Kenelme Digby & Carrots

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Recipes of Sir Kenelme Digby (Knight) 1603-1665

Published in 1669, Digby's work is perhaps the most literate of seventeenth-century cookery books - "The Closet of Sir Kenelme Digby Knight Opened ". He was a natural writer, as entertaining as instructive. Many of the recipes are for drinks, particularly of meads or metheglins, but the culinary material provides a remarkable conspectus of accepted practice among court circles in Restoration England, with extra details supplied from Digby's European travels. The editors also include the inventory of Digby's own kitchen in his London house, discovered amongst papers now deposited in the British Library; and they have provided a few modern interpretations of Digby's recipes. The recipes included below are the ones which contain carrots.

He was a Cavalier, inmate of courts, controversialist, man of science, occultist, privateer, conspirator, lover and wit, bon viveur  too, he is not the ordinary bon viveur, who feasts at banquets prepared by far away and unconsidered menials. His interest in cookery, rather his passion for it, was in truth an integral part of his philosophy, and quite as serious as his laboratory practice at Gresham College and Paris.

A profound discourser upon the "bodies and soules of men", Sir Kenelm Digby  would not have been pleased to know that this collection of recipes, published posthumously by his steward, is his most lasting monument. This is the unpredictable consequence of having a finger in every pie. Not only a handsome cavalier with six languages, but also a successful pirate, lover, scientist and bibliophile, his store-cupboard exhibited none of that manly austerity you might expect of his modern counterpart. On the contrary, it is a treasure trove of mead, metheglyn, sweet-meats, "flomerty-caudle", "harts-horn gelly", "marmulate of pipping", conserve of roses, "sucket of mallow-stalks", musk and ambergris. He was the first to hit upon the happy combination of eggs and bacon for breakfast, and for that alone deserves his place among England's Great Men.

This delicious book comes with a witty introduction, a glossary, several useful appendices, including biographical sketches of the aristocratic contributors, and some modernised versions of Sir Kenelm's more accessible recipes. There can be no better way to get inside the skin of a seventeenth-century gentleman, to feel at first hand the "rawness and indigence of the stomach", the pains of "Gravel", stone, and "colick" and the virtue of fierce herbs coursing through the veins. Sir Kenelm was very much interested in the medicinal side of cooking. The sudden death of his wife Venetia was put down to the drinking of "Viper wine" and one can only suppose that this was one of his less successful recipes.

The work was introduced by these fine words:

This Collection full of pleasing variety, and of such usefulness in the Generality of it, to the Publique, coming to my hands, I should, had I forborn the Publication thereof, have trespassed in a very considerable concern upon my Countrey-men, The like having not in every particular appeared in Print in the English tongue. There needs no Rhetoricating Floscules to set it off. The Authour, as is well known, having been a Person of Eminency for his Learning, and of Exquisite Curiosity in his Researches, Even that Incomparable Sir Kenelme Digbie Knight, Fellow of the Royal Society and Chancellour to the Queen Mother, (Et omen in Nomine) His name does sufficiently Auspicate the Work. I shall only therefore add, That there is herein (as by the Table hereunto affix'd will evidently to thee appear) a sufficiency of Solids as well as Liquids for the sating the Curiosities of each or the nicest Palate; and according to that old Saw in the Regiment of HePage 4alth, Incipe cum Liquido, &c. The Liquids premitted to the Solids. These being so Excellent in their kinde, so beneficial and so well ordered, I think it unhandsome, if not injurious, by the trouble of any further Discourse, to detain thee any longer from falling to; Fall to therefore, and much good may it do thee.
Kenelme Digby owed a good deal to circumstances, but he owed most of all to his own rich nature. His family was ancient and honourable. Tiltons originally, they took their later name in Henry III's time, on the acquisition of some property in Lincolnshire, though in Warwickshire and Rutland most of them were settled. Three Lancastrian Digby brothers fell at Towton, seven on Bosworth Field. To his grandfather, Sir Everard the philosopher, he was mentally very much akin, much more so than to his father, another of the many Sir Everards, and the most notorious one. Save for his handsome person and the memory of a fervent devotion to the Catholic faith, which was to work strongly in him after he came to mature years, he owed little or nothing to that most unhappy young man, surely the foolishest youth who ever blundered out of the ways of private virtue into conspiracy and crime. Kenelm, his elder son, born July 11, 1603, was barely three years old when his father, the most guileless and the most obstinate of the Gunpowder Plotters, died on the scaffold.

