Wide-Ranging and Exotic Recipes for Everything from Making Salubrious Cordials to Preventing Birth Defects to Whitening the Skin


(London: Printed [by Thomas Purfoot?] for Arthur Iohnson, 1611). 120 x 72 mm. (4 3/4 x 2 7/8"). 1 p.l. (title), 190 pp., [44] blank leaves. Two parts in one volume. Second Printing.

Contemporary limp vellum, flat spine with ink writing ("Dolightes ad ---"), four small holes for ties, now lacking. In a modern half calf clamshell box by the Abrams Bindery. Inside front cover inscribed in ink, "Mary Squire / her booke"; foot of p. 29 inscribed "Mary Squire / Her Booke / 12." STC 5435. Small chips at top of joints, vellum rather soiled, a number of leaves significantly stained and thumbed (as one would expect with a recipe book), one leaf with short repaired tear into text (no loss), other trivial defects, but still an excellent copy and a remarkable survival, the binding solid and not unpleasant, and the text surprisingly well preserved, given the use it has encountered.

Printed the same year as the King James Bible, this is a popular home medical guide with recipes for remedies requiring such exotic ingredients as coral, amber, pearls, and unicorn horn, as well as more prosaic herbs, egg whites, cream, and spirits. First published in 1608, "Closet for Ladies" went to 15 editions by 1656, but as a result of hard use, all of these printings are now quite rare. Then, as now, mothers had the primary responsibility for ministering to the family's ailments, and "closets"--the contemporary term for collections of household recipes--were indispensable to women like our former owner Mary Squire. The ink titling on the spine here suggests that this volume was perhaps confused with a similar book, Sir Hugh Platt's "Delightes for Ladies" (some bibliographers also attribute our "Closet" to Platt). The present work begins with instructions for making preserves, candies, and cordials, but these concoctions were not for pleasure alone; they also had medicinal uses. For example, candy lozenges and cordials could be used to soothe coughs and sore throats. There are numerous recipes for treating common complaints like headaches, colic, and bruises, in addition to instructions for handling more serious matters, including infestations of intestinal worms (a frequent problem before modern sanitation and food safety standards) and potentially life-threatening complications of childbirth. The wide-ranging work even includes some cosmetics recipes, including one for whitening the skin that calls for mercury(!). Because nearly all of these early home remedy books have been destroyed, copies of any kind--let alone complete ones in anything like appealing condition--are seldom encountered. Our 1611 edition of this work is the earliest printing recorded at auction in at least 40 years, and it has appeared just once, in 1992.