A Hand Whitening Recipe, 12th century



For whitening and smoothing the hands, let some ransoms be cooked in water until all the water has been consumed.  And stirring well, add tartar and afterward two eggs, and with this you will rub the hands.—#241, Trotula, 12th century


I have had this recipe rumbling around in my brain for a while.  The biggest stumbling block for me was “where do you get ransoms (wild onions)?”.  As luck would have it, I was at an outdoor SCA event last week and saw a patch of them growing along the path.  Inspiration struck, and I grabbed a handful of them, and threw them in my cooler.  Now that my regional A & S competition is done, I can get to work on this. 

I took my handful of wild onions, chopped them up finely, and put them in my smallest saucepan.  I covered the onions in about a half inch of water.  I started cooking them on medium heat until the onions were green and mushy and almost dry.  Then I mixed these together with about 1 and 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar.  Once you have a dark green paste, add two eggs, slightly beaten. 


With my new mixture, I decided to do a more modern method for the actual hand treatment.  I spread the goo on my left hand, put it in a plastic grocery bag, and wrapped all that up in a towel.  I kept this mask on for about 10 minutes, and rinsed.  To my surprise, My hand was much smoother, and softer.  It wasn’t any lighter, but it was more refined than my untreated hand.  It felt so nice, I”m going to put it on the other hand when I’ve finished posting this.  If you have the time and inclination, try spreading the mixture on your hands and letting it dry in the sun before rinsing it off.  That’s most likely the way it was meant to be applied.

Why does this goo do this?  Ransoms, or wild onions, are mildly astringent and antiseptic just like their cousins, green onions.  Besides helping to stiffen egg whites, cream of tartar (the residue from fermented wine barrels) can also make a cleansing paste if added to something acidic, like onions.  The eggs are added for binding and the protein certainly can’t hurt.   So next time you give yourself a manicure, give this a try.  you can find green onions at your supermarket, which work just as well as the wild ones..