[Sca-cooks] herbs

lilinah at earthlink.net lilinah at earthlink.net
Fri Jan 11 16:46:25 PST 2013


I think the level of fear of rue in the SCA is excessive.

Back in the 1970s I had an acquaintance who used tincture of rue as an abortifacient - she was drinking quite a bit - and that would have been at a much higher concentration than fresh leaves used in a feast - and it didn't work.

I'm not saying send rue out helter skelter, willy nilly. There may be some woman who is very sensitive to it. But i think serving it with a warning ought to be sufficient. Someone on another cooking list sent me a packet of homegrown rue and i enjoyed it - it has a flavor that is both green and bitter and i can see how it would work in Roman food to counter the sweetness of the honey and the salty umami of the fish sauce, both used in the majority of savory dishes.

I'd be more concerned, as a cook, about the possibility of contact dermatitis from handling the fresh leaves - a lot of people are sensitive - although once cooked it does not cause that reaction, and one can avoid contact by using latex (if one does not have a latex allergy) or vinyl gloves.



As for spikenard, which is botanically nardostachys jatamansi, and which i have read is endangered, i understand one substitute is valeriana jatamansi. This is a different plant from the sometimes soporific valerian, which is valeriana officinalis, and so will not have the smell of dirty sweat socks i sometimes perceive with the officinalis variety.

I have on several occasions made spice blends for hypocras using "spikenard" which i purchased at Lhasa Karnak (which opened on Earth Day 1970). It turns out that they are not selling nardostachys jatamansi, but i can't recall exactly what they are selling, some American plant, IIRC. I've written to them (i forgot my cell phone or i'd have phoned) and hope to get an answer soon. What they sell may not be identical to what other herb & spice vendors sell, but i will post their answer to this list.



As far as things having a "soapy" taste, i think that may depend on several issues: how recently one has actually eaten soap, what sorts of soap one uses, and how much of the ingredient perceived as tasting "soapy" was used in food.

I have read in many SCA messages from the past that a lot of people seemed to think rose water tasted "soapy". As someone with a long exposure to rose water in food, beginning in the late 1960s (i didn't join the SCA until 1999), i have never found it to taste soapy... unless i was using rose water soap.

Sensitivity to cilantro aside, which is genetic, i suspect that in many cases an SCA cook may have used too much of a particular unfamiliar ingredient, and that strong and uncommon flavor was found unpleasant. If you use too much of even an herb or spice you are familiar with and like, it will not taste good (too much oregano? Patooey!) but it will be identifiable (i.e., too much cinnamon or too much clove), whereas it's much harder to put one's finger on an unfamiliar culprit, and so some may be characterized as "soapy".

This is another reason to test recipes calling for unfamiliar ingredients.

Urtatim (that's oor-tah-TEEM)

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