The Johnson Family Treasury contains a fascinating collection of food, lifestyle and health tips from a bygone era, involving everything from toads to pigeon fricassee. Based on an 18th-century “recipes and remedies” manuscript found in the University of Guelph Archives, the Treasury has been drawing the attention of food and medical historians across the world.
The collection features foods dating back to Shakespeare’s day as well as “newer” food items for an age of colonialism, like orange and limes. There are recipes for wines aplenty, as well as remedies for all manner of human ailment, from hangovers (the remedy then was known euphemistically as “surfeit water”) to cancer, inflammation, infected wounds, and difficult childbirth. There are also remedies for illnesses that are less common now, like gout, ague, dropsy, “the green sickness” and whooping cough.
This collection of recipes for remedies, foods, and household products (such as many elite/privileged households in the English-speaking world collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) provide a fascinating glimpse into household technology, domestic medicine, and new foods available to the middle classes in an age of expanding colonialism. The treasury is organized as facsimile copies alongside transcriptions, allowing readers to see the original pages and familiarize themselves with the different and very beautiful handwriting in the manuscript. Recipes on each page also appear in typescript so contemporary readers can quickly find information about ingredients and method of preparation. This treasury represents the collected knowledge of a coterie of women descended from the Johnson family. In the days before women’s magazines became a popular source of information, the span of knowledge here is impressive: recipes include everything from pea soup to more fanciful “floating islands,” as well as wines made from sage, damsons, cowslip, ginger, orange, cherries, currants, lemons, and raisins (plus several cures for hangovers). Equally fascinating are the remedies covering a wide range of health problems, from “wind in the stomach” to worms, scurvy, and cancer. The manuscript’s editor, Nathalie Cooke (a professor of English and Cultural Studies at McGill will be at the book launch and signing in the gift shop of Dundurn Castle on 13 December 2015 from 1:00 to 2:30 pm.