in un vaso e bagnala con l’acqua e fanne lessiva* molto forte, lasciadole** stare insieme per due dì ri mescolandole spesso, poi cola la in un vaso e come farà chiara mettila dentro una caraffa, e di questa acqua bagnar ai la macchia con un panno involtato sopra un bastone tante volte quanto vedrai che bisogni . Le macchie delle sete verdi si bagnano col sugo di mel’aranza.
In order to remove stains of wool cloth or silk , or damask. Cap. 34 .Get quicklime and put it in a jar and wet it with water , and make lye* very strong , leaving** them to be together for two days re stirring often , then drip it in a vase and how will clearly put it in a carafe , and this bathe water to the stain with a cloth over involtato a stick as many times as you’ll see that the needs . The spots of green silks bathe with the mel’aranza sauce***.
*Lye in Italian is liscivia **The translation makes sense with lasciandole (leaving) rather than lasciadole, which doesn’t translate at all. ***I have no idea what this is supposed to mean.
A cavar macchia d’inchiostro , o d’altro qual
si voglia colore temperato con la gomma, o colla , o chiara d’ovo , o con altro, d’ogni panno, e seta.
pigli aceto bianco fortissimo, e metti sopra la macchia e stropiccia, poi habbi acqua calda col sapone, e lava molto bene, e lassa seccare, e se non hai aceto fa con l’orina calda, e ciò farai innanzi che la bagni con l’acqua.
To remove stain of ink, or else what
We want color tempered with rubber, or glue, or white of egg, or with another, of each cloth, and silk.
Take strong white vinegar, and put it on the stain and rub, then Habbi(??) warm water with soap, and wash well, allow* to dry, and if you do not have vinegar do it with the hot urine, and do as before bathing with water.
*lasciare is allow, which is not lassa, but makes sense in this and other contexts of the word.
A cavar pece d’ogni panno. Cap. 42.
Ungi bene la macchia con olio comune buono, e lassa seccaare per un di, & una notte , poi stropicciata tra le mani molto bene, e lava le mani bene con acqua calda, e sapone . Il medesimo si fa alla rasina, & alla terebintina, & all’altre macchie simili.
To get pitch* of every cloth. Cap. 42.
Anoint the stain well with common good oil, and allow to dry for one day & a night, then rub in your hands very well, and wash your hands well with warm water and soap. The same is done to the resin**, & the turpentine***, and at any other similar spots.
*not sure what is meant by this – I think it’s pitch like intonation, not pitch like sap, which doesn’t make sense. **translating resina instead of rasina ***terebentina (resin and turpentine both make sense if its pitch as in sap, but it seems definitely musical pitch, so I’m a little confused by this.)
Pallotte di sapone per levar le macchie. C.6o.
piglia sapone di purgo, overo sapone molle, & incorpora con cenere di vite setacciata sottilmente, terra creta ana, alume bruciata , tartaro ben polvererizato, & ogni cosa incorpora molto bene insieme,pestando nel mortaio de bronzo , facendone pasta da poter formar pallotte, a tuo modo, et seccale all’ombra, e serva, et adopra a levare via le macchie, come di sopra, s’è detto nell’altra ricetta, lavandola poi con acqua chiara, molto bene rimarrà il panno netto.
Soap balls to remove the stains. C.6o.
Take soap of purging, or indeed soft soap, and incorporate with finely sifted vine ash, clay earth ana(??), burnt alum, tartar well pulverized, & incorporate everything very well together, pounding in the mortar of bronze, making paste that forms into small balls, your way, and dry in shadow, and use, et all possible steps to lift away stains, as above, has been said in the other recipe, then washing it with clear water, very well remain a clean cloth.
Here are some more spot removal recipes from the I secret de signora Isabella Cortese. I originally translated them with Google Translate, and then finessed those results to make more sense (see previous post for more details on that process).
Original Italian: alla macchia de panno verde
Lava la macchia in panno verde con lissiva calda nella qual sia messa la polvere d’alume di feccia, i cavoli, e la bieta con l’acqua calda son buoni . Albume d’ovo misto col mele è buono a metter sopra.
The stain of green cloth
Wash the stain in green cloth with warm lye in which is put the powder of alum feces, cabbages, and chard with hot water are good. White of egg mixed with apples is good to put on.
