[Sca-cooks] A horse for a peppercorn-Explanation of a Food Myth

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Mon Sep 13 05:09:07 PDT 2010

On Sep 13, 2010, at 4:02 AM, David Friedman wrote:

> In Anglo-American contract law, a valid contract requires consideration--if I buy a horse from you but don't give you anything at all in exchange, there is no contract and I don't get the horse. But the validity of the contract does not depend on the adequacy of the consideration--any amount, however small, will do. This point is sometimes put in the form of "even a peppercorn is sufficient." The term "peppercorn rent" is similarly used for a nominal rent-a small sum used to make a real estate transaction that's in reality gratis take the form of a binding contract. Similarly "peppercorn payment."
> My guess is that someone came across an explanation of the legal principle in some form such as "purchase of a horse for a single peppercorn is a valid transaction," and assumed that it meant that that was the price a horse could actually be bought for.

There is a similar tradition followed to this day by some Southern Chinese, possibly others as well. For reasons associated with kharma, one does not give certain items as gifts; for example knives, weapons, medications, etc., are not considered appropriate to give as gifts. When you find yourself wanting or needing to do so anyway, it is considered good manners to include with the gift a shiny new penny, to be returned by the recipient to the donor, so it can be agreed upon that the gift item was in fact purchased, thereby changing the kharmic implications.

I didn't know about the peppercorn for a horse thing. It might be worth knowing as a reference point that for much of Europe in the Middle Ages, a cooked capon cost around a penny [which would usually have ben a silver coin?], so the two shillings you spoke of -- which doesn't seem like so very much -- would buy, what, forty of them?


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls, when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's bellies."
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list