A Basic Medieval Spice Kit

(This is reblogged from my old blog)

I could write absolute digital reams on the subject of spices in medieval cuisine. No, medieval people did not use spices to mask the taste of rotten meat (don’t get me started), but spices are an integral part of medieval cooking. While individual dishes have their own unique spice profiles, there are two indispensable spice mixes that show up again and again in medieval recipe collections from various times and places: powder douce and powder fort. My basic spice kit to take to events contains these two mixes plus salt and saffron. These four items are enough to get me through most dishes I want to prepare. Here’s some more information about each of the blends:

Powder fort: Fort in this case meaning strong. Mentioned in Italian, French, and English recipes for sure, and likely in recipe collections from other places but I am less familiar with them. So far in my reading of English recipes from the 13th and 14th centuries, I have yet to come across an actual recipe for powder fort itself. There is some evidence (mostly from the Menagier de Paris) that these mixes might have been purchased ready-made rather than prepared by a household or home cook, which offers one explanation for the lack of recipes. Additionally, it’s extremely unlikely that everything called “powder fort” was the same. Think of this as a name for a category of related spice mixes rather than a name for one specific mixture. My practical advice is that you experiment with different mixtures of strong / “spicy” spices to find something you like. Possible spices include black pepper, cubebs (tailed pepper), grains of paradise (also a hot, peppery spice), long pepper (the hottest spice known in medieval Europe), cinnamon (either true cinnamon or cassia), clove, mace, ginger, nutmeg, and galingale. My favorite mix combines approximately

  • 1 part each:
    • Black pepper
    • Cubebs
  • 1/2 part cinnamon
  • 1/4 part mace
  • 1/8 part clove

Grind to a fine powder and mix well.

I like my powder fort to mostly taste of pepper, with the other spices there for balance and complexity. I tend to leave out long pepper and grains of paradise because I think each has such a subtle flavor that they deserve the spotlight. I also generally stay away from the “weaker” spices — I just don’t think ginger, nutmeg, and galingale can hold their own against the other ingredients.

Powder Douce:Douce meaning sweet, these spices are somewhat milder than those in powder fort and more appropriate for sweet dishes. Additionally, powder douce can include sugar. All of the explanatory notes above apply equally to powder douce, except those about the desired flavor and ingredients. Powder douce is often sprinkled on egg and pasta dishes.

Possible ingredients include sugar, cinnamon (here I would stick to true cinnamon if possible), ginger, nutmeg, galingale, and possible small amounts of mace or clove.
My personal combination, again approximate quantities:

  • 1 part sugar
  • 1/2 part ginger
  • 1/2 part cinnamon
  • 1/4 part nutmeg

Grind to a fine powder.

I generally leave out mace and clove as the strong flavors can quickly overpower the other spices. Remember, if you want strong spices, choose powder fort.

I store my powder fort and powder douce in the earthenware jars pictured above, which were made by Mistress Morgaina. As mentioned above, I round this out with saffron and good sea salt. For longer events I often add more to my stash, but these are enough to get me through most camp cooking projects.

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Author: eulalia

I'm a foodie, medievalist, crafter, and gardener living in beautiful Portland, Oregon.

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