Nashe’s Shopping List 4: not without mustard!

I might be suffering from the effects of rhenish wine, but I think this pickled herring needs something to make it a little more palatable. Pass the mustard!

The hot taste should help to cover up the strong or even rancid pickled herring, and may go some way to helping with the effects of all that alcohol (anyone else feel like something died in their mouth?). It has been suggested that in the past mustard seeds were chewed during meals to cover the taste of questionable food. The seeds themselves are not flavourful until crushed when myronate and myrasin are released, which creates the hot taste. Does anyone in this drunken company fancy trying it? My bet is on Marlowe.

mustard seed

Of course, the type of mustard our host will be serving at his birthday party differs greatly from what we know today. Indeed, we owe the modern-day mustard to one Mrs Clements of Durham, who found a way of milling the mustard seed into a fine flour to create mustard powder in 1720. Prior to this, mustard was created by pounding the seeds in a mortar and mixing with vinegar. Older forms of mustard have been around since ancient times. The Romans used to grind mustard seeds and mix them with wine into a paste. The word ‘mustard’ comes from the Latin mustum ardens meaning hot or burning must. Must is the expressed juice of grapes and other fruits, which is then mixed with the crushed mustard seeds to create mustum ardens, a Roman speciality. However, the use of mustard seeds goes back to ancient times, as the plants were cultivated in Palestine and taken to Egypt, where they have been found in the pyramids. Mustard seeds are also mentioned in Sanskrit records dating back to 3000 B.C..

Mustard has been an important European condiment for hundreds of years, ninth-century French monasteries gained much of their income from mustard. The thirteenth-century pope John Paul XXII enjoyed mustard so much that he created a new position within the Vatican of grandmoutardier du pape, or great mustard-maker to the pope, and installed his nephew. The papal mustard came from the pope’s home of Corrèze. It is purple, made with red wine and shallots and it looks like this recipe is being resurrected here with the addition of blueberries.

English mustard is known for being hot, though Tewksbury mustard has the edge. Made with horseradish to make it hotter, Nashe claims this heat cannot come from the raw ingredients alone: ‘Not so much as Tewksburie mustard but hath a spirit in it or els it would neuer bite so’ (Terrors, sig. B4v). More on Tewksbury mustard here:

I take it everyone would like some mustard to go with their pickled herring? When Nashe discusses the habits of young men who periodically fast or starve so as to have the money to be seen in places of note (see previous blog post), he also raises the issue of mustard and how one’s fortunes can be measured by its presence. If a man has no money, and his ‘vnthrifts credite’ will no longer ‘serue to maintaine his Collidge of whores’ and he is driven to desperation, it is the lack of mustard to have with his poor fare that Nashe judges to be the ‘lamentablest of all’. Nashe paints a picture of such a character praying in a ‘desperate iest’ never to eat haberdine (salted cod) again in return for no longer fearing an untimely death. When the heavens seem to respond to his ‘mockery of praier’, he amends his plea to ‘not without Mustard good Lord, not without Mustard: as though it had been the greatest torment in the world, to haue eaten Haberdine without Mustard’ (Pierce Pennilesse, sig. B3r).  Despite Nashe’s mocking tone, there is a sense that if mustard is available to make one’s poor food a little more palatable, it is an indication that life itself is not as bad as it could be. To have no mustard is truly to be in dire straits.

Mustard or mustard and sugar appears as an accompaniment to many dishes in William Dawson’s Good Hus-Wife’s Jewel. Not only does it appear alongside haberdine, but also meat such as conies or rabbit, woodcocks and liver. In the second instalment of the Jewel he notes ‘Mustard is good with brawn, béefe, chine of bacon, and mutton’ (sig. B1r). He even includes it as part of a recipe for cherry tart: ‘Take out the stones, and lay them as whole as you can in a chardger, and put mustard in, sinamom and ginger to them, and laie them in a Tarte whole, and close them, & let them stand thrée quarters of an houre in the Ouen, then take a sirrop of Muskadine and damaske water and suger, and serue it’ (Jewel, p. 31). He also advises mustard with birds such as crane and heron:

mustard for heron and crane

There’s no telling what sort of shenanigans Thomas Nashe’s birthday party might have involved, but I think it’s fair to assume it would have been a raucous affair, with some strong personalities and drunken behaviour in the mix. Fortunately, with a ready supply of mustard and mustard seeds we are well placed to treat all sorts of ailments that may ensue. Mustard can be applied to swelling, for shoulder ache ‘grinde Figs & reasins of the sunne in a querne with mustardseede, of each like much with strong vineger, and apply it with a lambes skin’ (The Garden of Health, sig. Q4r), for a ‘Breast stopt with cold, seeth Figs with bruised mustard seede in wine, and drinke it luke warme’, for squinicie (tonsillitis)’ gargarise with the decoction of dryed Figs, and a dogs dung to open the apostume, or put mustard seede into Figs, and eate them at night to dissolue the grosse humors, and to open the lights, and helpe the breathing’, to avoid baldness ‘seethe the roots with Mustardseed in wine & wash therewith’ (sig. Cc4r). In his Garden of Health, William Langham dedicates a full section to the uses of mustard seed, which can be used in the treatment of sciatica, toothache, reducing phlegm, purging the head, venomous bites, coughs, aiding digestion and stomach problems…in fact it seems there is nothing mustard cannot help with. Andrew Boorde suggests ‘megrin’ could be treated by laying ‘a plaister made of mustard’ on the temples (The breuiarie of health, p. 62), and William Vaughan claims ‘mustard is very good to purge the brain’ (Naturall and artificial directions for health, p. 24); a useful piece of advice for those of us who don’t take so well to a hair of the dog hangover cure. Mustard was even part of an advised course for the prevention of plague. A 1593 government issued pamphlet suggests mustard seed should be part of a home preventative remedy along with saffron and egg. This powdered medicine should be ready for use so that ‘as soone as you suspect your selfe infected, dissolue it into ten spoonefuls of posset ale, and drinke it luke warme, then goe to bedde and prouoke yourselfe to sweating’ (Orders, sig. B3r).

Now that we might be sobering up slightly having lined our stomachs with pickled herring and mustard perhaps it is time for one of those drunken sombre moments. Perhaps this is the moment an uninvited guest like Gabriel Harvey wanders in and discourses upon the properties of the mustard seed, probably to much jeering. Let’s imagine he manages to speak for a few moments first, I think it is likely that in such company he would turn to a more wholesome text: the Bible. The Parable of the Mustard Seed appears in the Gospel of Matthew (13:31-32), and is a short illustration of the ability of something small to grow into something large and strong, which Jesus likens to the kingdom of heaven. This becomes a frequent trope and reference point in sermons of Nashe’s time to illustrate the power of faith and the word of God. George Abbot notes that faith is ‘like a grain of mustard seed, a spark among the ashes, a little breath in the body’, small but powerful. He also draws upon this metaphor in relation its physical effects as he compares the word of God to a mustard seed ‘which being first ground and then tasted, by the biting thereof maketh the countenance sowre, the forehead contracted, or drawne into a narrow roome, the teares to breake forth, but it is wholesome and purgeth the head’.

Etching by Jan Luyken from the Bowyer Bible (1795), and a mustard seed with a mustard tree in the background, to sum up what would undoubtedly be a lengthy speech from Harvey.

I don’t know about a metaphor for faith, but I think many of this party will be feeling the much more potent and visceral effects of mustard, as well as the pickled herring and booze by now.

I’m sure Nashe would have some choice words to send Harvey off at this point.

Let the carousing continue!

References and Further Reading:

Handbook of Herbs and Spices, ed. by K. V. Peter (Cambridge: CRC Press, 2001)

Orders, thought meete by Her Maiestie, and her Priuie Counsell to be executed throughout the counties of this realme, in such townes, villages, and other places, as are, or may be hereafter infected with the plague, for the stay of further increase of the same : also, an aduise set dovvne vpon Her Maiesties expresse commaundement, by the best learned in physicke within this realme, containing sundry good rules and easie medicines, without charge to the meaner sort of people, aswell for the preseruation of her good subiects from the plague before infection, as for the curing and ordering of them after they shall be infected.  (London: 1593)

Andrew Boorde, The breuiarie of health vvherin doth folow, remedies, for all maner of sicknesses & diseases, the which may be in man or woman. Expressing the obscure termes of Greke, Araby, Latin, Barbary, and English, concerning phisick and chirurgerie. Compyled by Andrew Boord, Doctor of phisicke: an English-man, ( London : By Thomas East, 1587).

William Dawson, The good husvvifes ievvell VVherein is to be found most excellent and rare deuises for conceits in cookerie, found out by the practise of Thomas Dawson. Whereunto is adioyned sundry approued reseits for many soueraine oyles, and the way to distill many precious waters, with diuers approued medicines for many diseases. Also certaine approued points of husbandry, very necessarie for all husbandmen to know.(London, 1587)

William Dawson, The second part of the good hus-wiues iewell Where is to be found most apt and readiest wayes to distill many wholsome and sweet waters. In which likewise is shewed the best maner in preseruing of diuers sorts of fruits, & making of sirrops. With diuers conceits in cookerie with the booke of caruing (London, 1597)

William Langham, The garden of health conteyning the sundry rare and hidden vertues and properties of all kindes of simples and plants, together with the maner how they are to be vsed and applyed in medicine for the health of mans body, against diuers diseases and infirmities most common amongst men. Gathered by the long experience and industrie of William Langham, practitioner in phisicke. (London, 1597)

William Vaughan, Naturall and artificial directions for health deriued from the best philosophers, as well moderne, as auncient. By William Vaughan, Master of Artes, and student in the ciuill law. , London : Printed by Richard Bradocke, 1600)

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