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Return of the Recipes: Dictionaire oeconomique, part 2

Fri, 10/09/2021 - 09:30

Seven years ago, we introduced some interesting medical or veterinarian treatments involving the abuse of cats. However, the Dictionaire oeconomique offers other recipes than the ones requiring slaughtering a pet.

A fair warning: back in 1725, when this book was published, a ‘recipe’ qualified not just instructions leading to a tasty treat, but also medical and medical-adjacent products. The original French edition, published first in 1709 then greatly expanded throughout numerous editions and translations, was written by abbot and agronomist Noël Chomel (1633-1712). Our copy (the first English edition according to WorldCat) is a translation of the second French edition with some additions by Richard Bradley (1688-1732), then professor of botany at the University of Cambridge.


As you will see, orange-flower water was used in multiple desserts of the 1725 table – so of course, a recipe for it was included. Instructions state to take ‘the Leaves of an Handfull of Orange-Flowers, without the yellow and green’ to infuse in a ‘Quart of Water’ with a ‘Quarter of a Pound of Sugar’, which is then strained through a ‘Sieve or Linnen Cloth’. On top of being an excellent baking companion, this liquid was believed to be ‘good against Vapous and the Malignity of Humors’, with ‘two Scruples [1/2 teaspoon] to an Ounce’ to be administered in case of ‘Histerical Distempers’, to ‘provoke Women’s Terms’, or to ‘fortify the Stomach’.

Since we will be looking at pies next, it seems important to look at the crust first. ‘Paste’, including marzipan, fruit pastes, and ‘paste for crackling Cust’ are extensively covered on two entire pages of the dictionary.

The latter is made by mixing equal parts sugar ‘beaten to Powder’ and fine flour to the ‘Whites of Eggs, according to the Quantity of your Paste, and a little Orange Flower Water’. The result is then spread, and baked in a baking pan rubbed with butter – although I am sure that more than one 18th century baker forgot and found themselves with a stuck crust.


Tarts are made by using that ‘paste’ garnished with ‘Cream, Comfits, Fruit or Cheese’ and can be flavoured with ‘Sugar, dry Currans, Pine-Apple Kernel, Cinnamon, or sweet Spice in Powder, fresh Butter’. In other words, by throwing together sweet foods into a pie crust. The garnish is then covered with bands of the same paste to form a lid or decoration, baked in the oven, and covered with more sugar or rosewater after baking.

A ‘sweet-sowre [sour] Tart’ can also be made by boiling ‘a Glass of Verjuice or Lemon Juice, with a Quarter of a Pound of Sugar’ until reduced by half. To this are added ‘some Cream, with six Yolks of Eggs, and a little Butter, Orange Flowers, candid Lemon-Peel grated, and beaten Cinnamon’. The mixture is then baked without a lid, creating an early lemon pie. Alternatively, one can boil ‘Apples, Beets, Melons, and other sorts of Fruits’ in white wine, mix them with ‘Sugar, Cinnamon, Orange-flowers and Lemon-Peel’, and bake this in a pie crust.

The ‘Egg Pan-pie’, a precursor to the custard tart, is made by baking a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, butter and orange-flower water in a pie crust.

Biscuits and cakes

Our biscuit today is a Macaroon, made with a pound of ‘pounded’ – ground – almonds ‘moistened’ with orange-flower water or the ‘White of and Egg’, then mixed with powdered sugar and three or four additional egg whites. These are then baked ‘with a gentle Fire’.

The full Macaroon method.

Chomel and Bradley give two methods to make cake. First, one can mix ‘two Litrons, or somewhat more than two Pints of Flower [flour]’, ‘two new-laid Eggs, half a Pound of Butter, a little Milk, and as much Salt as you judge proper’, adding in ‘as much Leven as your Thumb’s End’. This is then left near a fire for an hour and a quarter to rise, before being baked.

The second method is to beat the ‘Whites of Two new-laid Eggs’ before adding a ‘Quartern’ of flour and as much pounded sugar. To this are added a ‘Quartern of Brandy’ and some coriander. The mixture is spread, sprinkled with sugar, and baked.


To accompany all of these delicious treats, you may want something to drink. Fear not – for Chomel and Bradley have exactly what we need. The trade with the American continent brought chocolate to the wealthy masses of the British upper-class.

