When a Recipe was called a Receipt

Submitted 9 months ago
Created by
Matthew Powers

Recipes from the collection

Today the words “recipe” and “receipt” have separate meanings. Until fairly recently, the two were frequently used interchangeably. Both words derive from the Latin word “recipere,” which means “to receive." The earliest known use of the word “receipt” has been found in the 14th century and referred to medicine, not food. The first receipts were prescriptions for medicinal preparations. They would list ingredients, quantities, and the proper way to mix the ingredients. Many of the ingredients used in medicine were also used in cooking, which most likely led to the term being used in this way in later centuries.

Receipts for home care and other uses

Just as today, some of the early receipts or recipes were not only used to aid in food preparation, but also to help home makers improve the conditions of their daily lives and to extend the useful life of household goods. One such example is this excerpt from a receipt book in the Woodstock History Center's collection: “to make Candles steep the wicks in lime water and salt peter and dry them The flames is clearer the tallow will not run." Or this one: “An ounce of quicksilver beat with the whites of two eggs and put on with a feather is the surest Bed Bug poison.”

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Receipts for false graining also appears frequently in America from about 1800 to 1860. “Funituremakers, itinerant craftsmen, and country people used it to enhance furniture and woodwork constructed from less desirous woods.” Amateur and professional alike employed a variety of unlikely materials like feathers and combs to create effects ranging from the grain of wood to designs never seen in nature. The receipts for the designs were very much like the preparation for medicine and food. “The ground work for Black Walnut should be mostly red, with some black and a little white, ground in Spirits of Turpentine and as little oil.”


Like many other small towns, Woodstock has a proud tradition of publishing cookbooks. The Woodstock History Center has many of these cookbooks; the earliest one dates to 1831. There are also cookbooks that were penned by local housewives for use in their own kitchens. Here are a few that I picked from these books.

Beeswax Lip Balm

  • 2 Tbsp. beeswax
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil

Melt the ingredients over a double boiler. Pour into container while still hot since it will harden as it cools. Makes about 1/4 cup.

Boiled Honey Frosting

Cook 1 1/2 cups honey with a pinch of salt to 238 degrees, (soft ball stage). Beat two egg whites. Pour hot honey in a thin stream over beaten egg whites continuing to beat until all honey is added and frosting will stand in peaks. Spread on cake.


  • 2 cups full-bodied white wine, such as Chardonnay
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 egg whites
  • scrape of nutmeg

In a mixing bowl, blend the wine and the lemon juice. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar to the bowl and stir to dissolve. Pour milk and cream into wine mixture and beat until thick. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with remaining 1/4 cup sugar until stiff. Decant wine mixture into two mugs and spoon egg whites over the top. Grate nutmeg over the top and serve.

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