Saturday, August 31, 2013

How to Make a Watermelon Cake, 1896

Watermelon (c. 1855)

         "1/2 cup butter.
          1 cup sugar.
          1/2 cup sweet milk.
          3 whites of eggs.
          2 cups flour.
          1 teaspoon cream tartar.
          1/2 teaspoon soda.
          Flavor with lemon.

Take a little more than 1/3 of the mixture and to it add 1 teaspoon liquid cochineal and 1/2 cup raisins. Put the red part in the center and bake. Cover with a frosting colored green with spinach."
Smiley's Cook Book (1896)
This is perfect for a child's birthday party. The kids will be so busy picking out the raisins they won't notice the cake is made of spinach goo and liquified insects.

Friday, August 30, 2013

How to Converse, 1651

"Neither shake thy head, feet, or legges; Rowle not thine eyes. Lift not one of thine eye-browes higher than thine other. Wry not thy mouth. Take heed that with thy spettle thou bedew not his face with whom thou speakest, and to that end approach not too nigh him." 
Francis Hawkins, Youths Behaviour (1651)
The close-talker: terrorizing conversation partners since the seventeenth century.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How to Drink Beer, 1623

"Beere that is too bitter of the hop... hurteth the sinewes, offendeth the sight, and causeth the head-ach, by filling the ventricles of the braine with troublesome vapors... Here some may demand, Whether it be better to drink their Beere cold, or a little warmed, especially in the Winter season? Whereto I answer, that I see no good reason to approve the drinking thereof warme, as I know some to do, not only in the Winter, but almost all the yeere: for it is nauceous and fulsome to the stomack... Moreover, it doth not so well quench the thirst, temper the naturall heat, and coole the inward parts, as if it be taken cold." 
Tobias Venner, Via recta ad vitam longam (1623) 
This just in from the archives of drinking lore: poorly chosen beer can give you the head-ach, and warm beer is nauseating.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How to Bust a Move, 1856

"Throw the body and stretch the right arm and right leg as far as possible to the right. Reverse the movement, and stretch them to the left, as at Fig. 54. Count one at the first movement, and so on to twelve.
Catharine E. Beecher, Physiology and Calisthenics for Schools and Families (1856)
Have you been trying to figure out Travolta's moves since 1977? Surprisingly, the secret is contained in this nineteenth-century manual of calisthenics.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How to Keep Wine from Going Sour, 1649

Pieter Bruegel, Summer (1637)
"How to keep wine from sowring. Tie a piece of very salt Bacon on the inside of your barrell, so as it touch not the Wine, in so doing your Wine will never sowre." 
Francisco Dickinson, A Precious Treasury of Twenty Rare Secrets (1649)
Didn't finish the bottle at dinner? Just stuff some bacon in there. Your wine will stay fresh, plus it will have a nice porcine nose.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How to Treat the Freshmen, 1495

They get smaller every year.
Codex Manesse (c. 1304)

"Statute Forbidding Any One to Annoy or Unduly Injure the Freshmen. Each and every one attached to this university is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at them with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, any, who are called freshmen, in the market, streets, courts, colleges and living houses, or any place whatsoever, and particularly in the present college, when they have entered in order to matriculate or are leaving after matriculation."

Leipzig University Statute (1495)

A friendly reminder for the new academic year: please resist the temptation to terrify the freshmen with spooky voices, at least for the first few weeks.

Friday, August 23, 2013

How to Predict Your Baby's Gender, 1684

Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum historia (1642) 
"If it happen to be a Male Child, then the right Eye of the Woman will, to appearance, move swifter, and sparkle more than the left... her right Cheek will often glow, and be more ruddy than the left, and indeed the whole colour of her Face more lively than at other times, she feels less Sadness than if she conceived a Female." 
Aristoteles Master-piece (1684) 
If the right side of your face is looking a little bit like an anime character, you're probably having a boy. (Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that the seventeenth century was not hoping for a girl.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to Put People to Sleep with Music, 1661

Choose your sedative!
Gerard van Honthorst, Merry Violinist With a Wine Glass (1623)
"Fiddle strings must be made of Adders and Serpents, but of their guts, or membrane that joynes to the backbone, which you must take forth of a running River... fit these strings to a Fiddle or Cythern, and playing on it with your fingers, it will make a pleasing soft, gentle, sound, and will make those that hear it sleep soundly, that they will shut their eyes whether they will or no, and sleep will be propounded."  
Johann Jacob Wecker, Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art & Nature (1661)
Musicians, just think how much fun this could be in a rehearsal: put these special serpent strings on your instrument and watch as the whole orchestra drifts off to sleep.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to Make a Cheesy Omelet, c. 1400

Tacuinum sanitatis Casanatense
"First, heat the pan thoroughly with oil, butter, or another grease as you wish, and when it is good and hot all over, especially toward the handle, mix and pour your eggs into the pan and turn them often with a spatula, then sprinkle on some good grated cheese. Know that it needs to be put on top, because if you grind the cheese with the herbs and eggs, when you fry the omelet, the cheese on the bottom would stick to the pan. That is what happens when you mix the eggs with the cheese for an omelet. For this reason, first put the eggs in the pan, and put the cheese on top, and then cover with the edge of the eggs; otherwise it will stick to the pan."  
Le ménagier de Paris (c. 1400)
If we don't pay attention to the past, we are doomed to repeat its mistakes. So let's break the cycle and put the eggs in the pan before the cheese.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How to Get Rich, 1556

"Dear Past, How can I get rich?"

