This Friday, I thought I’d try a little commentary on the home remedy aspect of the collection here (archivist Kira, again!).
One of the joys of working with a culinary history collection is that, no matter what you think you know, you’ll be surprised, sometimes a little disgusted…and ALWAYS inspired to learn when you are caught off guard. So, when perusing a handwritten manuscript receipt* book from England, c.1731, I did a double take. “Snail Water.” I read it twice, then kept going, just to be sure: “Take 6 Lbs of Garden Snails…”
Reading further along, the receipt instructs readers to bruise the snails, shells and all. As the list on ingredients continued (16 eggs with shells, half an ounce of nutmeg, root of “liquorice,” to mention a few), I wondered what would actually cause someone to ingest this mixture. A little research later, it turns out “snail water” was a common treatment for consumption (tuberculosis) during the 17th and 18th centuries. Recipes varied greatly—at least one included ground up earthworms in addition to snails, as well as various combinations of herbs—but none proved to be a miracle cure.
We invite you to view our recipe, though I wouldn’t suggest trying it, before you accuse me of cruelty to snails. The 1731 Book for Receipts is available online in pdf. The recipe for snail water is on page 23, but the whole item is worth a look (check out that handwriting!). If you want to pickle something, this is the manuscript item for you: walnuts, kidney beans, pigeons, muskmelons, and the list goes on…
*That’s the historical “recipe,” for those of you thinking I made a typo—and perhaps a good discussion for a future post