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Archive for the ‘personal hygiene’ Category

French paintings of ladies dressing and at their toilettes provide us with an insight of  how dressing rooms were once constructed and used. While we think of dressing as a private affair, William Hogarth demonstrates in his painting, Marriage à-la-mode: The Countess’s Morning Levee, how a woman of means with a large elaborate dressing room would entertain visitors while she was completing her toilette.

Image @Wikipedia

In reality, the toilette became a ritual in 18th century France for the very rich, one that had both intimate and public elements. A maid would groom and sponge bathe her lady in private, but then her mistress would devote hours to having her hair dressed, eating her breakfast from a tray, writing letters, entertaining friends, and picking the clothes she would wear for the day. The wealthier the woman, the more elaborate her morning ritual. As Hogarth showed, the custom of entertaining guests in one’s dressing room was also popular in England. In the image below, a shameless young lady is entertaining her spiritual adviser in her boudoir. His expression is priceless.

The Four Times of Day: Morning, Nicholas Lancret, 1739. Image@National Gallery, London

Wikipedia provides a history of the word “toilet”. The word did not have the same meaning back then as it does today.:

It originally referred to the toile, French for “cloth”, draped over a lady or gentleman’s shoulders while their hair was being dressed, and then (in both French and English) by extension to the various elements, and also the whole complex of operations of hairdressing and body care that centered at a dressing table, also covered by a cloth, on which stood a mirror and various brushes and containers for powder and make-up: this ensemble was also a toilette, as also was the period spent at the table, during which close friends or tradesmen were often received. The English poet Alexander Pope in The Rape of the Lock (1717) described the intricacies of a lady’s preparation:

“And now, unveil’d, the toilet stands display’d
Each silver vase in mystic order laid.”

These various senses are first recorded by the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) in rapid sequence in the later 17th century: the set of “articles required or used in dressing” 1662, the “action or process of dressing” 1681, the cloth on the table 1682, the cloth round the shoulders 1684, the table itself 1695, and the “reception of visitors by a lady during the concluding stages of her toilet” 1703 (also known as a “toilet-call”), but in the sense of a special room the earliest use is 1819, and this does not seem to include a lavatory.

La Toilette, Boucher, 1742. Image@francoisboucher.org

Woman’s Fashions of the 18th Century fully describes the above painting by Boucher, in which the seated woman, probably a courtesan, is tying a garter over her stocking while wearing a short jacket to protect her outfit from particles of applied makeup and the powder on her wig. No visitors invade this intimate scene, which clearly shows a tray with refreshments and a decorative dressing screen behind the chair.

James Gillray portrays the progress of the toilet. Note the wash basin and water urn on the floor.

Women did use their dressing rooms at more intimate and private moments, when one presumed they would be alone. The washing of one’s face, feet and hands was a daily ritual, while bathing one’s entire body was not.  Such ablutions were done privately.  People would wash in basins. A portable hip bath would be placed in the dressing room if they decided to bathe completely.

Boilly, La Toilette Intime ou la Rose Effeuille. Image @Wikimedia Commons

While outhouses were common, the wealthy tended to use elaborate potty chairs (see image below). The French used bidets inside their dressing rooms, as shown in Boilly’s painting above. Invented by the French, their earliest recorded use was in 1710. If one wonders how women in elaborate costumes managed to go to the bathroom, this image by Boucher provides a glimpse. The handling of the bowl and upright posture was possible, for women during that era wore no underdrawers.

18th century Sheraton potty chair

Dressing rooms remained popular for a long time. In Can You Forgive Her?, Lady Glencora invites Alice Vavasor to have tea in her dressing-room, saying “You must be famished, I know. Then you can come down, or if you want to avoid two dressings you can sit over the fire up-stairs till dinner-time.” Alice follows Lady Glencora into the dressing-room, “and there found herself surrounded by an infinitude of feminine luxuries. The prettiest of tables were there;–the easiest of chairs;–the most costly of cabinets;–the quaintest of old china ornaments. It was bright with the gayest colours,–made pleasant to the eye with the binding of many books, having nymphs painted on the ceiling and little Cupids on the doors.” Lady Glencora goes on to explain, “I call it my dressing-room because in that way I can keep people out of it, but I have my brushes and soap in a little closet there, and my clothes,–my clothes are everywhere I suppose, only there are none of them here.”

