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Spice: The History of a Temptation Paperback – August 9, 2005
100 Books for a Lifetime of Eating & Drinking
If you want to make an authentic tagine, bake mouth-watering cakes, or vicariously experience the life of a chef, you’ll find the book for it on this list.
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There was a time, for a handful of peppercorns, you could have someone killed. Throw in a nutmeg or two, you could probably watch. There was a time when grown men sat around and thought of nothing but black pepper. How to get it. How to get more. How to control the entire trade in pepper from point of origin to purchase. In Spice: The History of a Temptation, classics scholar Jack Turner opens up the whole story of pepper and its kind like a ripe melon. He brings the exotic scents of the East deep into the history of Western culture.
Everyone knows a little bit of the story, how the desire to control the spice trade drove Western nations deep into the heart of the Age of Discovery, the Portuguese sponsoring Da Gama's push to India; the Spanish underwriting the many attempts of Columbus to get to India another way. The Western madness for spice was just about peaking in this time, and spice would all too soon become--gasp--common, much like the afterthought condiment it is for so many today. Who thinks twice about pepper any longer?
And yet, the history is long and glorious, and the window spice throws open on Western culture yields a glorious view. Jack Turner is a skilled tour guide and story teller. He starts his narrative with the 16th century quest for spice, then loops back into three mains sections of text: Palate, Body, and Spirit. Turner has mined classic and Medieval literature for any and every possible mention of spice and demonstrates how fixated the West became from the time of Augustus in Rome through to relatively modern times. He winds his narrative through the way spice was used in the foods of the wealthy (and puts to sleep the nostrum about rotting food), as a medicine, a sex aid, and as an aromatic channel to the gods of the time and place. He ably demonstrates the constant underlying tension surrounding spice--that it was both attractive and repellent, that it represented fabulous wealth and power for some and, for others, an abhorrence of the exotic East that exists to this day.
This is not an easy story to tell. But Turner makes it appear effortless. Pull a chair close to the fire, pour a draught of spiced wine, crack open Jack Turner's Spice and you'll read your way into the wee hours of the night. --Schuyler Ingle --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Spices helped draw Europeans into their age of expansion, but the Western world was far from ignorant of them before that time. Turner's lively and wide-ranging account begins with the voyages of discovery, but demonstrates that, even in ancient times, spices from distant India and Indonesia made their way west and fueled the European imagination. Romans and medieval Europeans alike used Asian pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace to liven their palates, treat their maladies, enhance their sex lives and mediate between the human and the divine. While many of these applications were not particularly efficacious, spices retained their allure, with an overlay of exotic associations that remain today. Turner argues that the use of rare and costly spices by medieval and Renaissance elites amounted to conspicuous consumption. He has perhaps a little too much fun listing the ridiculous uses of spices in medieval medicine—since, as he notes in a few sparse asides, some spices do indeed have medicinal effects—and fails to get into the real experience of the people. His account of religious uses, on the other hand, paints a richer picture and gets closer to imagining the mystery that people found in these startlingly intense flavors and fragrances. It is this mystery and the idea that sensations themselves have a history that make the entire book fascinating.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Turner is scholarly but also witty and informal in his writing. You will learn a lot and also have a lot of fun while reading his book.
P.S. For extra fun, shovel a tablespoon of cinnamon in your mouth every time the author uses the word "whence".
Spices were costly and mysterious, and people thought that they came from Paradise itself, the place in the East from which Adam and Eve had been banished. It was to gain spices that Columbus sailed, and spices he did bring back, but they were disappointments; that did not stop the continued search for them, and the resultant expansion of the world. Turner shows that spices were not really used to help make old meat palatable; fresh meat was cheaper than spices. But they were used to improve wine, a use that became unnecessary after bottle and cork technology came in the sixteenth century. Though spices were not really responsible for warding off decomposition, they were thought vital for warding off disease. In medieval medical logic, sweet fragrances might drive off the bad vapors, and spices (most thought of as hot and dry) might drive off a cold (thought of as a disease of cold and wet). Millions of spam e-mails every day are sent to tell how to enlarge male sexual equipment; those who believe in such cures would do well to invest in the simpler, cheaper, and just as effective formulas given here from the chapter of the ancient treatise, _The Perfumed Garden_, "Prescriptions for Increasing the Dimension of Small Members and Making Them Splendid" The priapic value of spices is just one reason the church has had wildly ambivalent notions about them. There is scriptural documentation that the God of the Bible likes to be sent good smells, as have many gods before him, but Turner's quotations from theologians indignant over the eagerness of their parishioners (and, gasp, their clerics) to partake in spicy foods are among the most amusing parts of the book.
Ministers just don't care anymore about the theological implications of spicy food. The reduction of their interest in such things parallels the reduction in importance of spice as a focus of world economic effort. It became easier to import spices, and more importantly, it was possible to transplant them to places where it was easy to turn them into simple cash crops on farms. In medieval times, the rich showed off by giving feasts that had every course heavily spiced, but jewelry and houses (for instance) eventually filled the role of ostentatious consumption. When spices became cheap, it became a virtue to use just a little of them, and that to bring out inherent flavors in the main ingredients. When anyone could purchase them, spices lost not only economic cachet, but also the sort of mystical qualities that, say, Columbus sailed for. While it lasted, the fuss about spices made history and created our world as it is now; Turner's book is splendid at explaining what all the centuries of fuss were about.