Per cavar macchie d’oro vecchio in panno.
cap. 52. piglia sugo di cipolla bianca & orina ana e metti assai del sale , e mistica tutto insieme, e bagna le macchie e asciugale al Sole , e cosi faccendo per tre volte se ne ander anno via.
To take out the stains in old gold cloth
cap . 52 . Take white onion sauce & urine ana* and put much salt, and mix all together, and wet stains and dry them in the sun, and and doing so three times ne ander year on**.
*possibly “aged”? ** not sure exactly what is meant here. Andare is “remove” and via can mean “away”, but how “anno” for Year fits in is unclear.
Per levar macchie piu forte .
Cap 33. Ungi all’asciutto le macchie col sapone molle, poi le bagna con l’acqua di macchie esciugale al Sole, e ciò sa tante volte sin che non apparischino piu.
In order to remove most stains strong .
Chapter 33. Anoint stains with a soft dry soap, then wet the stains with water and dry out* in the sun, and he knows what so many times since that does not apparischino (appear something?) more .
*asciugare is dry out
I have been trying to translate some spot removal recipes from I secreti della signora Isabella Cortese or The Secrets of Lady Isabella Cortese. It was first printed in Venice in 1561. There are a number of what appear to be spot removal recipes in the book, but I am somewhat stymied by my complete lack of knowledge of the Italian language.
Google Translate is an amazing resource, and without it I cannot even have attempted to try to translate the bits that I wanted. But it’s also not a perfect resource. Since it’s not an actual living person, it doesn’t understand when a word is spelled strangely. The English example would be “a gode booke”. To a native speaker, that’s obviously going to be “good book”, but to a computer, it’s just gobbledygook. This means that sometimes I have to be creative in trying to figure out what was actually being said.
Sometimes I can use context clues, other times I just remain baffled. Here is an example of the sort of thing that I have been doing:
The original text reads:
Levar ogni macchia d’olio , e di grasso in panno. Cap. 59.
piglia sapon bianco a tua discretione, quale tritarai sottilmente, e lo metterai in una caraffa mezza piena di lessiva . E metti in detta lessiva sale armoniaco, due rossi d’ova fresche, sugo de cavoli , e sele di bue, a tua discretione.<symbol>.i.di tartaro pesto, sottilmente e setacciato ogni cosa posta nella sopradetta caraffa, tenedola squassata ogni cosa nella caraffa molto bene al Sole caldo, f quattro giorni, laqual acqua farà bonissima bagnando co detta il luoco della macchia di dentro, e di fuori molto bene, e lassala seccare poi lava molto bene, con acqua chiara, con l’infrascritto sapone, se’l ti piace, e lassa sciugare, e restera netto.
Which Google Translate renders as:
Levar each wildfire, and in cloth fat
Catches sapon white your discretione, which tritarai thinly, and put it in a half-full jug of lessiva. And put in that lessiva armoniaco rooms, two red of fresh eggs, juice of cabbage, and fele Ox, in your discretione. <symbol>. I.di tartar pesto, thinly and sieved everything placed in the aforesaid decanter, tenedola buffeted everything in carafe very well to hot sun, f four days, laqual water will very good wetting co dictates luoco stain the inside and outside very well, then wash and dry Lassala very well with clear water with the infrascritto soap, se’l you like, be dried and loose, and will remain shareholders
Which….basically doesn’t make much sense. Having looked at a lot of these recipes, “piglia” translates much more smoothly as “take”. Sapon is very much like the word sapone which means soap, and would make sense in this context. Add an e to levar and you get “to remove”.
Similarly, the Italian word for lye is “liscivia”. While I have no idea how Italian pronunciation works, I can see how that may well be what is meant by “lessiva”, and if I translate it as lye, it makes sense not just in this context, but in the context of the other recipes where the word is used. “Fele” doesn’t translate, but a lot of spot removal recipes call for the gall of an ox, so I looked up how to say “gall” and “bile” in Italian, and the answer is “fiele.” That’s a close enough match in meaning and spelling that I can reasonably assume that this is what is meant.
“Tritirai” does not translate, but in context it appears to be asking you to cut it up, so I looked up different ways to say cut/mince/shred/chop in Italian, and came up with “tritare” which means “to chop”.
