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

Johnna Holloway johnnae at mac.com
Mon Sep 13 05:30:28 PDT 2010

OED includes these meanings

b. Stipulated as the amount required in payment of a nominal rent or a  
quit-rent. Also (occas.): a property carrying a rent of this kind.
   Still common in legal use, in the drawing up of leases.

[1470 in J. Fullarton Rec. Burgh Prestwick (1834) 9 For the quhilk he  
acht erli..gef it be askit thre pepir cornis in annuele.]
   1607 S. HIERON Serm. 2 Tim. iv. 7 in Wks. I. 221 Some great man,  
out of his bounty, giueth thee an inheritance of some pounds by the  
yeare; thou must pay a pepper corne for thy rent. 1669 in Rec. Early  
Hist. Boston (1881) VII. 50 He payeinge a pepper corne to the said  
Treasurer upon demand for ever on the said 29th September.

c. fig. A thing of very small value or importance; a token, a trifling  

1638 J. CLARKE Phraseologia Puerilis 333 This peppercorn of  

B. adj.

     1. Of the size or value of a peppercorn; very small,  
insignificant, trifling.

1791 J. WOLCOT Remonstrance 7 Not pepper-corn acknowledgment I owe 'em.

It still turns up in British common usage.
C2. peppercorn rent n. a rent of a peppercorn, a nominal rent (see  
sense A. 1b); also fig.

1844 Tait's Mag. Dec. 755/2 Church roofs new slated, at the cost and  
charge of the people who do not go to church:and they call that paying  
a *peppercorn rent to God.
   1910 Encycl. Brit. I. 107/1 Burlington House..was granted to the  
Academy for 999 years at a peppercorn rent.
   2003 Evening News (Edinburgh) (Nexis) 19 May 17 The  
centre..currently pays the council a peppercorn rent to use the former  
high school.

It's also explained as
peppercorn rent   A nominal rent. In theory one peppercorn (or some  
other nominal sum) is payable as a rent to indicate that a property is  
leasehold and not freehold, the peppercorn representing the  
consideration. In practice it amounts to a rent-free lease.

"peppercorn rent"  A Dictionary of Business and Management. Ed.  
Jonathan Law. Oxford University Press, 2009.

I would say you hit the nail on the head.


On Sep 13, 2010, at 4:02 AM, David Friedman wrote:snipped Mistress  
Geraldine, snipped The SCA page of her site contains the following  
assertion about the recipes on her site:
> Her site also contains the following claim with regard to 16th c.  
> England:
> "How expensive were spices?  You could buy a horse for one pepper  
> corn."
> It struck me as wildly implausible, so I did a little quick  
> research. snipped So unless horses got drastically cheaper between  
> the 13th and 16th centuries or pepper drastically more expensive  
> between the 15th and sixteenth, Geraldine's assertion is off by four  
> or five orders of magnitude.
> But where did it come from? Poking around the web, I think I found  
> the answer, which is the real point of this post.
> 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."  
> snipped
> David/Cariadoc
> www.daviddfriedman.com

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