The History of Garlic: From Medicine to Marinara

Today’s guest post is written by Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine (Simon & Schuster, 2016). On Monday, June 5, Lohman will give her talk, “The History of Garlic: From Medicine to Marinara.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

Ms. Amelia Simmons gave America its first cookbook in 1796; within her pamphlet filled with sweet and savory recipes, she makes this note about garlic: “Garlickes, tho’ used by the French, are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.” In her curt dismissal, she reflected a belief that was thousands of years old: garlic was best for medicine, not for eating. To add it to your dinner was considered the equivalent of serving a cough syrup soup.

There are records of ancient Greek doctors who prescribed garlic as a strengthening food, and bulbs were recovered from Egyptian pyramids. Garlic was being cultivated in China at least 4,000 years ago, and upper class Romans would never serve garlic for dinner; to them, it tasted like medicine.

In medieval Europe, garlic was considered food only for the humble and low.  While those that could afford it imported spices like black pepper from the Far East, lower classes used herbs they could grow. Garlic’s intense flavor helped peasants jazz up otherwise bland diets. It was made into dishes like aioli, originally a mixture of chopped garlic, bread crumbs, nuts and sometimes stewed meat. It was intended to be sopped up with bread, although it was occasionally served as a sauce to accompany meats in wealthier households.


Garlic (Scientific name Allium Sativum) from Medical Botany (1790) by William Woodville.

The English, contrary to the stereotype about bland British cooking, seemed particularly enchanted by garlic. In the first known cooking document in English, a vellum scroll called The Form of Cury, a simple side dish is boiled bulbs of garlic. Food and medicine were closely intertwined in Medieval Europe, and garlic was served as a way to temper your humors. Humors were thought to be qualities of the body that affected on your health and personality. Garlic, which was thought be “hot and dry,” shouldn’t be consumed by someone who was quick to anger, but might succeed in pepping up a person who was too emotionally restrained. According to food historian Cathy Kaufman, a medieval feast might have a staggering amount of different dishes, all laid on the table at one time, so that different personality types could construct a meal that fit their humors.

Up through the 19th century, people also believed you got sick by inhaling bad air, called “miasmas.” Miasmas hang out by swamps, but also by sewage, or feet–I always imagined them as the puddles of mist that lie in the nooks between hills on dark country roads. Garlic can help you with miasmas, too. Ever see an image of plague doctors from Medieval Europe wearing masks with a long, bird-like beak? The beak was filled with odorous herbs, garlic likely among them, designed to combat miasmas.

In 18th-century France, a group of thieves may have been inspired by these plague masks. During an outbreak of the bubonic plague in Marseilles in 1726 (or 1655, stories deviate), a group of thieves were accused of robbing dead bodies and the houses of the deceased and ailing, without seeming to contract the disease themselves. Their lucky charms against the miasmas? They steeped garlic in vinegar, and soaked a cloth or a sponge in the liquid, then tied it like a surgical mask over their mouth and nose. In their minds, the strong smells would repel miasmas. This story is probably a legend, but I think there is some grain of truth to it: in modern studies, garlic has been shown to obfuscate some of the human smells that attract biting bugs. Since we now know bubonic plague was carried by fleas, it’s possible the thieves were repelling the insects. The plague is also a bacterial infection, and both vinegar and garlic are effective antimicrobials.

Garlic remained in the realm of medicine for most of the 19th century. Louis Pasteur first discovered that garlic was a powerful antimicrobial in 1858. In 1861, John Gunn assembled a medical book for use in the home, The New Domestic Physician, “with directions for using medicinal plants and the simplest and best new remedies.” Gunn recommends a poultice of roast garlic for ear infections:

“An excellent remedy for earache is as follows: Take three or four roasted garlics, and while hot mash, and add a tablespoonful of sweet oil and as much honey and laudanum; press out the juice, and drop of this into the ear, warm, occasionally.”


Garlick from Botanologia: The English Herbal (1710) by William Salmon.

