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rotten-meat-msg – 5/19/06

 

Counter examples and commentary on the "they used spices to cover the taste of rotten meat in the Middle Ages" myth.

 

NOTE: See also the files: spices-msg, meat-aging-msg, pickled-meats-msg, roast-meats-msg, meat-smoked-msg, Preservng-CMA-art, food-storage-msg, drying-foods-msg.

 

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NOTICE -

 

This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.

 

This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org

 

I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.

 

The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.

 

Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).

 

Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org

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Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 10:46:13 -0400

To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org

From: "Phil Troy/ G. Tacitus Adamantius" <adamantius.magister at verizon.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Food Myths

 

Also sprach Generys ferch Ednuyed:

>I'm doing a class next week for a canton meeting on various food related

>things (it's an overview of a lot of things rather than going really indepth

>on anything, just to keep non-foodies interested... :-) )  and one of the

>subjects I wanted to spend 5 minutes on was various commonly-held (by

>SCAdians and non) beliefs about medieval food that just aren't true, or are

>distortions of fact, etc... (i.e. I'm going to talk about the

>spices-to-cover-rotten-meat thing, of course, but when I do so I'm also

>going to mention that one recipe that I believe we talked about on this list

>(have to find it again) for burying rotten meat to make it good again...)  I

>was wondering if you all had any favorite myths to contribute - esp. if they

>have interesting bits to them like the burying rotten meat thing.

 

You know, I thought about this a bit more, and realized perhaps you

may be misinterpreting the recipes for rescuing venison that is

tainted, rusted or "restyd" (there are a few such recipes out there).

 

The process isn't a magical, but ineffective, method of restoring

putrid meat to a state of freshness.

 

What it is designed for is salvaging meat that has _begun_ to go bad,

but is not actually rotten, yet. Not unlike (well, okay, here's where

I embarrass myself because I'm a barbarian and all) when you look in

the fridge and see that that package of ground beef has gotten a

little brown around the edges and is sitting in brown, bloody juice

when you bought it two or three days ago, and shoved it to the back

of the fridge, and you say, "I'd better use that up tonight, or throw

it away tomorrow." Or when you see the little rainbow pattern on that

slice of deli ham, or note a peculiar texture to those slices of

salami. Do you use them up quickly and make time in your busy

schedule to be near a bathroom, or just pitch them?

 

These are foods that are considered by most people "on the edge". No,

I really don't need to hear from all two hundred of you that you'd

never eat food like that, or, for that matter, that you would without

a second thought. The point is that this concept is one which both

we, now, and medieval people, then, have faced occasionally.

 

Now, the recipe for rescuing venison (any of several, or at least a

couple, of such) seems to involve washing the meat, probably cutting

off the worst and most affected parts, rubbing it down with salt

(both a preservative and an abrasive to remove slime and decaying

tissue), vinegar (changing the pH, possibly killing or disabling

surface bacteria, and either masking sour flavors such as lactic acid

produced by bacteria, or offsetting bitter flavors associated with

mild decay), or ash (pH adjustment, again, as well as repelling

insects _and_ possibly the abrasive action mentioned as for salt).

 

As for burying the meat until you're ready to use it, well, it may be

that a hole in the ground is cooler than just hanging it in a larder,

and will slow down the process of decay that much more.

 

In short, I don't know that the recipes you mention are really good

examples of myths.

 

Adamantius

 

 

From: "Decker, Terry D." <TerryD at Health.State.OK.US>

To: "'sca-cooks at ansteorra.org'" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Food Myths

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 11:03:08 -0500

 

Be careful that you don't create your own myths at the same time.

 

The recipe for recovering "tainted" meat is not meant to recover meat that

is "rotten."

 

The recipe is in Markham (IIRC) and is obviously not a commonly followed

practice from the wording.  As I recall, the recipe is for a haunch of

venison, which is a rather large piece of meat.  Large pieces of meat may

experience localized decomposition rather than general decomposition.

Obvious tainted areas are removed and the bones and tissue around them are

removed.  Bones and connecting tissue tend toward early decomposition.  The

meat is then buried for a time, which exposes it to various nematodes to

remove any remaining decomposing meat (think of treating a wound with

maggots to remove gangrenous tissue).  After being dug up, the meat is

cleaned, trimmed, and cooked (which kills off parasitic nematodes).  As long

as the meat isn't too far gone to begin with, the recipe might work.

