When is a recipe also a poem? “Like swallowes,” at least on this page, is both a poem and a receipt, a meditation on the seasons and instructions for preparing a “pomatum” or an ointment for the skin or hair. I came across this entry in UPenn MS Codex 252 in late December when I was searching for new recipes to try over at Cooking in the Archives.
Like swallowes when the summer’s done
thay fly and seeke some warmer sun
then wisely chuse oneto your frind
whose loue may: when your
Remain still firme beprou
Here’s the full verse from Carew’s poem:
Like swallowes when their summers done,
They’le flye and seeke some warmer Sun.
Then wisely chuse one to your friend,
Whose love may, when your beauties end,
Remaine still firme: be provident
And thinke before the summers spent
Of following winter; like the Ant
In plenty hoord for time of scant.
Here Carew implores “A.L.” and his readers in general to choose their friends and lovers wisely, to prepare for the changing of the seasons, to provision themselves well in company and sustenance. The poem as a whole both critiques the carpe diem trope of comparing the beloved to nature or figuring love as seasonal and, at the same time, traffics in these very tropes.
an en Comprable pomatum maid by Madam Thornton
oyle of sweet Almonds new drawn six ounces, oyle of Benn: one
ounce: of Sperma: Ceti too drams; of uirgins wax thine sliced an
ounce: of whitte sugar Candy half an ounce. when it is serced: of
Camphire two penny worth, if you liek it. a quarter of an ounce of
pearl powder grait these into your intended gallypot to make and keep it in set it into
a kettel of water upon the fire untill all the ingredients be melted then take it of &
beat it with a splent putting in by degrees orange flower water
On Cooking in the Archives Alyssa and I don’t tend to prepare medicinal and body-care recipes like these, but the overlap between this perfumed ointment and say, our macaroons, gave me pause. The oils, sugar, and floral water demonstrate a strong connection to other items concocted in the same kitchen. The only ingredient I didn’t immediately recognize, oyle of Benn, is a seed oil that was used as a base in early modern perfumery.
What, if anything, was the compiler of this manuscript trying to do? There are three colors of ink on the page, but the hands are very similar. The content is clearly miscellaneous, but the space is sensibly used. Did someone begin to copy a poem on a blank page, stop mid-line, and later add a recipe? Did the writer return to the idea of swallows by writing out those first two words like a title? Reading the page through, the second “Like Swallowes” appears to be an entry on its own rather than a title for the pomatum recipe despite its titular position. Did the person who wrote down the recipe seek to connect the poem and the receipt? Certainly this writer wanted to use the space efficiently, as the smaller letters and extension of the final three lines suggest.
Finally, was the recipe writer, like the ant, preparing for winter by making a wonderful face cream? As January stretches on, this seems like an excellent idea for me.