Spicing it up

The history of ginger in English cookery and literature is similar to that of sugar – see here.  Like sugar, ginger is not native to England; its origins lie in South Asia, and over time its cultivation spread to East Africa and the Caribbean.  As with sugar, it is thanks to the Crusades that ginger was brought to the west.  And like sugar, ginger was expensive – a pound of ginger was the same price as a sheep – though nowhere near as expensive as black pepper, which cost more by weight than gold.  Used for medicinal and culinary purposes, including in wine, ginger was also commonly imported in a preserved form and made into sweets.  Continue reading “Spicing it up”

The Sweeter Side of Life

Most food that is referred to in medieval literature is savoury, hence the focus on fish, meat and pies in my previous posts.  However, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, when Gawain is introduced to the ladies at Sir Bertilak’s court, they take him to sit by the fire in their chamber where they call for wine and “Spyce3” (l. 979, defined in the Middle English Dictionary as spices, sugar, spiced cake or sweetmeat).  With no indication of what exactly Sir Gawain is being fed by the courtly ladies, I turned to the medieval cookery book The Forme of Cury – referred to here – which contains a number of recipes for sweet dishes, including “Crispels” (fried pastry rounds basted in honey), “Rysshews of fruit” (fried fruit rissoles) and “Daryols” (custard tart flavoured with saffron).  Honey is, not surprisingly a key sweetener in many of these recipes, but in some cases reference is also made to sugar.   Continue reading “The Sweeter Side of Life”