Detail from Artemisia Gentileschi, Danaë (1612)
"Of all ways whereby great wealth is acquired by good and honest means, none is more advantageous than mining... So let the farmers have for themselves the fruitful fields and cultivate the fertile hills for the sake of their produce; but let them leave to miners the gloomy valleys and sterile mountains, that they may draw forth from these, gems and metals which can buy, not only the crops, but all things that are sold."  
Georgius Agricola, De re metallica (1556)
If you really want to get rich, quit your zucchini farming and go find some gems and metals. You may not have considered how many things you can buy with a mine full of gems, but the answer is: all the things.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Improve Your Complexion, 1665

Paulus Moreelse, Jeune bergère (c. 1630)
"How to cleans the sweatie and sluttish Complexion... Take thirty Snails prepared, a quart of Goats milk, hogs suet three ounces, camfre poudred two drams, beat them together, and distil them in an Alembick."   
Thomas Jeamson, Artificiall Embellishments (1665)
This serum will restore your natural radiance with its emollient hog fat and active snail proteins (they're all the rage). Goodbye, sluttish complexion!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How to Tell Jokes, 1558

Giovanni della Casa finds your jokes wearisome.
(Portrait by Wenceslas Hollar)
"Where your pleasantries are not rewarded with the laughter of listeners, cease and desist from telling jokes in the future. The defect is in you, not in your listeners... For these are movements of the mind, and if they are pleasant and lively, they are an indication and a testimonial of the nimble mind and the good habits of the speaker-- this is particularly liked by other men and endears us to them. But if they are without grace and charm, they have the contrary effect, so it appears a jackass is joking, or that someone very fat with an enormous butt is dancing and hopping about in a tight-fitting vest." 
Giovanni della Casa, Il Galateo overo de' costumi (1558)
Giovanni della Casa: skilled diplomat, astute social critic, fearsome heckler at Renaissance comedy clubs. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

How to Make French Toast, 1660

"French Toasts. Cut French Bread, and toast it in pretty thick toasts on a clean gridiron, and serve them steeped in claret, sack, or any wine, with sugar and juyce of orange."

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook (1660)

Did you know that "French" is culinary shorthand for "slosh wine all over your breakfast"? With that trick up your sleeve, you'll be mastering the art of French cooking in no time.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How to Choose a Cravat, 1828

"Although coloured Cravats are made of more costly materials than those which are entirely plain, it is most clearly laid down, as a rule in the laws of taste, that they can only be admitted as undress costume... they are entirely prohibited in evening parties." 
H. Le Blanc, The Art of Tying the Cravat (1828)
It's always mortifying when someone shows up to a party wearing a colored cravat. So tawdry!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How to Slim Down in Fourteen Days, 1595

Charles Mellin, Portrait of a
(c. 1645)
"An excellent and approved thing to make them slender, that are grosse. Let them eate three or foure cloves of Garlick, with as much of Bread and butter every morning and evening, first and last, neither eating nor drinking of three or foure howres after their taking of it in the morning for the space of fourteene days at the least: and drinke every day three draughts of the decoction of Fennell: that is, of the water wherein Fennell is sod, and well strained, fourteene dayes after the least, at morning, noone and night. I knewe a man that was marveilous grosse, & could not go a quarter of a mile, but was enforst to rest him a dosen times at the least: that with this medicine tooke away his grossenesse, and after could iourney verye well on foote."

Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1595)

The Garlic Bread Cleanse, fad diet of the late sixteenth century, is pure genius. After fourteen days of this regimen you'll be rid of that pesky grossenesse and ready to hit the beach. On foote.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How to Kill Fleas, 1688

Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1665)
"Take an Earthen Platter, that is broad and shallow, fill it half full with Goats Blood, and set the Platter under the Bed, and all the Fleas will come into it like a swarm of Bees. Or take the Blood of a Bear or Badger, and put it under the Bed, as before, and it gathers the Fleas to it, and they die immediately." 
R. W., A Necessary Family Book (1688)
Just keep in mind that if you are going to invite any guests into your bedroom, you should probably move your miraculous flea-killing apparatus beforehand. A platter of bear's blood under the bed can be kind of a turnoff for some people.

