Canary sugar – Capers – Capon – Carragene – Cassia – Catnip – Chestnuts – Citrus fruit – Clove – Cockscomb – Coconut – Common mallow – Coriander – Costmary – Craponne or Salers – Cubeb pepper – Curing salt – Curly mint – Currants see Raisins – Curry powder – Custard
Simply cane sugar from the plantations on Canary Islands.
These are the pickled unripe flowerbuds of the Capparis spinosa L. The shrub is indigenous to the regions around the Mediterranean, and its flowerbuds were already eaten in Antiquity. They are never eaten raw. Recipes: Broiled fish with three sauces, Capon with caper-sauce, Salmon Salad.
A capon is a castrated cock. It was customary to castrate male animals to fatten them up. Animals of the female sex could be productive in other ways: reproduction, production of eggs or milk. The males have limited use (gentlemen, don’t take this personally!). Cocks were castrated ever since chickens are held as domestic animals. The capon is larger than the cock, about the size of a goose. However, capons have more meat than geese, because a goose has rather heavy bones. The taste of capon is not so spectacularly different from chicken that you have to go looking for a castrated cock, just buy a free-range poularde. Recipe: Capon with caper-sauce.
One of the most expensive spices, except for saffron and vanilla. This perennial, Elettaria cardamomum, is of the same family as ginger. However, it is not the rhizome that is used, but the dried pod. Cardamom is indigenous to the South of India and Sri Lanka. The dried pots are light green in colour. The seeds within are small, and black. You can use the whole pod as well as just the seeds (whole or ground). The pods are not eaten; remove them from your dish before serving. You can buy ground cardamom, but it is better to use whole, opened pods, or the seeds, because powdered cardamom deteriorates quickly. There are also black cardamom pods. These are less refined in taste, but are cheaper to buy. Recipes: Quince pie, Mushroom pasties, Hachee, Peperkoek (spice cake).
Like agar, this comes from red algae (Chondrus crispus). It is also known as Irish moss. The dried algae have to be washed before use, steeped in cold water for thirty minutes, and then boiled for fifteen minutes. The resulting liquid is strained, and will congeal during cooling.
Also known as ‘Chinese cinnamon’, and indeed, cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticumor C. cassia) is related to real cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum or C. zeylanicum). Both trees are indigenous to Southeast Asia. The communis opinio is that cassia is inferior to cinnamon, but, according to Davidson in TOCF, “Good cassia is, however, a respectable spice”. If you don’t have cassia, use cinnamon. Recipe: Mulahwaja.
Has a mint-like odour. Cats can react dramatically to it. As far as I can see, my cats leave the catnip in my garden alone, but dried catnip in playmice brings them in rapture. It’s not an evil drug, they don’t get hooked or anything. I’ve rarely seen catnip used in a culinary recipe. Recipe: Garden Salad.
Compared to other nuts, chestnuts are rich in carbohydrates and low in fat. In France there are regions where sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) were common fare, like the Ardèche and the Cévennes. Chestnut meal was also used, to make bread or wafers.
In the Netherlands the climate is too cold to be able to harvest the fruit from sweet chestnuts on a regulare basis. Here, the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) abounds, but the fruit from these trees is too bitter. Seet chestnuts are recognizable by their prickly husks (see picture on the left), the husks of the horse chestnut are smooth with little points.
How to prepare sweet chestnuts: with a sharp knife, cut a cross in or slice accross the chestnuts. Boil in water for three minutes. Leave them in the hot water, and peel them one by one while they are still hot (but cooled just enough not to burn your fingers). If the chestnuts have cooled too much, it is nearly impossible to remove shell and skin. Removing the skin is patient work, if they are difficult to remove, just peel the chestnuts as you would potatoes. Recipe: Kale with chestnuts and groats.
A mediterranean perennial (Cichorium intybus) with striking blue flowers that survives winters in the Netherlands. Cultivars are endive, Belgian endive or witloof (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum) and radicchio. The roasted root of Cichorium intybus var. sativum is used for making a coffee surrogate. My father still adds a coffeespoonful to every pot of coffee he makes. He got used to the taste during the Second World War. Recipe: Garden Salad.
