For the next few days I want to explore with you some of the ‘Secrets Mechanicall, performed by Millers, Smiths, Bakers, Cooks, Painters and Apothecaries’ as they are shared in a book published in 1661.
The title page of the book goes like this:
Secrets Of Art & Nature,
Being the Summe and Substance of
First designed by John Wecker, Dr. in Physick, and now
much Augmented and Inlarged by Dr R. Read.
A like work never before in the English Tongue.
Printed for Simon Miller at the Starre in St Pauls
Book XVII contains the particular secrets that we are going to unlock today. Many of the ‘secrets’ in the book are taken from ancient sources, some remain slightly mysterious (even to the author of the book, who reports them nonetheless,) but some are very practical indeed - such as the following instructions for building an oven which is economical on fuel.
An Oven that will save charges.
An Oven to bake many things, that is also usefull, and is now used at Millan, sparing two parts of wood of three, because the fire shut in hath three times more force. Make a square Oven about two cubits broad, and one cubit high, and a half, with Lime and Bricks. Above let there be four large holes, round, as big as your pots and dishes, cover the upper superficies within all with Brass, but where the holes are, cut away the Brass, and let the pieces serve for covers. When therefore you use it, set your dishes and pots in their places; when you need no vessel, put on the coverings that the Oven may have no vent; under the upper place there is a cavity, and a square little door, by which you put in Wood and Coles: but On the side there is a much larger but lower door, and in the lowest part of it, in the middle place there is a single Iron Grate, through which the Ashes fall down; wherefore it is plain that the door you put the wood in by is in the upper part, and the other in the lower part. Also flesh is Roasted upon a Spit, setting Hinges on the sides of that door by which the Ashes are drawn forth: for there the coles will roost flesh, and the flame in the upper place will turn the Spits, if a Wheel be set as it should be, but then since it hath a vent you cannot save so much Wood.
One small section is dedicated to ‘the Bakers Art’ and contains a short piece on the mysterious skill of making bread which will keep for a very long time.
A way to make Bread that shall keep long uncorrupted.
But to return to my principall purpose, the general cause of keeping it is drying of it; For things dryed keep very long; so that Bisquet may be kept a whole year is good. For (as I have proved elsewhere) all things that corrupt, corrupt by reason of sound moisture; and therefore the watry moisture being taken away it will keep long. But it being difficult to take away the watry moisture, but some of the radical moysture that is fat must be consumed also: hence it is that this does not nourish so much as common Bread; but also in Ships by the moysture of the water, it will all grow mouldy, and for the most part will corrupt alos, wherefore that they are forced to bake it twice or thrice, or to eat it corrupted: But Men say that in the Island Sava, which is two hundred miles from the Moluccos, Bread is made will last three years; we know not how they make it, but if it be reduced to our principles, the generall rule must be urged. Wherefore it must be thick and fat, and baked at an easie fire, mingling something therewith that naturally resist putrefaction. But perhaps we cannot attain to it, because our Ayre is thiner or moyster than the Indian Ayr, or from some other cause more fit to breed corruption.
There are many other treasures in this book which, sadly, do not fit this blog’s food theme. If they did, and I had time I would give you remedies ‘Against the ill smell of the arm pits’ and tell you how to make ‘Water that will make the skin shine,’ ‘How to find a thief’, ‘How to make a Dog follow any Man’ and many other wonderfully useful hints.