History from
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Five Tips to A Healthy Pregnancy—the Renaissance Way

William Segar Unknown Lady 1585 90 307x450 Five Tips to A Healthy Pregnancy—the Renaissance WayFor some reason, I’ve been going to a lot of baby showers recently–I have another one Monday night. It’s fascinating to see all the new-fangled baby contraptions available these days, and to learn what has gone in and out and in again in the way of advice to pregnant women and new mothers. Doctors still advise pregnant women against pretty obvious things—don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, and try not to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s every night. I did a little research, and found that pregnant women have been given advice as long as there have been … pregnant women.

Here are five tips to producing a healthy—and most importantly, male—baby. They come from the health manual Ad mulieres ferrarienses, written by Michele Savonarola. He was a sixteenth century court physician to the Este family, rulers of Ferrrara.512px Attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts II   Portrait of an Unknown Lady   Google Art Project 365x450 Five Tips to A Healthy Pregnancy—the Renaissance Way1. “Most poultry is good for you, except for crane and peacock, which are hard to digest.”

2. “Eels are especially good for clearing the bronchial passages, and they also help with your singing voice.” [I guess it’s implied that eels are a good choice for a pregnant woman.]

3. Fruits are to be avoided: “When you crave a piece of fruit, just think that the most noble and beautiful fruit in the world is the human creature in your womb, so surely you can resist the vituperative claims of your palate for a vile, ugly, bad piece of fruit that will harm what you carry inside yourself.”

4. “In order to give birth to a healthy, warm, and dry-tempered male child, pregnant women should consume warm and dry foods.” [That means no Ben and Jerry’s.]

5. “Beware of using cold water, it is not good for the fetus and it causes the generation of girls, especially here in our region, so keep drinking wine.”

512px Aloys Zötl Zwei Aale 450x341 Five Tips to A Healthy Pregnancy—the Renaissance Way



What’s My Line?

By Richwales (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia CommonsWhen I was in New York last week, walking along Third Avenue, I noticed two twenty-something women in front of me. It was immediately evident what they did for a living. As I passed them I turned and said, “You’re both ballerinas, right? You walk in second position.” They both laughed and nodded.

Nowadays you don’t generally know what someone does for a living based on how she walks or dresses, unless it’s a firefighter … Read more

WNPR This Thursday!

I think today’s interview went pretty well. Rose George is awesome. I started out super duper nervous, and my first few utterances didn’t make a ton of grammatical sense, but after a few minutes it wasn’t quite so terrifying  and ended up being a really fun conversation. Here’s a link to the podcast, and a couple of pictures I didn’t know they were going to take. (Someone snapped that shot of me thirteen seconds before we went on the air and I hadn’t even put my headphones on yet.)


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Death By Apple

I stumbled across a strange, sad little anecdote the other day as I was researching something on another topic. It was a picture of a little girl in a fashionable dress, and the author casually mentioned that the child died a few days after the picture was taken. The cause of her death was a stomach ache after eating green apples.

That struck me as so odd that I did a quick search. I was astonished—a search of death from green apples in the historic newspapers database from 1790 to the present database yielded 800 stories.

Here are just a few:

From 1817:

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Garden of Deadly Delights

Yesterday I drove to Ithaca, New York, where I met up with Mary Smith, Professor of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine maintains a poisonous plants garden, which makes sense, if you think about it. Veterinary students need to learn to recognize plants that poison livestock. Professor Smith took a couple of hours out of her Sunday afternoon to give me a personal tour of the Poisonous Plants garden, and then as an added bonus, walked me around the Weeds garden and then the “Crops of the World” garden. She is hugely knowledgeable about plants and poisons.

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Let Them Eat Jiggly Soup

Back in the early nineteenth century, with populations in cities swelling, feeding the poor cheaply in poorhouses and public hospitals became a growing concern.

In her fascinating book, Gulp, Mary Roach describes the efforts of a French chemist named Jean d’Arcet, Jr., who in 1817 came up with a method for extracting gelatin from bones. I’m not sure why this was such a complicated undertaking—anyone who has ever boiled up a turkey carcass after the Thanksgiving meal would see that the resulting broth, if allowed to cool, gets … Read more

Fetching Names

In case you’ve recently acquired a new dog, and are wondering what to name it, look no further than the early fifteenth-century manuscript called The Master of Game. Appended at the end is a list of suitable names for your hunting dog. Here are some suggestions:
Another medieval manuscript suggests Huiiau, which doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, and Blessiau, which would invite the inevitable snide rejoinder “But I didn’t sneeze.” … Read more

Links and Connections

For today’s post, I’m punting you to two different websites. The first is Melissa Stewart’s, where yesterday she posted a lovely review of Bugged. Here’s the link.

Having Melissa put her stamp of approval on one’s book is (practically) tantamount to getting on Oprah. She is a fantastic writer, and she knows children’s nonfiction books like no one else. Here’s the cover of her recent book, Feathers: Not Just for Flying:

And here’s Melissa’s latest  book, Perfect Pairs, glowingly reviewed by Elizabeth Bird of the NYPL. It’ s about pairing fiction and nonfiction books … Read more

Beauty Tips

Library of Congress LC-USZ62-102221

I got sidetracked in my research again. But you, Dear Reader, will be the beneficiary, because I stumbled upon a book from 1910, written by one Margaret Mixter, entitled Health and Beauty Hints, that is filled with sensible advice. Take fitness. Turns out we’ve been going about it all wrong. What, according to Ms. Mixter, is the best exercise to develop “a round, pretty figure?” Why, housework.

Yes, that’s right. Put away your running shoes. Roll up your yoga … Read more



This past weekend I traveled to Toronto. I went there for two reasons: to see the exhibit called “Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century” at the Bata Shoe Museum, and to meet my friend Y.S. Lee.I first heard about Ying’s books on Twitter several years ago, and after reading them, loved them so much I fan-girl friended her on Facebook. We’ve been e-friends ever since, but had never met in person. We toured the … Read more

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