Ingredients and Spices

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Musk is noted in more medieval recipes for food and perfumes than you can shake a sword at, adding a depth and complexity to foods the same way sandalwood does.  A little goes a very long way!

Now modernly, we can get musk from whales (ambergris) also known a whale snot.

Beaver musk (castor sacks of Castor Canadensis or Castor fiber).

Civet (viverridae).

Finally ambrette musk (hibiscus ablemoschus).

Period musk is almost impossible to get.  Why you may ask?  While I was doing a bit of studying for another project (surprise, surprise), I’ve found that the original(ish) musk mentioned in period cooking came from three sources.  The Siberian musk deer (M. moschiferus), black musk deer (M. fuscus) Alpine/Himalayan musk deer (M. chrysogaster).  The glands of the musk deer were harvested (and small quantities from very small musk deer farms) by removing the scent glands of the deer.

The gland secretions would dry into small black grains that were, and are, prized for the pheromones they exude.  The description is that of a rich and earthy smell, almost heavenly.  Mostly.  Some people found it repulsive, but not so many that the deer aren’t on the verge of extinction now.

The original method for removal was to kill the deer and take the musk glands, without worry about sustainability.  This has come back to haunt those who relied on the deer’s scent gland.   Few of these animals survive, except in the most remote regions.  The price, in period is listed as being twice the weight in gold and modernly 3 to 4 times that price now.  (Nabhan, pp. 150-151).

So where does that leave the modern cook?  Up a creek for the period musk.  There is no way that musk, from the listed deer, is harvested cruelty free or without costing an arm and a leg (throw a kidney in for good measure).  There are substitutions.   There is a variety of plant based musks with beautiful earthy notes and of course synthetics.  If possible go with the plant based.  Experiment.  Try new things!  Always err on the side that more can be added but it’s going to be hard to remove what you’ve already put in!

May 2, 2017 | No comments

I had a recipe that called for cubebs.

I was like “Cool!  I can use one of my period spices!!!”  I was so pumped to do this.  I used my usual 1 tsp per pound rule and the dish was cooked.  Oh my gaaaaawd!  Do NOT use 1 tsp per pound of meat rule of thumb with the cubeb, go with half and then take out another half! So 1/8th to 1/4 tsp per lb. of meat is really all you need.  Really.

To me the Cubeb tastes like a juniper tree and a pepper tree had an unholy night of debauchery to produce the cubeb which they never speak of again.  The taste is bitter and peppery, and to much will numb your tongue, overwhelming the taste buds.  It is a good spice, used quiet a bit in period cooking and healing; however a little goes a very long way.

A little bit of history now that I’ve given you my opinion.  Cubeb is known as Piper cubeba or Java pepper.  What we used in cooking is the small dried pericarp while the seed is hard white and oily.  The cubeb smells amazing just don’t go overboard when using the dried spice.  The main source of cubebs is Java and Sumatra, making this one of the West Indies favored spices.  The cubeb was used in Greek, Roman somewhere in the 2nd century AD,with Middle Eastern cooking in the 10th century and eventually made it’s way to the main European continent up to England some time in the 14th century. (

The history of cubeb is well worth a read and a good spice, if a bit overpowering.




November 25, 2015 | No comments

I’ve been remiss in putting this flavorful little spice into the Ingredients section.  Fixing that right now!

Grains of paradise look like small black pepper seeds.

Aframomum melegueta: Grains of Paradise

They taste like pepper with a floral bite.  Awesome!  I can not extol the amazing flavor of these enough.

So a little bit of history on our favorite spice.  This come from the ginger family (a very flavorful family it is!) The grains grow on a tall leafy plant.

Aframomum melegueta: Grain of Paradise plant

The seed pods are a really pretty red.  Very visible.

Grains of Paradise are known as Aframomum melegueta; also known as Alligator pepper and Guinea grains.  (There are other names but we’ll concentrate on the main ones first. Hailing from West Africa, Ivory Coast, Togo, Nigeria and southern Ethiopia.


One of the most unusual things I’ve found when doing my research on this is that I can not find any mention of this spice in any of my Middle Eastern cookbooks.  I’ve looked under the names Grana Paradisi, gargeri gan ha-eden, Malagueta, or Malagueta pepper.  I’ve looked under peppers and ginger in case I’ve missed an odd entry that read “Ginger of a different sort”.  No such luck.  This spice was definitly traded widely as it is found in English, French, Spanish, Russian and Greek dishes.  This makes me wonder if some recipes were translated with “Pepper” but should ready “Grains of Paradise Pepper” instead.