He also recommends garlic for clearing mucus from the lungs and reducing cough, given by the spoonful with honey and laudanum.  Gardening for the South: Or, How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits, an 1868 botanical guide, says the medicinal values of garlic include making you sweat, which,  like bloodletting, was believed to leach out disease; it will also make you urinate, and is an effective “worm destroyer,” for any intestinal hitchhikers you might have. By the late 19th century, scientists also used garlic to treat TB and injected it into the rectum to treat hemorrhoids.

Today, garlic is one of the most heavily used home remedies, and it is increasingly being studied in the medical field. Some of its historic uses have been proved as bunk–while others, like its efficacy as a topical antiseptic, hold up. But since the late 19th century, garlic has found an even more worthwhile home, thanks to French chefs and Italian immigrants, who spread their garlic heavy cuisine around the world, and made even garlic-reticent Americans a lover of this pungent plant.

Join us on Monday, June 5 to learn more about this topic.  Click HERE to register.

The Homegrown Table: American Cookbook Highlights in the Academy Library

By Anne Garner, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting renowned chef James Kent in the Rare Book Room.  Chef Kent is interested in the history of American cooking, and as I was selecting highlights for his visit, I was reminded–again!—of the depth and variety our American food holdings.  Here are a few of our favorite early American cookbooks from our stacks (a later post will look at late 19th and early 20th-century highlights.)

American Cookery


Title page of American Cookery by Amelia Simmons.

The Academy library has one of only four copies in the United States of the slim third edition of Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, long considered the first homegrown American cookbook. The book’s intriguing title page, modified only slightly from the 1796 first edition, credits the book’s authorship to one “Amelia Simmons, an American orphan.”  The author’s nod to her Americanness is one of the earliest to occur in print—and possibly the earliest in culinary sources.

American Cookery likely drew from manuscript cookbooks with recipes known for some time, and now appearing in print. The recipes in these pages were known throughout the colonies and appealed to Americans living both north and south; they made use of thriving American crops, including corn, peas and beans. Recipes for pumpkin pie, American citron, and an adventurous chowder, composed of fried pork, fish and crackers, were recorded here in print for the first time.


The Virginia Housewife

Another early and influential American cookbook was authored by Mary Randolph, a Virginia housewife turned entrepreneur whose culinary creations drew generously on local crops. Before the publication of Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife in 1824, many home cooks in Virginia relied on English cookbooks, but found these sources lacking in recipes drawing on local plant sources.  Randolph earned her culinary chops—and her nickname, “the Queen” —while supervising the cooking in the kitchen of her boarding house in Richmond.  When she retired, she collected her recipes and published them. Randolph had a soft spot for bread; recipes for cakes and biscuits occupy a lengthy section of the book, and include instructions for making batter cakes (using hominy and cornmeal), “Apoquiniminc Cakes” (beaten biscuits), and corn bread.  Other favorites include classic southern dishes like sweet potatoes, peach pie, boiled turnip tops, ham, and apple fritters.


Pages from The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph.

Praktisches Kochbuch

A number of cookbooks published during the 19th-century in America targeted immigrant audiences, hoping to minimize their anxiety about maintaining their own food traditions while embracing their new country’s agricultural resources and culinary influences. A favorite of these is Henrietta Davidis’ Praktisches Kochbuch. First published in 1844, Praktisches Kochbuch, or Practical Cookbook, was easily the most popular cookbook of the nineteenth century in Germany.  It was republished in innumerable editions well into the twentieth century, including a number of American editions, which were brought out by a Milwaukee publishing house seeking to tap the large German-American community in Wisconsin. In our 1897 edition, Davidis clarifies her intention to write a cookbook that combines German and American elements in her preface:

Ein deutsches Kochbuch in Amerika soll nicht dutsch oder amerikanisch, sondern deutsch-amerikanisch sein.  [A German cookbook in America should not be German or American, but German-American.]

