Thursday, January 7, 2010
Garlic is a Spice
In the Middle Ages, the term spices was applied to all costly goods (except gems) imported to Europe from the East, and extended to items no longer commonly called spices, such as dyes, drugs, perfumes, textile fibers, aphrodisiacs, and sugar, as well as what we today call spices, like pepper (meaning peppercorns), cardamom, ginger, turmeric, various herbs, the chilies (newly arrived from America), garlic (called the peasant’s theriaca by the thirteenth-century doctor Arnold of Vilanova), and saffron, a true luxury.
Garlic is a spice, yet even though its history in the Mediterranean is very old, the mad desire of Europeans for the exotic spices of the East led them to overlook garlic. Europeans traded gold and silver for the spices of the East, a fact that displeased kings and finance ministers, who thought it a poor trade. Ferdinand of Spain tried to stop the importing of cinnamon and pepper in exchange for silver by saying, “Buena especia es el ajo” (Garlic is a perfectly good spice). However, popular opinion held that garlic “sempre è cibo rusticano” (always is a peasant food), although with the right preparation it could become gentlemen’s food. Perhaps garlic is the “plant of civilization.” It enlivens food.
In the meantime, try this garlic soup. More garlic soups are in my latest book Best Soups in the World.