Spices in Medieval Cuisine

This is the very first podcast from the History Cafe.  If you google spices in medieval cuisine, you will find fairly prevalently the myth that spices appeared so often and so heavily in medieval food because they covered up the taste of rancid meat (sometimes you get a more subtle version stating that spices help preserve food and prevent rancidness to begin with, which is at least somewhat true.)  At any rate, more and more work demonstrates quite convincingly that this explanation simply does not do justice to what we know about medieval cuisine and their love of spices.  A lot of work, in particular, has been done by my own dissertation advisor, Paul Freedman, so I dedicate this inaugural podcast to him.  You can also see some of his excellent lectures online through the Yale Courses feed.

This podcast would probably be best enjoyed with a nice glass of hypocras, a crazy sweetened and spiced wine made with ingredients like ambergris and musk.  There are many recipes out there, so just pick your favorite. And seriously, the ambergris makes all the difference.  Pair it, perhaps, with another famed ambergris dish discussed by Paul Freedman, here.

Extra Bibliography:

Freedman, Paul.  Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination.  Yale University Press, 2009.

Weiss Adamson, Melitta.  Food in Medieval Times.  Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.

And feel free to e-mail me for plenty more if this isn’t enough!

The photo is the main spice rack at the World Spice Merchant just outside Pike’s Place in Seattle.

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