Almost twenty years ago Victor Houliston
pondered the question of “How good were Little Miss Muffet’s Curds and Whey?”
His paper on a possible association between the famous nursery rhyme about
spiders, curds and whey, and a frightened little girl appears as part of the
1986 Oxford Symposium on Food and
Cookery: The Cooking Medium. It is now online and archived at: http://tinyurl.com/prg469v Scholars still
argue about the origins of the nursery rhyme but for our purposes the paper
highlights in some parts the work of the famous miss’s father.
The “ever Famous” Thomas Moffett or Moffet or Muffett (1553-1604) was an
English physician and naturalist who sometime in the 1590s wrote about the English
diet and foods. (Dates vary as to when exactly but the years 1595-1597 are
commonly mentioned.) Moffett’s work from these years would eventually be
published as Healths improvement; or, Rules comprising and
discovering the nature, method, and manner of preparing all sorts of food used
in this nation. Moffett also studied silkworms
and wrote a work on insects and bees.
Healths improvement appeared
in print first in1655 or fifty plus years after the good doctor was dead and
buried. The work’s title page credits reads “Written by that ever Famous Thomas
Moffet, Doctor in PHYSICK.” Then the credits continue to include: “Corrected
and Enlarged by Christopher Bennet,” another “Doctor of Physick.” Bennet’s own
life was cut short by tuberculosis; he died at the age of 38 in the same year that
Healths Improvement was published. The work was later republished
in 1746 and that edition appears as part of Google Books.
Victor Houliston describes the work as “witty, gossipy, lively in style
and argument entertaining and thoughtful.” For those researching the foods of
Elizabethan and Jacobean England, the work deserves special mention as a
relatively unused and unknown source for information and descriptions of ingredients.
A digital copy of the 1655 edition from the Library
of Congress may be found here: