Friday, December 24, 2021

Sugar and Spice!

 No, juvat, they are not two of the Solid Gold Dancers. Though it would be funny if they were.  That thought brought to you by me recently watching "Scrooged" with Bill Murray, one of the better 'modern' retellings of Charles Dickens' Christmas Tale.  I really wish they had made "The Night the Reindeer Died" starring Lee Majors (the Six Million Dollar Man himself.)  I mean, any movie that has the immortal lines "This is one Santa who's going out the front door" would have to be cheesy and fun and still 100 times better than most of the SciFi channel productions like "Sharknado" (of which, yes I watched, but not the sequels, oh God, the sequels.)

Yes, "The Night the Reindeer Died" is an actual 'promo' from "Scrooged."
Seriously, this would be fun to watch, no?

Okay, seriously, sugar and spice. Think of it.  What do most of us Americans and lots of foreigners have ample supplies of pretty much at all times that less modern people wouldn't? (Well, besides modern health care and indoor plumbing and safe food and decent transportation and dyes that won't poison the wearer nor cosmetics that won't poison the wearer and I could go on and on and on but you get the point.)

Sugar and spices.


I've got enough cinnamon of both flavors to last a couple years, ground nutmeg, cloves ground and unground, pepper, chili pepper, cumin, poultry seasoning, sage, and many much more, in quantities that would flabbergast anyone pre-WWII, unless that someone was quite rich or worked for someone quite rich.

Think of it.  A cask of peppercorn, maybe three feet high by about one and a half in diameter, that's enough peppercorn to, prior to the late 1700s, be enough to significantly impact the FINANCIAL structure of a large town or small city.  A small ship's load of peppers, cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices, weighing in at about a ton or a tonne in total (not including packaging) would be enough to upset the finances of a whole kingdom.

What launched the great European navigation race?  Wasn't gold, no.  Spices.  What partially spurred the formation of the Hanseatic League and gave rise to the first mega-corporation, the Dutch-East Indies Company?


The Spice must flow.

In a medieval great-house, the lady of the house would be the one in charge of the spices and seasonings.  Oftentimes a nook in the kitchen, if not a whole room, with locked cupboards and boxes of which she had the keys for, hanging often off of a chatelaine (a broach or large thing that would hook under a belt of which descended all the keys and other accoutrements of a great lady.  The Victorian brooch from which a watch dangled from is, yes, a version of the chatelaine.)  She wielded great power because SHE controlled the spices and other expensive components of cooking (and she controlled the still room which, yes, had stills in it for making tinctures of various items, and also a place where herbs were hung to dry.)

The quaint medieval custom of a Royal Procession through the countryside, where the King checks up on the actual goings-on rather than relying on reports, was also a way of graciously bankrupting the local nobles said king was visiting.  Quaint.  Yeah.  I wonder how many ladies considered suicide or other means of ending it all as their carefully hoarded stashes of precious ingredients were used up by a royal ass dropping in for a vaca?

Why spices?  For the flavor, for the preserving power, for the ability to cover up substandard foods.  Same reason we use spices today.  Think of the common talapia fish.  Bland, almost flavorless.  What do you have to do to make that piece of piscine shoe leather taste good?  Ah, spices.  Of which Europe is remarkably unfavorable for in climate to grow said spices.  Got herbs, but herbs only go so far.  Spices are the way to go.

Seriously, before the world petrochemical thing, there was spice.  Pushing and pushing and pushing the expansion and exploration of trade routes.

That cinnamon roll you just scarfed?  That's a reasonable portion, in cinnamon, of a noble's ransom in early medieval times.

And it's not just spices.  Sugar itself was a huge luxury item until the widespread production of sugarcane in various African colonies and especially the West Indies.  Before that it had to be carried or shipped from India or Asia.  

Which, to tie it into the holiday season, is one of the many reasons why such sweet treats were and are popular around holidays.  And have been part of holiday celebrations ever since spices and sweeteners were first discovered.

So, on this Christmas Eve (checks calendar, yes, actually Christmas Eve today,) enjoy your kingdom's ransom of wonderful spices and seasonings.  Eat foods so flavorful even a Roman Emperor would be jealous.  And think about what you have in your cupboards and pantries.

Think about, in troubled times, how comforting a good spiced drink or confection can settle one's disturbed soul (so, well, don't just stock up on rice and freedom seeds and staples, stock up on some spices (especially cheap spice containers from Dollar Tree or such for trade goods.))

So Merry Christmas you wonderful people out there.  

And now for some music of the season.

Oh, oops, how'd that slip in there.
Bad Beans, Krampus will get you!

Hey, how else to keep your little monsters under control than to scare the pants off of them.
Or... Krampus is real...
Come on, it's Germany.  Where the original Hansel and Gretel get cooked in an oven for being over-indulged fat greedy food-shoveling little self-centered piglets of children.
Seriously, the original Hansel and Gretel is a daaaarrrrkkkk tale, really daaaaarrrk tale.

Okay, for real, here's some better music and video.


  1. Now there's a range of vids you don't see every day together and having Solid Gold Dancers referenced (gulp).....been awhile. As to the availability of spices today, very good points made Beans, take ice also, only for emperors and kings too.

    1. Shaved ice was an Italian treat fit for nobles. It was one of the signs of how powerful and rich Venice got during the Renaissance that the middle class and even some lower classes could enjoy gelato or flavored ice during the summer.

      And then there's ice houses and ice harvesting in these overly hot United States.

      Thank God for refrigeration, freezing, and other good methods of preserving.

    2. (Don McCollor)...In the California gold rush days, it was profitable to ship ice from New England to San Francisco and Hawaii round Cape Horn (until Alaska ice was found to be closer and cheaper). With refrigeration, I ran across an 'Icy ball" in a little SD museum. Composed of a larger ball the size of a basketball containing water outside the fridge and a smaller ball inside the fridge containing ammonia connected by a pipe. Basically, an ammonia refrigerator (ask a new young engineer how a refrigerator powered by kerosene works sometime). Ammonia vapor is adsorbed by the water, evaporating and cooling the small ball in the fridge. About once a day, the contraption was taken out and heated until the ammonia boiled out of the water and condensed in the small ball. Replaced in the fridge, the cooling cycle repeats. A simple sealed system with no internal moving parts and powered by any heat source...

    3. Until you have an ammonia leak and everyone dies...

      But yes, the ammonia cycle works quite well.

      As to St. Willis of the Carrier, Patron Saint of HVAC... His work is very appreciated here in the South.

  2. truly a very magical version of O Holy Night
    and a very merry Christmas to all

  3. With a slight word change, we can sing, "Spice, spice, baby."

    Have the best Christmas that you can.

    If you can find the time, I suggest watching "Rare Exports."

    1. Oh, I thought about SSB, but there's limits to how much pain even I'll inflict upon poor unsuspecting Chanters.

      And, to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, you may not get the Christmas you want, but if you try real hard, you'll get the Christmas you need.

      As to "Rare Exports," excellent movie, just not one I'll inflict upon Mrs. Andrew. I also want to see "Fat Man" starring Mel Gibson. And the "Krampus" slasher horror movie. Why? Just because.

      And remember, it's not Christmas Eve until a terrorist falls from Nakatomi Tower.

  4. But ALCOHOL is the best of all. Pick your favorite and enjoy! Even home brew, if you so desire.

    1. Alcohol is an essential health drink, especially in a poor sanitation environment. That and a constantly simmering thin soup during cold weather.

      Unless, like me, even eating cheese fondue with just a hint of alcohol gets one tiddly. Yes, I am a lightweight (at least about somethings...)

  5. I have loads of spices. I buy them in multi pound quantities. I told my nephew, if you spice it well, cardboard is delicious. I figure all the cats roaming around will be tasty treats if the Fed keeps playing these games. Note to self: buy some soy sauce..... I didn't realize until you wrote about it how expensive they would have been in ye olden daze.... I do remember that the spice islands were a thing back then.

    Your post yesterday then this one today reminded me of a story from my old Geometry teacher. Seems in the depression the gov was sending out "commodities" to the po'folks. Things no one had ever seen before, like grapefruit. He was the son of a pretty well to do farmer, and overheard a couple ladies discussing this weird stuff called grapefruit. "I do declare, I have tried EVERYTHING to get rid of the bitterness of this fruit." "I know, I know, Doris. I've baked it, fried it, boiled it and it still comes out bitter!!! Maks no nevermind what I put on it!!!" He knew what it was and how it tasted, but couldn't say anything (seen but not heard).

    If they were like my folks, salt, pepper, sorghum, or ketchup didn't help the grapefruit flavor at all!

    Happy Christmas Clan o' Chanters!

    1. At one time, one of my wife's friends worked in a restaurant supply house and she got to take home 'expired' spices, so for years during troubled financial times we had a quarter of a small pantry just full of those large plastic spice jars. Still working off of many of those, but now that cash is a little better, going to Sams and buying large quantities is definitely a thing.

      I also watch for the Half-Off stand at the local supermarkets for spices I use regularly. I've picked up some spectacular deals that way.

