exploring recipe books from the seventeenth-century

Burton’s top tips

The most famous book published on melancholy in the seventeenth-century (and probably still today) was Robert Burton’s The Anatomy on Melancholy. Burton (1577-1640), was an English scholar at Oxford University who was preoccupied with all things melancholic. His work, taking up six volumes, was published in 1621. It covers the different types of  melancholy, its symptoms, causes and remedies.

Diet was a vital cause and remedy of melancholy. As a non-natural, it had to be kept in balance. Also, because melancholy was thought to be caused by to many cold and dry humors in the body, cold and dry foods were therefore thought to cause and worsen the illness. Hot and moist foods counteracted cold and dry humours in the body and so were used to prevent and treat melancholy.frontispiece to Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy

Burton recommended:

-‘the leane of fat meat is best, and all manner of brothes, and pottage, with borage, lettuce, and such wholesome hearbes are excellent good’

-‘the thinnest, whitest, smallest wine is best, not thicke, not strong’

-‘Bread of good wheat, pure, well purged from the bran is preferred’

‘Sweet fruits are best, as sweet cherries, plummes, sweet apples’

In his section on bad diet as a cause of melancholy Burton discussed a huge range of foodstuffs from meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, to pulses, spices, breads and wines. He advised his readers that:

-‘All Venison is melancholy, and begets bad blood’

-‘Generally all such meats as are hard of Digestion, breed melancholy’

-‘Milke and all that comes of milke, as butter and cheese, curds, &c. increase melancholy (whey only excepted, which is most wholesome)’

– ‘I finde Gourds, Cowcumbers, Coleworts, Mellons disallowed, but especially cabbage. It causeth troublesome dreames, and sends up blacke vapours to the braine.’


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