Merryell Williams' Book of Recipes

Reference: Peniarth MS 513D

This is a volume of cooking and medicinal recipes which were collected by Merryell Williams of the Ystumcolwyn Estate, Montgomeryshire, towards the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The manuscript is in English. Within its covers we are given a glimpse of the types of meals created in the kitchens of mid Wales' nobility during this period.

 

Merryell Williams (1629-1703)

Born in 1629, Merryell Williams was the daughter of Richard and Elizabeth Powell of Worthen, Shrewsbury. Her mother was the granddaughter of Sir Thomas Bromley, who was Lord Chancellor between 1579 and 1587. Merryell married John Williams (1627-1685), a son of the wealthy family of the Ystumcolwyn Estate which held lands in several parishes, including Meifod and Welshpool. For the rest of her life, Merryell remained mistress of this vast estate. She died in January 1703.

As the wife of an aristocrat, Merryell would have been familiar with a woman's duties within the home, such as cooking, organising feasts, making and storing different wines, handling wool and fulfilling all dairy work. Although she wouldn't have been responsible for doing all of this work herself, she would have needed to know enough to instruct others, including cooks and maids, on what needed to be done. In this era, women who could write would collect and record recipes for personal use and also to share cooking secrets with each other. Over 300 years since Merryell Williams began to record her recipes, her unique volume is now available online for a new generation of cooks.

Peniarth MS 513D

This is a 577 page volume, of considerable size, and bound in brown suede. There appears to have been a lock on it at one time. Although Merryell Williams wrote the majority of the recipes in this volume, more were added at a later date by at least two more hands. After Merryell's death in 1703 the manuscript was bequeathed to Lumley Williams, her husband's nephew and heir to the Ystumcolwyn Estate. By 1859 the volume was part of a small collection of cookery manuscripts in the library of Sir Robert Williams Vaughan, of Hengwrt, where it was known as Hengwrt MS 389. After Vaughan's death in that year, the collection was inherited by W.W.E. Wynne, of Peniarth, and subsequently purchased by Sir John Williams for the National Library in 1904.

This manuscript contains cooking recipes for noble houses, and includes a full index at the beginning. The recipes are divided into relevant sections. There are instructions on how to preserve and store animal meat, birds and fish as well as the information needed for cooking them, for example, how to prepare pig heads and how to stew sparrows. Advice is given on how to store fruits and vegetables and how to make jam, and there are also recipes for baking foods such as French bread and biscuits. There are guidelines for creating wines and drinks which include primrose wine and black cherry brandy, and recipes for various medicines such as remedies to stop vomiting and to prevent earache.

Many recipes in this volume were translated into Welsh by Dr. Enid Pierce Roberts in her book Gwraig orau o'r Gwragedd (Gwasg Pantycelyn, 2003). When translating from the volume, Dr. Pierce Roberts was influenced by the oral traditions inherited by her grandmother, a native of Montgomeryshire, together with with her knowledge of traditional cooking methods. As a result, the Welsh vocabulary used in the translations is very similar to that which would have been used in Merryell Williams' era.

Further Reading

Dr Enid Pierce Roberts, Gwraig orau o'r Gwragedd (Gwasg Pantycelyn, 2003)

Bobby Freeman, First catch your peacock : her classic guide to Welsh food (Y Lolfa, 2006)

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