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.

My Life Philosophy

Last year at Twelfth Night, I had just declared that I’d be entering KASC and was thinking about how I had to learn to be more serious. Then I spent the weekend charging around the hotel hanging toast in people’s showers and pouring cider through a glass funnel into the mouths of excited bystanders. 

And I figured myself out: I am a golden retriever, all full of love and enthusiasm and maybe a little slobber. I can’t help but be excited and bouncy. I love to meet people and learn about them and introduce them to other people and help them when I can. I am goofy, and I like warm hugs.

And these things are okay. In fact, they are better than okay, they’re great! Instead of trying to repress this aspect of my personality and make myself more serious, I began then to accept and embrace it. As I see again and again, I’ve had so many incredible experiences as a result of being this open and enthusiastic.

I actually think my life might have changed with that understanding. Since then I’ve felt so much more loving and kind toward myself; I think I finally crossed the threshold of radical self-acceptance. In the past year, I have come to finally see that while I am allowed to improve and change, I am also allowed to be enough exactly as I am in this moment. That’s a really nice feeling.

The lesson in the heart of this that I hope I can hold on to always is that love makes us glow. When you’re passionate about something, you light up a room (yes YOU!) and are unstoppable (yes YOU!) Honestly, this is why I love the SCA: I get to see people doing things they love, and I get to do things I love, and there’s just so much squee-ing.

I charge everyone to make more of those moments. Let’s let our lights shine when we talk about our research and projects. If you are working on a thing, come sit next to me and talk to me about it.

Also, let’s hug. Like, all the time. (Or as much as you can stand.)

Posts in Persona: An Tir’s Kingdom Feast and Bardic Celebration

I am enjoying my time at Kingdom Feast. I swore my fealty oath to Their Majesties, as I had hoped to do. It is still surprising to me that one such as I can regularly see her Sovereigns. The foods of Italia are quite different from York — maybe I can try some of them in the shop, I think they’d sell. Yesterday my former Master prepared one meal for the attendees, and I did some work for him in the kitchen (although I am ashamed to say very little). 

Many craftswomen had their work out to be seen in the hall; in An Tir there are at least as many women as men working in trades, and they are allowed all the same privileges as far as I can tell. I saw books bound, pots thrown and painted, scrolls and panels painted, all by women. 

Right now the other ladies of my house are up early making us a meal before some of us attend a guild meeting. I am dressed already in my fine new gown and laurel jewels, and even have my silk fillet and veil. Our King and Queen will be at the Guild meeting, so I must array myself well as if it were Court. But what a bother to travel without a servant! My companion Anne and I have had to pack and carry our own things, and I had to dress myself this day. There seems to be no one to hire in these lands, so I do not yet know how I might improve upon this. 

The weather is foul, heavy rain and wind. I did not bring a hood and give thanks for how hot they seem able to keep these halls. 

FUN FACT!

So it turns out that not having a functional computer at home utterly destroyed my posting momentum. Sorry about that. Of course, it also turns out that I haven’t done anything remotely interesting since getting elevated. Sorry about that too.

But now I have a new laptop at least, so as soon as I start doing interesting things I’m sure I’ll start writing about them!