Monday, December 30, 2013

How to Tell Your Fortune for the New Year, 1862

"My Dearest Tense, Do you have any suggestions for safe and merry ways to ring in the new year?"

"The evening which of all others is the most adapted for witchery, is New Year's eve. It is a very ill practice to spend this evening at a ball, and it is an acknowledged fact that ill luck, more or less, follows a person throughout the year, who has danced the old year out and the new year in. You should spend New Year's eve with a small circle of near and dear friends, around a punch-bowl, while you seek to inquire what the future has in store for you. In the first place this may be done with melted lead or wax... Take a good-sized piece of lead or wax, (the former is better,) place it in a melting ladle, and dissolve it over the coals, or over a spirit-lamp, into which you have poured a little alcohol. You must then take a vessel full of water, (a bowl is best, that is not too deep nor too shallow,) and pour into it the lead or wax, and from the various figures which it forms in the water you endeavor to tell your fortunes."

Felix Fontaine, The Golden Wheel Dream-Book and Fortune Teller

Forget the dancing: your best bet for a safe and merry New Year's eve involves molten lead and witchery. No instructions are provided for interpreting the lead forms, so I'll predict in advance that your 2014 will be kind of formless and globular.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How to Make a Christmas Pie, 1784

"To make a Yorkshire Christmas-Pie. First make a good standing crust, let the wall and bottom be very thick; bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon, Season them all very well, take half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and half an ounce of black-pepper, all beat fine together, two large spoonfuls of salt, and then mix them together. Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge; cover them; then the fowl, then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the crust, so as it will look only like a whole turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean cloth. Cut it to pieces, that is, joint it; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one side; on the other side woodcocks, moor game, and what sort of wild-fowl you can get. Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, then lay on your lid, which must be a very thick one, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot oven, and will take at least four hours." 
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery (1784)
Holiday dining doesn't get more efficient than this Christmas pie. Just toss in your calling birds, French hens, turtle doves, and the partridge in a pear tree. You could probably fit a few lords a-leaping in there too, if you've got those on hand.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How to Make Fake Bacon, 1687

Sir Francis Bacon does not endorse this recipe.
Frans Pourbus, Francis Bacon (1617)
 "To make Frayse* appear like Rashers of Bacon. Take of fine Flowre half a peck, mingle one half by it self with Water and Butter and to the other add Milk wherein Turnsel has been steeped, with a little of the Powder of Lake; and having cut them out into slices, fix a slice of the one to a slice of the other at your discretion; and when they are fryed gently, or rather baked, they will deceive the most curious as to the sight of them." 
The Accomplished Ladies Rich Closet of Rarities (1687) 
Want to deceive your most curious friends? Just grab your plant dyes and whip up some Early Modern imitation bacon. Breakfast hilarity will ensue.

*A pancake ancestor (also froise or fraze)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How to Prevent Drunkenness, 1653

"How to prevent drunkenness. Drink first a good large draught of Sallet Oyl, for that will float upon the Wine which you shall drink, and suppresse the spirits from ascending into the brain. Also what quantity soever of new milk you drink first, you may well drink thrise as much wine after, without danger of being drunk. But how sick you shal be with this prevention, I wil not here determine."

Hugh Plat, The Jewel House of Art and Nature (1653)

Or combine these strategies for a foolproof anti-drunkenness cocktail: three parts wine, one part milk, a dash of salad oil. Shake well and immediately reconsider.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Feed Your Child, 1692

"As to his meals, I should think it best, that as much as it can be conveniently avoided, they should not be kept constantly to an hour: for when custom has fix'd his eating to certain stated periods, his stomach will expect victuals at the usual hour, and grow peevish if he passes it... Therefore I would have no time kept constantly to for his breakfast, dinner and supper, but rather vary'd almost every day. And if betwixt these, which I call meals, he will eat, let him have, as often as he calls for it, good dry bread. If any one think this too hard and sparing a diet for a child, let them know, that a child will never starve nor dwindle for want of nourishment, who, besides flesh at dinner, and spoon-meat, or some such other thing, at supper, may have good bread and beer as often as he has a stomach."