I have no idea why “macchia” means stain and “d’olio” means oil, but “macchia d’olio” consistently translates, even in isolation, as “wildfire.” I guess it’s a quirk of the Italian language, but for our purposes “oil stain” makes a whole lot more sense.
Translating the “sal” in “sal armoniaco” as “rooms” doesn’t make sense, but “salt” could easily be what is meant, making me think that the recipe actually calls for salt ammoniac. I will need to do more research to see if that makes logical sense in the context of the recipe, but at least it’s a place to start.
“Lassa” originally translated as “loose”, but that didn’t seem right, so I looked up other translations, one of which was “allow”, which made more sense. It was also similar to the untranslated “lassala”, which conceivably could be a smoothed together version of “lassa la” (allow it). Lassala comes up frequently in these recipes, and each time interpreting it as “allow it” makes sense, so that lends credence to this translation.
“Luoco” doesn’t translate, but some sleuthing reveals that luogo means “the place”, which, again, makes sense here. Despite the fact that looking at two editions of the manuscript shows clearly that it’s a c and not a g, that could easily be a spelling variation, or a quirk of the Venitian dialect.
Shareholders is obviously not what the original writer meant by “netto”. But when I look up netto separately, it translates as many other things as well, including “clean”, which fits in perfectly.
I’m not sure what laqual means, but it seems like it’s instructing you to wash the cloth with the water you’ve just made, the lye/egg/cabbage/tartar mess.
Which brings us to my translation:
To remove each oil stain and fat in cloth
Take white soap at your discretion, cut thinly, and put it in a half-full jug of lye. And put in that lye salt ammoniac, two fresh red eggs, cabbage juice, and the gall of an ox. Add <symbol – an amount?, like lb is a symbol?> of tartar to make a thin paste. Sieve everything in the aforementioned jug, shake very well and put in the hot sun for four day, wetting the stained place both inside and out very well with this water, then wash, with clear water, with infrascritto soap and allow to dry very well and it will remain clean.
It’s still not completely coherent, and I’m still at a loss for what the weird symbols mean (are they amounts?) or what infrascritto means, but I’m much closer to something that actually makes sense. Lye, ox gall, and eggs are common stain removal ingredients, as is the direction to lay the cloth in the sun. While I haven’t seen salt ammoniac or cabbage juice in a stain remover so far, I’ve mostly only examined German recipes in English translation, which is a very small subset, and these could be regional variations. So the basic recipe, and the general instructions, both seem plausible.
Anyone reading this speak Italian and want to correct ridiculous gaffes? I’d love to be corrected.
Step Zero of Spot Removal: making the stains we’ll endeavor to remove.
Most of the stain recipes I’ll be looking at simply state that the recipe will remove “spots”, but there are a few that note a particular type of spot including: wine, oil, grease, dirt, and wax. I want to be able to compare the various recipes to one another, whether the recipe was specifically intended for that type of stain or not, so I have stained all of my samples with the same stains. I realized after I had stained a set of five of each type of cloth that when I grabbed a candle for wax, I didn’t think it through and used the random candle I had laying around, made of paraffin. I’m going to go back and re-do that stain with beeswax some time in the next week or so.
Even though none of the recipes I’ve found so far have mentioned blood, I included it as a stain type because whenever I bring this project up with other people, they immediately ask me about getting blood out of fabrics, so I may as well assuage everyone’s curiosity. (And with that curiosity in mind: I got the blood for most of the fabric by pricking my finger repeatedly with the sort of disposable lancets diabetics use to test their blood. The wool samples have an especially large blood sample because my roommate cut his finger and offered to bleed on my prepared swatches.)
It is surprisingly hard to stain some materials, as I learned in my first attempt at these stains. To facilitate the process I wet each of the cloths lightly, and then applied enough of the staining material until it bled through to the other side of the cloth. The blood was spread less thickly and did not always make it through to the other side, but since my finger was sore, I determined it was probably enough to prove the effectiveness of the stain remover.
