[Sca-cooks] Olive oil (was Re: Bread Recipe from my files)

Daniel Myers edoard at medievalcookery.com
Sat Jul 14 07:26:05 PDT 2007

On Jul 12, 2007, at 2:08 PM, V A wrote:

> Olive oil was (and has been, for all of recorded history) used  
> prolifically
> for many purposes -- medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary -- all along  
> the
> Mediterranean.  Of course, the farther north you go in Europe, the  
> harder it
> is to cultivate olives, so if olive oil was used in northern  
> Europe, it
> would have been (for most of the Middle Ages) a fairly expensive  
> commodity,
> since it had to be imported...so if you're looking at, say, 14th- 
> century
> English recipes, you wouldn't see a ton of olive oil, but it'd be  
> all over
> the Italian cookbooks of the same period.

While olives (or at least olive oil) would have been imported into  
northern Europe, I don't believe that they were so rare as to be  
hugely expensive.

We already see a substantial use of almonds in 14th century English  
cooking, and they also were imported.  They're a substantial  
component a large number of meatless-day recipes.  Like almonds,  
olive oil keeps and travels well.  As it is a vegetable oil, it is  
also suited to meatless-day recipes.  It is quite easy to imagine an  
English merchant purchasing many barrels of it each year through an  
agent in Italy (where it would be quite cheap).

Professor John H. Munro's article, "Spices and Their Costs in  
Medieval Europe" (see link) has demonstrated that the cost of  
imported spices was much lower than commonly believed (by my  
calculations, about 10 times what we'd pay in the grocery store today  
- no where near "worth its weight in gold").


I'll try to find more concrete evidence, but given the above in  
connection with the number of recipes I've seen which call for olive  
oil (including some that use it for frying), I'm inclined to believe  
that while it was more expensive than lard, it was not considered  
overly expensive and was commonly used in large quantities by the  
middle and upper classes.

- Doc

374. Take fayre caboges, and boyle yt in fayre water, an stere it  
wyl, an ley on Pepir an Safroun, Maces, Clowys, an a lytil verious an  
salt, an thanne serue hem forth in a fayre dysshe.  [The Boke of  

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