& SPICES by Wm. Gorby
going into a great deal of information about each
of the herbs or spices available, I thought that
perhaps I would discuss some of the more common
herbs/spices that would have been in existence
during the 18th century. I will also briefly talk
about when they came into common use and where
they are found. Remember, even though they were
available during the 18th century, depending on
your personae and your geographical area, you may
not have had access to the spice or the money
required to obtain the item. Also, early on,
people actually prized certain herbs or spices for
their supposed medicinal qualities rather than
their ability as a flavor enhancer.
the more common herbs of this time were members of
the mint family. With the exception of the sweet
basil, the members of this family were all
indigenous to the Mediterranean region. Basil was
indigenous to Africa. The members that comprise
this family are basil, marjoram, peppermint,
rosemary, sage, and thyme. While oregano is also a
member of this family, its use in North America
was virtually nonexistent until after World War
II, due to its introduction by re- turning GIs.
All of the others were available to Europeans
during the 18th century and all were used as far
back as the time of the Roman Empire. Of these,
the three most commonly used would have been
peppermint, mostly for medicinal teas, sage and
was used in England to make infusions prior to the
introduction of tea. An infusion in this context
means the herb is allowed to steep in water at
room temperature instead of using boiling water.
While we normally think of sage as the main flavor
ingredient of sausage its association with pork
was unknown prior to the mid 19th century.
was also very common in the 18th century, however
it wasn’t used to flavor food, it was used as a
medicine. The oil of thyme has been as an
ingredient of mouthwashes and disinfectants since
the early 16th century. The oil in thyme is very
active in retarding the growth of the
staphylococcal and salmonella bacteria. Both of
the bacteria are responsible for food poisoning
although each causes a different type.
staphylococcal is one of the main skin
contaminants and is responsible for the infections
most often associated with superficial cuts,
scratches, and abrasions, it might be helpful and
historically correct to carry a vial of thyme oil
to treat cuts and scratches.
group of herbs that were available in the 18th
century as well as the early 19th century are
members of the carrot family. The flavors of this
group of herbs derives its variety of flavors not
from the green growth portion but from essential
oils derived from the seeds. Among these herbs are
anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, dill, and
fennel. Each of these herbs have been used for
thousands of years. All of these herbs were used
by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
seeds have been found in archeological excavations
in Switzerland dating around 8,000 years ago.
Coriander has been used as an herb/spice since
before 5,000 B.C.. Coriander became very popular
in Europe, particularly France, in the 17th
century. Shortly after its arrival in France, it
was widely used in England. Parsley was used by
the Greeks mainly for medicinal purposes. It was
introduced into England during the time of the
Roman occupation, over 2,000 years ago. Cumin is
mentioned in both the Old and New Test- aments and
reference is made to it in early English writings
well before the 18th century; actually around the
time of the Norman Invasion.
which belongs to the ginger family, along with
cardamom and tumeric, comprise another group of
herbs, or spices which were all available to the
18th century personae. The Chinese were using
ginger in the 6th century B.C.. It app- eared in
the Mediterranean area in the 1st century A.D.,
brought there by early traders. By the 16th
century it was widely cultivated throughout the
West Indies, brought there by the early Spanish
exployers. Tumeric first appears in European
writings in the Middle Ages, and was used not only
as an herb or spice, but also as a dye for
clothing. There are also a number of herbs and
spices that were well known in the 18th century
but are not classified under any of the previous
families of plants and are not by any means
native to the West Indies and Central America was
first discovered during the Spanish Invasion of
Mexico. It was in common use in London by 1601.
is the dried inner bark of an evergreen tree in
the laurel family. It is native to Asia and was
traded and used extensively as long as 3,000 years
ago. During the Middle Ages it was 2nd only to
black pepper in popularity. It is certainly an
item that would have been very common in 18th
are the dried floral buds of a tropical evergreen
tree, native to the East Indies. It was first used
by the Chinese in 300 B.C.. It was used by the
Egyptians in the 2nd century A.D. and was widely
used in Europe by the 8th century.