John Locke, "Thoughts Concerning Education" (1692)

Child-rearing advice from the Father of Liberalism! To nourish your child properly, you will need: (1) dry bread, (2) plenty of beer, and (3) the element of surprise.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Remove a Tattoo, c. 500

Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues,
A Young Daughter of the Picts (c. 1585)

"They call stigmata things inscribed on the face or some other part of the body, for example on the hands of soldiers... In cases where we wish to remove such stigmata, we must use the following preparation... When applying, first clean the stigmata with niter, smear them with resin of terebinth, and bandage for five days... The stigmata are removed in twenty days, without great ulceration and without a scar."

Aetius of Amida, Tetrabiblion (c. 500)

Suffering from tattoo regret? Aetius of Amida has got your back, or bicep, or whatever part of your body is sporting the name of your ex.

Friday, December 6, 2013

How to Survive Your Studies, 1576

"Dear Ask the Past, I'm a grad student currently going through exam period and trying to stay focused... I was just wondering if maybe you have some advice from the past that could help me in this ordeal. Sincerely, A desperate student"

Agostino Ramelli's Book Wheel
Le diverse et artificiose machine (1588)

“We see many great and painfull Studentes, still sitting at their Bookes, wythout taking any regard to their bodily health... Forasmuch therefore as the inwarde and native heate by exercyse and motion, is encreased & strengthened, and the mynde revyved and made lustyer: it standeth all Studentes uppon, and as many as be sickly & of wearish or quaysie health, to use themselves thereunto, and namely to such kinde of exercyse as bryngeth wyth it no wearysomnes or lassitude, but which is stayed within ye boundes of mediocrity: of which sort is a decent straynable and cleare voyce, and reading or declaming wyth a lowde and bigge sound, which is as expedient and as profitable a thing as any, to open ye breast, to stirre up the Spyrites, and to cleare the heart from all grosse and fulsome vapours.”
Levinus Lemnius, The Touchstone of Complexions (1576)

Well, the bad news is that the grosse and fulsome vapours provoked by studying will mess you up if you don't exercise. But the good news is that reading counts as exercise... if you do it with a lowde and bigge sound. This workout technique is sure to charm the other library patrons.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

How to Stockpile Lobsters, 1660

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Still Life with Lobster (1781)
"To keep lobsters a quarter of a year very good. Take them being boild as aforesaid, wrap them in course rags having been steeped in brine, and bury them in a cellar in some sea-sand pretty deep." 
Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook (1660)
The power of planning ahead! Just think: if you'd done this a few months ago, today you'd have... a cool CSI-style lobster graveyard in your basement.

(Or there's this lobster gardening technique.)

Monday, December 2, 2013

How to Invite a Man Home, 1642

Nikolaus Knüpfer, Portrait d'un Couple
According to Cupids Schoole: Wherein Yong Men and Mayds May Learne Diverse Sorts of New, Witty, Amorous Complements (1642), here's what to say if you want to invite a gentleman home with you: 
“To invite one home. Sir, I have often desired your company at home, but yet could never be so happy to obtaine it. But now you shall not deny to grace my poor house with your presence, since we are hard by it, and to honour me so much as to let the star of your vertue shine within the sphear of my house: for I dare promise though entertainement be not worthy your invitation, yet you shall be as welcome as a friend can be to a friend.” 
This is a great line -- provided that your special man is well versed in seventeenth-century euphemism.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How to Make a Cooked Bird Sing, c. 1450

Luttrell Psalter, BL Add. MS 42130, f. 207v
"To make that Chicken Sing when it is dead and roasted, whether on the spit or in the platter. Take the neck of your chicken and bind it at one end and fill it with quicksilver and ground sulphur, filling until it is roughly half full; then bind the other end, but not too tightly. When you want it to sing, [heat] your neck or chicken. When it is quite hot, and when the mixture heats up, the air that is trying to escape will make the chicken's sound. The same can be done with a gosling, with a piglet and with any other birds. And if it doesn't cry loudly enough, tie the two ends more tightly."  
The Vivendier (c. 1450) 
 From the same geniuses who brought you the live bird entrée: this sequel recipe will provide a soundtrack for your feast! Plus, what's a holiday without some toxic mercury-based stuffing?

