Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian
Originally published in 1602, ‘Delightes for Ladies’ by Sir Hugh Plat is one of the earliest cookery and household recipe books produced in England. It contains a fascinating array of recipes, instructions and advice on everything from making almond butter and preserving roast beef to creating candles for ladies tables and dying hair a lovely chestnut colour.
The little book was a perfect companion for the wealthy Elizabethan housewife who owned her own Still Room; a place in the house, usually linked to kitchen and garden, where the ‘still’ was kept for “the distillation of perfumes and cordials,” (Oxford Dictionaries), it was also where food was preserved and stored and where medicines, cosmetics and alcohol could be made.
The author began writing shortly after graduating from Cambridge University in 1572 (Plat, 1955), publishing a number of books which similarly offered advice and new ideas on the topics of agriculture, food preservation and gardening. Plat’s ‘Delightes for Ladies’ however, was one of his most popular works, having at least thirteen editions produced before the middle of the seventeenth century (Plat, 1955). The work was more recently reprinted in 1948 amidst post-war austerity by G.E. & K.R. Fussell with the hope that “we may be able to use some of the simpler and less recondite recipes for the zest they may add to our plain, wholesome diet.”
Although ‘Delightes for Ladies’ was often bound together with another similar work, ‘A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, or the Art of preserving, conserving, and candying,’ believed by most to be by the same author, our edition contains only the ‘Delightes’. The book itself features a poetical preface and is divided into four sections with the table of contents acting as an index. The sections cover, ‘The Art of Preserving, conserving, candying, &c’; ‘Secrets in Distillation’; ‘Cookery and Huswifery’ and ‘Sweet Powders, Oyntments, Beauties, &c.’ Below are some of my favourite pieces of advice from the book:
A 29. To make gelly of Strawberries, Muberries, Raspisberries, or any such tender fruite.
C.40 How to hang your candles in the aire without candlestick. Candles hanging in the aire.
D.20 How to take away any pimple from the face.
D. 37 How to colour the head or beard into a chestnut colour in halfe an houre.
It is probably best not to try some of these at home…
Plat, Hugh (1628) Delightes for Ladies to Adorne their Persons, Tables, Closets, and Distilatories with Beauties, Banquets, Perfumes and Water. Read Practice, Censure. London: H.L and R.Y. [Stenton B/G27 – available upon request]
Plat, Hugh (1955) Delightes for Ladies. Reprint of Delightes for Ladies by Sir Hugh Plat, 1609. Introductions by Fussell, G.E. and Fussell, K.R. (ed). London: Crosby Lockwood and Son LTD. [MERL LIBRARY NUPTO NH10 – available upon request]
Oxford Dictionaries (2016) http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/still-room OUP.