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

David Friedman ddfr at daviddfriedman.com
Mon Sep 13 09:47:02 PDT 2010


>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'm familiar with that as a current American tradition--whether 
derived from the Chinese or not I don't know. It doesn't include 
giving the penny, just having a token payment in order that the knife 
will not cut the friendship.

>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?

A penny was a silver coin. In the original Carolingian monetary 
reform, from which most of the medieval and renaissance European 
monetary systems derive, a penny was one two hundred and fortieth of 
a pound of silver. The pound was a unit of account, defined as 240 
pennies. Initially it was also a pound of silver, but over time the 
penny got debased, at different rates in different places.

The shilling was also (initially) a unit of account, defined as 
twelve pennies, and created to provide continuity with the 
pre-existing Roman system--it corresponded to a coin in that system.
David Friedman

More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list