Just a bit of musing there.  Nothing I can put my finger on decisively other than this was a WIDELY traded spice so there should be no reason it’s not in the books…  Going to have to do some cooking to see what I taste.


October 28, 2015 | No comments

I have been remiss in posting ingredients and spices lately and one of the most important spice in medieval cooking (besides cinnamon) is saffron.  Now I am guilty of substituting faux saffron for the real thing.  The budget gets frowned upon when I add an $18 of true saffron to the list that is less than 1/4 an ounce, especially when that whole bottle will be used for ONE dish.  So here is the skinny on true saffron and how to overcome sticker shock if needed.

Saffron vs. Safflower

Saffron (Crocus Sativus) is made from the the stigmas of the crocus plants.  These stigmas have a subtle flavor and add an amazing gold color to any dish.  To get the saffron taste, take a small pinch and let soak overnight in hot water.  Saffron fanciers believe that true saffron is a must for all paella, bouillabaisse and risottos (let alone any dish that calls for the good stuff).

Mexican Saffron, also known as Safflower, is made from the dried petals of the safflower plant (Carthamus Tinctorius).  The safflower will color any dish it is in with a lovely red/gold tincture much like the real saffron.  Some claim there is little to no flavor.  Personally I disagree.  There is a subtle flavor that is imparted with the coloring when the petals are added.  No, the two are not related and the there is a huge price difference between the two.


So what do you do if you can’t get real saffron?  Well there are a couple of things.  You can go with the Mexican saffron for color and a different subtle taste OR you can combing 1/8 tsp turmeric with 1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika.  Mix these two together and add sparingly.  This is a substitute that is sort of in the parking lot of the ball park of real saffron.  A substitute but not a perfect substitute.

August 23, 2015 | No comments

This is by no means the only three crusts to use in pies, these are more like the very basic.  Feel free to play around or add to.  The butter crust is my favorite, not only for the taste but for the ease in which it is made.  Love it!

Savory Crusts:

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The butter crust recipe was given to me at a class many Gulf Wars ago. Teacher’s name is Magistra Rosemounde of Mercia. She did the original recipe from Scappi. This is just a basic butter crust that will make 2 crust pastries.

This is my fall back pastry crust when I want a really rich wonderful crust to go with sweet (or savory). For some reason I just find this crust a lot easier even though the ingredient measurements are basically the same for all.

A quick note, the butter crust can be used in Middle Eastern cuisine but the pork lard can not.  If you want a lard crust for Middle Eastern cooking use rendered beef or sheep fat.


2C Flour

1 1/3 stick of butter

1/4 C. chilled water

1/2 tsp salt


For English pies I have found The English Housewife to be of immense help for crusts. Recipes 108 and 109 describe the various types of meats pies that require sturdy crusts or puff pastries. If you don’t have this book…I would suggest getting it soon.


1 1/2 C. Flour

1/2 C. pork fat

1/4 C. water

1/2 tsp salt


This is from Rodinson for the Middle Eastern oil crusts. Again a very basic oil crust with saffron and thyme mixed in the flour.   This is great for all savory pies where the crust is going to be eaten. There are a ton of pastries for sweets.

Oil Crust:

2 C. Flour

1/2 C. Olive Oil

1/4 C. Water

1 tsp salt

Spices (saffron and thyme)


Using the butter crust as my main example, I gather all the ingredients together.

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Next I melt the butter to add to the flour and salt.

150322 009You don’t have to melt the butter.  If you want to work room temperature butter into the flour to form a crumb, go for it!  I just find melting the butter just as easy as working the butter in.

Next add the chilled water.  You wont use all of it.  The water helps bring everything together for the dough stage.

150322 010Once the ball has formed,

150322 012flour the rolling surface,

150322 013and dust both sides of the ball before rolling.

150322 046From here just roll the crust(s) out and go to town with the making of pies!

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March 22, 2015 | No comments

Galingale (not your ginger!)