 

Bear

 

 

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 12:46:42 -0400

To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org

From: "Phil Troy/ G. Tacitus Adamantius" <adamantius.magister at verizon.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Food Myths

 

Also sprach Generys ferch Ednuyed:

>  > The recipe is in Markham (IIRC) and is obviously not a commonly followed

>>  practice from the wording.

 

I think there's at least one or two earlier, but similar, recipes, in

English, from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

 

>   As I recall, the recipe is for a haunch of

>>  venison, which is a rather large piece of meat. Large pieces of meat may

>  > experience localized decomposition rather than general decomposition.

 

Anybody needing support for this statement can talk to the staff of a

good steakhouse that does their own butchering, or even the butcher

in the finer markets that sell dry-aged beef, about the amount of

moldy surface material they have to trim off before sale. Now, or

course, that meat is refrigerated, but refrigeration slows down

decomposition, and doesn't eliminate it, so there are likely some

major similarities to the process.

 

Adamantius

 

 

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 13:10:38 -0400

From: johnna holloway <johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu>

To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Food Myths

 

Plat's Jewell House from 1594 has a recipe

"To helpe venison that is tainted."

 

We discussed this last August on the list--

from Wed, 22 Aug 2001 21:09:39 -0400

I wrote then:

 

"Actually, the quotation continues after

"and it wil bee sweet enough to be eaten"

with the words

"as I am enformed by a Gentlewoman of good

credit, and upon hir owne practise."

recipe 16 pp.22-23 of the 1594 edition.

 

Note that Plat is just reporting on someone's

report and he doesn't tell us to then spice it

heavily and serve for supper.

 

Johnna Holloway

 

 

From: "Decker, Terry D." <TerryD at Health.State.OK.US>

To: "'sca-cooks at ansteorra.org'" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

Subject: Aging Beef  was  [Sca-cooks] Food Myths

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 12:47:48 -0500

 

As I recall, butchers like to leave a layer of fat on the outside of a

carcass they are aging for several reasons including to serve as a

protective sheath to reduce the penetration of mold into the meat.

Something about having more saleable product and better flavor.

 

Bear

 

> Anybody needing support for this statement can talk to the staff of a

> good steakhouse that does their own butchering, or even the butcher

> in the finer markets that sell dry-aged beef, about the amount of

> moldy surface material they have to trim off before sale. Now, or

> course, that meat is refrigerated, but refrigeration slows down

> decomposition, and doesn't eliminate it, so there are likely some

> major similarities to the process.

>

> Adamantius

 

 

Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2003 12:37:29 -0700

From: david friedman <ddfr at daviddfriedman.com>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Origin of the "spice to hide taste of rotten

      meat" myth?

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

In the course of a Usenet discussion, someone raised the question of

when and where the belief that medievals used lots of spices to hide

the taste of rotten meat originated. The best I could do was point at

the reference to the strong stomachs of our ancestors in the

introduction to _Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books_, done about

1890--but that says nothing about rotten meat. I said I would put the

question to this list.

--

David/Cariadoc

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/

 

 

Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2003 20:05:05 -0400

From: "Robin Carroll-Mann" <rcmann4 at earthlink.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Origin of the "spice to hide taste of rotten

      meat"      myth?

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

On 24 Jul 2003, at 12:37, david friedman wrote:

In the course of a Usenet discussion, someone raised the question of

when and where the belief that medievals used lots of spices to hide

the taste of rotten meat originated. The best I could do was point at

the reference to the strong stomachs of our ancestors in the

introduction to _Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books_, done about

1890--but that says nothing about rotten meat. I said I would put the

question to this list.

<<<<<<

 

I looked around on the Web.  The only explanation that I could find for the origin of the myth came from The Jargon File, which atrributes it to Samuel Pegge.  

http://www.elsewhere.org/jargon/html/entry/saga.html

(Scroll to the bottom of the page)

 

I've looked through Samuel Pegge's introduction to his 1780 edition of "The Form of Cury".  It says nothing about rotten meat, but does promote the idea that medieval people ate highly-spiced food, and rarely ate plain roasted meat.

 

Here are a few relevant quotes:

 

"My next observation is, that the messes both in the roll and the Editor's MS, are chiefly soups, potages, ragouts, hashes, and the like hotche-potches; entire joints of meat being never _served_, and animals, whether fish or fowl, seldom brought to table whole, but hacked and hewed, and cut in pieces or gobbets [77]; the mortar also was in great request, some messes being actually denominated from it, as _mortrews_, or _morterelys_ as in the Editor's MS."

