Sugar of roses

Valentine’s day is nearly upon us. Why not do something different this year? Some people make their own cards, but why not show your loved one how much you care by making your own gift? Instead of buying red roses or a heart shaped box of chocolates, make edible rose petals or – if you really want to impress – your own perfume. Just follow one of these 17th century recipes from our archives.

The first recipe is straightforward enough: ‘Take halfe a pint of Rosewater & therein boile a pound of sugar to its just consistence’. The second has defeated our attempts to decipher it fully. The ingredients include cinnamon, cloves, musk, and camphor, and these are to be made into a paste and then formed into three candles.

Both these recipes come from the same book. It contains recipes for cookery and perfumery, as well as making wines, cordials, medicine, and remedies and treatments for wounds. In the 17th century, the necessities of life usually had to be either made at home or purchased locally. The little luxuries of life such as sweets, cosmetics and perfumes were usually obtained the same way, unless you could afford expensive imported items available in the larger cities.

The average well-to-do household would often produce their own supplies of everything from bread to hand cream, to plague remedies. Instructions for everything from making rabbit stew to making a cure for pains in the legs were bundled together in compendiums handed down through families.

Perfume recipe

This particular compendium was written in English and Latin. The Latin entries at least were probably written by a scholar. It also contains the names of two of the people who owned and wrote in it.

The first name is written on the cover 'Edmund Quarles, 1574'. The second name is on the first page and is 'Francis Quarles'. They would have been close relatives with Edmund passing the volume on to Francis. But who were they?

There was a famous poet living in the 17th century called Francis Quarles (1592-1644). He produced a romantic work in 1629 called Argalus and Parthenia, in which Argalus’ first words to Parthenia are:

Fairest of creatures, if my ruder tongue, To right it self, should do your patience wrong, And lawless passion makes it too too free, O blame your heavenly beauty and not me

But the more likely possibilities are that of the family of a Cambridge scholar, another Francis.

The entry for Francis Quarles (1591-1658), in the Biographical History of Gonville and Caius College, describes him as the son of Edmund Quarles, a citizen of Norwich. Francis became first the vicar of Reydon and in 1630 the rector of Newton, Suffolk, until his death. His will mentioned houses and lands in Stratford, Suffolk; members of his family, including his wife Elizabeth, several children and his brother William, a sword bearer of the city of Norwich. The entry also mentions that he came from the same family as the poet.

So, although our recipes above are more likely to be written by a vicar than a poet, they are still romantic enough for our purposes.

Pamela Forde, archive manager

These recipes and many others can be found in the archives. Read about our historic collections on our weekly blog, and follow RCPmuseum on Twitter.