[Sca-cooks] Spicing was Non-Pennsic SCA activities?

Johnna Holloway johnnae at mac.com
Thu Aug 7 05:16:16 PDT 2008

I mentioned this question to the author of Take A /Thousand Eggs/ or 
More and Cindy Renfrow wrote me that
"Off the top of my head...
<shrug> Spices were expensive imports. Except for a few notable 
exceptions in the collection, and as far as I recall, spices were used 
sparingly and in a manner that they'd be most noticed by the diners – 
i.e. as a final tasty, colorful garnish. This was especially true on 
white dishes. Herbs, ginger and saffron, OTOH, were grown locally and 
used in larger quantity.?

I suspect that one reason why our modern working recipes are perhaps 
less spicy than people may now prefer
is that modern American tastes are shaped by and used to amounts of 
Capsicum peppers, including chili (chile) peppers and sweet peppers
that the medieval Europeans never tasted. Think about the salsas, hot 
sauces, and other products that
stores like Chili Traditions sell 

One other factor is that while it is somewhat easy to Add more spice to 
a dish, it can prove almost impossible
to subtract and re-adjust a dish's spiciness downward. Can we really 
blame Hieatt and Butler of Pleyn Delit for erring on the side of
caution in spicing?

Two new books that talk about the spice trade are:

Freedman, Paul. /Out of the East. Spices and the Medieval Imagination/. 
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Krondl, Michael. /The Taste of Conquest. The Rise and Fall of the Three 
Great Cities of Spice/. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007.


Lady Celia wrote:
> Dragon said:
> <<I don't think there is any way that your potency assertion could be 
> proven, in fact, I'd wager that the opposite may well be true when we 
> are discussing whole spices (which I use exclusively and grind fresh 
> when needed).>>
> A wager would be ill advised, as we'd never be able to settled it, as
> there's no way to prove the truth either way.  And while I concede that one
> might think that time to market should be less today than in times past,
> knowing how long spices can just sit in production stages is one of the
> reasons I suspect that the potency of modern spices is less than those of
> ages gone. 
> But I use my language very carefully, which is why I said "I suspect" and
> "That would be my first guess...", because in a case like this, all we can
> really do is suppose, extrapolate and guess, as no amount of data that we
> have from historical sources will provide the test that our tongues do. So,
> lacking a time machine, all we can do is suppose. 
> And as I said, the second part of that is that I also suspect that we just
> simply have too many taste bud dulling substances in our diets. You may not,
> but most of us do. It's quite possible that our ancestors were just more
> used to subtle spicing.  Or that, like my grandmother, they believed in
> putting down minimums when recording recipes, knowing that you can always
> adjust up to taste, but you can't take spices out once they're in.
> In service, 
> Celia

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