Dressing room with chamber pot chair, 1765. Image@Morris Jumel House, Manhattan.

Anthony Trollope made an interesting point. During the 1860’s, when his novel was written, wealthy women changed their wardrobes more often for different functions during the day than Regency women. She invites Alice to linger in her dressing room, presumably to rest, read, and drink tea, rather than change into yet another set of clothes to join the company downstairs. Lady Glencora also indicates that the dressing room could also be a refuge away from visitors and prying eyes.

Jane Austen's bedroom. The closet with wash basin and potty sits to the left of the fireplace.

A wealthy couple might have two bedrooms (his and hers) with an adjoining sitting room. Each person would have their own dressing room. Simpler households did not have the luxury of such space. In Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, shared one bedroom. Their potty and wash basin where stored in a closet.

Today’s walk in closets with adjoining bathroom most closely approximate the dressing room of yore, although people today do not tend to entertain their visitors in their closets.

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Jane Austen’s mother, Cassandra’s

features were aristocratic; her hair was dark and her eyes an unusual tint of grey. She had an instinctive tendency to depreciate her own appearance; it was her elder sister Jane, she always insisted, who was the beauty of the family. But Cassandra did admit to a certain vanity concerning her fine patrician blade of a nose.” – Jane Austen, a family record by Deirdre Le Faye, William Austen-Leigh

However, by 1782, when her daughter Jane was only 7 years old, she was described as having lost several foreteeth, which made her look old.

Cassandra Leigh Austen, Jane Austen's mother, with her patrician nose and missing foreteeth

Modern dentistry was still in its infancy when Cassandra Austen gave birth to her eight children. While the wealthy could afford dentists, rural folks still depended on the village blacksmith, who only knew how to pull teeth. Market fairs sold tinctures, toothpowders and abrasive dentifrices.

Lucy Baggott, of Wychwood Books, says: ‘It was not uncommon for the local farrier to draw teeth to relieve toothache of those in desperate pain, for then the blacksmith in many rural communities doubled as a tooth drawer. ‘There were many dubious practices adopted: hot coals, string, forceps, and pliers to name a few. Children were lured to sacrifice their teeth for the supposed benefit of the wealthy in exchange for only a few shillings. One print reads: “Most money given for live teeth”. – Dental Quackery Captured in Print

Louis-Leopold Boilly (1761-1845), Dentist Teeth Patient, 1827

We do know this: tooth extraction was painful and a most unpleasant affair before the age of ether and anesthetics.

In two letters to Cassandra, on Wednesday 15 & Thursday 16 September 1813, Jane [Austen] describes in some detail accompanying her young nieces Lizzy, Marianne and Fanny, on a visit to the London dentist Mr Spence. It was, she relates, ‘a sad business, and cost us many tears’. They attended Mr Spence twice on the Wednesday, and to their consternation had to return on the following day for yet another ‘disagreeable hour’ . Mr Spence remonstrates strongly over Lizzy’s teeth, cleaning and filing them and filling the ‘very sad hole’ between two of the front ones. But it is Marianne who suffers most: she is obliged to have two teeth extracted to make room for others to grow. – The Poor Girls and Their Teeth, A Visit to the Dentist, JASA

Tooth maintenance and dental hygiene were not a new concept. The aristocrats suffered more cavities, for they could afford sweets and foods that would eat into enamel, but they did use tooth powders, tooth picks, and toothbrushes to keep their teeth clean.

