On the title page to the book, the author outlines his intention to instruct on 'all the inward and outward vertues which ought to be in a compleate woman.' These 'virtues' include 'physick' (medical remedies), the ordering of great feasts, making cloth, brewing and baking.
About Countrey Contenments
Countrey Contentments or The English Huswife was written by Gervase Markham in 1615, and was a best-seller of its time - reprints continued up until 1683. In fact, Markham did not write most of the recipes contained in the book: he admits in the preface 'this is no collection of his whose name is prefixed to this worke, but an approved Manuscript which he happily light on, belonging sometime to an honorable Personage of this kingdome, who was singular amongst those of her ranke for many of the qualities here set forth.' Later editions of the book attribute the recipes to 'an Honourable Countesse.' It was not uncommon for male cookery book writers to transcribe recipes found in unpublished manuscripts, many of which would have been written by aristocratic women, who would have had regular access to key ingredients.
However, Markham did adapt these recipes to suit the fashions of the day. Many of his sauces contain a combination of sweet and sour flavours (mixing vinegar and wine with sugar or fruit for instance), a style that was very much in vogue at the time. Butter was also a key ingredient, as were fresh herbs which were beginning to replace spices in English cookery. Markham also includes French, Spanish and Italian recipes.
Although the title of the book suggests that it is written for a female readership, it is thought that very few women (between 5 and 10%) were literate at the time. Historians believe that most readers would have been members of the clergy, the gentry and the professions.
Markham (1568-1637), poet and writer, was the third son of Sir Robert Markham of Gotham, Nottinghamshire. He served in the army in the Low Countries and then in Ireland, he spoke several modern languages, and was knowledgeable on the subjects of horse-breeding and forestry. His work included various tragedies and comedies, a study of horsemanship, an account of his military experiences, and a number of books on managing a country household.