Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Medieval Myth

One of the most pernicious lies about medieval cooking is that cooks used spices to cover up the smell of rotting meat (or fish.)

It just persists and persists and persists and it's just ludicrous on the face of it.

If we can distinguish between these things via smell, surely our fore-bearers were equally talented at it.

Also, spices were not cheap. The Arab and the Venetian middle-men had a stronghold on the supply and they charged pretty hefty premia for these things.

The upper classes who could afford the spices could obviously also afford the best meat and fish that money could buy since it was all local back in those days.

The idea has been thoroughly debunked by scholars like Paul Freedman but the popular imagination keeps it alive. It's absolutely amazing that so silly a meme has persisted for almost a few centuries at this point.

It's very clear to see the antecedents of medieval European cooking in modern terms. Just pick up a Persian or an Indian cookbook. They still have the same relation to spicing that would be expected in Europe in the middle ages.

Nobody in history has ever wanted to eat rotting meat. We have extraordinarily sophisticated tuned apparatuses in our systems to detect against poisoning. They even go into complete and utter overdrive to prevent us from doing so (e.g. vomiting during pregnancy, etc.)

Consider this idea as debunked.

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