The ancient Chinese made toothbrushes with bristles from the necks of cold climate pigs. French dentists were the first Europeans to promote the use of toothbrushes in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. William Addis of Clerkenwald, England, created the first mass-produced toothbrush. Toothpaste: modern toothpastes were developed in the 1800s. In 1824, a dentist named Peabody was the first person to add soap to toothpaste. John Harris first added chalk as an ingredient to toothpaste in the 1850s.- History of Dentistry

Isaac Cruikshank

The caption to the above cartoon states: Dentist. 18th century caricature of a fat dentist with his struggling, overweight female patient. The patient is begging the dentist not to pluck her teeth out like he would the feathers of a pigeon. People who eat large amounts of sugary food are often both overweight and suffer from dental decay. Image drawn in 1797 by British artist Isaac Cruikshank (1756-1811). – Science Photo Library

Tooth Extraction, William Henry Bunbury, mid-18th century

Extractions were by forceps or commonly keys, rather like a door key…When rotated it gripped the tooth tightly. This extracted the tooth – and usually gum and bone with it…Sometimes the jaws were also broken during an extraction by untrained people.”- BBC

A timeline of dentistry in the 18th and 19th centuries:

1780 – William Addis manufactured the first modern toothbrush. 1789 – Frenchman Nicolas Dubois de Chemant receives the first patent for porcelain teeth. 1790 – John Greenwood, one of George Washington’s dentists, constructs the first known dental foot engine. He adapts his mother’s foot treadle spinning wheel to rotate a drill. 1790 – Josiah Flagg, a prominent American dentist, constructs the first chair made specifically for dental patients. To a wooden Windsor chair, Flagg attaches an adjustable headrest, plus an arm extension to hold instruments. 19th Century 1801 – Richard C. Skinner writes the Treatise on the Human Teeth, the first dental book published in America. 1820 – Claudius Ash established his dental manufacturing company in London. 1825 – Samuel Stockton begins commercial manufacture of porcelain teeth. His S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company establishes and dominates the dental supply market throughout the 19th century. – Nambibian Dental Association

Annotation of the above cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson:

This print is by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and is dated 1787. It is a satirical comment upon the real practice of rich gentlemen and ladies of the 18th century paying for teeth to be pulled from poor children and transplanted in their gums. The dentist present is portrayed as a quack. There are even two quacking ducks on the placard advertising his fake credentials. He is busy pulling teeth from the mouth of a poor young chimney sweep. Covered in soot and exhausted, he slumps in a chair. Meanwhile the dentist’s assistant transplants a tooth into a fashionably dressed young lady’s mouth. Two children can be seen leaving the room clutching their faces and obviously in pain from having their teeth extracted. As people lost most of their teeth by age 21 due to gum disease, teeth transplants were popular for some time in England although they rarely worked. – Wellcome Images

Thomas Rowlandson – A French dentist showing a specimen of his artificial teeth and false palates Coloured engraving 1811 Image @ Rowlandson, Wellcome Library

Dentures did exist:

Perhaps the most famous false-toothed American was the first president, George Washington. Popular history gave Mr. Washington wooden teeth, though this was not the case. In fact, wooden teeth are impossible; the corrosive effects of saliva would have turned them into mushy pulp before long. As a matter of fact, the first president’s false teeth came from a variety of sources, including teeth extracted from human and animal corpses. – A Short History of Dentistry

Carved ivory upper denture, late 18th century. Image @Skinner Auctioneers

As always, the upper classes had the upper hand:

The upper classes could afford a greater range of treatments, including artificial teeth (highly sought after by the sugar- consuming wealthy). Ivory dentures were popular into the 18th century, and were made from natural materials including walrus, elephant or hippopotamus ivory. Human teeth or ‘Waterloo teeth’ -sourced from battlefields or graveyards- were riveted into the base. These ill fitting and uncomfortable ivory dentures were replaced by porcelain dentures, introduced in the 1790’s. These were not successful due to their bright colours, and tendency to crack.Before the 1800’s, the practice of dentistry was still a long way from achieving professional status. This was to change in the 19th century – the most significant period in the history of dentistry to date. By 1800 there were still relatively few ‘dentists’ practicing the profession. By the middle of the 19th century the number of practicing dentists had increased markedly, although there was no legal or professional control to prevent malpractice and incompetence. Pressure for reform of the profession increased. – Thomas Rowlandson, “Transplanting Teeth (c.1790) [Engraving],” in Children and Youth in History, Item #164, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/164 (accessed August 10, 2011). Annotated by Lynda Payne

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The script in Thomas Rowlandson’s 1810 cartoon states:

“Ah! My old Friend I wish you had called
at some more convenient time but this is washing
day — I have nothing to give you but cold Fish, cold Tripe
& cold potatoes — you smell soap suds a mile!
Ah Jack, Jack you don’t know these Comforts!
you are a Bachelor!”

