Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Book Review: Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination by Paul Freedman

Pros: detailed examination of the subject matter, lots of minor details

Cons: could have used more maps

After the introduction the book has eight chapters and a conclusion. The chapters are: 
Spices and Medieval Cuisine 
Medicine: Spices as Drugs 
The Odors of Paradise 
Trade and Prices
Scarcity, Abundance, and Profit
“That Damned Pepper”: Spices and Moral Danger
Searching for the Realms of Spices
Finding the Realms of Spices: Portugal and Spain

The book is fantastic. It examines spices as food enhancements, medicine, trade items from exotic locales, and more. I loved that the author often made asides that filled in information of what was happening in other parts of the world so as to better understand Europe’s place in it. 

I especially loved learning about the myths and legends surrounding India and Asia, and the snakes that guard the pepper plants and diamonds.  

I find it fascinating the amount of spices used in the middle ages, especially in food, compared to today. Some of the combinations seem so bizarre I want to try them, just to see what they were like. Did they know something we’ve forgotten about spice blends?

The book has a few black and white illustrations and maps, but given the subject matter, more would have been appreciated.

If you’re interested in spices and/or the middle ages, this is a worthwhile read.

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