Monday, August 12, 2013

How to Eat Seasonally, 1746

Peter Jacob Horemans, Still Life (1769)
"Experience teacheth, that Hens are best in January; Eggs in February; Lamb, Kid, Pidgeons and Veal in March; Herbs in April; Cockles in May; Bucks and Salmon in June, July, and August; Gunards in September; Oysters in all Months in whose name an R is found; Pork, Bacon, and Cabbage in frosty Weather, &c.
Thomas Moffet, Health's Improvement (1746)
That pesky no-oysters-in-no-R-months rule is a venerable tradition. Perhaps it's time to rename the summer months: Mray, Juner, Jurly, and Augurst. In the meantime, enjoy your bucks and salmon!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How to Kill Snakes, 1688

Edward Topsell, The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents (1658)
"1. How to gather Snakes and Adders to one place. Take one handful of Onion, and ten River Crab-fish, pound them together, and lay it in the places where the Snakes and Adders are, and they will all gather together.
2. To kill Snakes and Adders. Take a large Rhadish, and strike the Adder and Snake with it, and one blow will kill them." 
R. W., A Necessary Family-Book (1688)
A simple and elegant technique: lure the snakes with a giant crabcake and then bludgeon them with a radish, Super-Mario-Bros.-style.

Friday, August 9, 2013

How to Treat Baldness, 13th century

"You're bald." "No, you're bald."
BL Royal 6 E VII, f. 197 (14th c.)
"By frequently rubbing your bald spots with ground onions, you will be able to recover the charm of your head." 
Regimen sanitatis salernitanum (c. 13th century)
This piece of advice is pretty cagey. Does the remedy actually cause your hair to return, or does an onion-greased scalp count as charming?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How to Change a Diaper, 1612

"Dear Past, Do you have any advice for new parents?"

The Cholmondeley Ladies, c. 1600-1610
"How the childe must be made cleane... The Nurse, or some other, must sit neare the fire, laying out her legges at length, having a soft pillow in her lap, the doors and windowes being close shut, and having something about her that may keepe the wind from the child... If hee bee very foule, shee may wash him with a little water and wine luke-warme, with a spunge or linnen cloth. The time of shifting him is commonly about seven a clocke in the morning, then againe at noone, and at seven a clocke at night: and it would not be amisse to change him againe about mid-night; which is not commonly done. But... after hee hath slept a good while do everytime shift him; lest he should foule and bepisse himself." 
Jacques Guillemeau, Child-birth or, the Happy Deliverie of Women (1612)
Well, the fireside yoga pose and the windproof baby-changing cape increase the difficulty level a little. But on the plus side, you only have to do it three times a day, and wine is involved. (Sommelier? Is this a job for zinfandel?)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How to Exercise in Your Orchard, 1631

"To have occasion to exercise within your Orchard: it shall be a pleasure to have a Bowling Alley, or rather (which is more manly, and more healthfull) a pair of Buts, to stretch your armes." 

William Lawson, A New Orchard and Garden (1631)

No orchard is complete without a bowling alley and some nice butts. You know, archery targets. Big round butts to shoot arrows into. What? Oh, for heaven's sake. I'm going to the orchard for my manly, healthful, serious exercise. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How to Cause a Rat Stampede, 1872

"The smell of a goat is obnoxious to the nostrils of rats; the two wont be friends and companions on any account whatever, and the introduction of goats to one's barn or premises will cause an immediate stampede of all the rats." 
A. E. Youman, A Dictionary of Everyday Wants (1872)
If you follow this advice, the good news is that you'll get to watch an exciting rat stampede. The bad news is that your premises will be filled with obnoxious-smelling goats.

Monday, August 5, 2013

How to Dress for Bathing, 1881

Bathing Suits, 1874
"Flannel is the best material for a bathing costume, and gray is regarded as the most suitable color. It may be trimmed with bright worsted braid. The best form is the loose sacque, or the yoke waist, both of them to be belted in, and falling about midway between the knee and the ankle; an oilskin cap to protect the hair from the water, and merino socks to match the dress, complete the costume." 
John H. Young, Our Deportment (1881)
Hit the beach 1880s-style! Swaddled in a gray flannel sack, oilskin cap, and merino socks, you'll avoid sunburn. The only drawback is that other swimmers may mistake you for a walrus.

Friday, August 2, 2013

How to Give Someone Gas, 1661

Papal belvedere (Cranach, 1545) 
"A light to make one Fart. The Operation of this Lamp is wonderfull, which so long as a man holds it, he shall not leave Farting untill he let it go: Take the blood of a Snaile and dry it in Linnen Cloath, and make a Candle with it, and light it, and give it to whom he please, and say, be thou lighted: so shall he not leave Farting till he let it go, which is wonderfull."  
Johann Jacob Wecker, Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art & Nature (1661)
Just imagine how much better your life will be when you swap your regular candles for these. Power outages, birthday parties, and romantic dinners will be so wonderful. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Past Asks You: Strange Families, c. 800

Sometimes you ask the Past, sometimes the Past asks you. Today, it's the latter.
"If a father and his son take a widow and her daughter in marriage, so that the son marries the mother and the father the daughter, say, please, what is the relationship between the sons they will bear?" 
Alcuin (?), Propositiones ad acuendos juvenes ("Problems for sharpening the young"), c. 800
I would say that the relationship between the sons will be... awkward. Medieval bragging rights if you figure it out; I'll post the answer tomorrow.

Carolingian genealogy
Berlin Staatsbibliothek, MS lat. fol. 295, f. 80v (12th c.)