Monday, November 25, 2013

How to Serve a Live Bird at a Feast, c. 1450

"Get a chicken or any other bird you want, and pluck it alive cleanly in hot water. Then get the yolks of 2 or 3 eggs; they should be beaten with powdered saffron and wheat flour, and distempered with fat broth or with the grease that drips under a roast into the dripping pan. By means of a feather glaze and paint your pullet carefully with this mixture so that its colour looks like roast meat. With this done, and when it is about to be served to the table, put the chicken's head under its wing, and turn it in your hands, rotating it until it is fast asleep. Then set it down on your platter with the other roast meat. When it is about to be carved it will wake up and make off down the table upsetting jugs, goblets and whatnot."  
The Vivendier (ca. 1450)
Is your Thanksgiving turkey routine getting dull? This year, don't roast the bird -- just denude, glaze, hypnotize, and serve. Your guests will never forget the dinner, and you'll never have to host again.

(I'd love to see the out-takes on this one.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Make Cock Ale, 1697

Gijsbert d'Hondecoeter, Poultry
"To make Cock-Ale. Take nine Gallons of Ale, and let it Work; and when done Working, have in readiness four pound of Raisins of the Sun, stoned and bruised in a Mortar, two Nutmegs, and as much Mace bruised; then take two Cocks, flea them, and take out the Guts, then hold them in a pot of boiling Water, just to Plump them; then break their Bones, and bruise them in a Mortar, so put them in a Vessel to your Ale, (Before you put in all the Blade Fruit and Spice,) so stop them close: let it stand a Fortnight; and when you Bottle it, put in every Bottle two or three bits of Limon-Peel, and as much candied Ginger-Root, with a Lump of Sugar; stop it close: let it stand a Fortnight or three Weeks, then drink it; it is very pleasant, and good against Consumption."  
A New Book of Knowledge (1697)
Some days, you're not sure whether you need a mug of ale or a steaming bowl of chicken broth. On those days, Cock Ale will drown your sorrows and cure your consumption. Perfect for holiday parties!

(Thanks to Michael O'Brien)

Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Avoid the Plague, 1595

Juan van der Hamen, Still Life (detail), 1627
"Whosoever eateth two Walnuts, two Figs, twenty leaves of Rew, and one graine of Salt, all stampt and mixte together, fasting: shall bee safe from poyson and Plague that day."  
Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1595)
This Early Modern energy bar provides the nutrients you need to get through a pestilential and poisonous workday. (As instructed, take this with a grain of salt.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

How to Make a Hedgehog, 1725

"Dear Ask the Past, I am looking for some vegetarian recipes for the holiday season. Any suggestions? Sincerely, A Vegetarian Jew"

"To make a Hedge-Hog. Take a Quart of New Cream and boil it, then beat an Egg and put into it, and take a quarter of a Pint of sowre Cream, and mix them well together, stirring it continually; let it boil till it be a little turn'd, then put it into a Cloth, and squeeze the Whey from it; when it's cold, mix it with pounded Almonds, and refin'd Sugar; then lay it like a Hedge-hog, and stick it with Almonds, cut small, and put good Cream about it; stick two or three Currans for the Nose and Eyes." 
Robert Smith, Court Cookery (1725)
Sometimes you want to serve a hedgehog, but dietary restrictions or scarcity stand in your way. Enter the Hedge-Log: part cheese ball, part Tiggy-Winkle, all eighteenth-century genius.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Wash Your Head, 1612

"You shall finde it wonderfull expedient, if you bath your head foure times in the yeare, and that with hot lee made of ashes. After which, you must cause one presently to poure two or three gallons of cold fountain water upon your head. Then let your head be dryed with cold towels. Which sodaine pouring downe of cold water, although it doth mightily terrifie you, yet nevertheles, it is very good, for therby the naturall heate is stirred within the body, baldnesse is kept backe, and the memory is quickened. In like manner, washing of hands often, doth much availe the eyesight." 
William Vaughan, Approved Directions for Health (1612)
Pouring water on your head sure is terrifying! But the dreaded quarterly headwashing has its benefits. Best practices!

Monday, November 11, 2013

How to Look Good on a Budget, c. 1280

Cantigas de Santa Maria

"Your clothing should be pleasing and fine, cut to your figure. If you have no expensive cloth to make clothing, then have it cut nicely from something less than the best, so that it looks good and you appear well dressed. If you lack good clothing, you should accept this: but let your shoes and footwear, belt, purse, and knife be the finest you can have... Be very careful not to wear unkempt clothing, for anything torn is lovelier by far: one appears ill-bred when wearing unkempt clothes, but torn ones simply cannot be helped. It never takes great skill to make something lovely look nice, but one who knows how to wear well what is not lovely appears pleasing and courtly."
Amanieu de Sescás, Enssenhamen de l'escudier (Instruction for a Squire), c. 1280
Stretch your fashion budget in a "distressed" tunic! The courtly look is all in the accessories.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How to Make a Flaming Drink, 1862

