With the waning of Sir Kenelm Digby’s philosophic reputation his name has not become obscure. It stands, vaguely perhaps, but permanently, for something versatile and brilliant and romantic. He remains a perpetual type of the hero of romance, the double hero, in the field of action and the realm of the spirit. Had he lived in an earlier age he would now be a mythological personage; and even without the looming exaggeration and glamour of myth he still imposes.
So when, in a seventeenth-century bookseller’s advertisement, I lighted on a reference to the curious compilation of receipts entitled _The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened_, having the usual idea of him as a great gentleman, romantic Royalist, and somewhat out-of-date philosopher, I was enough astonished at seeing his name attached to what seemed to me, in my ignorance, outside even his wide fields of interest, to hunt for the book without delay, examine its contents, and inquire as to its authenticity. Of course I found it was not unknown.
One of his “Cookery Receipts”:
Champignons are best, that grow upon gravelly dry rising Grounds. Gather them of the last nights growth; and to preserve them white, it is well to cast them into a pitcher of fair-water, as you gather them: But that is not absolutely necessary, if you will go about dressing them as soon as you come home. Cut the great ones into halves or quarters, seeing carefully there be no worms in them; and peel off their upper skin on the tops: the little ones, peel whole. As you peel them, throw them into a bason of fair-water, which preserves them white. Then put them into a pipkin or possnet of Copper (no Iron) and put a very little water to them, and a large proportion of Salt. If you have a pottle of Mushrooms, you may put to them ten or twelve spoonfuls of water, and two or three of Salt. Boil them with pretty quick-fire, and scum them well all the while, taking away a great deal of foulness, that will rise. They will shrink into a very little room. When they are sufficiently parboiled to be tender, and well cleansed
of their scum, (which will be in about a quarter of an hour,) take them out, and put them into a Colander, that all the moisture may drain from them. In the mean time make your pickle thus: Take a quart of pure sharp white Wine Vinegar (elder-Vinegar is best) put two or three spoonfuls of whole Pepper to it, twenty or thirty Cloves, one Nutmeg quartered, two or three flakes of Mace, three Bay-leaves; (some like Limon-Thyme and Rose-mary; but then it must be a very little of each) boil all these together, till the Vinegar be well impregnated with the Ingredients, which will be in about half an hour. Then take it from the fire, and let it cool. When the pickle is quite cold, and the Mushrooms also quite cold, and drained from all moisture: put them into the Liquor (with all the Ingredients in it) which you must be sure, be enough to cover them. In ten or twelve days, they will have taken into them the full taste of the pickle, and will keep very good half a year. If you have much supernatant Liquor, you may parboil more Mushrooms next day, and put them to the first. If you have not gathered at once enough for a dressing, you may keep them all night in water to preserve them white, and gather more the next day, to joyn to them.