For easy reading, the introduction and recipes were published in German, with English translations next to the name of the dish. Indexes in both German and English made it easy for new students of English to use the book.

Left, title page of Henrietta Davidis’ Praktisches Kochbuch. Right, Portrait of Henrietta Davidis.

Hoffman Family Cookbook

A number of manuscript cookbooks in our collection add dimension to the many American stories of cooking in the immigrant kitchen. A handwritten collection of recipes kept by the Hoffman family, papermakers by trade who opened their first mill in 1766 in what is now Hoffmanville, Maryland, dates between 1835-1850.

The manuscript contains a fascinating mix of ethnically German recipes, many suggestive of the regional culinary style now called “Pennsylvania Dutch,” and then-standard American recipes, some of which show the writer, apparently a German immigrant, struggling to master an unfamiliar cuisine.  Recipes for “sowar crout” and “soft rivals” (small dumplings) in milk soup suggest that the Hoffman household continued to eat German dishes, while recipes for pound cake, pumpkin pie and ketchup attest to a desire to incorporate the influences of their new country at the table.


Pumpkin pie recipe from the Hoffman family cookbooks.


Matt Jozwiak, our indispensable Chef Curator

In 2017, we are working with our volunteer Chef Curator, Matt Jozwiak, on a variety of projects to increase awareness and use of our culinary collections. Matt is exploring historical recipes, helping us develop food-related events, and coordinating outreach to the culinary community to help them access the resources we hold. Two of his adapted recipes featured at the Academy’s 2016 Gala.

Matt also works with the Academy’s food policy group, which focuses on better food procurement for East Harlem community based organizations.  He is also currently developing his own nonprofit, which is focused on the better use of food waste.

We’re looking forward to serving up a number of collaborations with Matt this year, continuing a long tradition of great American food.

17th Century Recipes, Fit for a Gala

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

The New York Academy of Medicine hosted its annual fund-raising gala at the Mandarin Oriental on June 14th.  Gala attendees had the opportunity to sample two treats based on recipes from one of our favorite manuscript receipt books.

The Academy Library has 37 manuscript receipt books, most of which contain a mix of culinary, medicinal and household recipes. Some of them have been featured already on our blog (see earlier posts on Mother Eve’s Pudding, and English Gingerbread). The Recipes Project also featured an interview with Anne Garner, our Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, about the print and manuscript historical recipe books in our collection.

One of our favorite manuscripts is A Collection of Choise Receipts from the late seventeenth century. Inspired by a recipe for Black Cherry Water in the manuscript, Pietro Collina and Matt Jozwiak created a signature cocktail, the “Choise Cherry Crush,” for gala guests. You can try your hand at mixing one up if you are so inclined.

Gala Cocktail Flyer-page-001

The adapted recipe for the Choise Cherry Crush, adapted from A Collection of Choise Receipts (1680)

The drink was inspired by this 1680 recipe:

choise-recipe-cherry-water copy

“Black Cherrie Water,” A Collection of Choise Receipts, 1680.

On their way out at the end of the evening, guests received bags with a pair of almond cookies also adapted from a recipe in Choise Receipts.

Postcard with cookies

The finished  give-away almond cookies, pictured with their recipe, adapted from A Collection of Choise Receipts (1680)

There are several recipes for cookies or little cakes made with almonds in the manuscript.  My favorite, “The Lady Lowthers Receipt for to make Bean Bread” a cookie that very much resembles a macaron in texture, takes its name from the slivered almonds that look like little beans that are mixed into the dough.

choise-bean-bread-0001 copy

“Lady Lowthers Receipt, for to make Bean Bread,” from A Collection of Choise Receipts, 1680.

The recipe for Almond Bisketts that we reproduced for the gala, however, seems to be missing a crucial ingredient: almonds!

Choise original almond biskett

The front of the recipe postcard produced for our give-away cookies for the gala.