Galingale is not your typical everyday spice.  In fact, I am going to bet, you are going what the hell is galingale!  I’m glad you asked.  This exotic root is so rare that my go to book History of Food by Toussaint-Samat doesn’t even have this listed!  I had to go on line to find this spice’s origin.   Middle English and French has this as Galingal or Garnigal while in Arabic it is known as Khalanjan.   This is a root/rhizome spice, in the ginger family.  However do NOT think the two are inter mixable.  They aren’t!  Ginger has a very spicy taste while galingale is more mellow almost licorices (but not) mild spiciness.  The origins seem to be European.  (

This spice is found in a lot of Medieval recipes.  Some sweet and some savory.  When using a recipe that calls for galingale don’t use ginger use powdered fennel seeds.

Here is a picture of fresh galingale.  Sometimes this can be found in Chinese or Thai stores.  I buy it dry and grind the dried root very fine.  Do not leave large chunks as the pieces are woody and hard.

Galingale - Krachai

January 29, 2015 | No comments

Homemade Beef Brisket Bacon

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This is for the a recipe that called for lamb belly bacon. Lamb belly is a bit scarce (read I can’t find this anywhere!!!) on the ground here in Ansteorra (aka Texas). I can find a great many things but lamb belly so I had to make a change of bellies. I went with a beef brisket for two reasons. It is very easy to come by and the slices for “larding” means I will have slices larger then slivers if I did have a lamb’s belly for curing.

I have attempted bacon before with pork. My first try was horrible! The one of the salts I used to flavor the first side of pork rendered the pork not only to salty but tasting of dirt. I was mortified. I took a year off from curing till now to retry.

I now share with you a very simple curing recipe for a well-marbled fatty bit of belly.



1 Cups Kosher salt

1/2-1 Cup Sugar

1 tsp pink salt (enough for 5lb slab of meat)

1 Tbs juniper berries smooooooshed.



Gather your meat and salts/spices together.


Here I used a rough grained Kosher salt, regular table, sugar, juniper berries and pink salt.

I used a beef brisket belly, from which I removed a good section of fat out of, so that I had a “flat” portion of brisket.

013The original with fat being removed.


When I originally made this, I erred on the side of too much salt. I did a 2 to 1 of salt to sugar which is the right ratio but too much of the salt when rubbing.

Take your salts, spice and sugars and mix them together very well.


Next rub this over your meat on both sides.


Place in a large container. Flip the meat every day or every other day. The juice is part of the brining.

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This is actually a picture of the brisket rinsed of salt after 7 days.  It looks a little odd but it’s definitely cured.

On the 7th day, rinse all the salts/sugar/spices off the meat in cool flowing water for 20 minutes. This step is VERY important. If you don’t rinse the salt off very well, the meat will be cooked with the salt on and rendered to salty.

Place on a very low heat smoker/grill.

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I used hard wood charcoal.

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It really does have a better cooking temperature, longevity and better flavor then the regular briquettes. The grill I used is very nice…I managed to keep the temperature between 140 most of the time. Occasionally it creeped up to 200 and I had to open the dampers up to cool it off.

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The meat smoked for 5(ish) hours.

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The meat cut nicely…still not store bought then, but I didn’t need thin, I needed tasty.

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The final verdict is that the outer skin was a bit salty but very tasty.

December 20, 2014 | No comments

In the Medieval Arabic Cookery book, pg. 132, Atraf al-tib is defined as…”a spice mixutre frequently used in cookery, made of lavender, betel, bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, cloves, rosebuds, beech-nuts, ginger and pepper, it being necessary to grind the pepper separately.  This could be compared to English poudre douce or poudre forte as a period pre-made spice mixture.

Another description, on pg. 155, …”Fragrant bundles’ which are considered so important by the author of Wusla that he defines them before launching into the truly culinary chapters of his work. Another category, which is mentioned almost as often, is formed by abzar harra, ‘hot seeds’, presumably spicy seeds.

So we move from one very specific order of spices, then move the mention of ‘Fragrant bundle’, plural along with the mention of spicy seeds.  As the Middle East was an epee center for spice trade.  This would be the equivalent of having spice stores on every street with a grocery store.  Well we have that now, back then there were spice merchants on market streets.  It would be inconceivable that only one flavor style was imposed.  Most recipes include spices, in no particular order, that pull from parts of the first definition of spices but including others.

This theory is supported by the next excerpt.

