Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How to Serve a Flaming Bird, c. 1465

Musée du Petit-Palais L.Dut.456, f. 86v (15th c.)
How to Dress a Peacock With All Its Feathers, So That When Cooked, It Appears To Be Alive and Spews Fire From Its Beak
     How to dress a peacock so that it appears to be alive: first, the peacock should be killed by stabbing it in the head with a sharp knife or by slitting its throat, as you would with a baby goat. Then slice the body from the neck all the way to the tail, cutting only the skin and delicately skinning it so that you do not ruin the feathers or the skin. When you have finished skinning the body, turn the skin inside out, from the neck down. Make sure not to detach the head from the skin of the neck; and similarly, make sure that the legs remain attached to the skin of the thighs. Then dress it well for roasting, and stuff it with good things and good spices, and take some whole cloves and use them to stud the breast, and cook the bird slowly on a spit; and place a wet cloth around the neck so that the heat does not overly dry it; and wet the cloth repeatedly. When it is done cooking, remove form the spit and dress it up in its skin.
     Prepare an iron device attached to a cutting board that passes through the feet and legs of the peacock so that the iron cannot be seen and so that the peacock stands up on its feet with its head erect and seems to be alive; and arrange the tail nicely so that it forms its wheel.
     If you want it to spew fire from its beak, take a quarter ounce of camphor with a little cotton wool around it, and put it in the beak of the peacock, and also put a little aqua vitae or good, strong wine.    
     When you serve it, light the cotton wool and it will spew fire for a good bit. And to make it even more magnificent, when the peacock is done, you can decorate it with leaves of hammered gold and place the peacock's skin over the gold after you have smeared the inside of the skin with good spices.
     The same can be done with pheasants, cranes, geese, and other birds, as well as capons and pullets.
Martino da Como, Liber de arte coquinaria 
Haven't you always fantasized about the holiday turkey spewing fire in the direction of your least favorite relative? Time to turn those dreams into fiery, delicious, gold-plated reality.

Friday, November 4, 2016

How to Cure a Stuffy Nose, 1658

Edward Topsell, The History of Four-Footed Beasts
"If any man shall but touch or kiss with his mouth the snowt or nostrils of a Mouse, and be troubled with the disease called the Rhume, which falleth down and stuffeth the nostrils, he shall in very short space be eased of the same." 
Edward Topsell, The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents
Cold season checklist: Tissues. Hot tea. The quivering snout of the vulgar little mouse.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How to Be a Powerful Woman, 1404

Beinecke Library, Visconti Tarot
“The better and more virtuous a lady is, the greater the war Envy very often makes against her... Therefore, the wise princess, and similarly all those who wish to act prudently, will be aware of this problem and provide themselves with a remedy... If Fortune should wish to assail her in any place (as it has done and does to many good people) and she finds out that some powerful person or persons do not wish her well, dislike her, and would harm her if they could... or by their false reports would portray her badly to barons, subjects or people, she will not make any sign that she notices it nor that she considers them her enemies... She should not talk carelessly... with a heart that is large and full, a lady cannot always keep quiet about what displeases her, but if she let slip a wrong word she might ruin her whole project… in such a situation the lady inevitably gains more in the long run by maintaining so long-suffering a manner than by being vengeful. There is no doubt that this teaching is suitable for princesses and ladies but also generally for all women.” 
Christine de Pizan, The Treasure of the City of Ladies
Wise princesses: putting up with everyone's crap since forever.

Friday, September 23, 2016

How to Get the Girl, c. 1470

Your new online dating profile photo
Walters Art Museum, MS W.88, f. 40r (14th c.)
"Young men should not hate cats because they are the cause of great happiness and can assist in achieving success in matters of love with young and charming ladies." 
The Distaff Gospels 
This message brought to you by the 15th-century cat guild.

