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Eating the Past: Thomas Tryon 'Wisdom Dictates' cookbook

Page out of an old vegetarian cookbook
USU Merrill-Cazier Library

This is Tammy Proctor, and this season on eating the past, we have
transitioned from dumplings to vegetarian history. It’s been a while
since we visited USU’s historic cookbook collection in the Merrill-Cazier
Library special collections.

So today, I want to feature one of the oldest vegetarian cookbooks that
our library owns.

The book, Thomas Tryon’s "Wisdom’s Dictates," combines aphorisms or
words or wisdom about living a good life with recipes for vegetarian foods.
It was published in 1696, and you can check out a page from the book at
our eating the past page on the UPR website.

Thomas Tryon was an important early advocate of a vegetarian diet, and
he promoted an ethical approach to eating that focused around non-
flesh foods. He wrote about animal enslavement and became an
advocate for both the end of human slavery and the ethical treatment
of animals.

Tryon, a sugar merchant and young convert to anabaptist
religion, became a vegetarian at age 23, then spent his life arguing
that one could lead a healthier and more godly life without eating one’s
fellow creatures. As he explained it, ‘eschew things derived from
violence.”

"Wisdom’s Dictates the book in our library is one of his many published
works. It refers to an inner voice that started him on this path. On the
title page, he lays out his project – namely to provide “75 noble dishes of
excellent food far exceeding those made of fish or flesh”.

While he claims to be providing recipes, most of the book are his musings on
slavery, violence, a godly life, and the evils of meat eating. He also
makes big health claims for a vegetarian life – here are a couple of
examples:

--“vegetative foods affords not only the greatest, and most vigorous
spirits . . . but more fine and innocent, free from the seeds of violence,
passions, and inclinations to bestiality.”

Or this:

--“let no sweet drinks come into your bellies’

One more example:

--“therefore always entertain in thy microcosmical castle those three
grand friends of mankind: humility, patience, and temperance.”

The book is very reminiscent of Benjamin Franklin’s book of advice, poor
Richard’s Almanac. It’s a mix of all kinds of things.

Finally on page 129, the book turns to Tryon’s “bill of fare” – the foods
he recommends. He starts with bread and water and oatmeal – noting that
these foods are “of an opening, cleaning nature”. Many of the other recipes
are for preparations of vegetables – green beans, cabbage, “collyflowers”.

After our last few months of Eating the Past shows on dumplings, it was a
pleasure to see “boiled dumplins” in the list with a notation that “a man
may now and then make a good meal” out of dumplings.

As someone who eats yogurt daily, I was really intrigued by his section
on something called “bonniclabber” which is basically clabbered milk
that has been left out until becomes solid. My favorite food listed,
however, is best described in Tryon’s own words:

“flummery is an ancient food the Britains used to eat, and the use of it is
still continued amongst the welsh: the Britain, and those that now eat
this sort of gruel, had, and have various ways of eating it.” (p. 142).

The recipe calls for mixing together ale, milk or cream, and herbs/spices,
then eating it with bread sopped in it. I just love that it is called
flummery!

What is striking about Tryon’s book is how modern it is some ways – it
asks readers to consider ethical and healthy eating, to consider the
politics of what they put in their mouths.

As Tryon says – “the first step to wisdom is to know they self…”

Next week more on the history of vegetarianism.

Join us for Eating the Past every Sunday at noon, right before the Splendid Table, on
your UPR station.

Tammy Proctor is a specialist in European history, gender, war, and youth. Dr. Proctor has written about Scouting, women spies and the way war affects the lives of ordinary people. Currently she is writing a book on American food relief to Europe during and after World War I. She has worked at Utah State University since 2013 and is a native of Kansas City, Missouri.