Only when examining the full page of the manuscript, on which a very similar recipe for Almond Cakes appears directly above the one reproduced on the postcard, does it become clear that the “half a pound of fflower” referred to in this recipe would be made from ground almonds.  The adapted recipe printed on the back of our card makes that clear.

Choise adapted recipe

The adapted recipe, on the back of the postcard.

If you make a batch of these tasty cookies, let us know how they turn out!  Better yet, send us a picture and we’ll post it on Instagram.

#ColorOurCollections, Day 2


It’s the second day of #ColorOurCollections, a week-long special collections coloring fest we’ve organized on social media. Yesterday, the number of participating cultural institutions grew from nearly 60 to nearly 100—thanks to all who are taking part (see our growing list)!

Every day on our blog, we will feature #ColorOurCollections coloring sheets from our library, along with content from participants worldwide. You can also download our full #ColorOurCollections coloring book.

Today’s coloring pages come from Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera. Renaissance chef Scappi (ca. 1500–1577) cooked for six popes and was installed as chef at the Vatican while Michelangelo was completing the Sistine Chapel. His famous cookbook, first published in Venice in 1570, contains more than 1,000 recipes as well as charming and detailed illustrations showing the kitchens, implements, and culinary tools of a high-end Italian household. Here are two his illustrations; you can find three more in the full coloring book.


Coloring page from Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera, 1596. Click to download the PDF coloring sheet.

Coloring page from Bartolomeo Scappi's <em>Opera</em>, 1596.

Coloring page from Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera, 1596. Click to download the PDF coloring sheet.

Yesterday’s offering of #ColorOurCollections images was extraordinary. Today, we are thrilled to feature two coloring books and two image collections. The Massachusetts Historical Society’s book has fantastic images from its archives, including “Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball.”

"Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transparent Eyeball." Christopher P. Cranch journal, p. 10, 1839. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball.” Christopher P. Cranch journal, p. 10, 1839. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s coloring book offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to color a manticore.

Manitchora from The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpants by Edward Topsell. London, 1658. Courtesy of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Manitchora from The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpants by Edward Topsell. London, 1658. Courtesy of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

We also love the image collections from DPLA and the Folger Library. Here’s a favorite DPLA offering:

Illustration from The history of the Caribby-islands , 1666. Courtesy of DPLA.

Illustration from The history of the Caribby-islands, 1666. Courtesy of DPLA.

And a Hamlet illustration from the Folger:

Illustration by John Austen for a 1922 edition of Shakespeare's Hamlet (ART Box A933 no.30). Courtesy of the Folger Library.

Illustration by John Austen for a 1922 edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (ART Box A933 no.30). Courtesy of the Folger Library.

In New York? Want to color with others? The New York Botanical Garden’s Mertz Library is hosting #ColorOurCollections coloring parties on Wednesday, February 3 and Friday, February 5, from 12pm–2pm.

Keep following #ColorOurCollections on your favorite social media outlets, and keep an eye on our Pinterest boards, where we are pinning images shared by participating special collections along with images colored by fans. On Friday, our final #ColorOurCollections post will include a list of all of the coloring books created and shared by participants.

“Good Cakes Like Us Are Baked With Care and Royal Baking Powder!” (Item of the Month)

By Arlene Shaner, Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

Some of the most engaging materials in the cookery collection of the New York Academy of Medicine’s Library are late 19th and early 20th century advertising pamphlets. Small books of recipes, histories of coffee, tea, spices, and other foods, and brochures touting the health benefits of one product or another offer a window into the changing tastes of the American public, new innovations in the mass production of foods, and the development of mass market advertising. A number of these pamphlets came to us as part of NYAM Fellow Margaret Barclay Wilson’s collection of books on food and cookery, donated to the library in 1929.

