Evaluation of Methodology: Editions and Standardisation

One issue that has predominated our work so far is that we have very little definitive proof of the extent to which these female compilers trialled and experimented. It needs to be acknowledged that outside sources (contemporary to the period) played an influence on the work of these compilers. We know, for example, that Sarah Jackson often combined a number of contributions in her book, particularly from newspapers. There are ways to avoid being conjectural by looking at the ways female expertise was refined through edition alterations and the inclusion of certain receipts.  Historian Laura Knoppers refers to Heidi Brayman Heckel’s comment on marginalia, in that ‘it is not only what books do with readers, but what readers do with books’ (1). If we are to believe that Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam were active readers and users of these receipts, then we can apply Heckel’s argument to the diverse changes to editions.

We have previously concentrated on the removal / replacement and introduction of new receipts in Sarah Jackson’s 1754 and 1755 editions in our work on Dosage and the Impact of Age. Alternatively, modifications to more than one receipt book are largely identified through statistical analysis, particularly of standardisation. Both ingredients and dosages were either standardised (e.g. drams, ounces, pints, gallons), or non-standardised (e.g. handfuls, spoonfuls, ‘as much as the glass will hold’ (2)). The use of standardised measurements conveys the refinement of female medical expertise because:

  • It allows for easier amendments to dosages – medicines can be modified with less chance of serious consequences.
  • Increased focus is placed on empiricism, experimentation, experience and less reliance upon perception.
  • Women have the ability to reproduce medicines and maintain consistency; the dosages became universal. This made the probability of the receipt being successful higher because the instructions about administering dosage and quantities of ingredients are clearer and more standardised.
Palsy water, ‘as much as the glass will hold’ – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

There are some recognisable differences between female compilers Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam regarding changes to standardisation in editions. Despite both women only releasing two editions each, the changes show both the progression and complexity of refining medical expertise. Jackson’s editions are a particularly prominent example of rapid progression. It is harder to argue that we witness conscious decisions to alter receipts in Battam’s book because of her death in 1755 (in-between editions).

Jackson’s editions, released in 1754 and 1755, have an increase from 56 to 62 receipts. In the 1754 edition, 33 contain standardised measurements. In the 1755 edition, 41 contain standardised measurements. This is an increase from 58% to 66%. Therefore, this could be an attempt to make medicine more universal. In particular, the receipt For the Yellow Jaundice states that the size of certain ingredients could be problematic and require modification (e.g. woodlice). This might therefore explain the improvements in the standardisation of both ingredients and dosages in the 1755 edition. Examples of receipts containing standardised measurements include To kill and bring away all Sorts of Worms(pints, ounces), and Brandy Elixir (ounces).

To kill and bring away all Sorts of Worms – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

However, this elixir also features the non-standardised measurement of spoonfuls. Notably, Jackson’s 1755 edition witnesses a minor increase from 23 to 25 receipts containing non-standardised measurements. This conflict with the previous statistics somewhat complicates an argument that these women were entirely progressive towards expertise.

Due to Battam’s death in 1755, midway between the publication of the first and second (also last) editions in 1750 and 1759, complications arise regarding standardisation in her compilation. While she may have made some contributions to modifications between 1750 and 1755, she is not entirely responsible for the disparities in standardisation between editions.

In Battam’s 1750 edition, 23 of 25 receipts (92%) contain standardised measurements. In her 1759 edition, 46 of 51 receipts (90%) contain standardised measurements. Hence, there is a very small decline in standardisation despite the increase in receipts included. Additionally, the number of receipts containing non-standardised measurements increased from 8 in 1750 to 14 in 1759. Looking at these figures alone would depict a decline in the importance of encouraging female expertise. However, by using the small amount of information found on Battam’s year of death, we can question the extent to which she is responsible for the collection of receipts included in the second edition. Although it is likely that Battam played a part in editing the second edition, we can’t be sure which receipts were picked by a third party source. This brings our statistical analysis of the receipt books into question. Nevertheless, by comparing the two editions we can suggest a lack of consistency in terms of standardisation across eighteenth-century receipt books.

While it is arguable that Battam had no intention to increase her medical expertise, we cannot disregard the fact that there are a surprising number of additional receipts four years after her death. We should therefore take into account these numerous contributions. In 1750, Battam’s book featured 7 named contributions. In 1759, this number had increased to 16, meaning 31% of the receipts explicitly claimed alternative ownership. Typically, the majority of contributions were made by the gentry, family, or local physicians. The inclusion of receipts from other collections was a staple of eighteenth-century receipt books. Despite only 31% of receipts being explicitly named as contributions we will never know the exact number of receipts that were from alternative sources. This issue becomes even more difficult in Battam’s case due to her death in-between editions. Post-death, Battam obviously could not approve (or disapprove) of certain receipts.

 It is therefore evident that changes to editions provide one of the clearest pictures of the conscious decisions made by these female compilers. Arguably, this can be categorised as experimentation; these women actively engaged with and most likely trialled the receipts they included, while making appropriate modifications. However, as these two examples of female compilers show, medical receipts in the eighteenth-century varied from book to book.  When looking at printed books, we also face issues of ownership; as we can’t be sure which receipts (if any) were chosen by the compilers. This makes attempts to collect and analyse data challenging as we can only make assumptions about their motives for including certain receipts.  The data we collected points to an increase in standardisation in Sarah Jackson’s compilations. Nevertheless, some examples are more complicated than others.  Battam’s collection of receipts contrasts noticeably with Jackson’s in our study of attempts to refine medical expertise.

(1) Laura Knoppers, Opening the Queen’s Closet: Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Cromwell, and the Politics of Cookery, Renaissance Quarterly (2007)

(2) Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750/59)


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