The Spirit of the Coffee

All of that great eating on Thanksgiving Day sometimes has natural consequences that lead us to seek entirely different recipes for Friday. If we’ve time-traveled to the mid 18th century and are relying on published cookbooks for information, we’re in luck: most books containing recipes were not strictly cookbooks in the sense that we know them today, but books of domestic guidance. They included “recipes” not only for purchasing, preparing and preserving foodstuffs (in the days before refrigeration and vacuum sealing, preservation was as important as preparation), but also for cleaning, hygiene and household medical needs.

Turning to a couple of standards, both originally published in England and one widely reprinted in America, we find a number of useful preparations for the day after Thanksgiving, not a single one of which we recommend trying today.

To make Lozenges for the Heart-burn.[1]

Take of white sugarcandy a pound, chalk three ounces, bole-armoniac five scruples, crabs-eyes one ounce, red coral four scruples, nutmegs one scruples, pearl two scruples; let all these be beaten and sifted, and made all into a paste with a little spring-water; roll it out, and cut your lozenges out with a thimble; lay them to dry; eat four or five at a time, as often as you please.

Pain in the Stomach.[2]

A Woman, my Neighbour, had it two Days together, so that her Stomach swell’d, but was cured by mixing three Spoonfuls of Gin with three Spoonfuls of Mint Water, and burning it; when the flame was extinguished, she sweeten’d it, drank it, and was cured by three Doses of it. Another woman, my Neighbour, that had been many Years troubled with a great Pain at her Stomach, was advised by my Brother-in-Law, the late Captain Henry Dodson, who had been Governor of Cape-Coast-Castle in Africa, to take as much Gunpowder as would lie on a Shilling in a Spoonful of Brandy, which she did three Mornings running, and it answer’d. A Correspondent wrote to me, that an Acquaintance took a Tea Spoonful of Gunpowder in a Glass of White-wine, which work’d gently and quickly, and carried off a great deal of watry Humour.

For the Hickup.[3]

Take three or four preserv’d damsins in your mouth at a time, and swallow them by degrees.

To stay a Looseness.[4]

Take a very good nutmeg, and prick it full of holes, and toast it on the point of a knife; then boil it in milk till much be consumed; then eat the milk with the nutmeg powder’d in it; in a few times it will stop.

To stop Looseness.[5]

Boil Deal Shavings in Milk, and take half a Pint at a Time, made strong of the Shavings, three or four times  Day; it is a leisure Cure. Or boil a Sheet of writing Paper in three Pints of Milk, which will make it thick; strain, and eat it with Loaf-Sugar, and it is an excellent Cure. Or mix Salt with Water, and drink, if you can bear it, half a Pint at a Time; and if it offers vomiting, hold the Vinegar Bottle to the Nose.

To stop Vomiting.[6]

Take half a pint of mint-water, an ounce of syrup of violets, a quarter of an ounce of mithridate, and half an ounce of syrup of roses; mix all these well together, and let the party take two spoonfuls first, and then one spoonful after every vomiting, till it is stay’d.

Pills to purge the Head.[7]

Take of the extract of rudium two drams, and pill foetida one dram; mix these well together, and make it into twelve pills; take two, or if the constitution be strong, three of them, at six o’clock in the morning: drink warm gruel, or thin broth, or posset-drink, when they work.

For the Teeth.[8]

Take a pint of spring-water, put to it six spoonfuls of the best brandy, wash the mouth often with it, and in the morning roll a bit of alum a little while in the mouth.


Is said to dry up Crudities of the Stomach and to comfort the Brain, is very serviceable after a Debauch of strong Liquors, and so it is for those Persons troubled with Defluxions of Rheum from the Head to the Stomach; but it is hurtful to dry Constitutions, and is apt to hinder Sleep. There are two sorts of Coffee sold by Grocers and Druggists in London, and at Shops in the Country: The first are generally so honest, as to declare their Difference, and sel] the Turkey for 4s. 6d. per Pound, and the West-India for 3s. 6d. I have therefore Reason to warn my Reader against this Coffee Imposition, that I may assuredly say is carried on by too many, especially in the Country, where People are most ignorant; I mean for selling the West-India Coffee for Turkey Coffee, either alone or in a Mixture. The right Way to make Coffee, is to heat the Berries in a Fire-shovel, till they sweat a little; then grind them, and put the Coffee-pot over the Fire with Water; when hot, throw the Water away, and dry the Pot by the Fire, then put the Powder into it, and boiling Water immediately over the same; let it stand three or four Minutes, and pour off the Clear. By this Means the hot Water meets the Spirit of the Coffee, and will therefore be stronger than any boiled Coffee; whereas if you boil Coffee as the common Way is, the Spirit goes away, so that it will not be so strong nor quick to the Taste; for, obtaining the Spirit is the main Thing to be desired. To experience the Truth of this, boil the Coffee half an Hour, or a little more, and let it stand a while, it will be of a Vinegar Taste, and the stronger you make it of the Coffee, the sourer it will be, because the Spirit evaporates away in the boiling so long, and if the Spirit of any Liquor is gone, it soon becomes acid.

To make artificial Coffee[10]

Bake a Piece of Bread in an Oven to a burnt Crust, afterwards scrape it to a Powder, and it will have a Taste very near true Coffee. Or take Wheat and parch it in a Fire-shovel, or better on a tin Plate over a clear Fire, till it is black, then grind it, and it will imitate Coffee both in Smell and Taste. The best Way to keep roasted Coffee-Berries, is in some warm Place. The Powder ram’d well in a tin Pot, and kept in a warm Place, will keep well above a Month. Coffee poured on one or two Yolks of Eggs, and then just boiled up over a Fire, will, with Sugar, drink a little like Chocolate.


[1] Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion (London: J. and J. Pemberton,, 1739), 249. The first edition was published in 1727; it was first printed in America in 1742.

[2] William Ellis, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion: or Profitable Directions whatever relates to the Management and good Economy of the Domestick Concerns of a Country Life (London: James Hodges, 1750), 284.

[3] Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife, 300.

[4] Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife, 275.

[5] William Ellis, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, 285.

[6] Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife, 278.

[7] Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife, 313.

[8] Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife, 288.

[9] William Ellis, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, 299-300.

[10] William Ellis, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, 300.

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  • Brandy and gunpowder! Now THERE’S a combination ya’ don’t see everyday in the drug store to cure an upset stomach. Just don’t light up a cigarette while taking your medicine! Thanks Don – these are fascinating.

  • Great article. We can learn a great deal from early “cookbooks”.

    I was fortunate, in the early ’70’s, to find an old book entitled “Buckeye Cookery”, published c. 1803. This edition was dated in the late 19th century. It was an amazing book, as, noted above, it was much, much more than a cookbook. Breakfast alone was an insight into daily life. Keeping in mind that the folks were working in the barns and yard before sunrise, and stoking fires and preparing breakfast, a meal with soup, fish, pork, beef, potatoes, vegetables, milk, pie and coffee was normal. No bacon, no eggs, a combination probably not popularized until the 20th century. I now have a digitized copy of the Buckeye Cookery, and am amazed at how much it is used.

    Thanks for the insights.

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