In Rowlandson’s image, two well fed men are seen smiling. The host is apologetic, for his guest will not get anything but cold collations, probably leftovers from the previous day. His wife and maid are seen toiling over a bucket, their hands probably raw and red from the effects of harsh lye soap. Neither of them will have the time to look to his comforts or make a hot meal, which is why he is apologizing to his unexpected guest. Since laundering was not considered man’s work, he had to “suffer” the lack of his wife’s and servant’s attentions until the wash was done.

Doing the wash in a stream, 1806

First Boyle all the Cloaths with soap, and then wash them..” – John Harrower, indentured servant, writing to his wife (June 14, 1774)

Doing the wash in the Regency era was no small task, and housewives had to set aside two days to perform this dreaded duty, for it meant hauling water, boiling the cottons and linens, washing them with pungent lye soap, which burnt the skin, rinsing the clothes in clean water, which meant hauling more water from the well or a nearby stream, twisting the cloths to remove as much water as possible, hanging the clothes to dry, and then praying that rain would stay away long enough for the sun to perform its duty as a dryer. If one had to do laundry in a town or city, one had to pray that coal soot would not drift upon the clean clothes in a cramped back yard before they dried.

The Victorian scullery in a fine household included a copper for boiling water, a wringer, press, and ironing board.

Doing laundry was so enormous an undertaking, that unless the household were of a great size and boasted many servants, the mistress of the house and her daughters would frequently pitch in with the servants. There were chemises to be laundered, bed and table linens, towels, shirts, muslin dresses, handkerchiefs, socks, and the like. First the clothes would have to be treated for stains, the muslins and silks most delicately. After the wash had dried, ironing would commence, another laborious task.

Drying damp clothes over chair backs in front of a fireplace. Elizabeth Bennet and Mrs. Gardiner at the Lambton Inn, Pride and Prejudice, 1980

Chemises and shirts, which were worn next to the skin, were purposefully made with sturdier cloth so that these inner garments could withstand rougher treatment and more frequent washing. People tended to own more under garments for this reason. Outer clothes were subject to less frequent laundering because they were made of finer stuff, though one must wonder at the cleanliness of trailing hems, the edges of collars and sleeves, and armpits in the days before daily baths became popular, when air conditioning was just a distant dream, and when sweat must have stained clothes in a most visible manner. Is it no wonder that a majority of the Regency fashions that have survived to this day belonged to the rich, who probably wore their fashionable outfits once or twice before purchasing others?

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Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. In A Triple Tragedy: How Princess Charlotte’s Death in 1817 Changed Obstetrics, I discussed the two approaches to obstetrics in the early 19th century – the conservative approach, which meant no intervention, and the more radical intervention approach. I included no image of a physician examining a woman.

Morbid Anatomy, one of my new favorite sites, features three images of a physician examining a woman (circa 1800). These images came without attribution, but are interesting nevertheless. Click here to see them all.

Internal examination of a woman, circa 1800

In the early 1800’s there was also a growing number of formally trained doctors who took great pains to distinguish themselves from the host of lay practitioners. The most important real distinction was that the formally trained, or “regular” doctors as they called themselves, were male, usually middle class, and almost always more expensive than the lay competition. The “regulars'” practices were largely confined to middle and upper class people who could afford the prestige of being treated by a “gentleman” of their own class. By 1800, fashion even dictated that upper and middle class women employ male “regular” doctors for obstetrical care—a custom which plainer people regarded as grossly indecent.” – Witches, Midwives, and Nurses A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English

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In 1798, the famous caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson drew The Comforts of Bath, a series of satiric drawings. The cartoons were used to illustrate the 1858 edition of the New Bath Guide, written by Christopher Anstey and first published in 1766.* Rowlandson depicted both the social and medical scene in Bath just before the period described by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and by Georgette Heyer in her Regency romances.

