[Sca-cooks] Rotten meat once again was My new Crusade

yaini0625 at yahoo.com yaini0625 at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 4 19:08:25 PDT 2012

Actually, M'Lady were ears burning last Saturday? I referenced you and this post in my rebuttle. 
Thank you for the references and I will start compiling my notes.

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-----Original Message-----
From: Johnna Holloway <johnnae at mac.com>
Sender: sca-cooks-bounces at lists.ansteorra.org
Date: Wed, 04 Apr 2012 21:36:39 
To: Cooks within the SCA<sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>
Reply-To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>
Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat once again was My new Crusade

Perhaps you can start with what we have already done.
Have you checked the Florlegium for articles like
The Question of Heavy Spice Use and Rotten Food" by Lord Xaviar the  
www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD/rotten-meat-msg.html ???

Or check the archives and come across this post of mine from 2008

Wed Mar 12 18:13:25 PDT 2008

One of my old favorite subjects— that I have returned to again and again

Hope this helps Johnnae llyn Lewis

  From July 2001

With regard to Spices and Rotten Meat...

FOOD HISTORY NEWS in the summer of 1996 offered this as "an

example of an old saw that we would like to dull..." It's one

of those oft-quoted , generally accepted, unquestioned

assumptions that in light of recent research and reinterpretation

needs to re-examined and dismissed.

The issue then offered an article by Alice Arndt entitled

"They Used A Lot of Spices to Disguise Spoiled Meat." Arndt

points out that medieval markets were regulated. Those caught

selling putrid meat might be fined or even pilloried in front

of their rotten carcasses. She notes that surviving medieval

recipes do not mention that one needs to add extra spices if

the meat is tainted. Much of what we accept in terms of this

accepted truth, she traces to Drummond (The Englishman and His Food),

who got it wrong in his book by misreading a number of recipes.

She notes that the use of spices in tropical cuisines has more

to do with inducing perspiration than with preservation. Lastly,

medieval preservation techniques were effective and remained in

use long after exotic spicing was abandoned.

So, what is one to think? Actually, I think the idea was accepted

by medievalists reading Mead and Drummond and written into

a generation or two of textbooks. From there it made its

way into popular textbooks and children's books and so

now everyone grows up with the idea that meat spoiled & they

needed spices to hide the taste. After all every schoolchild

has to learn about Columbus and what drove them westward

but the search for spices.

I can report that the above article on Spices and Rotten Meat

Old Saw: "They Used A Lot of Spices to Disguise Spoiled Meat."

by Alice Arndt

is available on the FHNews website now---


Then continuing from 2001--

Other interesting articles/chapters on this question are:

Flandrin, Jean-Louis. "Seasonings, Cooking, and Dietetics in

the Late Middle Ages." appears as Chapter 25 of FOOD A CULINARY

HISTORY, edited by Jean-louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari, 1999.

Laurioux, Bruno. "Spices in the Medieval Diet: A New Approach."

FOOD AND FOODWAYS, v.1, no.1 (1985) pp.43-76.


Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996. See her chapter "Sugar

and Spice..." pages 105-112 wherein she sets out to examine

Le Menagier with regard to his use of spices.  Along the way,

she covers all the bases regarding the old theories of spices,

rotten meat, and unsophisticated palates.

Followed by August 2001

I've stumbled across another source, this one by Andrew Dalby.

Dalby writes:

"It is also necessary to look critically at what earlier historians

have said. It is easy to perpetuate errors. At some time in the

twentieth century, a British historian unfamiliar with foreign food

was told (possibly by his mother) that spices serve to mask the

flavour of rotting meat. This assertion is now made of medieval

cuisine in several otherwise well-researched histories written in

Britain. It is undocumented, and, in general, for ancient and

medieval cuisines, it is most unlikely to be true. Spices were a

luxury item, affordable only by those who could afford very good food.

No recipe or household text recommends them to mask bad flavours. On

the contrary, spices are called for liberally in ancient recipe books

for their positive flavour, their aroma, their preservative and dietary


This is taken from page 156 of Andrew Dalby.  Dangerous Tastes.

The Story of Spices. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

(In the UK by the British Museum Press, 2000.)

Thought it might be of interest to those who were involved or

followed the initial discussion.

Followed by another post---

The Oxford Symposium on Food Cookery 1992 which was entitled
Spicing Up the Palate Studies of Flavourings – Ancient and Modern
offered up several papers including:

“Tainted Meat,” by Gillian Riley. It was subtitled “An attempt
to investigate the origins of a commonly held opinion about the use
of spices in the cooking of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.” Pp. 1-6.

Riley admits that she thought it would be a simple task to work
backwards until she found “some pompous eighteenth-century antiquary”
that was the origin of the idea. But it was not that simple a task.
See her paper for all the details. She mentions Richard Warner and
Austin, but also notes that several Italian authors in the 19 th century
who were working with the Italian manuscripts were not taken with
spicing and write about its "uncouthness." There's a bibliography
for further reading.

So, what is one to think? Actually, I think the idea was accepted
by medievalists reading Austin, Warner, Mead and Drummond and written
into a generation or two of textbooks. From there it made its
way into popular textbooks and children's books and so
now everyone grows up with the idea that meat spoiled & they
needed spices to hide the taste. Afterall every schoolchild
has to learn about Columbus and what drove all those ships westward
but the search for spices.

  From 4/15/2005

For those that remember Terry Nutter, I looked up her
thoughts on spicing and rotten meats via the wayback machine.

She began her essay "Remarks on Urban Legend #27"
"The urban myth that medievals used flavoring ingredients to cover the
taste of spoiled meat has proved astoundingly persistent. Competent
historians who know little or nothing about the culinary record retail
it in survey texts. Articles in popular sources blithely subscribe to  

It's nonsense, and it's demonstrable nonsense. Below, I present three
modern observations, and then some facts about what the primary sources
from the time have to say on the subjects of rotten meat and sauces. "

Getting there takes a couple steps-- click first on--

then click on "spices, sauces, and rot" in the left hand column.
That should take you to the article.

It also appeared in hard copy in an issue of Serve It Forth.

Does this answer the question?

I can also report that I went through and examined every recipe that
appears in the Concordance
of English Recipes and we didn't index under "meat, rotten."


On Apr 4, 2012, at 9:09 PM, yaini0625 at yahoo.com wrote:
> 1.What are the oldest laws regarding rotten food being served. I  
> started with the Kosher laws. Are there more? Any written down and  
> documented?
> 2. Any etiquette,cookbooks, or medical books that clearly state "Do  
> not use rotten food."
> 3. Curing/ Preservation methods especially for meat. There is a myth  
> that Medieval English hung out meat to rot before serving. I believe  
> they misunderstood this as part of a curing/aging technique.
> My goals is to provide samples of meals from Biblical Times through  
> the Renaissance, including Islamic and Asian cuisine.
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