Some of the recipes are for particular types of fabric, others say “for all sorts of cloth”, and others don’t mention a fabric type at all. I intend to try the recipes on all the cloth choices. This is partly just for pure curiosity’s sake, but I also wonder if some of the recipes are suggested because they work particularly well for certain types of cloth and not at all for others, or if the authors simply had that particular kind at the forefront of their mind. In any case I have stained four types of fabric: linen, wool, silk, and cotton. Cotton, particularly the sort of t-shirt cotton I’m using here, would not have been widely used as a garment material in period, but when I was at Artifacts of a Life a very large percentage of the conversations I had with people ended with “and would any of this get stains out of my t-shirts?” So now I’ll be able to answer them.
This is part of the documentation I used at the Artifacts of a Life event. Hopefully I will get a chance to add pictures of the cloth the stain removers were used on.
Spot Removal Techniques from the Allerley Matkel
Published in 1532, the Allerley Matkel was the first printed book of spot removal techniques. It was reprinted and translated several times, including as part of the English translation of the French Alexis’ Book of Secrets. One of the first “kuntsbuchlein”, treatises written in German for the ordinary person, the book appears to be aimed at housewives or other non-professional workers.
The book contains thirty recipes. Eleven pertain to spot or stain removal, six discuss dyeing or refreshing color in cloth, seven to dyeing horn, bone, or wood, with a handful of other recipes such as how to make fake pearls or soften bone.
For this project I have recreated four of the spot removal techniques using the English translation by Sidney Edelstein.
Because I was interested in general spot removal techniques, and I hope this will be part of a larger project on sixteenth century spot removal, I chose to test each of the recipes on several different types of stains, even if the recipe was specifically for grease, wine, or another particular spot type. I chose stain types for being typical of the era, as well as being those frequently mentioned in stain removal recipes. The five types of stains are: olive oil, wax, red wine, grease, and dirt. My first attempts used chicken grease, but the stains were barely visible, so I switched to bacon grease. I went back and re-worked the original test piece with bacon grease so that the projects would be consistent. The olive oil also remains barely visible even without washing. I am unsure if linen simply does not take stains as easily as cotton does, as I have several mundane clothing items that have been permanently stained with olive oil. The pieces of wool that I possessed barely took any of the stains. When I dripped the amount of staining materials that I had used on the linen onto the thick wool, they disappeared without a trace. I had to make a concerted effort to purposefully saturate the wool. I am unsure whether this is related to the thickness of the wool, a modern manufacturing feature, or some other factor.
To prepare a water for removing spots from white cloth
Take four ounces alum feces, two bucklin water, let evaporate one fourth the volume; take thereupon white soap and cut it into small pieces, take also one ounce alum, put all into the water and let stand for two days; then use on white cloth as before. (as before refers to a previous recipe: “For use take a new piece of [woolen in the previous recipe] cloth, moisten it with the water and rub the spot or stain with it. When the piece of cloth becomes dry, moisten it again with the water and rub until the spot has disappeared; thereupon take warm water and wash the place where the stain has been.)
As I did not need a great deal of liquid, I chose to halve the recipe.
Sidney Edelstein notes that the exact chemical nature of alum fecis is not known but quotes other period sources indicating that “alumen faecis is the faex of wine that is tartar.” Going forward with this definition, I used two ounces of cream of tartar.
A “bucklin” is an unknown measure, but as the English Alexis’s Book of Secrets translates this as “half a pint”, I chose to use the same measurement. In halving my recipe, I therefore used half a cup of water.
After mixing the water and cream of tartar I heated the mixture to just under a simmer, as I wished to expedite the evaporation without boiling it. When it had been reduced to a quarter of a cup I added white soap (see appendix for details on the soap) which I had cut into pieces roughly the size of a diced onion. I added the half ounce of alum and let it sit. The recipe called for two days, but my time constraints meant that it actually sat for three days before I was able to use it. During this time the soap pieces, which I had worried were too large, almost completely disintegrated. The cream of tartar precipitated out, so that the end result was layered: the cream of tartar on the bottom, then a liquid layer, with final oily/soapy layer on top. It did not look promising.
After stirring it all up, I wet my piece of linen, and rubbed the stain with it. (The “do as before” original called for woolen cloth, but that was specifically for a stain on wool. I decided that a stain on linen would be better served with a linen rub.) I then rinsed the stained cloth with warm water.