 

"Many of them are so highly seasoned, are such strange and heterogeneous

compositions, meer olios and gallimawfreys, that they seem removed as far as

possible from the intention of contributing to health; indeed the messes are so

redundant and complex, that in regard to herbs, in No. 6, no less than ten are used, where we should now be content with two or three: and so the sallad, No. 76, consists of no less than 14 ingredients."

 

"But then it may be said, what becomes of the old English hospitaliiy in this case, the _roast-beef of Old England_, so much talked of? I answer, these bulky and magnificent dishes must have been the product of later reigns, perhaps of queen Elizabeth's time, since it is plain that in the days of Rich. II. our ancestors lived much after the French fashion."

 

http://www.ibiblio.org/pub/docs/books/gutenberg/etext05/8cury10.txt

 

I've read through the whole preface, and it doesn't seem that Pegge held to the rotten meat theory. (I have not read any other writings by him on the subject.)  However, it does show that the notion of "highly spiced" medieval food goes back at least a century before your Victorian example. Someone reading Pegge's preface would be presented with two "facts":

 

1. Medieval dishes were "highly seasoned".

2. Meat was usually served in stews and potages, rather than as plain roasts.

 

From this point on, I can only speculate.  Someone may have taken Pegge's

research, and jumped to the conclusion that there was only one reason that

Englishmen would eat spicy stews instead of good honest roast beef.

 

Brighid ni Chiarain *** mka Robin Carroll-Mann

Barony of Settmour Swamp, East Kingdom

 

 

Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2003 23:37:54 -0400

From: "a5foil" <a5foil at ix.netcom.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Origin of the "spice to hide taste of rotten

      meat"      myth?

To: "Cooks within the SCA" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

>>>>

In the course of a Usenet discussion, someone raised the question of

when and where the belief that medievals used lots of spices to hide

the taste of rotten meat originated. The best I could do was point at

the reference to the strong stomachs of our ancestors in the

introduction to _Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books_, done about

1890--but that says nothing about rotten meat. I said I would put the

question to this list.

--

David/Cariadoc

<<<<

 

In the introduction to Stere Hit Well (1972) which is an edition of Pepys

1047, a late 15th century English compliation, Delia Smith -- who apparently

despises medieval food, and certainly does not understand it -- says, after

commenting on the "totally indiscriminate use of spices and herbs" that "It

is commonly thought that such heavy seasoning was essential to disguise the

smell and flavour of decaying flesh." Now I don't know where *she* got the

idea, but it is definitely there, in print, in 1972.

 

Cynara

 

 

Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2003 10:46:30 -0500

From: "Decker, Terry D." <TerryD at Health.State.OK.US>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Origin of the "spice to hide taste of rotten

      meat" my th?

To: "'sca-cooks at ansteorra.org'" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

IIRC, there is a reference to spicing rotten meat in Alexis Soyer's The

Pantropheon (1853), but it has been over a decade since I read it and I

don't have a copy in the library, so I may be confusing The Pantropheon with

another work.

 

Bear

 

 

Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2003 14:41:55 -0400

From: johnna holloway <johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Origin of the "spice to hide taste of rotten

      meat" myth?

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

Johnnae llyn Lewis sends greetings.

 

Regarding this topic which seems to bounce around

every summer of medieval spices used to disguise rotten meat and

was this folklore or not?

 

I've come across these sources, starting with 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

qualities."

 

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.)

 

Also 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Crossley-Holland, Nicole. LIVING AND DINING IN MEDIEVAL PARIS.

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.

 

------------

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.

 

Johnnae llyn Lewis

Johnna Holloway

 

 

Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2003 13:01:04 -0600

From: Mary Morman <mem at rialto.org>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] spice and rotten meat

To: SCA-Cooks <SCA-Cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

Like the rest of you, I'm not sure of the origin of this "theory" but it

is being kept in the public eye at several historical sites in England.

I remember hearing it as part of the guides speil at the Shakespeare

properties - specifically Anne Hathaway's cottage and Mary Arden's farm

- and at Plas Mawr in Wales.  Both times I spoke up to correct the guide

both during the tour and then spoke to the people in charge afterwards.

No one was at all interested in differentiating fact from fiction.