      Another thing to do is if your local mart has an 'ethnic food' section, check out the Badia line of spices in comparison to normal store brand or McCormicks or Spice Island brands. Sometimes the 'ethnic' spices are way cheaper than the 'normal' spices.

      As to grapefruit, yeah, heard some weird stories from the grandma about what the Government decided to send people. Then again, she worked with the senior community in California back when commodities were also provided by Uncle Sam as part of welfare and old age care. She helped set up a food swap/co-op so the various peoples could trade out things they didn't eat, and got local stores to donate a lot of 'almost expired' stuffs.

      But grapefruit? That was a weird one even in the 50's for a lot of people. My in-laws used to eat them with salt and sugar. Bleh. I just ate them 'raw' like God intended, and they'd give me looks like I was growing a 4th head (they already thought I was weird enough for a 2nd and 3rd head.)

      Ketchup? That's just... wrong.

      And soy sauce? One of the things I hate about where I live now is that there are no oriental markets anymore. So I can't go and buy a gallon of soy sauce at a time. Though Walmart sells pints at a decent price.

      And a happy and merry Christmas to you too.

    2. The Korean markets are over near Fort Sam Houston. You need some, I'll figure a way to get it to you.

    3. Nah, I'm good. 800 miles is just a tad too far to get Soy Sauce. I can go to Orlando if I really am desperate.

  6. Beans, another out of the park post! Most of this I knew (but had never thought about the quantity issue impacting a kingdom - but true!), but it is yet another great reminder of how blessed we truly are.

    Also, shout out for honey being an available sweetener (although, to be fair, also expensive and rare at the time)!

    1. Pound for pound, until the 1600's, spices were more valuable than gold. And now we can get salt and pepper packets for free at the local fast food restaurant. Weird times. And my grandmother hoarded disposable spice and ketchup packages. Many who grew up in the pre-Depression and Depression did the same thing.

    2. Honestly, we still have part of a drawer dedicated to left over ketchup and soy sauce packets that we get and do not use - because you know, we already paid once, why pay twice for a condiment?

    3. Yep. Me too. But it's been so long since I got fast food that my supply is critically low. Though during the lean times around 2014-2016, the stash got hit hard, even the salt and pepper packs.

      Now? I start getting shaky if there are less than 2 of any spice or condiment (one in use, one in backup) in my kitchen. Going to bump up to 3 or 4 for the popular stuff after the first of the year.

  7. Well done, Beans!

    Another triumph!

    (I've got tomorrow covered ...)

  8. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, poultry seasoning, sage...I can smell this post and you're making me hungry!

    1. Good! And that's what, along with smell of roasting turkey, my apartment will smell like tomorrow!

  9. To prove that even broken clock shows right time twice a day:
    Syfy production originally, later plundered by Amazon Prime
    if you havent watched it yet, I recommed it heartily.
    If Thucidydes trap in space does appeal to anyone, this is the way.

    1. Also, Merry Christmas to all at Chant du Depart... I waited with that to First Christmas Day proper.

  10. Posts like this is one of many reasons why I enjoy this blog!! How many other places can ya go read and learn not only about WWII and tanks, but also Middle Ages living. I did know how valuable spices were, simply because of having to transport everything by ship instead of by airplane. So I, too, make sure I have one for use and one for back-up. Because I do enjoy food that has taste, and my apple pie is much better with nutmeg and cinnamon as well as sugar!!

    Merry Christmas to all!!
    And safe travels to everyone on the road this holiday season...

    1. Ever hear of Henry the Navigator? It wasn't gold and silver and slaves that started the push to explorer that gave Hank his moniker. That, and the expansion of the Ottoman and pre-Ottoman empire thingy shutting down the Silk Road(s).

      And it was spice that drove Isabella to give Columbus money to sail west, which would have worked if the diameter of the Earth was what Columbus thought it was (approximately 18,000 miles) rather than the much larger diameter (25,000) that everyone since the Egyptians and Greeks knew.

  11. Merry Christmas to the whole crew at Chant du Départ. I hope you all have a great holiday. And I hope we all enjoy a better 2022.

  12. Merry Christmas from The Queen Of The World and me, guys.

  13. Trivia: Columbus tried to gain sponsorship of the Portuguese, but was refused, due to them realizing the difference in estimates. Also, they got pretty close already to realising their around-the -Africa route with Bartolomeo Diaz discovering Cape of Good Hope in 1487, and preparing for Da Gama expedition. Spanish took Columbus as a long shot, because they could not compete with Portuguese in waters around Africa.


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