How to remove grease or oil spots from white cloth
Take some starch, boiled with flour; immerse the cloth in this as far as the grease or oil spots are apparent in the cloth for one night, wash in clear running water and hang it on a place where the sun shines brightly. If, however, you wash cloth dyed with costly colors, you have to hang the fabric where the sun does not shine too hotly to avoid harming the color, because the hot sun soon damages the costly colors.
For this recipe I took about a cupful of starch (see appendix for details on the starch) and boiled it with half a cup of flour. This thickened it up dramatically, and if I were to redo this recipe, I would use less flour. The result was a very thick paste, and the cloth was less “immersed” and more “covered by piling the paste on with a spoon.”
Despite that the starch mixture was so thick, it was remarkably effective. When I rinsed it off the next morning, it was almost entirely white, even before putting it out to bleach in the sun. There was some very subtle tiny bits of bran clinging to the cloth, but that could have been avoided if I had better strained my starch in the beginning. This was my personal favorite of the four spot removal recipes I tried for this project.
How to remove grease or oil spots from all sorts of clothing including white ones
Take some water from boiled peas, soak the spots therein and wash thereupon with clean running water; hang it up where the sun shines brightly.
It was not clear to me whether the recipe indicated dried peas or fresh peas, so I tried both kinds. I boiled whole dried peas and fresh peas separately, for about an hour each. I soaked the cloth in the water overnight, as a specific time was not indicated and previous recipes that required soaking asked for an overnight time frame. The spots were fainter in the morning, and lessened even more after being hung up in the sun for two days. While not quite as effective as the starch-based recipe, it was also considerably less work and could be whipped up on the spot with only peas and water to hand. I did not notice a particular difference in the efficacy of the recipe using dried versus fresh peas.
Another recipe for removing grease spots
Take cold lye and warm it a little with wine lees and stir well, but take care that it should not be applied in too warm a condition. Use as above.
Despite repeated attempts over the years, I have never been able to make an effective lye. Instead I “cheated” and used potassium hydroxide flakes mixed with water to create my lye. I also did not have any wine lees, so I went straight to the probable chemical indicated, cream of tartar. I mixed the cream of tartar with water until I had equal quantities of water/cream of tartar and lye/water. Although this recipe does not indicate proportions, the next recipe in the book is extremely similar, other than to specify that the lye be from beech ashes and that white wine lees are used, and in that recipe it asks for equal portions.
These spot removal recipes were surprisingly effective. However, plain water was also able to remove quite a bit of the stained material, to my dismay. The linen was much quicker than my mundane cotton clothing to shed stains, and the thick wool I had on hand required a level of effort to stain that would be unlikely in a real-life situation such as a spill or dribble. As I seek to try other sixteenth century stain removal techniques, I want to acquire some thinner wool to see if the type of cloth makes a difference in the stain retention, and therefore the efficacy of the stain removers.
Appendix A: “White Soap”
The first recipe calls for “white soap.” I used a castile soap I made at home. “Castile soap” originated in the Castile area of Spain, and uses 100% olive oil, rather than tallow. This gives it a very white color.
I based my soap roughly on the recipe in the Mappae Clavicula. Even though it is from a much earlier period, the basic concept for how to make soap has changed very little even today.
After it [the lye] has clarified well let it cook, and when it has boiled for a long time and has begun to thicken, add enough oil and stir very well. Now, if you want to make the lye with lime, put a little good lime in it, but if you want it to be without lime, let the above-mentioned lye boil by itself until it is cooked down and reduced to thickness. Afterwards, allow to cool in a suitable place whatever has remained there of the lye or the watery stuff. This clarification is called the second lye of the soapmaker. Afterwards, work the soap with a little spade for 2,3, or 4 days, so that it coagulates well and is dewatered, and lay it aside for use.
The first part of this recipe (which I did not copy here) concerned making lye for the soap. I have tried this several times in the past, and did attempt it again for this project, but every time it has been a failure. I have since come to realize that the “if you want to make the lye with lime” isn’t as optional at it may appear. Regardless, for this soap I chose to use sodium hydroxide flakes instead of homemade lye. My choice in sodium hydroxide, versus potassium hydroxide, was because Castile soap is traditionally made with lye made from barilla plants, which are very high in salt. Sodium hydroxide produces a much harder bar of soap than potassium hydroxide, a characteristic of Castile soap.