"Blue Blazer. (Use two large silver-plated mugs, with handles.) 
1 wine-glass of Scotch whiskey.
1 do. [ditto] boiling water. 
Put the whiskey and the boiling water in one mug, ignite the liquid with fire, and while blazing mix both ingredients by pouring them four or five times from one mug to the other, as represented in the cut. If well done this will have the appearance of a continued stream of liquid fire. Sweeten with one teaspoonful of pulverized white sugar, and serve in a small bar tumbler, with a piece of lemon peel.
...The novice in mixing this beverage should be careful not to scald himself. To become proficient in throwing the liquid from one mug to the other, it will be necessary to practise for some time with cold water." 
Jerry Thomas, How to Mix Drinks: Or, the Bon-Vivant's Companion (1862)
The splendid mustache is a prerequisite, but be careful not to ignite it while mixing this manly drink.

Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Grow an All-Purpose Herb, 1586

"To make an hearb to growe which shall have many savours and tastes. And to doo this: firste take one seede of the Lettice, one seede of Endive, one of Smallage, one of the Bassill, one of the Leeke, & of the parslie, al these put togither in a hole in such sort, that one seede may touch an other: but this remember that you plant these together in the dung of an Horsse or an Oxe without any earthe at all with them. And then after of these seedes shall growe up one proper hearbe, which will have so many savours and tastes, as there were seedes sowne together." 
A Briefe and Pleasaunt Treatise, Intituled: Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions (1586)
With the power of manure, you can grow one herb to rule them all.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Make a Halloween Cake, 1893

"The Ring Cake is always an object of interest at Halloween parties. The cake itself is made like the ordinary kind, but before it is baked a plain gold ring is hidden in the dough, not to be taken out until the cake is cut and it falls to the share of the fortunate person in whose slice it happens to be found. The ring is sometimes put in a flour-cake, which is simply flour packed into a cake-mould so firmly that when it is turned out it retains the shape of the mould and can be sliced off with a knife. Each member of the party cuts her or his own section of flour, and whoever secures the ring, it is confidently stated, will be the first of the group to marry." 
Lina Beard and Adelia B. Beard, How to Amuse Yourself and Others (1893)
Know what your Halloween parties have been missing? A brick of compressed flour with a choking hazard hidden inside!

Friday, October 25, 2013

How to Compliment a Lady, 1663

Amorous compliments endorsed by John Gough, The Academy of Complements (1663):
"Her Dove-like eyes."
"Liquorous rolling eyes."
"Her cheeks shine like sparkling stones."
"Her Cheeks are like Punick Apples."
"Her Cheeks are spread with Spices and Flowers."
"Her breasts are the soft Pillows of love."
"Her breasts are soft and tender as the Pelican's."
"Her Thighes are fit subjects for the pleasant Songs of youthfull Poets to acquaint the world with."
"Her legs as stately and firm as marble pillars."
Looking to stand out among the crowds of suitors? Try the pelican line at your next courtship event -- it really gives you the element of surprise.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

How to Dress for Cycling, 1896

"Modesty is becoming at all times, and especially upon a bicycle... A prominent physician advises women cyclists to wear woolen clothing, the head covering light, low shoes, leggings, and no corsets... The Alpine hat is considered the proper head-gear for women. Men should wear a short loose-fitting sack coat of some light woolen material, with knickerbockers to match, woolen stockings, cap, low shoes and a negligee shirt, or if the day is cold, a sweater." 
John Wesley Hanson, Etiquette and Bicycling for 1896 (1896)
Ladies, grab your Alpine hats! Men, don your negligee shirts! Your next cycling adventure is sure to be modest thanks to this physician-approved costume advice.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How to Cure Smelly Feet, 1590

Eygentliche Beschreibung Aller Stäande auf Erden, 1568
"Whosoever have their feete smell strongly, if they put the scales of Iron in their shoes, wherein they use to goe, it takes cleane away the evill smell thereof."  
Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1590)
Is foot odor holding you back? No problem-- just fill your shoes with iron shards. The sacrifice in comfort is a small price to pay for the delightful lack of evil smell.