 

Elaina

 

 

From: Charlene Charette <neitherhere at northere.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: spicing tainted meat

Date: Sat, 12 Jun 2004 04:00:21 GMT

 

There was a discussion awhile back about refuting the myth that medieval

folk used lots of spices to disguise the taste of tainted meat.  I've

been reading Stpehen Mennell's "All Manners of Food" (1996, 2nd ed) and

he has one of the better explanations I've read:

 

The traditional explanation for the generous use of spices and other

strong sweet and acid flavourings in medieval haute cuisine is that,

given the rudimentary means of preserving food, they were essential to

disguise the unpleasant taste of tainted and salted meat.  That cannot

be anything like the whole truth, for the use of spices began to change

long before there was any significant improvement in methods of

preservation.  Nor is there any evidence in the surviving manuscripts

that the strong flavourings were to be omitted when meat or fish was

particularly fresh, which  might indicate an underlying preference for

the 'natural' flabour.  Quite the contrary:  it is clear that they were

used, and expected to be used, with fresh meat too.  Indeed they were

used in dishes of all kinds, and for example sprinkled on 'sweet' dishes

as well as 'savoury'.  The temptation must be resisted to think that

medieval people 'really' preferred food more or less similar to that

which we eat now, but were compelled by force of circumstance (at least

if they could afford it) to eat unpleasantly highly flavoured mixtures

designed to obliterate basic tastes.  That argument has been undermined

by the discrediting of the notion that, following a sweeping autumn

slaughter, there was no fresh meat to eat in winter even for the upper

classes.  Dyer contends that 'the explanation of the nobility's

attachment to spices is more likely to be cultural -- they provided a

link with the sophisticated Mediterranean world' (1983:194).  In any

case, as was argued in chapter 1, the idea that there are inbuilt

preferences for 'natural', 'original' or 'Ur-tastes' in food is highly

implausible.  The overwhelming evidence is that people come positively

to like foods which developing social standards define as desirable.

 

--Perronnelle

 

 

Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2005 18:19:12 -0600

From: James Prescott <prescotj at telusplanet.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat and spices...

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

At 16:33 -0700 2005-04-11, Chris Stanifer wrote:

>  --- Phlip <phlip at 99main.com> wrote:

>>  OK, guys, we're getting some help on the "rotten meat" issue. This is from

>>  the lady who wrote the article I forwarded the url to you guys a few days

>>  ago, where she's debunking that annoying article that keeps coming around

>>  about the bad old days.

>

>  Before anyone tries to 'debunk' the 'myth' that rotten or bad meat

> was covered up with spices, you

>  need to be made aware of several bits from Apicius in which food

> adulteration is not only

>  suggested, but recommended.  In particular I recall a section on

> making bad honey good, and there

>  are others.  I'll post the more obvious ones later this evening.

 

Good point.

 

In Viandier, the one about still being able to eat a cooked swan or

peackock a month later:

 

"Kill it like goose, leave the head and tail, lard or bard it, roast it golden,

and eat it with fine salt.  It lasts at least a month after it is cooked.  If it

becomes mouldy on top, remove the mould and you will find it white, good

and solid underneath."

 

Thorvald

 

 

Date: Tue, 12 Apr 2005 09:07:10 -0500

From: "Terry Decker" <t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat and spices...

To: "Cooks within the SCA" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

As I recall, the town regulations of Ipswich(?) permitted rotten meat to be

sold as that before the public stocks.  Selling bad meat as good got you in

the stocks.

 

http://the-orb.net/encyclop/culture/towns/ipswich6.html (found the URL)

 

You might also try:

 

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1237butchers-tuln.html

http://the-orb.net/encyclop/culture/towns/ssp08.html

http://www.countrylife.co.uk/lifecountry/food/medieval_cuisine.php

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=21971

http://www.godecookery.com/chaucer/chfoodb.htm

 

Bear

 

 

Date: Tue, 12 Apr 2005 14:11:47 -0600

From: El Hermoso Dormiendo

        <ElHermosoDormido+scacooks at dogphilosophy.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks]Rotten meat and spices...

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

On Tuesday 12 April 2005 10:15 am, dale elliott wroe:

> What of the pheasent scene from Sho-Gun.  Did the English hand the  

> pheasent until the neck rotted?  or is this bunk?

[...]

 

"Rotted" is probably not the correct description, either, whether they

actually did it or not.

 

"Aging" meats is an autoctalytic process - it's not to allow spoilage

organisms to invade the meat, but to allow time for existing enzymes in the

meat to break it down and tenderize it.

 

Presumably in the case of the pheasant, the idea was not that it would "rot"

but that once the muscle and connetive tissue had softened enough, it would

no longer be strong enough to support the weight of the bird's body.  At that

point, you'd know the tenderizing process had reached the point that you

wanted.  Hanging the bird up would also allow gravity to stretch the muscles

and minimize the effects of rigour mortis on the texture of the meat.

Apparently, both the initial rigour mortis and the subsequent

"aging" (breakdown and softening of the muscle fibers due to enzyme activity)

happen fairly quickly in birds, as compared to e.g. beef or mutton.