“The usual term for a spice mixture was atraf al-tib (sides of scent), other wise called afawih (al-)tib (mouths of scent) or afway jayyida (good mouths); these odd names may refer to the paper packets in which the spices were sold.  Other recipes refer to merely abazir (spices, seeds).  All these terms might have refereed to standardized spice mixtures, bu they also seem to be used quite loosely.  Badhinjan mukhallal calls for ‘those afwah, namely toasted caraway, and coriander and salt, add to what preceded, and mustard’. (Rodinson, pg. 284)

Spices, and their combination, seemed to be loosely interpreted by definitly incorperated into recipes based on what the user liked or thought was best.  Every ones idea of the right combination probably changed from chef to chef and cook to cook.




This post is a bit of a quickie.  A tutorial on how eggs were separated, yolk from the white with out using a plastic egg separating device.  I know these an be bought in the store and are soooo convenient.  Period wise not so much.

Now this works with most eggs.  I’ve found organic eggs have a thicker shell and tend to fragment a bit more then the generic white egg.

The first step is to gather your egg(s) and a small bowl.  Place the bowl under the egg and give the egg a quick sharp tap on the shell (as close to the middle as possible).

Open the egg and let the whites fall into the bowl, while holding the yolk in one half of the shell.


In this picture there is a good bit of white left with the yolk.  Tip the half shell, and the whites should fall into the bowl leaving behind the yolk.  The 2nd half of the shell can be used to cut along the whites, severing between the yolk and whites.

The yolks are safe to use in a sealed container for about 24 hours in the fridge.  The whites can be frozen for a few weeks or left in a sealed container for 3-5 days.

This is the method I use for separating out an egg yolk and whites.  I have seen a spoon extract the yolk, but this requires a deftness I’m not quite comfortable with.  I’ve also seen a complicated use of shell spoon and cup to separate everything, a bit production and wasted motion.  (an entertaining video on Youtube though)  However just using the shell is probably the most simplistic and most period method.  If for some reason you are not comfortable with this, get an egg separator for those times when a recipe calls for until you’re willing to experiment with just using an egg shell and break a few eggs and yolks.




Now we all know that rose water is an easy ingredient to buy.  However this was not always the case.  Rose water actually was made by hand back in the day.  There was no going to the corner HEB and buying rose water so strong you only needed half a cap or even a whole cap full to flavor the cookies, bread or fish.  Rose water use to be made from fresh roses.  Enough roses to fill an English garden or in this case the Sultan’s garden.  It took many many flowers…oh the many flowers!

Rose Water


Take a ratl of dried roses, and cover with three ratls of boiling water, for a night and leave it until they fall apart in the water.  Press it and clarify it, take the clear part…

(Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the Thriteenth Century)


4 oz dried roses/rose petals

4 C boiling water


Now this recipe is renders less then 4 cups of rose scented/flavored water.

Ignore the wine and wine bottle, the main focus is the Pakistani roses used.  That bag…is 4 oz or rose petals.

I didn’t want to use American rose petals but rose petals as close to period as possible.  Hence the use of Pakistani dried roses.  The 4 ozs of rose petals were place into a largish pottery bowl.

These smell soooo good.  The scent of roses with out being cloying.

4 oz of dried roses takes up a LOT of room.  This is roughly about 4-5 cups of rose petals.   The dried roses will absorb a lot of water so plan accordingly with amount of rose petals to the amount of water.

After placing the rose petals in the bowl, I poured the boiling water over them, and mooshed (yes this is a technical term) the rose petals down into the water to make sure they are thoroughly saturated.

Let this mixture sit for 24 hours.

The next day, start removing the rose petals a handful at a time.

Squeeze each handful tightly multiple times, over the rose water bowl, till the handful of rose petals no longer leaks scented water.  Do this until all the rose petals are removed from the original bowl.  You can strain the rose water to remove any remaining petals.

You’ll get about 3-4 cups worth of rose water back.  Now pour into a bottle.

This rose water is NOT like the rose water found in the stores today.  This is actually the color of the roses not clear for starters.  This rose water is milder, much milder, then bottles we buy today.  Today’s rose water is so strong that only a cap full at a time can be used, if that, so that a dish is not over powered with the scent and taste of roses.  The home made rose water is a) closer to period and b) far less pervasive then today’s so more can be used.

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