is the shelled seed of an evergreen, native to the
Spice Islands or the East Indies. Mace is the
covering of nutmeg seed. Both are used primarily
to sweeten beverages and desserts and have been
used extensively since the 12th century. Both are
therefore historically correct for the 18th
pepper is the dried fruit of the tropical pepper
vine native to India. This spice was also used as
far back as the time of the Roman Empire. The
fruit is picked green, allowed to ferment in the
sun for a short period of time in order to develop
a more pungent flavor and then dried.
finally, there is vanilla. Native to Central
America, it was unknown to Europeans prior to 400
years ago. the product is extracted from the fruit
of a climbing vine that is a member of the orchid
family. While this spice was available in the 18th
century it would be the most difficult to obtain
of all the spices and herbs discussed to this
point. There were many attempts to grow the plant
in other tropical areas early after its discovery
but all failed. Successful growth of the plant
outside Central America did not occur until the
mid 19th century. Because of limited cultivation,
large quantities of vanilla were never available
for export until as previously noted in the 19th
this simplistic overview has been beneficial to
you. It has changed some of the foods that I now
carry and has certainly enhanced the flavor of
what I consume.
would like to discuss some of the most basic 18th
century foods, grains. Because grains are
concentrated source of protein, carbohydrates, and
fat, and are easily stored for long periods of
time, they have played a crucial role in human
nutrition for tens of thousands of years.
are convenient. They are an excellent source of
protein and are capable of long term,
nonrefrigated storage. While no grains are
composed of complete proteins, various cultures
have learned through- out history to combine
certain grains to form complete sources of protein
in the diet. Even those people living in the 18th
century knew which foodstuffs could be combined to
produce the best diets. Remember; the body cannot
store the amino acids of an incomplete protein and
wait to pick up the ones it needs later in the
day. The protein must be complete when ingested or
it is lost. While not important for a weekend
trek, it could have been the difference between
life and death to the early pioneer or
grains that will be discussed are wheat, barley,
rice, maize, rye, and oats. The first four have
been with us for thousands of years. Rye and oats
are relatively recent domestications. The edible
portion of the cereal plant, commonly called the
grain or kernel is technically a complete fruit.
Three of the grains, barley, oats, and rice bear
fruits that are covered by small, tough leaf-like
structures that fuse to form the husk. Wheat, rye,
and maize bear naked fruits and do not have to be
husked prior to milling.
is one of the oldest of the cultivated food
plants. Wheat has been found in tombs and early
writings as far back as 5500 B.C.. Compared to
other cereals, wheat is a very demanding crop. It
is very susceptible to disease, grows poorly in
warm humid climates, grows best in cooler
climates, but it cannot be grown as far north as
rye or oats. It was brought to America in the 17th
century but did not reach the great plains until
able to locate writings from early American
history that wheat was first grown in North
America in 1602. The first wheat grown in Virginia
was in 1611. Wheat never achieved the status in
Virginia that tobacco did. Most Virginia planters
were loath to waste land on wheat since the market
value of tobacco was so much greater and wheat was
so hard to raise in Virginia. Maryland depended
less on tobacco than did Virginia, and more on
wheat. This was due to the cooler temperature and
the avail- ability of water power in the
Chesapeake Bay region to mill it.
American colonies made their first substantial
exports of wheat and flour to England in 1767 when
Britain abolished the import duty on both these
pro- ducts. In 1773, when grain crops failed
throughout Europe, England’s survival was, for
at least 2 years, dependent upon America’s wheat
exports. It is interesting, in light of this
information that England chose to alienate her
American colonies to the point of rebellion.
grown throughout America during the 18th century,
produced an average yield often bushels of wheat
per acre, according to Thomas Jefferson. Today the
average yield of one acre of wheat is close to 100
bushels. By 1718 wheat was an important part of
colonial life, and its importance continued to
grow throughout the 18th and 19th century. Its
importance today can easily be seen by noting the
market increase in yield per acre that has been
able to achieve. Wheat as a component of a
trekkers food supply would obviously be correct.
ground up and mixed with water, the protein
component of wheat forms a complex, semi-solid
structure called "gluten". Gluten is
unique in that its structure is both plastic, and
elastic. It can stretch under pressure and yet
resists pressure applied to it. It is this unique
property that allows us to make bread. It is also
why it is added to cornmeal to make cornbread.