 

I'd also suspect that the cool climate of England probably kept spoilage

organism growth on a bird hung outside to a relatively slow pace.

 

If you had spoilage organisms invade the bird, it would likely bloat up and

reek horribly (MMmmmm, hydrogen sulfide and related gasses), and I can't

imagine any amount of spices masking that...spoilage only on the  surface of

the bird would presumably be peeled away with the skin and any remainder

washed off or cut out, I would think.

 

And as far as period recipes for dealing with spoiling meat, the one that I

can remember was, I think, from the "Goodman of Paris" document (upper-middle

class rather than nobility, as I recall) and (again, from memoy)  explicitly

described REMOVING the parts that had been affected by spoilage, and

described steps for saving the remainder.  I don't personally recall ever

running into a "put a bunch of spices on it and nobody will notice that the

meat you're feeding them is rotten" reference in "period" - not that there

couldn't be any, but I've never seen any hints that there are.

 

(On the other hand - Harold McGee reports that in the 19th century beef and

mutton WERE literally hung up until the surface of the meat was ACTUALLY

rotted.  No mention of doing this with poultry, though, and of course 19th

century is post-"period".)

 

 

Date: Tue, 12 Apr 2005 17:32:23 -0700 (PDT)

From: Chris Stanifer <jugglethis at yahoo.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Re: Rotten meat and spices...

To: smcclune at earthlink.net, Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

--- smcclune at earthlink.net wrote:

> Yes, but .... refrigeration isn't the only way to preserve meat.  They

> could (and did) smoke,

> pickle/"sowce", and salt meat.  They could even bake it into a coffyn

> or turn it into sausage to

> preserve it.  We have recipes telling us how to do all of these

> things.  Do we have any reason

> to believe that they would have preferred the taste of "off" meats to

> any of these?

 

There is no implication for preference in my message, merely that it was done, and with enough apparent regularity that it has made it into the cookbooks of the day.  The fact that it is mentioned at all in an otherwise 'sophisticated' cookbook or treatise on foods is an indication, at least to me, that spicing or otherwise masking meats and other foods which had 'gone off' was

an acceptable (or even necessary) practice, even amongst the wealthier classes.

 

> Having said that, I do seem to remember seeing one recipe somewhere

> that said something about

> making old meat new again by washing it in wine, but of course, I

> can't find it now!

>

> Still, that's one out of hundreds, so while they might have tried to

> pass off old meat as new

> once in a while, I can't help but feel that it was the exception

> rather than the rule.

 

Yes, there are recipes which call for 'fine' or 'fair' meats...and

there are others which tell you

how to handle those which are not so fine or fair.  The mere mention of

fine or fair meats does

not, in any way, indicate that older, gamier or even putrid meats were

not used as well.  The

recipes for how to handle these meats, in fact, is a direct implication

that it was done.

 

We take the good with the bad :)  I'd love to think that the populace

in my dreamy medieval world

only ate the best of the best, too.... but the evidence speaks against

it time after time.

 

William de Grandfort

 

 

Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 05:25:32 -0700 (PDT)

From: Chris Stanifer <jugglethis at yahoo.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat and spices... (a few excerpts

        from   Apicius)

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

Here's a reference from an author whom *I* respect, with numerous references from authors my author respects.... you might find it a bit of a dry read at first, so i will direct your attention to page 7, the lower left hand portion of the page (left column) in which the author mentions, quite clearly, the spicing of meats to hide decay.  In fact, I suggest everyone read the entire article...it is very fascinating, and paints quite a descriptive picture as to what *actual* life in medieval York was like (based upon scientific evidence)

 

Yes, this is a modern article on Medieval York, but it is backed up with researched facts, and *digged up bones*.  Check out the bibliography.

 

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/110433643/PDFSTART

 

William de Grandfort

 

 

Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 09:51:34 -0500 (CDT)

From: Speaker To Idiots <pixel at hundred-acre-wood.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rottenmeat and spices... (a few excerpts

        from   Apicius)

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

> Also sprach Chris Stanifer:

>> Yes, this is a modern article on Medieval York, but it is backed up with

>> researched facts, and *digged up bones*.  Check out the bibliography.

>>

>> htp://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/110433643/PDFSTART

>

> I wish I could. Wiley won't let me onto the site. Tried three  

> browsers...

>

> So what does it say on page 7 about the spicing of meats to hide decay? That

> the technique migh have been possible/used, or that it was done, or that

> they found a piece of meat with a poopload of cubebs on it, which radiocarbon

> dating and/or other forensic testing indicated was putrid before the spices

> were added?