Friday, October 18, 2013

How to Light a Fire, 1628

"An easie way to procure Fire speedily. Take a round Glasse, and fill it with faire water, and set it against the Sun, so that it may stand fast: then take something that is very dry and hold it neere the Glasse (betweene the glasse and the Sun) and it will set the thing so holden on fire: which is very strange to behold, the rather, because Fire which is an hot and dry Element, is procured out of Water, which is a cold and moist Element."  
The Booke of Pretty Conceits (1628)
This is a great trick if you can get the angle just right. If not, though, you'll still end up with a nice glass of lukewarm water. Win!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Make a Pumpkin Pie, 1670

Still Life with Pies (17th c.) 
"To make a Pompion-Pie. Having your Paste ready in your Pan, put in your Pompion pared and cut in thin slices, then fill up your pie with sharp Apples, and a little Pepper, and a little salt, then close it, and bake it, then butter it, and serve it in hot to the Table." 
Hannah Woolley, The Queen-Like Closet, or Rich Cabinet (1670)
Paraphrase: prepare your pan, pare your pompion, put it in paste with pepper.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to Cure Soreness, 1835

William Heath, c. 1828

"To remove great STIFFNESS OR SORENESS after a hard day's ride or hunt. On going to bed, order a pan with bright glowing coals, throw a handful of brown sugar over them, with or without a few juniper berries; have your bed well warmed and fumigated with this sweet-scented steam from the sugar, which, instead of allowing to escape, you should creep into, whilst yet quite warm. All the soreness will have left your bones by the next morning."

Charles de Berenger, Helps and Hints How to Protect Life and Property (1835)

Sore from a hard day of hunting? Just slow-cook yourself with some aromatics, and you'll be tender and luscious in the morning.

Friday, October 11, 2013

How to Make Pumpkin Ale, 1771

Vietz, Icones plantarum (1804)
"Let the Pompion be beaten in a Trough and pressed as Apples. The expressed Juice is to be boiled in a Copper a considerable Time and carefully skimmed that there may be no Remains of the fibrous Part of the Pulp. After that Intention is answered let the Liquor be hopped cooled fermented &c. as Malt Beer." 
American Philosophical Society papers (1771)
This fall, treat yourself to some pumpkin ale-- homebrew of 18th-century American philosophers.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How to Fatten Up, 1660

Or just wear all your clothes at once.

"A Potion to make the Body fat. Take of the flour of Vetches, Beans, Barley, Rice, each alike parts, flour of Lentils, white Poppy, each half as much; flour of bread corn, Turky-millet, each alike quantity, Sugar twice as much, boyl them in a sufficient quantity of Sheeps milk, of which let him take one cup every morning fasting, sleeping upon it half an hour."

Johann Jacob Wecker, Arts Masterpiece (1660)

It's hard to find a multi-grain porridge that doubles as a plumping potion. This one will have you tipping the scales in no time!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How to Catch a Rat, 1768

"Remember likewise, that they are a very subtle vermin, for if they in the least suspect what you are about, you cannot catch them... set your great cage out of the way at some distance that the other Rats may not hear them squeak, for that will baulk your sport and occasion them to run away." 
Robert Smith, The Universal Directory for Taking Alive and Destroying Rats (1768)
Dealing with an infestation of subtle vermin? Robert Smith offers a "method hitherto unattempted," in which you lure the little beasts into what looks like an exciting rat funhouse. Some assembly required.

Monday, October 7, 2013

How to Negotiate, 1597

The Somerset House Conference, 1604
"It is better dealing with men in appetite then with those which are where they would be... In dealing with cunning persons, we must ever consider their endes to interpret their speeches, and it is good to say little to them, and that which they least looke for." 
Francis Bacon, "Of Negotiating" (1597) 
Some timely advice for Washington -- although "cunning" seems like too generous a term for Congress.

Friday, October 4, 2013

How to Make Ketchup, 1774

"To make catchup to keep twenty years. Take a gallon of strong stale beer, one pound of anchovies washed from the pickle, a pound of shalots, peeled, half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of whole pepper, three or four large races of ginger, two quarts of the large mushroom-flaps rubbed to pieces. Cover all this close, and let it simmer till it is half wasted, then strain it through a flannel-bag; let it stand till it is quite cold, then bottle it. You may carry it to the Indies."

Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery (1774)

Planning a twenty-year sea voyage to the Indies, but unsure which condiments to pack? This mushroomy ketchup will sustain and console you for decades. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How to Stay Young, 1489

Portrait of Marsilio Ficino
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Zacariah in the Temple (1486-90)
"There is a common and ancient opinion that certain prophetic women who are popularly called ‘screech-owls’ suck the blood of infants as a means, insofar as they can, of growing young again. Why shouldn’t our old people... likewise suck the blood of a youth? — a youth, I say who is willing, healthy, happy and temperate, whose blood is of the best but perhaps too abundant. They will suck, therefore, like leeches, an ounce or two from a scarcely-opened vein of the left arm; they will immediately take an equal amount of sugar and wine; they will do this when hungry and thirsty and when the moon is waxing. If they have difficulty digesting raw blood, let it first be cooked together with sugar; or let it be mixed with sugar and moderately distilled over hot water and then drunk." 
Marsilio Ficino, De vita libri tres (1489)
One wonders how difficult it was to find a willing youth to serve as an ingredient for Ficino's rejuvenating recipes. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How to Make Facial Toner, 1660

Johannes Vermeer, Portrait of a Young Woman

"Of Waters that adorn the Face... Take of the Decoction of a Chicken, Capon, or Hen, three pints, of the juice of Lemmons, one pint, White wine vineger, half a pint, Bean and Water-lilly-flowers, each three small handfuls; Camphure and whites of Eggs, each two drams; mix them and distil them with an Alembick."

Johann Jacob Wecker, Arts Master-Piece (1660)

Wondering what to do with that leftover chicken broth? Adorn your face with it! Obviously.

Monday, September 30, 2013

How to Deal With a Unibrow, 1881

Konstantin Makovsky,
Portrait of a Woman (c. 1870)

"Some persons have the eyebrows meeting over the nose. This is usually considered a disfigurement, but there is no remedy for it. It may be a consolation for such people to know that the ancients admired this style of eyebrows, and that Michael Angelo possessed it. It is useless to pluck out the uniting hairs; and if a depilatory is applied, a mark like that of a scar left from a burn remains, and is more disfiguring than the hair."

John H. Young, Our Deportment (1881)

Here's a novel approach to the unibrow: ditch the tweezers and just tell everyone you're the next Michelangelo.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Treat Redness of the Face, 12th century

"Did I overdo it?"
Queen, Lewis Chessmen (12th c.)
"For removing redness from the face, we put on leeches of various colors, which are in reeds, but first we wash with wine the place to which they ought to adhere; they are usually placed around the nose and ears on both sides."  
The Trotula (12th century) 
Feeling flushed? Bloodsucking parasites can help! Just don't forget to remove the leeches of various colors before you go out for the evening.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to Choose Wine, 1689

Jan Vermeer, The Glass of Wine (c. 1660)
"Good Wine ought to be clean, pure, and clear, inclining to a red, called Claret, or Cherry-colour; but let it be of stony and mountainous Places, situate towards the South. Let it be of an excellent Odour, for such wine increases the subtill Spirits, nourishes excellently, and breeds very good Blood; let it be of a pleasant Taste, but let it by no means be too sharp or sweet, but of a middle temper, for if too sweet, it inflames, obstructs, and fills the Head, but the sharp or sowr Wine hurts the Nerves and Stomach, and begets Crudities... The gross, stinking, corrupted, flat Wines, are unpleasant to the Taste, and unwholesom; all which are to be avoided, for they cause the Head-ach, corrupt the Blood, breed melancholick Spirits, and in short, are destructive to the whole body."  
John Chamberlayne, A Family-Herbal (1689)
Here's a tip: if the sommelier tries to interest you in a gross, stinking, corrupted, flat wine, just say no.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How to Make Chocolate, 1685

Joannes de Laet, L'histoire du Nouveau Monde, 1640
"Take seven hundred Cacao Nuts, a pound and a half of white Sugar, two ounces of Cinnamon, fourteen grains of Mexico Pepper, call'd Chile or Pimiento, half an ounce of Cloves, three little Straws or Vanilla's de Campeche, or for want thereof, as much Annis-Seed as will equal the weight of a shilling, or Achiot a small quantity as big as a Filbeard, which may be sufficient only to give it a colour; some add thereto Almonds, Filbeards, and the Water of Orange Flowers." 
The Manner of Making of Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate (1685)
Hankering for some spicy 17th-century chocolate? Well, what are you waiting for? Those seven hundred cacao nuts aren't going to count themselves.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How to Charm a Man, 1896

"When you desire to make any one "love" you with whom you meet, although not personally acquainted with him, you can very readily reach him and make his acquaintance... Wherever or whenever you meet again, at the first opportunity grasp his hand in an earnest, sincere, and affectionate manner, observing at the same time the following important directions, viz.: As you take his bare hand in yours, press your thumb gently, though firmly, between the bones of the thumb and the forefinger of his hand, and at the very instant when you press thus on the blood vessels (which you can before ascertain to pulsate) look him earnestly and lovingly in the eyes, and send all your heart's, mind's, and soul's strength into his organization, and he will be your friend..."