“Add enough oil” was too vague for me when working with potentially dangerous chemicals, so I used a modern soap maker’s lye calculator to determine the correct proportion of lye to olive oil.
I heated the olive oil on the stove. I did not need to heat the lye because adding the lye flakes to water creates an exothermic reaction which caused the water/lye solution to rapidly heat up on its own. I then mixed the oil and lye together and stirred it together, alternating between a hand blender and a wooden spoon. When the mixture had properly thickened, I put it in a mold. Because I had used proper calculations on the lye, I did not have to worry about it “dewatering”. The soap had properly set and I did not have to work it with a spade.
Appendix B: Starch
For the starch called for in the second recipe, I made my own from bran using a recipe from the fifteenth century Sloane Manuscript 3548, the English translation of which is: Take a quantity of bran and boil it in clean water, and let it stand 3 days or more until the water is bitter or sour; then squeeze the water out of the bran and immerse your clean cloth, linen, ‘bokeram’, or ‘carde’, or anything that you want, and afterwards dry it, and smooth with a stone.
I used a cup full of wheat bran and two cups of water, which I boiled together. If I were to do the project again, I think I would use a bit more water. I let the mixture stand for three days in late summer heat, after which point it could definitely be described as “sour.” I misguidedly interpreted squeezing to mean literally squeezing the mixture with my hands. In retrospect, the end product would have been significantly improved had I used cheesecloth to help strain the small bits of bran out of the finished starch.
Rabiolin (Ravioli) from the cookbook of Sabina Welserin
Das Kochbuch der Sabina Welserin is a manuscript cookbook dated 1553. It contains 205 recipes ranging from simple comfort foods to more elaborate preparations. Many of the recipes appear to be slight variations of one another (there are six versions of apple tart, for instance), while others vary widely from marzipan to bratwurst.
I chose to make chicken ravioli. The English translation, done by Valoise Armstrong is as follows:
To make ravioli
Take spinach and blanch it as if you were making cooked spinach, and chop it small. Take approximately one handful, when it is chopped, cheese or meat from a chicken or capon that was boiled or roasted. Then take twice as much cheese as herb, or of chicken an equal amount, and beat two or three eggs into it and make a good dough, put salt and pepper into it and make a dough with good flour, as if you would make a tart, and when you have made little flat cakes of dough then put a small ball of filling on the edge of the flat cake and form it into a dumpling. And press it together well along the edges and place it in broth and let it cook about as long as for a soft-boiled egg. The meat should be finely chopped and the cheese finely grated.
To begin I roasted a chicken for the meat. When that was completed, I chopped it “finely” until I had about two cups, and put it in a bowl. Next I blanched the spinach. When it had cooled a bit, I squeezed the excess water out of the mass of spinach. While the recipe does not call for this step, previous experience with using cooked spinach in recipes suggested to me that the extra moisture would make my end result too watery. I chopped the spinach and added it to the chicken. There was just slightly under two cups of spinach.
I added the salt and pepper before adding the eggs, as I wanted to test the seasoning. I ended up adding salt twice more, though I think the second time I may have added a bit too much. I added pepper once more. Although I did not use measuring spoons, I would estimate I put in about two teaspoons of salt, and about one and a half of pepper. Then I added the eggs.
For the pasta part, the recipe calls for us to “make a dough with good flour as if you would make a tart.” I was a little uncertain about this when I first read it, as my experience with tart pastry tends to be of the butter and flour variety, which would not hold up well as ravioli dough. However, one of Sabina Welserin’s further recipes for making pastry dough for shaped pies sounds an awful lot like the egg/flour pasta recipes I am used to, so I decided to follow her advice.
To make a pastry dough for all shaped pies
Take flour, the best that you can get, about two handfuls, depending on how large or small you would have the pie. Put it on the table and with a knife stir in two eggs and a little salt. Put water in a small pan and a piece of fat the size of two good eggs, let it all dissolve together and boil. Afterwards pour it on the flour on the table and make a strong dough and work it well, however you feel is right. If it is summer, one must take meat broth instead of water and in the place of the fat the skimmings from the broth. When the dough is kneaded, then make of it a round ball and draw it out well on the sides with the fingers or with a rolling pin, so that in the middle a raised area remains, then let it chill in the cold. Afterwards shape the dough as I have pointed out to you….