Monday, August 29, 2016

How Not to Get Expelled, 1484

British Library, Royal 10 D IV, f. 1r (14th c.)
"It is commanded to all students that none of them henceforth in the streets or ways of this town wield swords, knives, daggers, or any other arms, or wander about in costume or with faces covered in these aforementioned places, or stir up horrible clamors at nighttime in the manner of wild asses, or participate in forbidden games either in the taverns of this city or the outlying areas or villages around the city, or attempt to perpretrate there any ill deeds at all, or dare to disturb or injure the inhabitants of this city or any others, either bodily or in property, or dare to afflict them with any other injuries." 
Leipzig University statute, 1484
Pro tip: your extracurricular activities should not involve daggers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Past Asks You: 1889 Etiquette


The following questions are taken (verbatim) from The Home Manual: Everybody’s Guide in Social, Domestic, and Business Life (1887). Each question below is followed by the original response along with three modern impostors. Test your etiquette cred by identifying the correct answers!

1. Is it proper to use a knife and fork in eating asparagus, or should the stalks be taken in the fingers?
a) Certainly, knife and fork are obligatory.
b) Never use a knife. Many well-bred people take the stalks in the fingers. If a compromise is desired, use the fork only. 
c) Asparagus has no place on a refined table.
d) Use the knife only. It is prudent to practice the use of the asparagus knife in isolation until elegant mastery is attained.

2. Is it good form for a lady to ask her fiancé to take her to drive?
a) It is acceptable, provided that a chaperone is available to accompany them.
b) No, it would be more proper for her to suggest “Serialized novel and chill?”
c) It is not improper, but ladies usually wait for their lovers to take the initiative, especially in the early days of the engagement. 
d) It is acceptable if the engagement has persisted for more than six months.

3. On what occasions is it proper for a man to wear a “tourist shirt?”
a) When traveling abroad in warmer climes.
b) When the need for armpit ventilation eclipses the desire for self-respect.
c) When yachting, playing ball or tennis, or in the woods.
d) This custom is never acceptable among those of good breeding.

4. Is it proper to wear a black silk hat in summer, if a man dislikes the light colored ones?
a) No, it is contrary to custom.
b) Tasteful shades of pale blue and violet may be permitted.
c) Only if he is a Dickensian villain named Mr. Gloombridge or Sir Tetchbottom.
d) This custom is gaining acceptance among younger men but should not be adopted by a man above forty.

5. If a gentleman meets a lady in a large retail store and wishes to talk with her, is it allowable for him to replace his hat after removing it to bow?
a) No, courtesy dictates that he hold the hat until the parties take their leave.
b) No, but he may place it in the front compartment of his ample Costco shopping cart in order to assist the lady with her party size hamper of frozen meatballs.
c) Yes, for in a large store, where a number of people are passing to and fro, the same rules apply as when persons meet in the street.
d) He may replace his hat only if the lady authorizes him to do so.  

1. b 2. c 3. c 4. a 5. c

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

How to Pack Lunch (Businesswomen's Edition), 1889

Godey's Ladies' Book, December 1884
"Portable Lunches... To women breadwinners how to have some change from the fare they daily carry with them, and which, perhaps, has long since palled on their tired palates, is a very puzzling and important question…  It will seem almost a mockery, perhaps, to tell tired business women to do anything that will encroach on their precious time. Yet good, enjoyable food is health, and, if they are well nourished, they will be more vigorous, and perhaps feel more inclined to take a little trouble… 
Chocolate sandwich.
Cut thin slices of bread and butter as for other sandwiches, have a cake of sweetened chocolate in a warm spot over night, or long enough to become soft like cheese. Scrape it and spread thickly over the bread and butter, then make into sandwiches. This sandwich, when the appetite is jaded and craves variety, will be agreeable to chocolate lovers. A cake of chocolate between two crackers is another form of it." 
Mrs. John A. Logan, The Home Manual
Age-old secret of successful businesswomen: the chocolate sandwich.