The Ladies' Book of Useful Information (1896)

This handy technique allows you not only to bewitch that alluring stranger, but also to check his resting heart rate.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Interpret Italian Gestures, 1562

Raphael, The School of Athens (1509-11) 
"The Lomberd... is scorneful of his speche. He wyl geve an aunswer with wrieng his hed at the one side displaysynge his handes abrode. Yf he cast his head at the one syde & to shroge up his shoulders speake no more to hym, for you be answerd. The Italyons and some of the Venecions be of lyke disposicon." 
Andrew Boorde, The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge (1562)
You strike up a conversation with a Renaissance Italian. He tilts his head, spreads his hands, and shrugs his shoulders. Translation: quit bothering me with your questions, silly foreigner.

Friday, September 20, 2013

How to Whiten Your Teeth, 1675

Edward Topsell, The History of
Foure-Footed Beasts

"A Dentrifice to whiten the Teeth. Take of Harts-horn and Horses Teeth, of each two Ounces, Sea-shells, Common Salt, Cypress-Nuts, each one Ounce; burn them together in an Oven, and make a powder, and work it up with the mucilage of Gum Tragacinth, and rub the teeth therewith."

Hannah Woolley, The Accomplish'd Lady's Delight (1675)

Why buy whitening toothpaste when you can make your own? A few treatments with toasted horse teeth and mucilage, and a shimmering smile can be yours!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to Put Out a Fire, 12th century

Quick, the bran!
Madrid, Bib. Nac. Vitr. 26-2, f. 34vb (12th c.)
"If a fire blazes up, it should be extinguished with sand and bran. If it blazes up further, put on sand soaked in urine." 
Mappae clavicula (c. 12th century)
Safety first: be sure to have plenty of sand and bran on hand for your next barbecue or naval battle. (The urine soaking is for when things get really scary.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How to Nap, 1623

Old Man in an Armchair (c. 1650)
National Gallery, London
"Sleeping at noones causeth heavinesse of the head, dulnesse of wit... Moreover it hurteth the eyes, spoileth the colour, puffeth up the Spleene with winde, maketh the body unlusty... Yet... that it is lawfull at any time of the yeare for old men to sleepe a nap at noones, by reason of their imbecility, needs no demonstration." 
Tobias Venner, Via recta ad vitam longam (1623)
Some bad news here for everyone: your refreshing midday power nap is giving you spleen wind, unless you're an old man -- in which case the seventeenth century has diagnosed you with imbecility. Sweet dreams, all!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How to Cure Ear Problems, 1590

Athanasius Kircher, Musurgia universalis (1650)

"Earth Wormes fried with Goose greace, then straind, and a little thereof dropt warme into the deaffe or pained eare, doth helpe the same: you must use it halfe a dosen times at the least. This is true."

Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1590)

This remedy doth helpe the patient to realize that whatever his original problem was, it wasn't as bad as having hot greasy worms dripped into his ear.

Monday, September 16, 2013

How to Exercise with Friction, 1827

"Friction is a mode of exercise of great value.. It has great power in strengthening the digestive organs, promoting a free perspiration, resolving obstructions, loosening contractions, and imparting a comfortable glow, and an increase of energy, to the whole system... Friction may be applied to the body by hand, or with flannel, rough woolen gloves, or the flesh-brush. The latter is by far the best instrument, and the proper time for using it is in the morning and evening, continuing from fifteen to thirty minutes at each time." 
Thomas John Graham, Modern Domestic Medicine (1827)
Trying to maintain an exercise schedule, but lacking motivation? Consider a vigorous session with the flesh brush! And when you've considered that, you'll undoubtedly be ready to hit the gym instead.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How to Make a Salad, 1660

"Take the buds of all good sallets herbs, capers, dates, raisins, almonds, currans, figs, orangado. Then first of all lay it in a large dish, the herbs being finely picked and washed, swing them in a clean napkin; then lay the other materials round the dish, and amongst the herbs some of all the foresaid fruits, some fine sugar, and on the top slic't lemon, and eggs scarce hard cut in halves, and laid round the side of the dish, and scrape sugar over all; or you may lay every fruit in partitions several."