His education was that of a dilettante. A year in Spain, in Court and diplomatic circles, was followed by a year at Oxford, where Thomas Allen, the mathematician and occultist, looked after his studies. Allen "quickly discerned the natural strength of his faculties, and that spirit of penetration which is so seldom met with in persons of his age."

He was well fitted for the Cavalier rôle by the magnificence of his person, by his splendid hospitality, his contempt for sects, his aristocratic instincts, and his manner of the Great World. But if he liked good cheer and a great way of living, he is never to be imagined as clinking cans with a "Hey for Cavaliers! Ho for Cavaliers!" He never fought for the King's cause - though he fought a duel in Paris with a French lord who took Charles's name in vain, and killed his man too. His rôle was always the intellectual one. He conspired for the cause - chiefly, I think, out of personal friendship, and because he held it to be the cause of his Church. He was not a virulent politician; and on the question of divine right the orthodox Cavaliers must have felt him to be very unsound indeed.

Kenelme Digby Closet 1669 carrot recipes

Kenelme Digby Closet 1669 carrot recipes

The frontispiece is a reproduction in photogravure after the portrait of Sir Kenelme Digby by Sir Anthony Vandyke in His Majesty's Collection at Windsor Castle, by permission.

Frontispiece of his work

The Closet of Sir Kenelme Digby Knight Opened

TO MAKE METHEGLIN (modern day mead)

Take four Gallons of water and one of Honey; boil and skim it: then put into it, Liverwort, Harts-tongue, Wild-carrot, and Yarrow, a little Rosemary and Bays, one Parsly-root, and a Fennel-root; let them boil an hour altogether. You may, if you please, hang a little bag of spice in it. When it is cold, put a little barm to it, and let it work like Beer. The roots must be scraped, and the Pith taken out.


Take the fleshy and sinewy part of a leg of Beef, crag-ends of necks of Veal and Mutton. Put them in a ten quarts pot, and fill it up with water. Begin to boil about six a clock in the Morning, to have your potage ready by Noon. When it is well skimmed, put in two or three large Onions in quarters, and half a loaf (in one lump) of light French bread, or so much of the bottom crust of a Venison Pasty; all which will be at length clean dissolved in the broth. In due time season it with Salt, a little Pepper, and a very few Cloves. Likewise at a fit distance, before it be ended boiling, put in store of good herbs, as in Summer, Borrage, Bugloss, Purslain, Sorel, Lettice, Endive, and what else you like; in Winter, Beetes, Endive, Parsley-roots, Cabbage, Carrots, whole Onions, Leeks, and what you can get or like, with a little Sweet-marjoram and exceeding little Thyme. Order it so that the broth be very strong and good. To which end you may after four hours (or three) boil a Hen or Capon in it; light French-bread sliced, must be taken about noon, and tosted a little before the fire, or crusts of crisp new French-bread; lay it in a dish, and pour some of the broth upon it, and let it stew a while upon a Chafing-dish. Then pour in more Broth, and if you have a Fowl, lay it upon the bread in the broth, and fill it up with broth, and lay the herbs and roots all over and about it, and let it stew a little longer, and so serve it up covered, after you have squeesed some juyce of Orange or Limon, or put some Verjuyce into it. Or you may beat two or three Eggs, with part of the broth, and some Verjuyce, or juyce of Orange, and then mingle it with the rest of the broth.


Put a Crag-end of a Neck of Mutton, a Knuckle of Veal, and a Pullet into a Pipkin of water, with a spoonful or two of French-barley first scalded in a water or two. The Pullet is put in after the other meat is well skimmed, and hath boiled an hour. A good hour after that, put in a large quantity of Sorrel, Lettice, Purslane, Borage and Bugloss, and boil an hour more at least three hours in all. Before you put in the herbs, season the broth with Salt, a little Pepper and Cloves, strain out the broth and drink it.

