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Martha Washington's Boke of Cookery, and Booke of Sweetmeats: being a Family

Manuscript... Contains some Elizabethan and Jacobean recipes, dating approximately between 1550 and 1625.


It is a manuscript cookbook of the Custis family.  Martha Dandridge married into the Custis family and was given the cookbook.  The widowed Martha Dandridge Custis later married George Washington, hence the Martha

Washington title.


NOTE: See also the files: cookbooks-msg, cookbooks-bib, 16thC-cookbk-bib, Markham-msg, online-ckbks-msg, merch-cookbks-msg, Feudl-Gourmet-art, books-food-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

   Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         Stefan at florilegium.org



From: pat at lloyd.com (Pat McGregor)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Cooking for 50 at Pennsic (was YKYITSCAW)

Date: 24 Apr 1995 14:55:50 -0700

Organization: House Northmark, Mountain's Gate, Cynagua, The West

Keywords: cooking, 16-17th Century, New World.


Hi Grace Cariadoc, long may he live and instruct us all, writes -


>I should add that I would be happy to see a feast that was actually a

>serious attempt to reproduce a 16th c. meal including New World

>ingredients. But in my experience, such claims are usually just an

>excuse for serving modern dishes at an SCA feast.


I once cooked several dishes out of "Martha Washington's Cokery Book,"

which was purchased at Williamsburg, and which has Mrs. Washington's

notations about where the recipes came from. Several, including

"Nottingham Yam Bake" were noted to have been given to Mrs. Washington's

grandmother by a woman from Nottingham who had moved to the New World.

I cannot get my hands on the book right now (It's one that has tantalizingly

eluded me since my move west), but the date on the yam recipe was 1607,

within reason for our period. The ingredients were consistent with

several other fruit puddings from the late 1500s. The bibliography/

credits in the back included several folks from the U. of Virginia

history department.


The Twelfth Night feast at which I made these dishes was the first

I've ever seen all of a yam dish completely eaten and seconds requested,

so I'd love to know if anyone else has encountered this book and can

vouch for it's accuracy/historical validity.



Siobhan Medhbh O'Roarke / Pat McGregor/ siobhan at lloyd.com

House Northmark, Mountain's Gate, Cynagua, The West





Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Apple/Tinker cakes & Martha Washington (WAS: Breakfast poll)

Date: 25 Apr 1995 14:30:15 -0400


At last, the apple cake recipe.  I need to get my recipe sources back home

(from work), and I've about recovered from that snippy little flame about the

leavening agents in the yogurt biscuits (how do you smiley the

"poor-little-me, back-of-the-hand-to-forehead-_suffering_" thingie?)


Anyway, I got all paranoid & checked what I could trying to document the tinker

cake (apple) recipe I mentioned earlier.  It is from "The Lion's Gate Cook Book

of the Middle Ages", compilation by the Cooks Guild of the Barony of Lions

Gate, Vancouver BC, ca. 1976? (AS X).  Unfortunately, it is listed as "Source:

traditional Welsh recipe" in this little (36 p.) booklet, and there is not much

help in the small bibliography.  I have checked as many of the bibl. entries as

I had easy access to (seven centuries, king's taste, delectable past, horizon

cookbook), to no avail.  NOTE: This apple cake recipe is listed as "tinker's

cakes"; the Lions Gate booklet also lists a "Welsh cakes" (same Source, argh!)

that is quite similar except for having mixed dried fruit and an egg.


I also checked Pleyn Delit, Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books and

Martha Washington (see below for more info on this book).


There are several recipes for apple "fritters"--fruit coated in thin

batter and deep fried (highly simplified description) in the first two books

(Harl. 279, p.44 "fretoure", Harl. 4016, p.73 "frutours"; PD39, variation on

"frytours of pasternakes" from Forme of Curry) and Martha's gives a recipe for

"applesauce pancakes"--pancake batter with baked apple pulp added (C151, p. 161

"to make little frying cakes with ye pulpe of apples or any other fruite")

So, fruit and batter was a period combination, but I have not been able to find

concrete evidence of this type of "cake" thingie, as opposed to more fritter-y

and crepe-y and wafer-y types.




1/2 lb. flour (1.5-1.75 c.)             1 medium apple

1/4 lb. butter                          1 Tbs. milk

3 oz. white sugar (1/2 c.)


Rub the butter into the flour and stir in the sugar.  Peel and grate the apple

and add with the milk.  Mix into a firm dough.  Turn onto a floured board and

roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut into rounds and bake on a greased

griddle for 3 or more minutes on each side.  Makes about 16 cakes.



