The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane ****

by Katherine Howe

I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, a delicious blog for readers with an appetite for the written word.

 I enjoyed this spellbinding read about a disturbing yet fascinating time period in American history~ the Salem Witch Trials. From 1692 – 1693,  150 people were imprisoned and charged with witchcraft~ 29 convicted, of which 19 were hanged, one man crushed to death with stones, and five died while in prison.

Harvard graduate student, Connie Goodwin’s plans to spend the summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation are interrupted when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem. In her preparations, she discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written on it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery draws her deeper in the mysteries of her grandmother’s house and launches Connie on a scholarly quest that puts her education as a historian of American Colonial Life to work—to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a ‘physick’ book (also known as ‘medicine’). . . its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

The action travels back and forth 300 years, where we see bits & pieces of Deliverance’s life and the trials, and back to the current year 1991, in Connie’s life. The 1991 time frame is significant because it was a time that hovered between technologies where historical data were not yet entirely computerized. As a researcher, you were destined to spend hours hunched over card catalogues to find volumes you needed in the library. I thank the internet gods for Google everyday :-)


Connie finds her way to her grandmother’s home which has been vacant for over twenty years:

“Connie recognized most of the herbs standard to a home kitchen garden:  thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, a few different mints, fat turnip greens, dandelion leaves, dense soft dill blossoms, short tufts of chives that had not been harvested in years. Connie’s eyes moved over the plants along the far side of the garden, alighting on some obscure flowers that she knew only from horticulture books:  monkshood, henbane, foxglove, moonwort. A thick, ropey belladonna clung to the left corner of the house, sinking in its roots deep into the wooden framework.”

“… the hand that was holding the Bible vibrated with a hot, crawling, pricking sensation—something between a limb falling asleep and the painful shock that comes from unplugging a frayed lamp wire.”

“The Bible lay open on the floor, raked by the glowing light from the oil lamp, surrounded by a rising cloud of dust stirred by its fall to the carpet. Kneeling on the floor Connie reached forward to gather up the Bible when she noticed something small and bright protruding from between its leaves.”

“It was a key. Antique, about three inches long…”

“As she warmed the small metal object in her hands, puzzling about what it could mean, she noticed the tiniest shred of paper protruding from the end of the hollow shaft.”

“It was brown and stained, barely as long as her thumb. On it, in watery ink barely legible in the flickering light, were written the words Deliverance Dane.”

Researching, Connie discovers:

“A widespread vernacular divination technique mentioned in several sources, and found to occur as late as the first decade of the nineteenth century, was the so-called ‘key and Bible.’ In this simple process a key would be placed inside a large heavy book, usually a Bible, and the supplicant would ask a question aloud while holding the book. If the book turned over and spilled out the key, then the supplicant could assume the answer to the question was ‘yes.’ ”


“Another widespread vernacular divination technique, similarly crude but available to all regardless of social class, was the so-called ‘sieve and scissors.’ This process consists of balancing a sieve atop an open set of shears and asking a yes or not question.”

“A now-familiar tingling, stinging sensation collected in the palm of the hand that was holding the scissors handle, shooting vibrating, nearly painful energy through her fingers, up her forearm, and down the blades of the scissors. A bluish glow crackled in the empty center of the colander, shooting forth miniature jolts of electricity in the empty center of the colander…”

Despite the serious subject matter & tone set during the Salem witch trials, I thought I would take a few liberties with Food for Thought & interject some fun since we are on the eve of Halloween. There was always a cauldron bubbling in the 17th century. . .

My cauldron is bubbling with a recipe courtesy of Southern Living. Witches’ Chicken Brew Soup~ no eye of newt is boiling in this kettle :-) Primarily chicken and white beans~ this soup can be garnished however you prefer. We ate it with cheese, sour cream, cilantro. A recipe can be found here.


To accompany Witches’ Brew Soup, I’m serving up some Finger Sand-Witches :-), recipe found on Pillsbury’s website here.


To some extent witchcraft was real, not in the way we think of it today. Cunning folk or wise people sold services ranging from basic divination (of which I only have a vague knowledge of from Harry Potter :-), healing the sick and locating lost articles. Connie is a scholar and not a believer in witches~  spouting facts regarding the origin of witch hats to her friend, Sam:

“The tall pointy part derives from a fifteenth-century headdress called a henin, and the wide brim is a simplified form of the English wimple. Common middle-class women’s headgear in the late Middle Ages, basically. Nothing inherently witchy about it.”

Connie also explains to Sam that Black cats were a stand-in for a familiar, which was “a devil or spirit in the guise of an animal, that did the witches bidding.”

So with witch hats & cats in mind, I made some Linzer cookies~ using some Halloween Linzer cookie cutters I found at Home Goods with the recipe on the back of the box.

And I decided to add a few bats in the spirit of Halloween :-)

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials in the 1690s and a modern woman’s story of mystery, intrigue and revelation.”

