Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The admirable and most famous Snail Water.

Photo by Skippy3E of sxc.hu 

I have been doing a bit of research and feel like sharing this delightful seventeenth-century recipe with you...

The admirable and most famous Snail Water.

Take a peck of garden shell snails, wash them well in small beer, and put them in a hot Oven till they have done making a noise, then take them out, and wipe them well from the green froth that is upon them, and bruise them shells and all in a stone Mortar, then take a quart of earth worms, scower them with salt, slit them & wash them well with water from their filth, and in a stone Mortar beat them to pieces, then lay in the bottom of your distilled pot Angelica two handfuls, and two handfuls of Celandine upon them, to which put two quarts of Rosemary flowers, Bears foot, Agrimony, red Dock Roots, Bark of Barberries, Betony, Wood sorrel, of each two handfuls, Rue one handful; then lay the Snails and worms on the top of the Herbs and Flowers, then pour on three Gallons of the strongest Ale, and let it stand all night, in the morning put in three ounces of Cloves beaten, six penniworth of beaten Saffron and on the top of them six ounces of shaved Harts-horn, then set on the Limbeck, and close it with paste, and so receive the water by pints, which will be nine in all, the first is the strongest, whereof take in the morning two spoonfuls in four spoonfuls of small Beer, and the like in the afternoon; you must keep a good Diet and use moderate exercise to warm the blood.

This Water is good against all Obstructions whatsoever. It cureth a Consumption and Dropsie, the stopping of the Stomach and Liver. It may be distilled with milk for weak people and children, with Harts-tongue and Elecampance.

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Till they have done making a noise...
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A tiny but awful racket, no doubt.
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Holy the whorl and the breath that wells there / The shell's shape fixed in unfurling, and the slow / Worm within. from "The Snail," W. S. Merwin

12 comments:

  1. On the other hand, how about an MRI scan?

    The problem with you Marly is you're seduced by certain types of words and the longer the list the better. I'd fail with brake caliper, overhead camshaft, exhaust-driven turbo and (an especial favourite of mine which cropped up when the RAF tried vainly to show me how to kill people) barrel locking-nut retaining plunger. But if I managed to toss Betony and Agrimony into the pot I'd have a better chance of attracting your attention.

    Meanwhile the snails are saying (more audibly): we were born via a natural process similar to that which brought you into your wonderfully creative world; we are not abstractions which fell from the pages of Dr Johnson's dictionary.

    Have you noticed: these cures always claim to correct Dropsie, more often with the definite article.

    But who am I to be casting nasturtiums? Watched a telly programme about aviation. Yes planes in motion can be thrilling but I salivated over what the pilot is required to master: dials, gauges, screens, switches, handles and (to quote Thurber) indescribable iron dingbats. Plus an awareness of the void. Much more stirring than "six penniworth of beaten Saffron". I'm so glad I wasn't born into the Middle Ages.

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    1. Oh, well, we all have our word-weaknesses!

      Glad you weren't born in the Middle Ages. Me too, for that matter--I wouldn't have made it very far without modern medicine. Certainly not past my first child, and probably not past strep throat or some such.

      As a WWII tail gunner's daughter, I should take an interest in your list also! But at the moment I'm about to drive my daughter (she who totaled the other car) to a distant bus station so she can go have a weekend in the city. And there is only one city over here, it seems.

      I supposed there were lots of people with untreated high blood pressure and diabetes and kidney infections back then. Hence: lots and lots of dropsy. The dropsy...

      Off I go--

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  2. And 'tis a Great sentence with which to challenge English composition students by having them edit and revise the "sentence" of the first paragraph into Something more sensible. Thanks for sharing. I believe I will opt instead for fish oil, B12, and Mobic. Be well! (And thanks for making me laugh a bit this morning.)

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    1. Isn't it fabulous? I laughed too--poor snails!

      Yes, it would make a curious comp lesson....

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  3. Further proof that good creative cooks are only a half step away from alchemists! Me, I love stuff like this (the writing, the list, the capitalization; not the snail water with earthworms washed in their own filth), so thanks for posting it.

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    1. I spent entirely too much time reading the recipes, which included things that seemed perilously close to cunning-folk work, like turning the hair black without dye. And yes, clearly a lot of plant alchemy and distillation was going on.

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  4. My experience of slug-disposal duty makes me wonder whether the beer wouldn't have done for the slugs before the oven. And memories of the same garden suggest that it would take a lot of whittling to get a handful of barberry bark--the branches are pretty thin.

    I suppose that in many cases "dropsy" meant congestive heart failure. Any sort of diuretic ought to relieve that.

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    1. Yes, edema from heart failure. I wonder if they classed gout with dropsy...

      Beer does do in the slugs. So maybe. Or maybe they were simply lightly bathed! Uck.

      I can't imagine that the average cook had all this on hand! A good number of the recipes sound like something an alchemist interested in medicines might manage.

      Who would want to mess with collecting barberry bark? There's one in my front garden, but I keep whittling it down. It's a prickly mess!

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  5. well, that's the way WE used to do it...

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    1. Exactly so. And wonderfully so. Poor little snails.

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  6. Wow. This weekend I'm attempting to make my own bricks of gyro meat, a three-day process. I thought that was complicated...

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    1. You could sprinkle them with a little snail water if you wanted to complicate the process a bit more!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.