Lady Johanna St.John’s Recipe Book

Heritage-open-days-2021_0Nicola here. A couple of weeks ago I took part in the UK’s Heritage Open Days Festival, the biggest celebration of history and heritage in the country. The theme of this year’s festival was Edible England and our display, put on by the Friends of Lydiard Park in Swindon, centred on a most fascinating historical document, a “recipe” book that was created by Lady Johanna St John in the 17th century. Lady Johanna, as well as having many menus for sumptuous banquets, also used vegetable, flower, and herbal cures for everything from piles to nosebleeds. These are also included in her books and referred to as “recipes” so there is everything from a mutton stew to a cure for cramp! Some of the recipes are also for cosmetic treatments, such as to make your hands soft. We tried that one and the mixture worked beautifully as a hand cream; the only problem was that the cream – and us – smelled very strongly of vinegar! In fact a number of ingredients in some of the recipes would raise eyebrows now, including the use of cow dung!

As part of the festival, we invited Lucy Whitfield, women’s history specialist, to choose and recreate some of the recipes for visitors in the walled garden at DSC05209 - Copy Lydiard Park. The garden, which was created in the Georgian period and restored in 2007, is divided into six sections with wide pathways, a well and a sundial. The narrow beds contain trimmed shrubs and perennial plants, alternating with individual flowers and bulbs. Along the walls and in the centre of flowerbeds are trained apple, pear, greengage, peach, plum, cherry, apricot and fig trees. A part of the garden is dedicated to growing the types of herbs and other plants that Lady Johanna would have used in her recipes so it was the perfect setting to showcase some of the ingredients from the book. (I took lots of pictures which I was hoping to use to illustrate this bog, but when I tried to post them up, they all came up upside down so I've had to improvise!)

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