[Sca-cooks] [Fwd: Nutmeg in stale ale]

Laura C. Minnick lcm at jeffnet.org
Sat Aug 2 02:45:29 PDT 2008

So, what do you all think? Why is the nutmeg in 'stale ale'?


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	Nutmeg in stale ale
Date: 	Sat, 2 Aug 2008 11:22:26 +0200
From: 	Brian S Lee <brianlee at XSINET.CO.ZA>
Reply-To: 	Chaucer Discussion Group <CHAUCER at LISTSERV.UIC.EDU>
References: 	<4888934E.60409 at amherst.edu>

Fresh from a reading of John Keay's history of _The Spice Route_ (2005), 
I can better appreciate the absurdity of Thopas's adventuring into the 
forest of exotic spices incredibly located in Flanders.  Chaucer selects 
the rarest and so most valuable of spices, cetewale (zedoary) from Java, 
cloves from Ternate, and nutmeg from Banda, each further east than the 
last, but their origins in the mysterious regions beyond India totally 
unknown in medieval Europe.  Pepper, the commonest spice, he 
significantly doesn't mention.  Thopas's world is one of precious 
luxury, marred by the sudden injection of reality, that stale ale which 
was doubtless all too common in the experience of readers (hearers) of 
tail-rhyme romances. 
Nutmeg, apparently, is a prestigious thing to keep in the kitchen 
cupboard ("in cofre").  You wouldn't waste your most valuable spice 
(would you?) in stale ale.  Would it help to improve or disguise the 
flavour if you did?  Never having tried it, I await the comments of the 
culinary experts on this list.  The Host wanted a drink of moist and 
corny ale to help him recover from the Physician's Tale: does moist 
simply mean fresh?  Isn't all ale moist?  Is stale the opposite of 
moist, the result of neglect or poor brewing perhaps, or are these 
technical terms for different kinds of ale?  Why put nutmeg in both 
kinds, or is "stale" simply Chaucer's hint at the thoughtless use 
of cliches for rhyme in the romances he's burlesquing?
"With that long knife inside her, much I fear
She'll go pale, ailing, into her small bier"
            Leicester Silk Buckingham (1859) parodying Knowles's play of 

"It is our choices Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."  -Albus Dumbledore

~~~Follow my Queenly perambulations at: http://slugcrossings.blogspot.com/

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