During the period that the SCA covers spices were a luxury and those that had access to a variety were generally well off. Most of the spices we commonly use had to travel great distances to come to the countries of Europe.
The way spices were used was a bit different than how they are used now. Spices we think of as “sweet spices” like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves were used in a great many savory dishes in addition to sweet dishes.
|Black Pepper||Native to India, The same spice that we put on our dining tables was once considered highly valuable. It was even called “black gold”. Black pepper was added to many savory dishes and was a part of some versions of both Poudre Forte and Poudre Fine. Black pepper was known to the European countries since Roman times. ¶|
|Cardamom||Native to India. Cardamom is thought to have been brought to Europe by a soldier in the Army of Alexander the Great. It is not as widely used as some of the other spices in the list in the western European countries but the Mediterranean countries used it extensively.|
|Cinnamon||Native to Sri Lanka. Cinnamon is one of the most widely used spices in history only challenged by mustard and black pepper. It is a part of every popular spice blend and was used in dishes of every type. It was so highly sought after that it was one of the main reasons for Columbus’s voyage as well as that of Gonzalo Pizarro. The cinnamon we commonly use today is cassia cinnamon and has a stronger more pungent flavor than the Ceylon cinnamon that was so prized throughout history. ¶|
|Cloves||Native to Indonesia. Cloves have been found in a ceramic jar dating to 1700 BCE. They were used in medicinal treatments throughout the middle ages. Though cloves are primarily used in sweet dishes in modern times in the past they were used in many savory dishes. The heat that they give was useful to add a bit of depth to meat dishes as well as many other types. Cloves are a part of all four of the most popular spice blends of the middle ages.|
|Coriander||Native to regions of southern Europe, northern Africa and southwest Asia. It was cultivated by the Greeks since at least the second millennium BC. By the fall of the Roman Empire coriander had made it’s way throughout Europe. It was used widely in the Ottoman Empire and is an ingredient is a version of Poudre Fine described in a number of cooking guides from Spain.|
|Cubebs||Native to Java and Sumatra. Cubebs are one of the many peppers used throughout history in Europe and Asia. The taste of cubebs more closely resembles allspice than that of black pepper. It was used in medicinal treatments for centuries before becoming popular in the kitchen. It was thought to be good for ridding you of demons. Cubebs replaces pepper in some versions of Poudre Forte.|
|Cumin||Native to the Middle East and most of southern Asia. Cumin was cultivated throughout the Mediterranean as far back as biblical times. It’s popularity stayed mostly in that region until modern times. It was used in a wide variety of dishes from pickled vegetables to roasted meats. It was also known to help aide digestion and had a special place on the dining table for that reason. ¶|
|Galangal||Native to southern China and Java. Referred to as “the spice of life” by St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098- 1179) galangal had traveled throughout Europe by the early middle ages as both an ingredient in medicine and also as a digestive aide. Galangal was used as an alternative to ginger in many dishes for the sick as it is warming like ginger but it’s heat is not as strong. It is also an ingredient is some varieties of Poudre Duc.|
|Garlic||Where garlic originally started is a mystery but it has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes since the beginning of recorded history. I have not found a culture in Europe, Middle East, Africa or Asia that doesn’t have recipes that include garlic. It remains one of the most popular spices even today. ¶|
|Ginger||Native to India & southern China. Ginger came to Europe via the trade routes around the first century CE. It was used in many dishes both savory and sweet throughout the middle ages and it was also a very important ingredient in treatments for a number of ailments. It is an ingredient in all four of the major spice blends of the time. Meat, vegetable, grain and fruit dishes all benefitted from ginger.|
|Grains of Paradise||Native to west Africa. Grains of paradise were known to Europe as far back as Roman times. Pliny called it the “African pepper”. Grains of paradise were widely forgotten about until about the 14th century. It came back into popularity and used in many places as a substitute for the highly expensive black pepper. It has a similar flavor to black pepper but has a bit of a citrus flavor as well. ¶|
|Long Pepper||Native to south east Asia. Long pepper is the hotter cousin of black pepper. It was used in the Mediterranean countries to a greater extent than in the rest of Europe which preferred the less spicy black pepper. During Roman times it was used interchangeably with black pepper and they were often confused for one another or thought to be the same plant.|
|Mustard||Native to most of the mild climate regions of the northern hemisphere. Mustard has the distinction of being one of the only spices that has changed little in it’s usage since ancient times. Since Romans first used the ground mustard seed as a condiment mixed with the sour grape must through the middle ages where just about every culture had a recipe for making mustard from ground seeds and vinegar to modern time our love for mustard has been strong. It has been paired with meats of all kinds since it’s first usage|
|Nutmeg||Native to the Banda Islands. Nutmeg was another of the highly valued spices during the middle ages which is a common spice in modern times. Nutmeg was and still is primarily used in sweet dishes though is has a place in vegetable and grain dishes as well as some dairy based dished. Nutmeg was thought of as being capable of purifying the blood and during Elizabethan times it was in high demand and it was thought to cure the plague. Nutmeg was used in some versions of both Poudre Douce and Poudre Duc. ¶|
|Saffron||Native to Southwest Asia; it was first cultivated in Greece over 3,000 years ago. Saffron spice is the dried stamen of the saffron crocus. It has highly prized throughout history it is now considered the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron was used in cooking, dyeing, medicine, and pigments for illumination. The lively color and bitter taste were sought after throughout Europe and the Middle East and by the 14th Century it was being cultivated as far north as France. It was used in many dishes both savory and sweet and was added to some versions of Poudre Fine.|
Four most common spice blends
|Poudre Forte (Strong Spices)||Used for meat or other savory dishes.||Most variations contained Ginger, Grains of Paradise, Cinnamon, Clove & Pepper.|
|Poudre Douce (Sweet Spices)||Used mostly for sweet dishes, grains, and poultry.||Most variations contain Sugar, Ginger, Cinnamon, Clove, & Nutmeg.|
|Poudre Fine||Used for meats, vegetables and some dairy dishes.||Most variations contain Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger, Pepper, Saffron, and occasional Coriander.|
|Poudre Duc (Duke’s Powder)||Used in sweet dishes and drinks.||Most variations contain Sugar, Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves, Nutmeg, Galangal, & Cardamom.|
-Freedman, Paul H. Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination. N.p.: Yale UP, 2009. Print.
-Keay, John. The Spice Route: A History. Berkeley: U of California, 2006. Print.
-Ziment, Irwin, M.D. “Medicinal Spices Exhibit – UCLA Biomedical Library: History & Special Collections.” Medicinal Spices Exhibit – History & Special Collections. UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, 2002. Web. June-July 2014.
Spices in Period Cooking Manuals
-Austin, Thomas. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016, MS. 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS 55. London: for The Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co., 1888.
-Hieatt, Constance B. An Ordinance of Pottage. An Edition of the Fifteenth Century Culinary Recipes in Yale University’s MS Beinecke 163. London: Prospect Books Ltd, 1988.
-Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.
-Power, Eileen. The Goodman of Paris (Le Ménagier de Paris). A Treatise on Moral and Domestic Economy by A Citizen of Paris (c. 1395). New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1928.
-Scully, Terence. The Vivendier. Devon: Prospect Books, 1997.
-Scully, Terence. Cuoco Napoletano. The Neapolitan Recipe Collection (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS Buhler, 19): A Critical Edition and English Translation. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2000.
-Scully, Terence. Chiquart’s “On Cookery.” A Fifteenth-century Savoyard Culinary Treatise. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1986.
-Scully, Terence. Le Viandier de Taillevent. An Edition of all Extant Manuscripts. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1988.