The Portrait, Comforts of Bath, 1798, Thomas Rowlandson

In this post I combined Rowlandson’s images with excerpts from an 1811 guidebook, A new guide through Bath and its environs By Richard Warner. The scenes depict the use of mineral water therapy for the invalids who flocked to Bath, a city whose fashionable post-Nash reputation was already well past its prime and whose medical men were generally regarded as quacks or, worse, “potential murderers”. The rotund gentleman in front and center of all these scenes (who undoubtedly suffered from gout, a painful rich man’s disease), was conjectured to be based after Tobias Smollet’s Mr. Bramble. In the pictorial’s subtext, notice how “Mr. Bramble’s” young wife (companion or daughter) flirts with the young officer who boldly woos her (Image above). Even while satirizing them, Rowlandson gets the social details just right. Underneath each image sits a quote from the guidebook.

King Bladud's Bath, Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

It is fit for the patient when he goeth into the bath to defend those parts which are apt to be offended by the bath, as to have his head well covered from the air and wind and from the vapours arising from the bath, also his kidneys if they be subject to the stone, anointed with some cooling unguents as rosatum comitiffs infrigidans Galeni Santo linum &c. Also, to begin gently with the bath till his body be inured to it, and to be quiet from swimming or much motion which may offend the head by sending up vapours thither at his coming forth, to have his body well dryed and to rest in his bed an hour and sweat, etc.” – A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

The Pump Room, The Comforts of Bath, 1798, Rowlandson

The new Pump Room supplied water from a covered pump. Before the room was built, the populace drank the waters in the open air. But the new rooms allowed them to

…  take the exercise prescribed to them sheltered from the inclemency of the weather. The work was accordingly begun in 1704, finished two years afterwards, and opened for the reception of the company under the auspices of Mr Nash, who had just then become the Arbiter Elegantiarum of Bath…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Black and White detail of above print

In the year 1751 [The Pump] Room was enlarged. Accommodated with a beautiful Portico stretching from it in a northern direction in 1786, and adorned with superb Western Frontispiece in 1791, The Corporation further beautified the city in 1796 by taking down the old Pump Room entirely and building on its site the much larger and more magnificent edifice known at present by that name…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Public Breakfast, The Comforts of Bath, 1798, Rowlandson

Pertaining to the construction of  the Harrison rooms and the Assembly Rooms:

Temporary booths had hitherto been the only places in which the company could drink their tea and divert themselves with cards, but Mr Harrison, a man of spirit and speculation, perceiving that a building of this nature was much wanted and would probably make him a very suitable return, undertook at the suggestion of Mr Nash to erect a large and commodious room for the purpose of receiving the company.  The succes of this attempt induced a similar one in the year 1728, when another large room was built by Mr Thayer.  A regular system of pleasurable amusements commenced from this period, and the gay routine of public breakfasts, morning concerts, noon card parties, evening promenades, and nocturnal balls rolled on in an endless and diversified succession. – A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Company at Play, The Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

Rules card games:

That no persons be permitted to play with cards left by another party;  That no hazard or unlawful game of any sort be allowed in these Rooms on any account whatever nor any cards on Sundays...A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

The Concert, Bath Chambers, Rowlandson

For music sweet music has charms to controul; And tune up each passion that ruffles the soul; What things have I read and what stories been told; Of feats that were done by musicians of old – The New Bath Guide, 1779

Dinner, Comforts of Bath, 1798

Bath has little trade and no manufactures; the higher clafles of people and their dependents conftitute the chief part of the population, and the number of the lower clafles being but fmall…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Bath Races, Rowlandson

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In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood receive their first unflattering glimpse of a finnicky Robert Ferrars in Gray’s Jewelers  as he takes his time choosing a toothpick case:

He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies, than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares. – Jane Austen