>

> Adamantius

 

This is the relevant passage that he's talking about:

 

"After the Black Death of 1348.1349 and before

inflation raised the price of foods in 1525, most of the

working urban poor could afford to purchase an adequate

amount and quality of food (Drummond et

a., 1958; Dyer, 1983). Before 1350, the lack of economic

mobility, land hunger, and narrow range of

employment opportunities ensured the poor a meager

and rough existence. Diets were seasonal, precarious,

and cereal-based, consisting of milk, bread,

pottag, ale, onions, leeks, cabbages, garlic, apples,

and pears. Supplements of bacon and dairy gave a

modest but perhaps often insufficient amount of protein,

iron, and vitamin B12, as livestock were still

expensive and rare (Given-Wilson, 1996; Hilton,

1966).After the Black Death of 1349, the surviving

wage laborers increased their purchasing power by

demanding higher wages and better food for their

services. Both the quality and quantity of bread and

ale were improved, and the consumption of dairy,

fish, and particularly meat increased as well. Increases

in the consumption of protein-, iron-, and

vitamin B12-rich meats over the previous dietary

staple of bread made for the crucial dietary shift

during this period (Dyer, 1983, 1988). These new

healthier protein- and nutrient-rich diets not only

carried biological advantages such as increased longevity

and quality of life, but also carried social

benefits, as meat consumption was associated with

status (Dyer, 1988). Food safety in urban contexts

soon became the target of city government, and the

duplicity of butchers selling cheap meats spiced to

mask decay and of other merchants trying to dump

lower-cost spoiled foods on consumers meant that

these hazards increased as socioeconomic status and

purchasing power decreased (Drummond et al.,

1958). This meant that dietary improvements experienced

by the poor were partially offset by questionable

food quality. The exact pattern of consumption

for white meats, fruits, and vegetables is unknown

for the poor. However, the continued association

between these foods and low status suggests they

may have retained importance throughout the Medieval

period. Paradoxically, as the poor gained access

to high-status foods and the biological and social

benefits that they conveyed, thy may have been

less inclined to eat what were perceived to be inferior foods. In this

way, increased protein, iron, and

B12 content may have been counterbalanced by decreases

in many other vital nutrients such as folic

acid, vitamin C, and vitamin D. As he population

grew by the middle of the 15th century and as many

urban centers began to decline in wealth and importance

due to the effects of recession, the diets of the

poor became more circumscribed, as low-status laborers,

especially women, were pushe further into

the margins of Medieval society (Goldberg, 1986,

1992a,b). Low-status people and some of the lower ranking

moderate-status people buried at St. Andrew's

probably faced these economic and dietary

vagaries as a part of their everyday lives."

 

Margaret FitzWilliam

 

 

Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 10:32:13 -0400

From: "Jeff Gedney" <gedney1 at iconn.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat and spices... (a few excerpts

        fromApicius)

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

I can't get past the simple economics of it.

 

Any household that is well off enough to afford a lot of expensive  

imported spices is certainly going to be able to afford a trip to the  

butcher's or the Polterers for something fresh.

 

Spices like any other semi precious commodity would be usied  

intentionally and to achieve a desired effect.

The same applies to salt, for that matter, which had to be imported to  

most areas of Europe. England, for example had almost nil salt  

production due to water quality and climate.

 

Pickling/curing meat is an intentional and often well planned process.

 

I can't see why someone would wait until the meat had begun to spoil to  

start wither of these processes. If the eat continued to spoil while  

it was in the ad initio stage of salting/pickling, then the salt/spices  

or whatever would be wasted.

 

Seems to me tossing a double handful of cinnamon and cloves into a pot  

on the off chance it would make the effects of utrescine and  

Cadaverine less noticeable is potentially wasteful, the spices so used  

would be unrecoverable. If the 'experiment' failed the household would  

be out some valuable spices with out any benefit from them.

 

If you were poor you were frugal with your expenditures. You smoke and  

salt and preserve your meats as soon as you butcher them. That is how  

it was done in communities without refrigeration in the US and all over  

Europe in the 17th, 18th, 19th, and even 20th centuries (read the foxfire books).

I find it hard to believe that frugal folk in the middle ages would not  

have been similarly frugal (and fore-thinking) about their precious  

supply of meats, salts and spices.

 

So the whole notion fails a basic economic test for me.

 

If you were rich enough to afford the spices to throw away, you were  

rich enough to have a regular supply of fresh meat.