But for Potage, put at first a good piece of fleshy young Beef with the rest of the meat. And put not in your herbs till half an hour before you take off the Pot. When you use not herbs, but Carrots and Turneps, put in a little Peny-royal and a sprig of Thyme. Vary in the season with Green-pease, or Cucumber quartered longwise, or Green sower Verjuyce Grapes; always well-seasoned with Pepper and Salt and Cloves. You pour some of the broth upon the sliced-bread by little and little, stewing it, before you put the Herbs upon the Potage.

The best way of ordering your bread in Potages, is thus. Take light spungy fine white French-bread, cut only the crusts into tosts. Tost them exceeding dry before the fire, so that they be yellow. Then put them hot into a hot dish, and pour upon them some very good strong broth, boiling hot. Cover this, and let them stew together gently, not boil; and feed it with fresh-broth, still as it needeth; This will make the bread swell much, and become like gelly.


Take a piece of Brisket-beef; a piece of Mutton; a knuckle of Veal; a good Colander of pot-herbs; half minced Carrots, Onions and Cabbage a little broken. Boil all these together until they be very thick.


Take a Pot of two Gallons or more; and take a brisket rand of Beef; any piece of Mutton, and a piece of Veal; put this with sufficient water into the pot, and after it hath boiled, and been skimmed, put in a great Colander full of ordinary pot-herbs; a piece of Cabbage, all half cut; a good quantity of Onions whole, six Carrots cut and sliced, and two or three Pippins quartered. Let this boil three hours until it be almost a gelly, and stir it often, least it burn.


The Queen Mothers Hotchpot of Mutton, is thus made. It is exceeding good of fresh Beef also, for those whose Stomacks can digest it. Cut a neck of Mutton, Crag-end and all into steaks (which you may beat, if you will; but they will be very tender without beating) and in the mean time prepare your water to boil in a Possnet, (which must be of a convenient bigness to have water enough, to cover the meat, and serve all the stewing it, without needing to add any more to it; and yet no superfluous water at last.) Put your meat into the boiling water, and when you have scummed it clean, put into it a good handful of Parsley, and as much of Sibboulets (young Onions or Sives) chopped small, if you like to eat them in substance; otherwise tied up in a bouquet, to throw them away, when they have communicated to the water all their taste; some Pepper; three or four Cloves, and a little Salt, and half a Limon first pared. These must stew or boil simpringly, (covered) at least three or four hours (a good deal more, if Beef) stirring it often, that it burn not too. A good hour before you intend to take it off, put some quartered Turneps to it, or, if you like them, some Carrots. A while after, take a good lump of Houshold-bread, bigger than your fist, crust and crum, broil it upon a Gridiron, that it be throughly rosted; scrape off the black burning on the on side; then soak it throughly in Vinegar, and put this lump of tost into your possnet to stew with it; which you take out and throw away after a while. About a quarter of an hour before you serve it up melt a good lump of Butter (as much as a great Egg) till it grow red; then take it from the fire, and put to it a little fine flower to thicken it (about a couple of spoonfuls) like thick Pap. Stir them very well together; then set them on the fire again, till it grow-red, stirring it all the while; then put to it a ladleful of the liquor of the pot, and let them stew a while together to incorporate, stirring it always. Then pour this to the whole substance in the Possnet, to Incorporate with all the liquor, and so let them stew a while together. Then pour it out of the possnet into your dish, meat and all: for it will be so tender, it will not endure taking up piece by piece with your hand. If you find the taste not quick enough, put into it the juyce of the half Limon, you reserved. For I should have said, that when you put in the Herbs, you squeese in also the juyce of half a Limon (pared from the yellow rinde, which else would make it bitter) and throw the pared and squeesed half (the substance) into it afterwards. The last things (of Butter, bread, flower) cause the liaison and thickening of the liquor. If this should not be enough, you may also put a little gravy of Mutton into it; stirring it well when it is in, least it curdle in stewing, or you may put the yolk of an Egg or two to your liaison of Butter, Flower, and ladleful of broth. For gravy of Mutton. Rost a juycy leg of Mutton three quarters. Then gash it in several places, and press out the juyce by a screw-press.

Full ebook available at Project Gutenberg - here.

Reference material is here.

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