This is a weak organic acid that can be found in citrus fruit, but it is also present in other fruits and vegetables. In Europe the industrial name is E330; it is one of the safest food additions. Citric is being sold in the form of white crystals that look a lot like sugar. So store it with a clear label and out of children’s reach. In its pure form citric acid can cause irritation of skin and eyes. Overconsumption can cause deterioration of teeth. This warning is not because of the use of citric acid in this seventeenth-century recipe, but its presence in industrial soft drinks that are consumed in great quantities by too many people. By the way, citric acid is not just used in food; it is also present in food supplements, washing detergents and cleaning products and effervescent tablets. It is completely biological degredable and does not cause harm for the environment.
These belong to the citrus family that originates in the East, from China and North-East India to Australia (because the citrus family is so ancient that it was already in existence when Australia and Asia were part of the same continent). Citrus fruit are attractive because of their exuberant colours (bright green, yellow and orange), they carry in them a combination of bitter, sweet and sour, and their skin is very aromatic because of the oil just below the surface (in the ‘pores’). That typical citrus smell is hardly noticeable if you sniff an orange in the store. To keep their freshness citrus fruit -even the organic ones- are treated with a thin layer of wax. That is not harmful, and when you just want to eat the flesh or use their juice you can totally ignore it. But when you want to use the skin for peels you’ll have to remove the wax first. Since wax melts when heated, all you have to do is pour boiling (or hot) water over the fruit. The wax will melt away. Rinse the fruit, pat it dry, and you will be overwhelmed by the lovely scent!
There are many kinds of citrus fruit, but according to Harold McGee only three of those are the ancestors of all others, citron(Citrus medica) which is used for candied peel, mandarin (Citrus reticulata) and pummelo (Citrus grandis of maxima). But if I’m reading my sources Davidson and McGee correctly, there is a fourth ancestor, lime (Citrus aurantifolia). At least, I can’t find the combination of the three ‘arch-citruses’ that would have resulted in the mandarin. But lemons came into existence in two stadia: a hybrid of citron and lime then combined with pummelo.
The origin of oranges is also muddy. Bitter or sour orange (Citrus aurantium) seems to have no ancestry, all I can find is “[they] come from a different species than the kinds described above [i.e. sweet oranges, C.M.]” (McGee 1994 p.376), sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) is a hybrid of mandarin and pummelo. But why both are called ‘orange’ remains in the dark. Maybe because they’re both about the same size and … well … orange.
Lemonade is made with sweet oranges. These were still a novelty in seventeenth century Europe, the first mention dates from the end of the fifteenth century. Bitter or sour oranges were already harvested on Sicily in the eleventh century. By the way, sour oranges are seasonal fruit; you can only buy them in winter (January/February). Marmelade is made with sour oranges.
To use the peel: first remove the wax layer as described above. You can use a fine grater, or a lemon zester. But if you ever need larger pieces of peel, you can best use a flexible knife. Place the skin white side up on a cutting board, let the knife rest with its tip on the board near the skin, and cut away as much of the white as you can. With some practice you can end up with several square centimeters of peel without a trace of white left on it. This can be used to cut out figures for decoration.
Cloves are the unopened flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum, a plant that originally only grew on the Maluku Islands (the ‘spice Islands, Indonesia). Their shape reminded the Dutch of nails, hence the name ‘kruidnagel’ (spice nail). The English clove, which does not seem to have any connection with nails, derived from the French clou (de girofle), which also means ‘nail’.
The trade in cloves has been turbulent. During the Middle Ages, Arabs bought the spice from local producers and sold it in Europe. In 1514 the Portuguese conquered the Maluku Islands and they held the monopoly on cloves for as long as a century. The Dutch pinched the islands in the beginning of the seventeenth century and introduced draconic measures (death penalty to the smugglers of plants) in order to prevent the growing of cloves anywhere outside of Ambon. In 1770 the very aptly named Frenchman Pierre Poivre succeeded in breaking the monopoly on cloves (and nutmeg/mace) by stealing some plants and transferring them to Mauritius and later toMadagascar.
