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Recipes and Everyday Knowledge

Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England

Across early modern Europe, men and women from all ranks gathered medical, culinary, and food preservation recipes from family and friends, experts and practitioners, and a wide array of printed materials. Recipes were tested, assessed, and modified by teams of householders, including masters and servants, husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, and fathers and sons. This much-sought know-how was written into notebooks of various shapes and sizes forming “treasuries for health,” each personalized to suit the whims and needs of individual communities.
In Recipes and Everyday Knowledge, Elaine Leong situates recipe knowledge and practices among larger questions of gender and cultural history, the history of the printed word, and the history of science, medicine, and technology. The production of recipes and recipe books, she argues, were at the heart of quotidian investigations of the natural world or “household science”. She shows how English homes acted as vibrant spaces for knowledge making and transmission, and explores how recipe trials allowed householders to gain deeper understandings of sickness and health, of the human body, and of natural and human-built processes. By recovering this story, Leong extends the parameters of natural inquiry and productively widens the cast of historical characters participating in and contributing to early modern science.

288 pages | 19 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Food and Gastronomy

History: History of Technology

History of Science


Women's Studies


"Building on detailed manuscript research, and proceeding through a series of case studies, Leong provides an engaging picture of the households of the landed elite as sites of collaborative knowledge creation, thereby contributing to a broader understanding of 'science' in early modern England."

Times Higher Education

"In this long-anticipated work, Elaine Leong excels in uncovering the world of early modern English recipe collections in an accessible and insightful narrative. . . . The structure and thematic approach to the chapters allows both specialists and non-specialists to understand the material and intellectual life and significance of recipe books. The paperback format and its wonderful array of figures make the book affordable and accessible, which has been a challenge in academic publishing. Leong's passion and commitment to the history of recipe books is evident from the multitude of fantastic case studies and rich examples that took years of dedicated research to unearth. The result is a clearer understanding of how recipes were used in making and documenting natural knowledge. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in recipes, for social historians, and for those looking to broaden their understanding of science and its multitude of practitioners in early modern England."


"A remarkable achievement which improves our knowledge of early modern practices on an impressive scale. . . . Recipes and Everyday Knowledge is the culmination of an extraordinary research project involving the perusal of hundreds of recipe collections, dozens of printed recipe books, and stacks of related correspondence belonging to numerous seventeenth-century elite English families. . . . The brilliance of this work lies in Leong's ability to present sophisticated analysis in accessible prose alongside engaging anecdotes. . . . By affirming the centrality of the domestic sphere in everyday life, Leong firmly places recipes into a more expansive historical conversation about early modern epistemic practices."

Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

"[Leong's] book progresses through a series of aptly-chosen case studies—concerning men and women—and asks fundamental questions about how and where early modern knowledge was made; how and why it was communicated; and, ultimately, establishes that recipes were bundles of practical expertise and an integral part of the economy of everyday knowledge in early modern England. I find the social dimensions especially valuable. . . . Substantial, innovative, charming, expansive."


"Long-awaited and impressively well-researched. . . . An important step forward in the process of the broadening of the social and epistemic scope of the narrative of 17th century English science. . . . Leong's book is remarkable and deserves to be further and deeply discussed because it employs a rather sophisticated and precisely described methodological apparatus. . . . [It's] an unavoidable must read for historians of early modern science and medicine, as it is the best methodological and historical treatment of the complex object 'recipe' to date."


"A cohesive narrative that offers new insights into modalities of early modern health, scientific investigation, and social exchange. Beautifully written, impeccably researched, and irresistibly engaging, Elaine Leong’s tale of early modern recipe compilation and domestic experimentation sets a high standard for studies in the social and cultural history of early modern medicine."

Social History of Medicine

"Makes significant contributions to less obvious strands of historical scholarship. . . . It adds depth to the history of the patient by revealing how ordinary men and women understood and treated their ailing bodies, as well as how they situated that care within household labour. . . . One of the great strengths of this book is Leong's clever scholarly approach. She uses innovative methods developed out of the history of reading and the history of the book to recover not simply what recipes say, but also how they were produced and used. . . . The sophistication of the book's arguments—not to mention the impressive length of its bibliography—attest to the thousands of recipes and years of archival research that give depth and empirical weight to the stories in Recipes and Everyday Knowledge. Most impressively, Leong takes texts as seemingly terse and opaque as recipes and skilfully uses them to piece together the otherwise invisible details of early modern domestic labour and experimentation."