Good dental hygiene is not a modern concept. Toothpicks have been found alongside their owners in ancient Egyptian tombs, and the Chinese freshened their breath as early as 1600 B. C. by chewing on aromatic tree twigs.  The world’s first known recipe for toothpaste, a mixture of rock salt, mint, dried iris flower, and pepper, came from Egypt. The development of toothpastes in more modern times started in the 18th century. A bicarbonate of soda or baking soda, the main raising agent in baking powder, was traditionally used for cleaning teeth and included in tooth-powder . A 19th century London Times advertisement promised an assortment of wonderful results for those who used tooth powder:

For the TEETH. Patronized and used by his Royal Highness the Duke of Kent. TROTTER’s ORIENTAL DENTIFRICE, or ASIATIC TOOTH POWDER, had been for 20 years acknowledged by the most respectable Medical authorities, used by many, and recommended. The Powder cleanses and beautifies the teeth, sweetens the breath, posses no acid that can erode the enamel, and puts a beautiful polish on the teeth. From its astringency, it strengthens the gums, eradicates the scurvy (which often proves the destruction of a whole set of teeth), preserves sound teeth from decay, secures decayed teeth from becoming worse, fastens those which are loose, and proves the happy means of preventing their being drawn. – Next Year, Last Century

A dentist named Peabody was the first to add soap to toothpowder in 1824. Betel nut, though to reduce cavities, was also mixed into certain recipes.  By the 1850s chalk was included and in the 1860s a home-made toothpaste recipe incorporated ground charcoal. Recipes for tooth powder varied and were zealously guarded by their creators:

Toothpowders were based on three or four components: abrasives such as chalk, orris root, heavy magnesium carbonate or cuttlefish bone; antiseptics and detergents, represented by powdered hard soap and borax; and astringents which could be the tannins found in cinchona bark, bayberry leaves, essence of sassafras, and, very commonly, tincture of myrrh. Aromatic substances were often added as breath sweeteners, common ones being cardamon, cloves, peppermint, oil of lemon and aniseed. – Dental practice in Europe at the end of the 18th century By Christine Hillam, p. 214

The first toothbrush was made around 1780 by William Addis of Clerkenald. Addis also manufactured tooth brushes made of cattle bone.  Boar bristles were placed into bored holes and kept in place by a thin wire.  Interestingly, boar bristles remained in use until 1938, when nylon bristles began to replace the natural fiber.

Toothbrush holder made of bone, early 1800

Toothbrush holder made of bone, early 1800

Toothbrush bristles were the stiff, coarse hairs taken from the necks and shoulders of swine who lived (preferably) in the colder climates of  Siberia and China. Tooth powder was packed in a variety of boxes, like the one in the image below.

19th c. toothpowder box

19th c. toothpowder box

By the early 1800s, a variety of toothbrush and toothpowder manufacturers were competing with each other for a rapidly growing number of clientele in a thriving toothpowder trade. Tooth powder recipes proliferated, and toothbrushes began to be sold in great quantities. Sometimes both the tooth powder and toothbrush were sold together  ( ‘Bott’s Tooth Powder and Brushes’, Newspapers (1798).

M. Trotter, a widow, manufactured tooth powder and tooth brushes in her warehouse on No. 36, Surrey-street  in the Strand. Her tooth powder cost 2s 9d a box and her India Tooth Burshes cost 1s each. She was so successful that in a few years she moved into larger premises.  Dental Practice in Europe, p. 212

18th c. silver flask-shaped comfit box

18th c. silver flask-shaped comfit box

Anise comfits

Anise comfits

Breath fresheners took the form of comfits made of anise, caraway, and fennel seeds. These sugary seeded confections were laborious to make,  requiring dozens of thin sugar coatings. The seeds needed to be continually stirred in order to spread the coat evenly, and each sugared coat had to harden before the next coat was poured on. The process was repeated until the comfits had reached the proper size.  When a comfit is chewed, the fennel or anise seeds are crushed open, freshening the breath for 15 minutes up to half an hour.  People are still served this type of candied seed in Indian restaurants today.

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