Be sure to visit Food for Thought and see what everyone is reading & eating :-)

I’m also joining The Tablescaper for Seasonal Sundays with this Bewitching Book & Halloween Treats~

  20 comments for “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

  1. October 30, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Those fingers are incredible! I love linzers..don’t have the spooky cat though..You girls are just great at book/food combos.

  2. October 30, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Okay the finger sandwiches are super creative and still astoundingly creepy!

    I have this book on my shelf to read. Thanks for the review because I was torn between thinking it could be super creative and interesting or it could be really stupid. I’m going to give it a whirl now!

    Loved your post and your pictures are grand!

  3. Carolyn
    October 30, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Great review and a whole new vision of “finger sand witches” for me.

  4. October 30, 2010 at 11:36 am

    you know you truly have the best magic of all… the art of creativity brought alive~ i am just drinking in every word, every pic… that cauldron shot is fantastic.

    those my dear are my most favorite finger sandwiches ever, not too scary, but highly effective, well groomed to a T!

    love your cookies! never met a black cat i didn’t love, got 3 of them~ so cute all the designs…

    i am feeling sheepish again, you do this so well i feel humbled in your presence! i want to read this book fast now too, perfect for the season. you need to get a kindle, we could share libraries and have instant gratification, you could read petty magic and i could read deliverance dane in heartbeat on our kindles :)

    thank you so much for always having the spirit~

  5. October 30, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    My gosh, I have never seen anything as cute as those Finger Sand-witches (as I see everyone else agrees!) & I have never seen as much creativity come out of one person. Incredibly fabulous…A

  6. Pondside
    October 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    What a fun post!
    I’ll have enough books for the Christmas holidays, just from your posts.

  7. October 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Wish I was celebrating Halloween at your house Mary!!

    The girlz are BEES this year…I am trying to get some pictures but it’s just about impossible to get them both looking at me at the same time!!

    Have a great one!

    Love this post….the fingers are amazing!!!

  8. October 31, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Oh, you have wet my appetite with this one! In researching our family history, I learned that one of my father’s ancestors actually testified on the behalf of a woman on trial for witch craft!! I was proud to learn that he stood up for her.

    The photo with the clippers & the herbs & the key surrounding the book is just sublime! You are an artist in the truest sense of the word, Mary. The visuals you create astound me. That “cauldron” of soup was the ultimate, over the top feast. I was drooling, honest!
    Your “witch fingers” are very well done…did you see my carrot version?


  9. October 31, 2010 at 7:57 am

    What a fabulous post!!! The book looks AMAZING and so seasonal!!! The cookies look absolutely perfect. It’s hard to believe that was a recipe from the back of a box. And I love, love, love the fingers. I might have to add them to my bag of tricks.

    Thanks so much for being a part of Seasonal Sundays! Happy Halloween.

    – The Tablescaper

  10. October 31, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Wonderful post, Mary! Start to finish. The Witches Brew Soup look delicious!

  11. October 31, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Finger sandwiches must be on the menu next year!!!
    I was totally captivated – I want to know the end. What an interesting book and a clever way to reintroduce the Salem witch trials. Your presentation from cauldron to fingers to cookies was fabulous.

  12. October 31, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Great review and presentation. If that book inspired you like this, I am going to have to read it. Lovely post, I enjoyed it very much.

  13. October 31, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Looks like the perfect Halloween read. Love those fabulous “finger” sandwiches. Fun!

  14. Pat
    October 31, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    Mary you are amazing..not only are you a voracious reader you are also an extraordinary cook and a top photographer too! When I read your reviews I want to go out and buy the book immediately. It’s always a pleasure to visit your blog!
    ♥ Pat

  15. October 31, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    Fantastic Post! The book sounds like one you can’t put down! The brew stew the perfect comfort dish to help you through the scary parts and Linzer Cookies are my all time favorite. Very pretty too! Oh, the finger sand-witches… way real looking!

  16. October 31, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    This is a favorite post! First, I have to say that anyone who makes and serves linzer tart cookies for Halloween is my kind a gal. The sandwiches are great, but it is your story about the story. I will be looking for that. We were in Salem a few years ago. Happy Halloween.

  17. October 31, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    thanks so much for a delightful rendition of the book. I love your words. That soup is delish, I know.. I’ve made it before!

  18. November 3, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Mary, how on earth did I not see this post on the 30th? So sorry I’m late arriving. I had chills as I scrolled down through this one. Your creativity with each vignette is truly magical. You are a master at this! I definitely want to read this book.
    And OMG ~ the food connections are incredible. The soup in the cauldron makes me wish for a bowl as I type. It is rainy and cold here so the perfect night for this soup. The finger sandwiches take the term “finger” sandwich to a whole new level. Too cute for words. Then you even throw in the linzer cookies. You leave me spellbound with this one! ~ Sarah

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