The recipe as my lord and I classically make it is white flour and white sugar

so that's not period*.  Exchanging honey would change the fluid balance

drastically I would think; we've never tried it.  *I have some very general

evicence that sugar as we know it was available by ca. 1250 but was exceedingly

rare, used in medicines and priced and considered practically a spice--nothing

like as a replacement for honey until much later.  We did once try 50-50 white

and wheat flour; I thought they were OK, Gerek didn't like it much.  I have

converted the British-style ingredient weights to cup measures.


Let's see.  I usually start the butter with a pastry cutter, and rub when

things get good and small; saves over-working the flour a lot.  You do want to

do the "rub" step, as this "butters" all the flour uniformly. We usually chop

instead of grate (we prefer discernable chunks).  Experiment with different

types of apples--Gerek prefers a sweeter apple to eat, but likes a tarter one

for this, because of the sugar in the recipe.  A tarter apple will make a less

sweet cake; these should be only barely sweet to the taste.  


This is a real nice dough to handle, will be quite moist, you definitely need

to flour the board to keep it from sticking.  If your dough seems too dry, try

adding a few drops of apple juice, as needed.  A biscuit cutter is a little

small, we use (what?, I can't remember! I think it's a small can with both

ends cut out that's maybe 1/4 to 3/8 inch bigger than a standard biscuit

cutter) (cakes come out 3-3 1/2" diameter?).  


Grease griddle with oil or butter.  Butter will increase the chance of

scorching but may be more to your taste.  These get a nice golden brown and a

bit crispy on the surface.  A _light_ layer of flour on both sides from the

board makes them easier to handle and gives a more uniform reaction to the

griddle. We have lots of fun doing this at home--the griddle stretches over

two different stove burners, which, of course, always heat at different

rates... Have done them on the same griddle over our camp firepit (barrel half

on legs) with coals (not flame!)--not any more difficult gauging the heat.


These are good hot off the griddle or flat cold.  The really great thing about

these for camp cooking is the simplicity and adaptability.  You can make them

from scratch on site; make and freeze dough at home and use the lump for the

freezer; or go clear to the cut cakes stage before freezing--then all you have

to do is heat up the griddle & dig in the freezer!



Martha Washington's Boke of Cookery, and Booke of Sweetmeats: being a Family

Manuscript, curiously copied by an unknown Hand sometime in the seventeenth

century, which was in her Keeping from 1749...  Transcribed by Karen Hess.

Columbia University Press, 1981, ISBN 0-231-04930-7.  CURRENTLY IN PRINT!


       "Our manuscript is especially interesting...because the recipes span

       the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, or from mid-sixteenth century to

       about 1625."--introd.


The contents are much older than the title would suggest, falling just at the

end of period (1550-1625).  Hess gives the original recipes and copious notes,

but no modern redactions (!)  She does often give notes about how to make the

recipes more "cook-able"--I'm quite sure she has actually cooked most of

them. Her notes are marvelous.  She gives a small essay on 16-17th C. food

philosophy in the intro to the Sweetmeats section; Appendix 1 is about the

history of this manuscript and about English household recipe manuscripts in

general; Appendix 2 is more about dating the parts of the manuscript.  20 p.

annotated bibliography and 30 p. index.


Thanks, Siobhan--it was your mention of this that finally got me going again!



--Mistress Chimene des CinqTours, OP, An Tir                            

--Meistari Gerekr fjarsjandi Rognvaldsson, the Farseeing, OP, OL, An Tir


Patricia R. Dunham, Gary Walker       e-mail: dunham%euglib at MRED.LANE.EDU  

Eugene OR  USA                                chimenedes at aol.com

home, machine: 503-688-7210                   gerekr at aol.com      



Date: Fri, 2 Jan 1998 13:42:40 -0400

From: renfrow at skylands.net (Cindy Renfrow)

Subject: Re: SC - Ice Cream and Martha Washington


The citation is:


Hess, Karen, ed.  Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, and Booke of

Sweetmeats: being a Family Manuscript, curiously copied by an unknown Hand

sometime in the seventeenth century, which was in her Keeping from 1749,

the time of her Marriage to Daniel Custis, to 1799, at which time she gave

it to Eleanor Parke Custis, her grandaughter, on the occasion of her

Marriage to Lawrence Lewis.  Columbia Univ. Press.  New York, 1981.  The

recipes contained in the MS. are dated 1550 to 1625 by the editor.