If you weren't, you would have been trained from birth to be careful  

with your assets and naturally put up the meat for the winter in the  

fall slaughtering time.

If you were careful to PREVENT spoilage, you would not have to COPE  

WITH spoilage.

 

A well run house was a frugally run house, and the assets of the house  

would be jealously husbanded. That includes both Meat AND spices.

 

Cpt Elias

-Renaissance Geek of the Cyber Seas

 

 

Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 11:35:45 -0400

From: Johnna Holloway <johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks Rotten meat and spices...

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

Chris Stanifer wrote: snipped

 

> Anyway, I'm done with this. Forget I mentioned anything at all.  

> There are references to it out

> there, but someone else will have to find them.

> William de Grandfort

 

---------------------

Yes, it's been answered--- this post is from 2003.

 

 

   [Sca-cooks] Origin of the "spice to hide taste of rotten meat" myth?

 

johnna Fri Jul 25 15:41:55 CDT 2003

 

     * Previous message: [Sca-cooks] Origin of the "spice to hide taste

       of rotten meat" myth?

        

<http://www.ansteorra.org/mailman/htdig/sca-cooks/2003-July/

095370.tml>

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Johnnae llyn Lewis sends greetings.

 

Regarding this topic which seems to bounce around

every summer of medieval spices used to disguise rotten meat and

was this folklore or no?

 

I've come across these sources, starting with 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 hisorian 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 undocumente, 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, sices are called for liberally in ancient recipe books

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

qualities."

 

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

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

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

 

Also 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

poits 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 tinted. 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.

 

The Oxford Symposium on Food Cookery 1992 which was entitled

Spicing Up the Palate Studies o 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 Renassance.” 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 readin.

 

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.

 

Crossley-Holland, Nicole. LIVING AND DINING IN MEDIEVAL PARIS.

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

and Spice..." paes 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.

 

------------

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.

 

Johnnae llyn Lewis

 

 

Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 14:20:47 -0700 (PDT)

From: Chris Stanifer <jugglethis at yahoo.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat and spices... (a few excerpts

        from   Apicius)

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

--- Chris Stanifer <jugglethis at yahoo.com> wrote:

> The original post which started this topic was a request (I believe by  

> Phlip) for people to post

> references which might help a researcher 'debunk' the myth that  

> medieval people heavily spiced

> some meats to mask an off (read: bad) odor or flavor.

 

 

In keeping with the idea of offering the researcher points from which to begin her research, I submit the following link, which seems to detail the laws and customs of medieval Ipswich, in particular where they pertain to the open vending of foods, and in  particular the vending of spoiled meats...

 

http://the-orb.net/encyclop/culture/towns/ipswich6.html

 

 

Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 18:43:33 -0400

From: "Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius"

        <adamantius.magister at verizon.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat and spices... (a few excerpts

        from   Apicius)

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

Also sprach Huette von Ahrens:

> This is a start ... Ordinances that state one cannot sell spoiled

> meat or old food.  Can you

> find ordinances that state you cannot sell spoiled meat or old food

> that have been covered in

> spices?  That would be the next step.  Or find ordinances that state

> you cannot serve

> spoiled meat or old food for people to eat?  That would be the best  

> proof.

>

> Huette

 

I know that there were, in addition to the laws already mentioned

about selling old meat, prohibitions about pouring new blood over old

meat to make it appear fresher than it was. But that's not a spice.

 

And... it was illegal, so that doesn't sound like one of those

alleged myths-that-isn't-a-myth-at-all-but-in-fact-quite-prevalent.

 

Adamantius

 

 

Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 17:50:21 -0500

From: "Terry Decker" <t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat and spices... (a few excerpts

        fromApicius)

To: "Cooks within the SCA" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

>>>

In keeping with the idea of offering the researcher points from which to begin her research, I submit the following link, which seems to detail the laws and customs of medieval Ipswich, in particular where they pertain to the open vending of foods, and in particular the vending of spoiled meats...

 

http://the-orb.net/encyclop/culture/towns/ipswich6.html

<<<

 

The specific regulation is that a person who wishes to sell spoiled meat

must take a place before the town pillory and sell the meat for what it is,

spoiled meat.  There is no specification as to how the meat is to be used by

the purchaser.  The location before the pillory is an interesting point,

since it suggests that the meat may have been used for purposes other than

eating.

 

The regulation also specifies that tainted meat was not to be sold in any

other place and that such meat put out for sale would be confiscated.  A

second offense would land the perpetrator in the pillory. Poetic justice

from a lawful seller of tainted meat against an unlawful seller of the same

product perhaps?