Technically it was fall, and not summer, but I had a meat broth ready and waiting for the raviolis, so I decided to use the summer method. However, the broth had almost no “skimmings” in it. I did still have the pot that I had roasted the chicken in, and that had a considerable amount of fat on the bottom, so I borrowed some of that fat for the broth/fat mixture to spread on the dough.
Once the dough had been made, I used a rolling pin to spread it out thinly. Then I dropped the egg/spinach/chicken mixture and made small “dumplings” out of them.
The cookbook does not give a specific recipe for broth, which is not surprising considering that broth was such a basic recipe that pretty much everyone would have been assumed to know how to make a simple version. The references to broth in other recipes often seem to indicate simply boiling meat in water, sometimes with herbs or other spices thrown in. Lacking clear direction, I chose to make a very simple broth by boiling the chicken carcass that was left after chopping the chicken for the filling. I added an onion, salt, and pepper to the broth.
I cooked the raviolis for about two minutes, roughly the time it takes to soft-boil an egg. And then they were done!
Salting “to taste” is still a skill I am working on. I tend to add too little salt, then a little more, and a little more until it is suddenly too salty and I can’t take it back. (Or at least I can’t when I’m trying to follow a recipe and have already used up all of my limiting agent, in this case the entirety of the spinach.)
Cooking the ravioli in broth rather than plain water was surprisingly tasty. Whether because it was fresh pasta, or simply because the broth is that much better, I found the ravioli dough really picked up the flavors of the chicken broth.
Online English translation by Valois Armstrong, accessed September 15, 2015 http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Sabrina_Welserin.html
I was head kitchener for our barony’s Twelfth Night event this year. The event was set in twelfth century Scotland, so the feast was going to be my best attempt at Scottish food, though I didn’t limit myself to just early period food. There is not a lot (read: zero) of cookbooks from Scotland written in period, so that made things a little more difficult. However, we know that there was a lot of French influence on the Scottish court because of intermarrying, so I felt comfortable using a handful of French recipes. I also used one or two period English recipes, especially when I knew that they were recipes used in northern England. That’s cheating a bit, but my options were limited, and some of those recipes – haggis for instance – may have originally been written in England, but have since come to be associated with Scotland. Luckily, even though there were no cookbooks from period, we do have numerous sources of travelers visiting Scotland and commenting on the food, which is how I learned that cock-a-leekie soup is supposed to contain prunes!
Pennsic 41 has come and gone in the traditional blur of activity. My A&S activity was restricted to a single instance of teaching a class. It was a bit of a fiasco, but I learned a lot. Most of the students said that if I were to teach it again next year they would take the class again so as to get a better handle on patterned netting/mezza mandolina. Since I knew going into the class that I am a terrible hands-on teacher, but had wanted to teach the class largely to encourage interest in what I consider to be a sadly neglected art, I’d consider continued interest to be a qualified win.
The students gave me a lot of feedback, and I think I will do things very differently when I give the class again next year.
1.) I will ask for 2 hours instead of only one. A single hour was not nearly enough time to talk and try to do hands on stuff.
2.) If I can get the time, I will teach a beginner’s netting class before the mezza mandolina class. The majority of the people who attended either didn’t know how to net or hadn’t done it in so long they couldn’t remember the details. A huge portion of the class time was co-opted by trying to get people started on the basic beginning of the net, so that we didn’t have enough time for the more complicated patterns. I’m glad a few people learned to net though!
3.) One of the students recommended having netting needles to sell at both classes.
4.) It would be a lot of work, but if I could have some nets started so that we wouldn’t have to waste time starting the net before we could jump into the interesting patterned part, that would speed things up a lot.
5.) Be strict about the class limits. I made extra handouts thinking I could give them to people who couldn’t take the class, but then I couldn’t bring myself to turn those people away. I think six is about my limit, maybe ten if I had a helper. It might seem “nice” to try to include everybody, but I end up not having the ability to do a decent job. Everyone loses if I try to stretch myself too thin, and I have to remember that.
6.) Make sure that all of the handout prints out! This seems obvious. Sigh.
7.) Create a handout that features more process pictures.