For the plain version, Bradley recommends a ‘quartern’ of chocolate (four ounces), chopped, to four ‘dishes’ of water boiled in a chocolate pot – to which you can mix between ‘quartern’ and ‘three Ounces’ of sugar. The drink is then frothed before being served. Milk chocolate can be made by replacing the water with milk. This drink, according to Chomel and Bradley ‘preserves the Heat of the Stomach, and helps Digestion’.

Although no specific recipe is given for Tea itself – except drying methods for the leaves – the beverage is highly praised by the authors, who state that

‘There is nothing more sovereign than this Plant, as well for prolonging our Days to a good old Age, as to obstruct every thing that may be injurious to our Health, for it makes the Body notoriously vigorous and robust, and also cures the Head-Ach, Rheums, Shortness of Breath, Weakness of the stomach, Belly-Ach[e], Lassitude and Defluxions, which fall on the Breast and Eyes’.

Whilst its medicinal abilities can certainly be discussed and debated, we can at least agree that tea is an excellent beverage to go with the cakes and biscuits above.

If you would rather have something cold, strawberry lemonade was also already on the 18th century table – under the name ‘strawberry-water’.

It is a straightforward recipe, mixing a pound of strawberries ‘bruis[ed] or mash[ed]’ in a Paris-Pint (about 1.6 modern pints, or 946 mL), to which is mixed ‘a Quartern or five Ounces of Sugar’ and the juice of a Lemon – although a ‘full’ lemon may be enough for two pints.

Please note that none of these recipes were tested by modern audiences or librarians – so far – and that you would be trying them at your own risk! Children are also encourage to seek a responsible adult before attempting any form of baking.

Text transcribed and blog written by Raphaëlle Goyeau, Library Assistant.


STORE 65:1-2. Noël Chomel, Richard Bradley. Dictionaire oeconomique: or, the family dictionary. Containing the most experienced methods of improving estates and of preserving health, with many approved remedies for most distempers of the body of man, cattle and other creatures… The most advantageous ways of breeding, feeding and ordering all sorts of domestick animals… The different kinds of nets, snares and engines for taking all sort of fish, birds, and other game. Great variety of rules, directions, and new discoveries, relating to gardening, husbandry … The best and cheapest ways of providing and improving all manner of meats and drinks … Means of making the most advantage of the manufactures of soap, starch … All sorts of rural sports and exercises .. The whole illustrated throughout with very great variety of figures. London: Printed for D. Midwinter. 1725.

A digitised copy of the same English edition is available online from the University of Michigan via the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

A digitised copy of the 1767 French edition is available online from the Bibliotheque Nationale de France via Gallica.

200 years of Hermann von Helmholtz

Tue, 31/08/2021 - 09:30

Born Hermann Helmholtz on August 31st, 1821, this famed scientist wrote on many different topics, including (but not limited to): theory of vision, perception of visual space and sound, physiology of perception, conservation of energy, electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, laws of nature, and the science of aesthetics.

Helmholtz graduated in 1842 with a medical degree, and his first significant paper [1] (Über die Erhaltung der Kraft, 1847) combined his studies with a philosophical background likely originating from his parents or personal interest. He obtained his first academic position at the Academy of Arts, in Berlin, in 1848.

His next major work, and the one that would propel him at the forefront of the European scientific community, was the invention of the ophthalmoscope – a tool composed of lights and lenses allowing an ophthalmologist to observe the inside of an eye – in 1851. Although refined by several researchers since, ophthalmoscopes are still used today in eye examinations. His publication of a Handbuch der physiologischen optik [Treatise on Physiological Optics] in 1867 shows a continued interest in eyes, vision, and perception.

After vision, Helmholtz explored sound and hearing. [2] Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik [Sensations of Tone] saw five different German editions, of which one posthumous, and four English editions between 1863 and 1912 [3]. Sensations of Tone covered multiple aspects of not just music, but sound as well – with Helmholtz himself deciding that it would be up to artists to determine what qualified as music. Our own copy seems to have once belonged to a bagpipe enthusiast, as shown by the annotations on the last flyleaf.