 

Bear

 

 

Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2005 22:38:45 -0400

From: "Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius"

        <adamantius.magister at verizon.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat and spices...

To: gedney1 at iconn.net, Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

Also sprach Jeff Gedney:

> Lavender and dill is not sufficent to cover up the smell of Putrescine.

> The human nose reacts to that in staggeringly small proportions.

> Same for mercaptans and other sulfates produced in animal decay like

> Cadaverine. If it were, Coroners offices would be strewn with the

> stuff.

>

> Salt, at least in England was imported from a very early date. the

> Ocean girdling England made "gray" salt, which required a lot of

> boiling and separating to render palatable. And the Climate is not

> suitable for salt making.

>

> Salt was traded for from France and Spain.

>

> Yes you put up the meat as soon as you had it butchered, if you did

> not sell your livestock to the butcher, and did it yourself.

> That was, as I said earlier, essential to a well run household.

> But you did not wait until the meat was blown and runny before you

> started putting it up. You did it fresh, then as now.

>

> So you salt/spice to PREVENT decay, not cover it up.

> And you used herbs and spices to cover up strong natural smells in

> foods, like in wild Duck, Swan, and Goat.

>

> Capt Elias

> -Renaissance Geek of the Cyber Seas

 

On a similar note, I was looking, earlier this evening, at a pair of

mid-14th-century recipes (processes, really) in Curye On Inglysh. The

second is a process for saving venison that is going off ("restyng",

rusting or going rancid). The first is far more involved, and is for

_preventing_ venison from restying.

 

You kinda have to assume that, if it was so much easier to repair

tainted venison than to prevent it getting tainted, then why bother

with the previous process? Why do I think the first, more detailed

process, is the preferred one?

 

Adamantius

 

 

Date: Thu, 14 Apr 2005 09:31:09 -0400 (GMT-04:00)

From: Robin Carroll-Mann <rcmann4 at earthlink.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Rotten meat and spices... (a few excerpts

        from   Apicius)

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

-----Original Message-----

From: David Friedman <ddfr at daviddfriedman.com>

 

For the "overspicing"  version, the earliest source I know is the introduction to _Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books_, written at the end of the

nineteenth century. It's clear from context that the author is

reacting not to the amount of spices, which he has no information on,

but to the unfamiliar use of particular spices--I think to putting

cinnamon in soup in the example he mentions.

 

Anyone know of an earlier example?

--

David/Cariadoc

www.daviddfriedman.com

_______________________________________________

 

Not an earlier example, but here is the relevant portion of the  

introduction you mentioned, which was written in 1888.

 

"Many of the Recipes that are given here would astonish a modern Cook.  

Our forefathers, possibly from having stronger stomachs, fortified by  

outdoor life, evidently liked their dishes strongly seasoned and  

piquant, as the Cinnamon Soup on p. 59 shews. Pepper, Ginger, Cloves,  

Garlic, Cinnamon, Galingale, Vinegar, Verjuice, and Wine, appear  

constantly in dishes where we should little expect them; and even Ale  

was frequently used in Cookery. Wine is used in the recipe for Roast  

Partridge, on p. 78, and also, as seems more natural to us, in the  

Partridge Stews on pages 9 and 78: it is also used for Brawn in  

Poivrade on p. 71. Ale is introduced in the Bowres on p. 8, in the Sops  

Chamberlain on p. 11, and in the Mortrews de Chairon p. 71, and is even  

used in the Charlette on p. 17, though Milk is also one of the  

ingredients: both Ale and Wine appear in the Maumenny Royal, on p. 22.  

Ale is also used with the Tench in Bruet."

 

http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/c/cme/cme-idx?

type=HTML&rgn=DIV1&byte=3361621

 

Brighid ni Chiarain

Barony of Settmour Swamp, East Kingdom

 

 

Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2005 14:29:04 -0400

From: Johnna Holloway <johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Past thoughts on spicing and rotten meats

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

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.

 

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--

http://web.archive.org/web/20021015225156/www.cottagesoft.com/~jtn/

Culinary/Articles/notesf.html

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.

 

Johnnae

 

 

Date: Tue, 17 May 2005 19:10:20 -0400

From: Johnna Holloway <johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Re:  article on spoiled meat was NACHO's being

        formed

To: mk-cooks at midrealm.org, Cooks within the SCA

        <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

For instance--

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---

http://foodhistorynews.com/debunk.html

 

Something to bookmark--

 

Johnnae

 

<the end>



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