Last night, as I ground black pepper and sprinkled some French sea salt into my salad, I stopped to ponder how we take these spices for granted.
Back in the Middle Ages, before Portuguese, Dutch and other Voyages of Discovery sailed to Indonesia, India, and other places, spices were worth as much as gold and were often bartered for them. Some people paid their rent in peppercorns. The Spice Route was the culinary counterpart of the Silk Route that connected so many countries In Ghana–formerly the Gold Coast–gold was traded for salt. Nutmeg, one of the most valuable spices of all, came from just one small Indonesian island. Cinnamon was also very rare and prized. Spices revolutionized food during the Renaissance and elevated cuisine beyond measure from the bland, tasteless stuff of medieval times. Spices were also condemned at first by the Catholic Church for arousing the senses. We weren’t supposed to take such gustatory pleasure in food.
We take all this for granted now. We shouldn’t. Spices improve our daily lives, are plentiful and. It wasn’t always that way. The book below tells us wondrous things about the history of spices.