Monday, March 9, 2015

Subtleties&Stuffe Doctor Muffet on Sugar Part I

Thomas Muffett on Sugar 
Part I

Who is Doctor Moffett?

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: 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:

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