Sugar and spice…and vegetable blood

Sugar and spice…and vegetable blood

A printed book chapter heading 'Chap. XX.' of sugars
Chapter XX. Of Sugars, from SGC RBK R.179.

This enticing chapter title comes from William Salmon’s London Dispensatory. William Salmon (1644-1713) called himself a ‘professor of physick’. His prolific writing output was partly due to his habit of condensing the work of others in his books. As well as medicine, he also wrote about religion, alchemy and botany.

He lived near St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he treated illnesses, sold his remedies and cast horoscopes. Popular opinion of him was mixed, with him variously being described as a charlatan and quack, but this did not affect the popularity of his books, which were owned by men such as Isaac Newton and Samuel Johnson. He died extremely wealthy, having travelled extensively, including to the West Indies. He often used his books to advertise his own patent medicines. This volume is an intriguing blend of new scientific language, alchemy and divination.

A list of alchemical symbols for the planets, metals, weights and measures and ingredients.
A list of alchemical symbols which Salmon uses in his book.

His book is laid out by type of ingredient, starting with the properties of ‘simple vegetable medicaments’ where we learn ‘Lemmons…are excellent against Feavers…they strengthen the Stomach, and create Appetite’. Next come ‘animals’: to ‘make Men bold and Couragious’ use the head of a blackbird with the feet of a hare, worn as an amulet. This section also includes remarks on natural history, where Salmon tells us that ‘the eagle can fly from Morning till Night, and that very high, and have the best smell of all living Creatures; they live till very old, and dye by reason of their crooked Bills’.

Some of his compound medicines are more similar to modern recipes. His quince marmalade with cinnamon (‘to warm the heart’) is a normal preserve except with the addition of powders of pearl and coral. Some of his medicines sound more alarming than they are; the section on ‘chymistry’ includes a recipe to make the ‘blood of vegetables’, which involves juicing a root vegetable, mixing it with bread and wine, and then distilling the result.

The canons at St George’s have always had diverse interests, which are reflected in some of the books which they added to the library. This book is more practical than many that they owned, but it is unclear whether they ever tried using any of the cures in it.

Part of a recipe explaining how to glaze fruit with egg white and sugar, and part of a recipe about preserving apricots.
Details of preserving flowers and fruits.

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.