FYI, Food Heritage Press has this title (newly released in paperback):





Cindy Renfrow

renfrow at skylands.net

Author & Publisher of "Take a Thousand Eggs or More, A Collection of 15th

Century Recipes" and "A Sip Through Time, A Collection of Old Brewing





Date: Fri, 2 Jan 1998 13:02:36 -0600

From: "Decker, Terry D." <TerryD at Health.State.OK.US>

Subject: RE: SC - Ice Cream and Martha Washington


I went to the State Library during lunch to find some information about

Marthe Washington's Booke of Cookery, instead I find the book, so here

is the skinny.


Hess, Karen; Matha Washington's Booke of Cookery: Columbia University

Press, New York, 1981.  ISBN 0-231-04930-7.


The book is two manuscripts, A Booke of Cookery and A Booke of

Sweetmeats, presented to Martha Dandridge in 1749, the year she married

Daniel Custis.  Later the Widow Custis married George Washington, thus

the title of the book.  In 1799, she gave the book to her granddaughter,

Nelly Custis.


Ms Hess places the recipes in the manuscripts as being Elizabethan and

Jacobean, dating approximately between 1550 and 1625, describing her

comparison of the recipes in the manuscripts with the recipes contained

in contemporary and earlier cookbooks.





Date: Mon, 03 Sep 2001 23:10:12 -0400

From: johnna holloway <johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu>

To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] cherry//MW's Booke


Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, with introduction

and extensive commentary by noted food historian Karen

Hess is a transcription of two books of recipes that

date back to Elizabethan and Jacobean England. The originals

came into the possession of Martha Washington through

her first marriage to Daniel Custis and then passed from

Martha to her granddaughter Nelly Custis. (It's obvious

that Martha Washington was the most important name to

be attached to the manuscript, so it bears her name.)

"A Booke of Cookery contains 205 recipes, while "The

Booke of Sweetmeates" contains 326. Hess believes that

the recipes were recopied in the 1650's by possibly Lady

Berkeley or even possibly Lady Berkeley's mother from an

earlier family collection, the evidence for this being that

the recipes here are in the same hand and there are indications

that they were copied from beginning to end as one project.

What survives is not a collection compiled by different hands, nor

is an accretive collection added to over several generations.

What remains is a one time project whereby someone neatly wrote

down from start to finish the surviving document. The

recipes themselves come from or are similar to works

published dated as early as 1608 and even earlier. Thus, it is a great

17th century source and very much akin to the Elinor Fettiplace mss.

Hess reproduces the original recipe and then adds sometimes

as many as two or three pages of commentary on terms, history, use, etc.

The work also contains a great bibliography and is fully indexed.

Published originally in 1981. Still in print for 22.00 usd.


Lady Johnnae llyn Lewis



Date: Mon, 03 Sep 2001 23:41:50 -0400

From: johnna holloway <johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu>

To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org, stefan at texas.net

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] cherry wine/cider


Stefan li Rous wrote:

> Johnnae llyn Lewis said:

> > The Tudor-Jacobean "A Booke of Sweetmeats" which is included

> > as part of Martha Washington's Booke of Cookerie has a recipe

> > for "To Make Cherry Wine" on pages 378-379. That would date

> > cherry wine prior to Digby.

> Both of the these books were written/added to over a long time period.

> Is there something in the two recipes that indicates one was written

> before the other?


Yes, MW's Booke seems to predate Digby. Having actually

sat down and read the one English biography of Digby published in 1956,

I have seen very little evidence that Digby really started

his collection of recipes prior to Venetia's death in 1633.

They were ordered into the published format by George Hartmann

from Digby's rough notes made  after his death in 1665.

Karen Hess dates the MWBofC to being copied in the 1650's( or even earlier) from an earlier manuscript. See my post of earlier this

evening to Volker's query regarding this dating. No one that I have read in the past 20 years has challenged Hess on her dating of the MWB. It

can be described as Tudor-Jacobean, as many individual recipes

have counterparts in both Tudor (Elizabeth 1 was a Tudor)

and Jacobean cookery books. Compare for example Doctor Steephen's

Cordial Water which dates back to Cogan's work of 1584. Other

individual recipes also date back to or are similar to Plat, Dawson, etc.


Johnna Holloway



From: "Decker, Terry D." <TerryD at Health.State.OK.US>

To: "'sca-cooks at ansteorra.org'" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

Subject: RE: [Sca-cooks] cherry wine/cider

Date: Tue, 4 Sep 2001 08:37:42 -0500


It is a manuscript cookbook of the Custis family.  Martha Dandridge married into the Custis family and was given the cookbook.  The widowed Martha Dandridge Custis later married George Washington, hence the Martha

Washington title.


IIRC, the earliest datable recipe in the collection is from around 1540 and is identifiable because it is a copy from another source.