RoyalBakingPowderCo_TheLittleGingerbreadMan_1923_cover_watermarkOne charming example is The Little Gingerbread Man, published in 1923 by the Royal Baking Powder Company, located at 108 East 42nd Street in New York. Written in rhyme, the pamphlet tells the story of the land of Jalapomp, where baking has been declared illegal because of the ineptitude of the cook. Poor Princess Posy, whose birthday is approaching, worries that she won’t have a cake. Alerted to the sad state of affairs by a little Flour Fairy, the Queen of Flour Folk sends Johnny Gingerbread and his friends off in a chocolate plane to save the day. Toting a tin of Royal Baking Powder and a copy of the New Royal Cook Book for the cook, the fragrant baked treats convince the king that baking powder and new recipes will set things right before they head back home to Cookery Land.

A tin of Royal Baking Powder features prominently in most of the pamphlet’s illustrations, and the cookbook appears as well. You, too, can try your hand at making some of the Royal treats, as almost every page also contains a recipe for baked goods, including one for gingerbread men. Readers of the pamphlet (or their mothers, since the book itself was clearly meant for children) could obtain free copies of the New Royal Cook Book by writing to the company as instructed on the final page of the story.

Although she is uncredited, the author of the pamphlet was probably Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote more than 20 volumes of the Oz series, a continuation the stories told in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its many sequels. The illustrations are attributed to Charles J. Coll.

Click the images to read the full pamphlet:

Thanksgiving, 1914 Style

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist, and Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

Still working on your Thanksgiving Day food planning? How about recreating a menu published 100 years ago?

In The Calendar of Dinners: A Daily Blessing to the Housekeeper, author Kate S. Teetshorn recommends a meal for every day of 1914, including Thanksgiving. Each menu is accompanied by a recipe or two. Recipes for some of the Thanksgiving menu suggestions are found on other days of the year, but unfortunately, she doesn’t include recipes to go along with all the recommendations (know how to make hot butter thins? Please tell us. They sound delicious). 

November 26, Thanksgiving Day

Below are additional recipes she provides, some that sound appropriate to the holiday or similar to the recommended dishes, and a closing poem.


Hungry for more? Check out this pumpkin pie recipe from 1804. We bet it would go well with ginger ice cream, as Teetshorn recommends.

Cookery for a Jewish Kitchen

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

Aunt Sarah's Cookery Book-page-001

Passover begins the night of March 25. In preparation, we’re sharing some recipes from an early English-language Jewish cookbook in our collection. The library and rare book room house a large number of cookery-related items, as nutrition and health are inextricably linked.

After the cost of books plummeted in the 1800s, Jewish cookbooks came on the scene, first in Germany around 1815. In 1846, the first English-language cookbook was released in London.¹

The cookbook in our collection, Aunt Sarah’s Cookery Book for a Jewish Kitchen, was published in Liverpool in 1872.

 “I have been induced to publish this little Book, the result of long experience, for the purpose of teaching young and inexperienced Jewish Housewifes the art of cooking their daily food in a proper manner, without infringing those dietary laws, the observance of which has been of so much importance to the health and well-being of our people. The directions are plain and simple, the most minute particulars are given with the greatest exactness, which, if attended to as written down, cannot fail of success. I have taken every pains, so that it may be easily understood by the most inexperienced; and if my humble endeavors to assist my Sisters in Faith in acquiring a knowledge of one of the most important of their Domestic duties be appreciated, and the higher object be also recognized, my labour will not have been in vain.AUNT SARAH”

“I have been induced to publish this little Book, the result of long experience, for the purpose of teaching young and inexperienced Jewish Housewifes the art of cooking their daily food in a proper manner, without infringing those dietary laws, the observance of which has been of so much importance to the health and well-being of our people. The directions are plain and simple, the most minute particulars are given with the greatest exactness, which, if attended to as written down, cannot fail of success. I have taken every pains, so that it may be easily understood by the most inexperienced; and if my humble endeavors to assist my Sisters in Faith in acquiring a knowledge of one of the most important of their Domestic duties be appreciated, and the higher object be also recognized, my labour will not have been in vain.

