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

Pixel, Goddess and Queen pixel at hundred-acre-wood.com
Thu Aug 7 09:00:20 PDT 2008

On Thu, 7 Aug 2008, Dragon wrote:

> 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".
Christopher Dyer mentions this in "Standards of Living in the Later 
Middle Ages: Social Change in England c. 1200-1520" and C.M.Woolgar 
mentions this in "The Great Household in Late Medieval England" and 
although I don't remember whether it was Dyer or Woolgar who addressed the 
actual amount of spice per person or if it was a discussion on the list, 
remember that the accounts that we have are for *households*, not just 
individuals, and if you're feeding over 100 people for each meal, you use 
an awful lot of ingredients. Even if you only use the expensive spices on 
dishes that get served to the lord and guests, you're still feeding about 
20 people a whole bunch of dishes so again, you're going to use more 
spices than if you were making one dish to serve 4.

For instance, Chiquart, in his instructions for making a feast at which 
there are kings, specifies (among others) six pounds of nutmeg which is 
considered a minor spice. (He also talks about purchasing the spices in 
advance and grinding them to powder then storing in leather bags, but 
we're talking about spicing levels in this discussion.) He also specifies 
100 cattle, 130 sheep, 120 pigs, 100 piglets, 200 kids, 200 lambs, 100 
calves, and 2000 head of poultry, so we're looking at a pretty substantial 
volume here.

So, extrapolating to a less spiffy household, it's still not unreasonable 
to assume that Lady Thus-and-So's household used ten pounds of pepper in a 
year, because they were feeding 40-60 people at every meal, two meals a 
day. Add to that the additional factor that some of those days were feast 
days where spiffier food was served, and probably a few of those days were 
days where there were guests, again requiring spiffier food.


Margaret FitzWilliam

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