Without the wheat the cornmeal has no structure or
integrity. The gluten will expand to accommodate
the gases produced by yeast, and yet will contain
the gases without stretching to the point of
that we have established the availability of wheat
for the 18th century personae, I would like to
discuss barley. Along with wheat, barley is one of
the oldest known grains. The remains of coarsely
ground combinations of wheat and barley have been
found in Stone Age archeological excavations.
Barley has the advantage of a relatively short
growing season and is by nature a very hardy
plant, resisting both frost and drought. It is
grown from the arctic circle to the tropical
plains of northern India. Barley was the chief
grain used by the ancient Hebrews, Romans, and
Greeks to make bread. Barley was the chief bread
grain in Europe until the 16th century. Barley
lost much of its importance in bread making when
leavened bread became common. Barley has a very
low "gluten" content and is relatively
refractory to the action of the yeast. Remember
the advantages of both the elastic and plastic
properties of wheat gluten are what makes wheat so
exceptional for bread-making.
was introduced into the Americas in 1543 by the
second Spanish Governor of Colombia. The Pilgrims
planted it in New England when they arrived, but
without much success. Early Pennsylvanians proved
more receptive to it and grew it in fair
quantities. The early Pennsylvanians didn’t use
it for bread making however, they combined it with
their limestone filtered water and made an
excellent whiskey of it. This would ultimately
lead to the Whiskey Rebellion of the 18th century.
third grain to be discussed is rye. Rye seems to
have originated in central Asia around 4,000 B.C..
It moved slowly westward as a contaminating weed
in the cultivated fields of wheat and barley of
Nomadic tribes. Rye is a relative new-comer among
human foods, having attracted little attention as
a food stuff prior to 1,000 B.C.. Early in its
history it was heavily cultivated in England,
central and Northern Europe. Up until our present
century it was the predominant bread grain of
first planted in the new world by the French in
Nova Scotia in 1606. Samuel de Champlain was said
to have personally grown it for his household use
4 years later. Jesuit missionaries attempted to
introduce it to the Iroquois along with
Christianity. While appreciated by the Jesuits,
the Indians continued to use maize. Both wheat and
rye were plant- ed in colonial America from
southern Virginia to New England. Rye flourished
when wheat would not. However a good deal of the
rye found its way into the manufacturing of
England, rye was often mixed with cornmeal to make
a dark Indian cornbread. Rye has enough gluten in
it to closely compete with wheat for the ability
to turn out excellent bread. Rye has from earliest
times caused great plaques throughout the world
because of its susceptibility to ergot, which
rarely infects other cereal grains. Ergot is a
parasite fungus that under the right conditions
will contaminate large areas of rye growth.
the actual chemical component of the fungus causes
severe constriction of blood vessels that can
completely shut down the circulation to certain
areas of the body. It can cause gangrene of the
extremities, seizures, psychosis, and other
neurologic disorders due to the decrease in blood
flow of the central nervous system. Since it
decreases blood flow to female uterus, it leads to
miscarriages and in the 18th century was used to
cause therapeutic abortions. In most cases,
however, it killed both mother and child.
last major recorded epidemic of ergot poisoning
took place in 1816, in France. The main reason it
claimed so many lives, aside from the limited
knowledge of the chemistry of ergotamine was the
failure of the ergot to actually alter the taste
of the rye.
interesting sidelight to ergotamine is that under
the right conditions, when ergot- amine is baked
in bread, because of the heat and presence of
certain carbohydrate and protein compounds it can
be converted to lysergic acid diethyl- amide or
LSD. In all probability it is the resultant
effects of both the ergotamine and LSD which
caused people throughout time to believe in demon
possession and witchcraft. The neurologic effect
of ergotamine or LSD certainly would lead one to
assume you were possessed. And if the population
of the entire villages died along with their
animals I would assume witchcraft might be blamed,
especially when there was no evidence of any
contagious process. In fact, during the time in
Salem Witch Trials in New England, the primary
grain under cultivation was rye.
today with our modern methods of farming, the
contamination of rye is no longer a problem. I
consider this a great plus since I have started to
use quite a bit of rye flour while trekking.
