Thumbing through the Winter 2009 issue of The Herb Quarterly looking for receipes and garden tips, I discovered instead a wonderful article by herbalist and freelance writer, Barbara MacPherson, called “Wisdom from the Stillroom.”
As she describes it, historically, a stillroom book “was simply a notebook in which health, healing, and medicinal information were recorded.” A stillroom book was so named because in the past one of the most important areas of a house contained a still to make medicinal “waters” of all kinds.
“The earliest versions were written on parchment, then vellum, and finally in bound books of paper…Generally, they would write down each entry as an informal paragraph in scrapbook fashion. The book was not limited to medicinal knowledge and preparations; often included were recipes for cosmetics, soaps, and preserves, as well. Gardening information, measurements, useful tables, and sometimes even magic formulas all graced the pages of a stillroom book.”
Some examples MacPherson cites include: Arcana Fairfaxiana, a stillroom book compiled by the Fairfax family in England and published in 1890 by Mawson, Swan & Morgan; and Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery – attributed to Mary Kettiby, 1714.
MacPherson encourages her readers to make their own stillroom book, using the knowledge passed down from generations, or gathered from friends and neighbors. “Be sure to use your own handwriting in your journal,” she said. “Don’t worry about mistakes; the old stillroom books were full of corrections, adding to the sense of the real person behind the writing. Date your entries. Imagine a great-grandchild opening the pages in 2060 to see your handwriting with the date of, say, September 25, 2009.”
There isn’t much on the web about stillroom books, but I did find this one gem thanks to the Project Gutenberg’s free ebooks: The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened by Kenelm Digby.
Sir Kenelm Digby was born in 1603. It contains all sorts of things, including a recipe for mead, “Aqua Mirabilis. Sir Kenelm Digby’s Way,” and my favorite,”The true Preparation of the Powder of Sympathy, as it was prepared every year in Sir Kenelm Digby’s Elaboratory.” The “Powder of Sympathy” was used to heal wounds.
Herbal Quarterly Winter 2009 edition here.
The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened here.