The first part looks at vibration within sound and music, then harmony, and finally relationship of musical tones. Helmholtz developed a set of resonators and synthesizer to help in his studies, some of which are now held at the Whipple Museum, and Sensations of Tone pictures some of his apparatus. The vibration microscope could be used to determine the frequency at which an object vibrated, or to calibrate a vibrating fork by ‘comparing’ it to another vibrating fork. The polyphonic siren, composed of two hollow and holed cylinders mounted together (one above, one below), could produce two different tones at once. Air could be blown into the cylinders, and the holes adjusted to produce the different sounds by pushing or pulling the screws visible at the front, while the little crank at the top allowed Helmholtz to adjust the position of the upper cylinder.

Helmholtz completed his study on sound by looking at the inner workings of the ear, publishing [4] Die Mechanik der Gehörknöchelchen und des Trommelfells[The mechanism of the ossicles and the membrane tympani] in 1869.

STORE 103.51

His varied interests are even more prominent in his [5][6][7] Vorträge und Reden or Populäre wissenschaftliche Vorträge [Popular lectures on scientific subjects], covering natural sciences, philosophy, theory of vision, physical sciences, and much more. The first volume seems to trace back his most well-known papers and subjects, with lectures on ‘natural forces’, theory of vision (in three parts), and a hint of his philosophy through a lecture ‘On the relation of Natural science to science in general’.

The second volume of Popular Lectures reflected his mathematical and medical background, as well as his research on colour perception through a four-part lecture ‘On the relation of optics to painting’. Another lecture, dated 1871, discusses Kant and Laplace’s theories on the origins of celestial bodies, applied to the Solar system, complete with a short mythological background on the creation of the universe.

Beyond his publications, Helmholtz’s influence extended into teaching. Throughout his five different tenures, he supervised future Nobel Prize receivers Max Planck, Gabriel Lippmann, and Wilhelm Wien, physicists Heinrich Hertz, Mihajlo Pupin and Arthur Webster, philosopher of science Émile Boutroux, and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt.

His rich career gained him many awards, firstly the Matteucci Medal (of which he was the first recipient) in 1868, then the Copley Medal ‘for his researches in physics and physiology’ in 1873. The same year, he was elected member of the American Philosophical society. In 1881 the Royal Society of Chemistry awarded him the Faraday Lectureship prize, and a couple of years later, German Emperor Wilhelm I ennobled him, adding the ‘von’ to Helmholtz’s name. Finally, he was awarded the Albert Medal ‘in recognition of the value of his researches in various branches of science and of their practical results upon music, painting and the useful arts’ in 1888, passing away six years later on September 8th, 1894.

Post written, produced and researched by Raphaëlle Goyeau, Library Assistant.


STORE 103:1. Hermann von Helmholtz. Handbuch der physiologischen optik. Leipzig: Leopold Voss. 1867.

STORE 103:51. Hermann von Helmholtz, James Hinton [trans.]. The mechanism of the ossicles and the membrana tympani. London: New Syndenham Society. 1874.

STORE 122:18. Hermann von Helmholtz, Alexander John Ellis [trans.]. On the sensations of tone as a physiological basis for the theory of music. 2nd Ed. London: Longmans, Green & Co. 1885.

STORE 138:6. Hermann von Helmholtz, Edmund Atkinson [trans.]. Popular lectures on scientific subjects. London: Longmans, Green & Co. 1873.

STORE 138:7. Hermann von Helmholtz, Edmund Atkinson [trans.]. Popular lectures on scientific subjects. 2nd series. London: Longmans, Green & Co. 1881.


[1] Hermann von Helmholtz. On the conservation of forces: a physical memoir. In: Richard Taylor (ed.). Scientific memoirs. London: Taylor and Francis. 1853.

[2] Hermann von Helmholtz. Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik. Fifth edition. Braunschweig: Druck und Verlag von Friedrich Vieweg und Sohn. 1896.

[3] Hermann von Helmholtz, Alexander J. Ellis (ed.). On the Sensations of Tone as a physiological basis for the Theory of Music. Third edition [based on the fourth German edition]. London and New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1895.

[4] Hermann von Helmholtz. Die Mechanik der Gehörknöchelchen und des Trommelfells. Bonn: M. Cohen. 1869.

[5] Hermann von Helmholtz. Vorträge und Reden von Hermann von Helmholtz. Braunschweig: Friedrich Vieweg und Sohn. 1896.

[6] Hermann von Helmholtz, E. Atkinson (trans.). Popular lectures on scientific subjects. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888.

[7] Hermann von Helmholtz, E. Atkinson (trans.). Popular lectures on scientific subjects. London: Longmans, Greens. 1893.