Indeed, the comb of an adult cock or hen. Cockscombs were used as decoration because of their shape. It’s difficult (but not impossible) to find cockscombs in the Netherlands, I have no idea how the situation is elsewhere. Because table poultry are killed before they are fully grown (so they do not have fully developed their cockscombs yet) you’ll have to find broodhens or other chickens that live into full adulthood.
Preparation (from the Dutch edition of the Larousse Gastronomique): pierce the cockscombs in several places with a needle.Steep them in cold water, squeeze the cockscombs to remove any blood that’s still left. Put the cockscombs in a pan with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for one minute. Drain them, then rub the combs one by one with salt. Rinse with cold water. Now any hairs that were left have been removed. Steep the cockscombs once more until they are white. Then boil them for thirty minutes with salt, drain again. Now you can use them for garnish or whatever. The cockscombs are not essential for the ‘potage à la Reyne’, you can leave them out if you want to. Recipe: Potage à la Reyne.
Malva sylvestris is a perennial that was used by Greeks and Romans as kitchen herb, vegetable and medicine. The leaves were eaten as salad or boiled like spinach, and used as garnish (like we use lettuce). Several parts of the plant have medicinal use, for treatment of wounds or coughs, and to help labour. According to Pliny the Elder common mallow was good for ‘anything’: “si quis cotidie suci ex qualibet earum sorbeat cyathum dimidium, omnibus morbis cariturum” – if anyone takes a half spoonful juice of one of these [kinds of mallow], he will be free from all diseases, Naturalis Historiae Liber XX, 224). That is why mallow is also known as omnimorbium. Moreover, it is quite a decorative plant for your garden, what more could you wish for? Recipe: Sacred Beans.
A herb with many uses. Leaves and seeds are both used, but their taste is completely different. Many people dislike the pungent taste of the leaves. But in some Asian cuisines coriander leaves are as profligent as parsley in European cuisines. If you plant the annual herb in your garden for the leaves, clip off the flowering stems. But if you let coriander bloom, you can harvest the seeds. The best moment is when the seeds are turning from green to brown. Or you just leave them be, and be happy with the many, many little coriander plants you’ll get next year … Recipes: Parsnip salad, Cilantro-mustard sauce, Tuna with mustard crust
Tanacetum balsamita, a perennial originating from the Caucasus. The plant was mainly used in medicine: against worms, for aiding menstruation and labour. It is an easy garden plant. The Romans used costmary occasionally also in culinary recipes, and later it was used in salads and stuffings. The leaves have a bitter, minty taste and spreads an odour that not everyone likes. It was also used to bookmark pages in the binle, hence the name bible leaf. A nice addition to your herb garden. Recipe: Medieval stuffed eggs.
These berries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are indigenous to North-America. In the Netherlands they grow in the wild on the island Terschelling, where a barrel with cranberries washed to shore after a shipwreck in 1840. The original European equivalent of cranberries are now known as small cranberries, swamp cranberries or bog cranberries, in Dutch these are called ‘veenbessen’. Recipe: Cranberry-walnutbread.
The fromaige de crampone is a pressed cheese of cow milk originating from Craponne in the Auvergne. The modern name of this cheese is Salers, a variation of Cantal. Salers is still produced with raw milk from cows grazing on mountain pasture. But, while Cantal is made all year through, the production of Salers is limited from April 15 to November 15. Recipe: Jacobine Sops.
The fruit of the Cocos nucifera is more than the hairy nut you buy at the store. The coconut is a drupe, like peaches and apricots. But whereas you eat the flesh of a peach and throw away its stone, with the cocnut the husk or exocarp is removed before shipping, leaving just that stone. The stone is hollow, with three ‘eyes’ on one end. If ever the seed germinates, the shoot will emerge through one of those eyes.
In an unripe coconut the hollow is filled with a not very pleasant liquid. As the fruit ripens, the liquid gradually solidifies at the inside of the stone, becoming the white coconut meat. The remaining liquid will become sweet and quite good to drink. Note that what we call ‘coconut milk’ is NOT that liquid, but the result of soaking grated coconut meat in warm water and straining the resulting liquid.