Biscuits made of rye flour in my opinion are
superb, even though they may not be as light as
one of wheat.
would like to discuss oats. During my research on
the subject of grains I came across an interesting
definition of oats from a 17th century dictionary:
"a grain which in England is generally given
to horses, but in Scotland supports the
people." This seems to be the general opinion
of the English in respect to this grain. Oats
probably originated in the area now known as
Germany. They have a great reference for cooler
climates. Originally oats were merely contaminants
of fields of wheat or barley, where they were
pulled up and burned. Eventually it was discovered
that oats made great food for livestock and so the
burning ceased. Oats are relatively recent with
respect to cereal grains, having been known for
only 2,000 years.
during the 18th century, the Celts, Scots, and
Welsh consumed the greatest amount of oats as
food. The rest of the world generally used oats as
feed for livestock. Oats have about 5 times the
fat content of wheat, and because of its high fat
content it has a tendency to become rancid. This
would in the 18th century generally decease its
long term storage. Also oats have no gluten
producing proteins which means that no breads can
be made from oat flour.
another grain that has been with us for quite some
time, but one we don’t generally talk about when
discussing trek- king. It certainly is applicable
and was very available during the 18th century.
Alexander the Great introduced rice into Europe in
300 B.C.. South Carolina was the location of the
first commercial American planting in 1685. In
1731, South Carolina exported 42,000 barrels of
rice to England. In 1765 three times that number
of barrels was shipped to England. During the
American Revolution, when the British occupied
Charleston, South Carolina, they harvested all the
rice in the Carolinas and sent it to England,
along with the rice that should have been saved
of this, from around 1780 to 1787, when Thomas
Jefferson provided the Carolinas with new seed
from France, rice was generally not available in
the United States, (there was some trade from
Canada). This could be important if your personae
is in existence during this time period. The
presence of rice as a commercial crop once again
in the south helped this area recover faster from
the ravages of the American Revolution, than the
finally there is corn. Corn however, is probably
not what you think it is: it is a generic term and
it depends on where you live. In the United
States, corn means maize. In England the term
means wheat and in Scotland corn is the same as
oats. In northern Germany, Korn is rye. In truth
all corn means is "grain" and each
locality interprets it as standing for its own
18th century colonies, as well as today, when we
speak of corn, we speak of maize. Maize is a
relatively new grain when compared to the rest of
the grains we have discussed. It is a grain unique
to the Americas and while used for thousands of
years by the Native American Peoples, it wasn’t
until the first voyage of Columbus, in 1492, that
Europeans learned of this grain. It is definitely
the single most valuable food plant contributed by
the New World to the Old.
by all historical accounts originated in the
southern areas of Mexico around 700 B.C.. By 4,000
B.C. it was in the area now known as the
southwestern United States. It reached the Ohio
River Valley a mere 2,000 years ago. Regardless of
the time of its arrival, as soon as it did, it
became a staple food of the Indian culture that
saved the first white Virginians from starvation
during their very first winter in Jamestown, when
the Indians gave Captain John Smith some 500
bushels of corn, after the Virginians had
exhausted their food supply. It was also the food
that allowed the New England Plymouth colony to
survive and prosper. First raised in Europe in
significant quantities around 1525 by the Spanish,
it finally reached England in 1562. Generally,
throughout Europe and England it was little used
and considered quite inferior to other more common
United States, from the 17th century through the
present, corn has always been highly prized.
During the American Revolution, the Continental
Army virtually "lived on cornmeal". It
was a useful item in any form to the early
colonist or frontiersman. Even today at least half
of all the corn produced in the world comes from
the United States. While any of the previously
discussed grains would not be out of place during
a historical trek, corn, or maize certainly may
have been more available.
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Sioux prepare a favorite dish, used at great
feasts, called wash-en-ena, consisting of dried
meat pulverized and mixed with marrow, and a
preparation of cherries, pounded and sun-dried.
This mixture, when eaten raw or cooked, has an
agreeable vinous taste. To this compound is
frequently added, when to be cooked, a kind of
flour made from root of pomme blanc, (white
apple,) thus designated by the French Canadians,
and derived from the Psoralea
You may notice how this report made it sound that
our Native American brothers were a poor people,
not able to care for themselves, living off the
land with items that no other people would
consider eating, unheard of to the Europeans.
of the government reports of this period were
written to sway public opinion, to moving the
Native American to central locations where the
government could provide living quarters and a
steady food supply.