I’ve known this notebook all my life. It’s battered, scruffy … and almost empty. I could use it for shopping lists or for all kinds of casual notes. But I don’t. And I don’t because this little book turns out to be an historical document, a recipe book from times when recipes were about so much more than food.
Here are instructions for making horse powder (what?); cow drink; paste blacking (in fact several recipes for blacking); blue ink; black ink and crimson colour for show bottles (eh?). There are instructions for making stomach pills; an efficacious receipt for the rheumatism; red oils for bruses (sic) and sprains and two cures for cholera. If you read this little book, you’ll know how to etch on glass; clean brass, copper and tin – and note that brass is spelt the old-fashioned way, with an ‘f‘ in place of the first ‘s‘ when writing ‘brass‘. This spelling fell out of use in about 1800 in England: and yet the index pages of this book are machine-cut.
On the other hand, cholera didn’t arrive in England till 1832, and was rife until 1854, when John Snow discovered the connection between contaminated water and the disease. Does that date my little book to somewhere between the mid 1830s and 1850s?
I’ll leave you with one recipe, because I know you will want shiny black shoes in time for Christmas.
SUPERIOR BLACKING FOR BOOTS & SHOES
- Ivory black 1 lb (that’s black pigment made from charred ivory or bone)
- Treacle 1/2 lb.
- Fuller’s earth 1/2 lb
- Sweet oil 1/4 lb. (that’s olive oil).
Mix with water.
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