Annals of Science

"Leong provides rich detail of how recipes contributed to the household and the making of early modern knowledge. . . . Throughout, the book is well-supported by notes and references, providing an excellent backdrop for any study of historical recipes. . . . This book is to be commended in providing a well-substantiated framework for recipe collection analysis and interpretation. It is a must-have book for serious students and researchers of the history of early modern recipes."

American Historical Review

"Leong's nuanced case studies enliven a cast of curious characters who compiled, tested, and used recipes from manuscripts and printed books to prepare medicine and food in the home. . . . Recipes and Everyday Knowledge offers the interdisciplinary community of scholars who work on recipes meaningful avenues for future study. . . . Leong's lucid prose and engaging style also make this book an excellent candidate for classroom use."

Renaissance Quarterly

"Leong's densely documented and clearly-written monograph, the distillation of many years of archival and library-based research, demonstrates how far recipe books and recipe collections, so long the Cinderellas of the stacks, can enrich our understanding of early modern household management and medicine and illuminate the economies of knowledge in Stuart England. . . . An extremely impressive piece of scholarship. . . . Early modern specialists will learn much from this book; it can also serve as an excellent primer for advanced undergraduates and masters students wanting to do research in this field."

Renaissance Studies

"This book, like any promising recipe, has many ingredients to recommend it. Building on a substantial database of domestic recipes drawn from a sample of nearly 500 printed and manuscript collections, Elaine Leong’s account of their place within the domestic knowledge-making of early modern English households argues for the collecting, testing, and fashioning of these texts as central to 'early modern household management.'"

Journal of Modern History

"Very interesting for readers who are fascinated by the origin of recipes."

Culinary Historians of Canada

“Take thousands of recipes, hundreds of family notebooks, dozens of households, and a few experimental philosophers. Heat slowly. Season with questions about how knowledge is made and by whom. Bottle for anyone afflicted with curiosity about the past. This isn’t just the definitive book on early modern recipes. With playful prose and choice examples, it masterfully recasts the household as a site of knowledge production and challenges us to rethink the politics and practices of science and medicine.”

Lauren Kassell, University of Cambridge

"Recipes and Everyday Knowledge is a game-changer for the study of medical recipes, bringing the whole area of scholarship to a new level of sophistication. Leong exploits a wealth of sources beautifully, persuading her readers that the home was a very significant site for knowledge-making in seventeenth-century England.”

Mary E. Fissell, The Johns Hopkins University

"Elaine Leong’s elegantly written Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science and the Household in Early Modern England is a close-grained and cutting edge examination of processes of knowledge-making as they took place in practices of reading, writing, compiling, exchanging, testing, revising, and disseminating domestic recipes. Scrutinizing hundreds of handwritten recipe collections handed down in families, Leong tracks and reconstructs in detail methods of working with recipes, revealing their social and epistemic dimensions. She illuminates their collaborative, collective, and cumulative nature, tracing the intersection of manuscript and print collections, and demonstrating that recipe recording and collecting was active knowledge-making that involved the engagement with and experimentation on materials. Rather than passive repositories, Leong reveals recipes and recipe collections in early modern culture to be more like today’s apps, providing users with flexible platforms from which they could “make and know.” In showing how these texts were produced and used, Leong exposes the practices of recipe gathering and testing as part and parcel of early modern empiricism."

Pamela H. Smith, Columbia University

Table of Contents


Introduction: Recipes, Households, and Everyday Knowledge

Chapter 1. Making Recipe Books in Early Modern England: Material Practices and the Social Production of Knowledge
Chapter 2. Managing Health and Household from Afar
Chapter 3. Collecting Recipes Step-by-Step
Chapter 4. Recipe Trials in the Early Modern Household
Chapter 5. Writing the Family Archive: Recipes and the Paperwork of Kinship
Chapter 6. Recipes for Sale: Intersections between Manuscript and Print Cultures

Conclusion: Recipes Beyond the Household



History of Science Society: Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize

History of Science Society: Pfizer Award
Short Listed

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