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

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Sat Aug 2 11:43:07 PDT 2008

In the this context, Chaucer is likely using "moist" to mean "new" and 
"stale" to mean "old."  Considering that traditional ale is unhopped and 
meant to be drunk immediately, that "old" is probably relative and may 
relate to a higher alcohol content as the fermentation will continue until 
all of the sugars are consumed.

IIRC, Falstaff also adds mutmeg to his ale in one of Shakespeare's plays.

I suspect the nutmeg is being added to the ale to give it some bite.  The 
traditional ales I've encountered tend to be a little on the sweet side.


> So, what do you all think? Why is the nutmeg in 'stale ale'?
> 'Lainie
> -------- 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?
> Brian
> "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 
> Virginia.

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