At the time of the book’s publication, matzo didn’t look like it does today—a piece of matzo was most often “round, irregular, or oval-shaped.”² The mechanization of matzo began with the invention of a kneading device in 1838, and progressed after the first matzo factory, Manischewitz, opened in Cincinnati in 1888. Eventually, the factory produced entirely machine-made, and square, pieces of unleavened bread.²

Aunt Sarah did not write the recipes in this book with most (non-shmurah) modern matzo in mind, and her ingredients are not always as common today as they were in the 1870s. If you try one of the recipes, let us know how it translates to the modern kitchen. And take a picture—unfortunately, this little book only includes text.

Here are some recipes to add to your holiday repertoire this year.³

Matzo Cake.

Put a matzo on a plate, strew over it almonds finely chopped; then sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake on a tin five or six minutes.

Potato Cake, or Pudding.

One pound of gratered potatoes (boiled in their skins the day before), one pound of sifted loaf sugar, three ounces of pounded almonds, the rind (gratered) and juice of one lemon, and the yolks of twelve eggs (beaten). Mix all together. Then take the whites of the eggs, beat them to a froth, and add it to the rest. Bake in a moderate oven, in small dishes, greased with salad oil.

A delicious Pudding for Passover.

Take whole matzos [a handwritten note specifies two or three], put each into a soup-plate, with sufficient cold water to make them very soft; drain off the water, leaving the matzos whole; grease a basin with dripping a quarter of an inch thick, cover it well with brown sugar, and line it with the soaked matzo the same as the paste for a steffin [another of Aunt Sarah’s recipes, basically a pie crust dough made with water, flour, and suet]. Mix well together a quarter of a pound of chopped raisins, the same of currants, ditto of chopped suet,* one ounce of preserved citron, ditto of orange and lemon (chopped), the juice of one lemon, the rind of half (gratered), half a teaspoonful of ground cinnamon, a quarter of a small nutmeg (gratered), half a teaspoonful of salt, and a wine glass of rum. Then put the mixture into the lined basin, about an inch thick; cover with the soaked matzo, strew over brown sugar; then the mixture and the matzo alternately, until the basin is full, the matzo forming the top layer. Make holes with a knife not quite to the bottom of the basin, and pour over it by degrees eight eggs (well beaten). When all is soaked into the pudding, put a little dripping over the top; then cover it with brown sugar. Bake in a moderate oven from an hour and a half to two hours, until quite brown. Turn it on to a flat dish, bottom up, and serve very hot. I must be made two hours before putting in the oven.

And Aunt Sarah’s take on the evergreen classic:

Matzo Ball Soup.

Stew slowly for six hours, in five pints of water, four pounds shin of beef, four pounds of mutton or veal, three leeks, a little celery, and a teaspoonful of salt. Strain and take off the fat.

For the Balls.—Take a teacupful of matzo meal, half a teaspoonful of salt, the same of ground ginger, one small Spanish onion chopped fine, and browned in a frying pan with a little dripping, and two teacupsful of matzo soaked in cold water and squeezed dry. Mix all together, with a half a teacupful of the broth and one or two eggs, sufficient to make it the consistence of forcemeat. Make it into balls, and boil them in the soup twenty minutes before serving.

*A common English ingredient, often found in early Jewish cookbooks, but not kosher.¹


1. Marks, G. (2010). Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. John Wiley & Sons.

2. Sarna, J. D. (2005). How Matzah Became Square: Manischewitz and the Development of Machine-made Matzah in the United States. Sixth Annual Lecture of the Victor J. Selmanowitz Chair of Jewish History, Touro College, Graduate School of Jewish Studies, New York, NY. Retrieved February 22, 2013 from

3. Aunt Sarah. (1872). Aunt Sarah’s cookery book for a Jewish kitchen: Containing plain and easy directions. How to cook fish, meat, poultry, and vegetables; to make pastry, puddings, sweets, preserves, and pickles, &c., with additional recipes for Passover. Liverpool: Yates and Hess.