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

Dragon dragon at crimson-dragon.com
Thu Aug 7 08:18:26 PDT 2008

Johnna Holloway wrote:
>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.?

Then how does she explain the sometimes enormous 
quantities of spices such as cinnamon and pepper 
and nutmegs that show up in some household 
inventories of the period? (I am at work and have 
no direct references handy, I'll try to dig some 
up later at home if anyone really wants some). I 
can only surmise that these great quantities of 
spice were not allowed to just sit unused until 
they went bad. I am also convinced that 
conspicuous consumption and showing off one's 
wealth were just as much in fashion then as they 
are today. People have always operated on the 
principle of "if you have it, flaunt it".

>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 (http://www.chiletraditions.com/index.htm).

This is something I think we will all just have 
to agree to disagree on. I think tobacco use has 
a far more detrimental effect upon taste than 
chilies (I smoke an occasional cigar, so I know 
this from direct experience). I love chilies and 
eat something flavored with them (sometimes quite 
strongly) almost every day. Yet I can very often 
identify exactly what went into a dish just by 
smelling and tasting it, and this includes very 
subtly flavored and spiced dishes. You must 
remember that much of what we call taste is 
actually smell. The sensations in the mouth and 
on the tongue are far less varied in and of 
themselves than what we think of when we talk 
about taste. I am sure we have all done the 
experiment of stopping one's nose while tasting 
something and have directly experienced the effect it has.

Perhaps my love of Indian food and other highly 
spiced cuisines has really boosted my expectation 
for spicing, but when I am talking about adding 
more than the recipe calls for, I am not talking 
about the same level of spicing by any stretch. 
In most cases, I double or triple the amount 
called for. 1/4 teaspoon of anything in a big pot 
of food is really subtle in my opinion. And 
again, this really is all just about opinion.

>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?

I'm suggesting that maybe their own bias (cooking 
and taste are subjective in the extreme) and the 
prevailing trends at the time they wrote their 
books has some major influence upon this. Is it 
right or wrong? Who is to say? We have little 
concrete evidence one way or the other, what we 
do have is very circumstantial and one can only make inferences.

When the food hits the pot, it really comes down 
to the tastes of the chef as to what "be enough". 
I can also say that I have never had anyone come 
to me and say "wow, that has WAY too much spice 
in it) when I make one of these recipes and adjust the spice up a few notches.

>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.

Cool, I will check them out when I can. The spice 
trade has been a fascination of mine for some time.


  Venimus, Saltavimus, Bibimus (et naribus canium capti sumus)

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