> This may be enough to being me before HUAC, but

> what exactly is Martha Washington's booke of

> Cookerie? I always assumed it was some kind of

> manuscript published by patriotic homemakers. Now

> it contains 200-year-old recipe collections?

> puzzled

> Giano



Date: Wed, 07 Apr 2010 18:59:44 -0400

From: Johnna Holloway <johnnae at mac.com>

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery


On Apr 7, 2010, at 4:01 PM, Sandra Kisner wrote:

<<< We have mentioned "Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery" (edited by  

Karen Hess) in the past.  I have recently seen a book with a similar  

title, but the name attached is Marie Kimball.  Is anybody familiar  

with this version?


Sandra >>>


It's an earlier version. Non annotated.

Amazon notes for the 2004 paperback that in 1892 the Lewis family  

presented the original manuscript to The Historical Society of  

Pennsylvania where it still resides today.


"In 1940, the Society gave special permission to historian Marie  

Kimball to study the manuscript and prepare a cookbook entitled, "The  

Martha Washington Cook Book." Mrs. Kimball fully adapted Martha's  

cookbook to practical, modern use. All the recipes were proportioned  

to our current practice of a formula for serving six people. Each  

recipe was tested. It is not only correct, but tastes great!


The Martha Washington Cook Book by Marie Kimball was published in  

1940. It has now, of course, long been out-of-print until this  

historic 2004 limited edition reprint."


So skip this Kimball edition and just buy the Hess edited version  

published by Columbia University Press.





Date: Wed, 7 Apr 2010 16:39:45 -0700

From: Patricia Dunham <chimene at ravensgard.org>

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery


According to reader reviews on the Amazon page for the 2004 printing,

the Kimball version includes few recipes and those have all been

"modernized" by Ms Kimball.


<<< We have mentioned "Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery" (edited by

Karen Hess) in the past.  I have recently seen a book with a similar

title, but the name attached is Marie Kimball.  Is anybody familiar

with this version?


Sandra >>>



Date: Wed, 07 Apr 2010 23:53:41 -0400

From: "Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius" <adamantius1 at verizon.net>

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery


On Apr 7, 2010, at 6:59 PM, Johnna Holloway wrote:

<<< So skip this Kimball edition and just buy the Hess edited version published by Columbia University Press. >>>


Speaking as one who knows a little, and knows it is a little, of both fields, Hess is arguably one of the best, if not the best, authorities on both culinary manuscript geekery and practical cookery knowledge in one person's body. There are a lot of books written and edited by a lot of people who know one or the other really well; few do both as well as she does.





Date: Thu, 8 Apr 2010 00:19:31 -0500

From: "Terry Decker" <t.d.decker at att.net>

To: <yaini0625 at yahoo.com>, "Cooks within the SCA"

      <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery


<<< There is a Martha Washington cookbook mentioned on www.foodtimeline.org.

Is this the same "cookbook?" >>>


Yes.  Martha Washington's cookbook is a  manuscript cookbook once owned by

the first First Lady of the United States.  If you look at the Food Timeline

Bibliography, they list the Hess version, which is the preferred edition of

culinary historians and historical cooks.  The earliest datable recipe in

the collection is from the mid 16th Century and the entire collection covers

about 200 years of culinary history.  IIRC, the cookbook was a prized

possession of the Custis family and Martha Dandridge received her copy from

her mother-in-law when she married Daniel Custis.





Date: Sat, 10 Apr 2010 11:54:35 -0400

From: "Ron Carnegie" <r.carnegie at verizon.net>

To: "'Cooks within the SCA'" <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Books was Martha Washington's Booke of



 This would certainly be the more accurate understanding of this book.  It

is called "Martha Washington's book of cookery" because that will sell more

copies than  "Frances Parke Custis' book of Cookery".  I don't believe it is

clear who actually first started collecting the receipts in the book, but it

was NOT Martha.  Two book find themselves in this odd situation.  The one we

are discussing and "George Washington's Rules of Civility".  Neither of

these were authored by the people to whom they are attributed.


Ranald de Balinhard, who is in the mundane world a Washington Scholar


<<< It's far better to think of Martha Washington as a woman of her

time who was given a bound culinary manuscript upon her first marriage  

in 1749 and who in time passed that manuscript along to her granddaughter  

Nellie Custis in 1799.



On Apr 9, 2010, at 12:17 PM, Susan Fox wrote:

I think that Martha Washington was a Creative Anachronist,  

collecting historical recipes like we do.  Just because she lived a  

couple centuries Ante Societatis, she was still an Anachronist!


Cheers, Selene >>>


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org