When you have bought your very first coconut, you may scratch your head and wonder how to open it. First you have to drain the remaing liquid from the nut. Perforate two of the eyes of the nut with an awl, hold it upside down, and catch the liquid in a jar. If you’re lucky, it is tasty enough to drink. Then, just place the nut on a hard surface, and give a little tap with a hammer on the ‘equator’. Roll, tap again, roll, tap, roll, tap, and suddenly your coconut has split in to! Another method is to tap the nut itself with the ‘eye’ side downward on a realy hard surface, the nut will split lengthwise.
Coconut meat is radiantly white. You’ll have to pry it loose from its shell. Maybe there is an easy way to do this (please tell me!), but my way is simply to take a sharp knif and start with cutting loose small pieces of coconot, then, as more is removed, larger pieces can be pried loose. The thin brown skin with which the white coconut meat adhered to the nut shell can be eaten, you do not need to remove it. However, if you plan on grating the coconut, the skin has to be removed.
One of the obsolete spices that is making a come-back because of today’s wish for exotic dishes. The scientific name is Piper cubeba. It is also called Java pepper (three guesses why …), or tailed pepper because of the stalks still attached to the berries. The taste is peppery and slightly bitter. As a substitute you can use black pepper with piment (allspice). Recipes: Medieval Xmas Goose, Turk’s Head.
What I have used is a mixture that you can buy at Dutch butcher’s shops of salt, sugar and saltpetre (in a ratio of 100:2:1) In Dutch it is called pekelzout (literally brine salt). You must be careful with it, too high a dose can cause nausea and diarrhoea. Why would one use such a poisonous substance instead of ordinary salt? Saltpetre permeates the meat completely. A ham would look very unappetizingly grey if no saltpetre or nitrate was used in curing. Moreover saltpetre prevents anaerobic bacteria (bactaria that don’t need oxygen to multiply). The food industry used saltpetre or nitrate a lot, but its use is not new, saltpetre was already in use in prehistoric times. But BE CAREFUL when you use it, or use plain salt instead.
And to conclude this short description of saltpetre: it is also a component of gunpowder (that is why you can’t easlily buy pure saltpetre), and was thought to be an anaphrodisiac (but that is not true). Recipes: Mortadella, Lucanian sausages.
This is simply a variation of Mentha spicata (spearmint), but with curly leaves (Mentha spicatavar. crispa). There are many kinds of mint, like peppermint, a hybrid from spearmint and water mint (Mentha aquatica).
If you plan to have mint in your garden, you must be watchful: it spreads throughout the border and in my garden it even tried to cross the path. For use as kitchen herb, take care to remove the flower buds, because once in bloom the leaves lose a lot of their fragrance. On the other hand, flowering mint is attractive for butterflies and bees. Recipe: Medieval stuffed eggs.
This is not a spice, but a combination of spices. That means that curry powder of different brands will taste differently, and a brand can have several kinds of curry powder, like mild and spicy. Curry powder is yellow because of the use of kurkuma. Other spices that can be present are coriander, cumin, ginger, chili pepper, black pepper, fenugreek and curry leaves (leaves of the Murraya koenigii). Curry powder is not Indian in origin but british: blended curry spices were for sale in England since late eighteenth century to prepare the spicy dishes from colonial British-India. Some of these blends were tempered with ground rice or other cheap ingredients to enlarge the volume without using expensive spices. Even today, take care to buy a good brand. Curry powder is more European than Asian. For Asian curries it is customary to blend the spices yourself. Recipe: Chicken Salad.
Custard powder was first ‘invented’ in 1837 by the Brit Alfred Bird (1811-1878) because his wife was allergic to eggs. The original custard powder is made from cornflour with annatto (see above), a little salt and some flavouring. All you have to do is combine custard powder and sugar with boiling milk. There is also instant custard, to which sugar and powdered are added, all you need to add yourself is water. And if even that is too much work, there is a large range of custards in the dairy department of supermarkets.
I have no idea what the situation is outside of my own country (The Netherlands), but here Bird’s Custard is difficult to come by, although not impossible. Easily available is Dr.Oetker custard powder. This has an extra colouring agent (beta-carotene, maybe cheaper than annatto?), and has a rather ovewhelming artificial vanilla flavour. The original Bird’s Custard is more subtle in taste. Recipes: Custard, Trifle.
Laatste wijziging December 2, 2019