Monday, December 30, 2013

How to Tell Your Fortune for the New Year, 1862

"My Dearest Tense, Do you have any suggestions for safe and merry ways to ring in the new year?"

"The evening which of all others is the most adapted for witchery, is New Year's eve. It is a very ill practice to spend this evening at a ball, and it is an acknowledged fact that ill luck, more or less, follows a person throughout the year, who has danced the old year out and the new year in. You should spend New Year's eve with a small circle of near and dear friends, around a punch-bowl, while you seek to inquire what the future has in store for you. In the first place this may be done with melted lead or wax... Take a good-sized piece of lead or wax, (the former is better,) place it in a melting ladle, and dissolve it over the coals, or over a spirit-lamp, into which you have poured a little alcohol. You must then take a vessel full of water, (a bowl is best, that is not too deep nor too shallow,) and pour into it the lead or wax, and from the various figures which it forms in the water you endeavor to tell your fortunes."

Felix Fontaine, The Golden Wheel Dream-Book and Fortune Teller

Forget the dancing: your best bet for a safe and merry New Year's eve involves molten lead and witchery. No instructions are provided for interpreting the lead forms, so I'll predict in advance that your 2014 will be kind of formless and globular.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How to Make a Christmas Pie, 1784

"To make a Yorkshire Christmas-Pie. First make a good standing crust, let the wall and bottom be very thick; bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon, Season them all very well, take half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and half an ounce of black-pepper, all beat fine together, two large spoonfuls of salt, and then mix them together. Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge; cover them; then the fowl, then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the crust, so as it will look only like a whole turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean cloth. Cut it to pieces, that is, joint it; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one side; on the other side woodcocks, moor game, and what sort of wild-fowl you can get. Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, then lay on your lid, which must be a very thick one, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot oven, and will take at least four hours." 
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery (1784)
Holiday dining doesn't get more efficient than this Christmas pie. Just toss in your calling birds, French hens, turtle doves, and the partridge in a pear tree. You could probably fit a few lords a-leaping in there too, if you've got those on hand.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How to Make Fake Bacon, 1687

Sir Francis Bacon does not endorse this recipe.
Frans Pourbus, Francis Bacon (1617)
 "To make Frayse* appear like Rashers of Bacon. Take of fine Flowre half a peck, mingle one half by it self with Water and Butter and to the other add Milk wherein Turnsel has been steeped, with a little of the Powder of Lake; and having cut them out into slices, fix a slice of the one to a slice of the other at your discretion; and when they are fryed gently, or rather baked, they will deceive the most curious as to the sight of them." 
The Accomplished Ladies Rich Closet of Rarities (1687) 
Want to deceive your most curious friends? Just grab your plant dyes and whip up some Early Modern imitation bacon. Breakfast hilarity will ensue.

*A pancake ancestor (also froise or fraze)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How to Prevent Drunkenness, 1653

"How to prevent drunkenness. Drink first a good large draught of Sallet Oyl, for that will float upon the Wine which you shall drink, and suppresse the spirits from ascending into the brain. Also what quantity soever of new milk you drink first, you may well drink thrise as much wine after, without danger of being drunk. But how sick you shal be with this prevention, I wil not here determine."

Hugh Plat, The Jewel House of Art and Nature (1653)

Or combine these strategies for a foolproof anti-drunkenness cocktail: three parts wine, one part milk, a dash of salad oil. Shake well and immediately reconsider.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Feed Your Child, 1692

"As to his meals, I should think it best, that as much as it can be conveniently avoided, they should not be kept constantly to an hour: for when custom has fix'd his eating to certain stated periods, his stomach will expect victuals at the usual hour, and grow peevish if he passes it... Therefore I would have no time kept constantly to for his breakfast, dinner and supper, but rather vary'd almost every day. And if betwixt these, which I call meals, he will eat, let him have, as often as he calls for it, good dry bread. If any one think this too hard and sparing a diet for a child, let them know, that a child will never starve nor dwindle for want of nourishment, who, besides flesh at dinner, and spoon-meat, or some such other thing, at supper, may have good bread and beer as often as he has a stomach."

John Locke, "Thoughts Concerning Education" (1692)

Child-rearing advice from the Father of Liberalism! To nourish your child properly, you will need: (1) dry bread, (2) plenty of beer, and (3) the element of surprise.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Remove a Tattoo, c. 500

Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues,
A Young Daughter of the Picts (c. 1585)

"They call stigmata things inscribed on the face or some other part of the body, for example on the hands of soldiers... In cases where we wish to remove such stigmata, we must use the following preparation... When applying, first clean the stigmata with niter, smear them with resin of terebinth, and bandage for five days... The stigmata are removed in twenty days, without great ulceration and without a scar."

Aetius of Amida, Tetrabiblion (c. 500)

Suffering from tattoo regret? Aetius of Amida has got your back, or bicep, or whatever part of your body is sporting the name of your ex.

Friday, December 6, 2013

How to Survive Your Studies, 1576

"Dear Ask the Past, I'm a grad student currently going through exam period and trying to stay focused... I was just wondering if maybe you have some advice from the past that could help me in this ordeal. Sincerely, A desperate student"

Agostino Ramelli's Book Wheel
Le diverse et artificiose machine (1588)

“We see many great and painfull Studentes, still sitting at their Bookes, wythout taking any regard to their bodily health... Forasmuch therefore as the inwarde and native heate by exercyse and motion, is encreased & strengthened, and the mynde revyved and made lustyer: it standeth all Studentes uppon, and as many as be sickly & of wearish or quaysie health, to use themselves thereunto, and namely to such kinde of exercyse as bryngeth wyth it no wearysomnes or lassitude, but which is stayed within ye boundes of mediocrity: of which sort is a decent straynable and cleare voyce, and reading or declaming wyth a lowde and bigge sound, which is as expedient and as profitable a thing as any, to open ye breast, to stirre up the Spyrites, and to cleare the heart from all grosse and fulsome vapours.”
Levinus Lemnius, The Touchstone of Complexions (1576)

Well, the bad news is that the grosse and fulsome vapours provoked by studying will mess you up if you don't exercise. But the good news is that reading counts as exercise... if you do it with a lowde and bigge sound. This workout technique is sure to charm the other library patrons.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

How to Stockpile Lobsters, 1660

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Still Life with Lobster (1781)
"To keep lobsters a quarter of a year very good. Take them being boild as aforesaid, wrap them in course rags having been steeped in brine, and bury them in a cellar in some sea-sand pretty deep." 
Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook (1660)
The power of planning ahead! Just think: if you'd done this a few months ago, today you'd have... a cool CSI-style lobster graveyard in your basement.

(Or there's this lobster gardening technique.)

Monday, December 2, 2013

How to Invite a Man Home, 1642

Nikolaus Knüpfer, Portrait d'un Couple
According to Cupids Schoole: Wherein Yong Men and Mayds May Learne Diverse Sorts of New, Witty, Amorous Complements (1642), here's what to say if you want to invite a gentleman home with you: 
“To invite one home. Sir, I have often desired your company at home, but yet could never be so happy to obtaine it. But now you shall not deny to grace my poor house with your presence, since we are hard by it, and to honour me so much as to let the star of your vertue shine within the sphear of my house: for I dare promise though entertainement be not worthy your invitation, yet you shall be as welcome as a friend can be to a friend.” 
This is a great line -- provided that your special man is well versed in seventeenth-century euphemism.