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook (1660)

In the good old days, salad was a sugar delivery system, and a salad spinner was a cook with a napkin.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How to Make Someone Die of Laughter, 13th century

Vein Man needs some armpit phlebotomy, stat.
BL Harley 3719, f. 158v (14th c.)
"Beneath the armpits are certain veins called "ticklish" which, if they are cut, cause a man to die of laughter." 
Richardus Salernitanus (13th c.?)
Tired of people not laughing at your jokes? You could just stab them in the armpits...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to Tell a Secret, 1660

Not suspicious.
Caravaggio, Cardsharps (c. 1595)
"Voices may be concealed six wayes: First by absence, and this is the safest way, and if it be not discovered, it cannot be suspected. Then follows mumbling or low speaking, which is unseemly and full of suspition, and ofttimes is the cause of great mischiefs. The third is to speak in a forrain Tongue, as Greek, Latin, Germane, Italian; this also breeds suspition and is unseemly. The fourth is by nodding, as Men playing, but this is most ridiculous and unhandsome. The fift is by words that signifie other things... and this wants long observation: yet if one can do it handsomely there can be no suspition... The sixt is when we speak by cutting off some words, or pieces, this is not rediculous, and becomes a Grave man, because it makes a doubtfull sense, and it is so lawfull that it is familiar in the Writings of great Men."
Johann Jacob Wecker, Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art and Nature (1660)
Relaying secret messages is tough. Mumbling is unseemly, nodding is silly, and Secret German rarely works in Germany. Instead, just leave out a few syllables and words here and there. Your secret may be mangled, but bystanders will have to agree that you are... not ridiculous.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to Use Tomatoes, 1794

"Love-Apples... The fruit of the wild sort is no bigger than a cherry; but those that grow in gardens are as big as a small apple, very round and red, and therefore called pomum amoris; some call them tomatoes. It hath a small sharp-pointed jagged leaf, growing very thick upon its stalk and branches; its fruit is round and red, or of an orange colour. I have eat five or six raw at a time: They are full of a pulpy juice, and of small seeds, which you swallow with the pulp, and have something of a gravy taste... the fruit, boiled in oil, is good for the itch." 
Henry Barham, Hortus Americanus (1794)
Do you like gravy? Are you itchy? Then the love-apple is the New World fruit for you-- perfect for snacking and for smearing all over yourself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How to Cure Cramps, 1739

"For the Cramp. Take of rosemary-leaves, and chop them very small, and sew them in fine linen, and make them into garters, and wear them night and day."

Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife (1739)

You know what they say: one person's cramp remedy is another person's herbal undergarment.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Tell Time With Your Hand, 1633

Pocket Sundial, c. 1640
Harvard University
"[T]o see onely by the hand what of the clocke it is...  may bee practiced by the left hand in this manner. Take a straw or like thing of the length of the Index, or the second finger, hold this straw very right betweene the thumbe and the right finger, then stretch forth the hand and turne your backe and the palme of your hand towards the Sunne; so that the shaddow of the muscle which is under the thumbe touch the line of life, which is betweene the middle of the two other great lines, which is seene in the palme of the hand; this done, the end of the shaddow will shew what of the clocke it is; for at the end of the great finger it is 7 in the morning or 5 in the evening; at the end of the Ring finger it is 8 in the morning, or 4 in the evening; at the end of the little finger or first joynt, it is 9 in the morning, or 3 in the afternoone; 10 and 2 at the second joynt, 11 and 1 at the third joynt, and midday in the line following, which comes from the end of the Index.
Hendrik van Etten, Mathematicall Recreations (1633)
In theory, this ingenious method will allow you to tell time using only a straw. But you'll be lucky if you manage to calculate the time before the sun sets, and you may inadvertently offend passersby with your finger gestures.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to Eat Politely, 1651

"If thou soakest thy bread or meat in the sauce, soak it not againe, after that thou hast bitten it, dip therein at each time a reasonable morsell which may be eaten at one mouthfull." 
Francis Hawkins, Youths Behaviour 
From the same authority who told you not to be a close-talker, more timeless advice: don't be a double-dipper.