Today, August 10th …
On this day in 1390 in France, a regulation was put in force that mustard was to contain only “good seed and suitable vinegar”. It is not clear (to me) why the French government suddenly felt it necessary to legislate its production, as mustard had already been cultivated in Europe for centuries, if not millennia. The love affair of European humans with spicy food must have started with this hot little seed, and it was certainly the cheapest – by virtue of its being locally grown - way of spicing up the cold roast or the leftover boar’s head.
The “must” in mustard refers to mixing of the seed with grape must, and the suffix “-ard” means “hardy” – presumably in the sense of keeping well, or perhaps suggesting its assertiveness. This assertiveness (or should that be aggression?) is due to a chemical reaction that occurs when the seeds are crushed, releasing glycosides plus an enzyme that breaks them down into very bite-y hot compounds which quickly mellow unless the reaction is stopped by the addition of vinegar.
In spite of the French legislators’ impulse to purity and minimalism in mustard, cooks have always fiddled with flavour.
Honey for sweetness was popular; from 14th C England we have:
Take Mustard seed and waishe it & drye it in an ovene. Grynde it drye. Sarce it thurgh a sarce, clarifie hony with wine & vynegr & stere it wel togedr, and make it thikke ynowz & whan thou wilt spende thereof make it thynne with wine. (Forme of Cury, c 1390)
And the English – who love their mustard hot – sometimes even added horseradish and ginger to fuel the fire:
To Make Mustard.
The best way of making Mustard is this: Take of the best Mustard-seed (which is black) for example a quart. Dry it gently in an oven, and beat it to subtle powder, and searse it. Then mingle well strong Wine-vinegar with it, so much that it be pretty liquid, for it will dry with keeping. Put to this a little Pepper, beaten small (white is the best) at discretion as about a good pugil and put a good spoonful of Sugar to it (which is not to make it taste sweet, but rather, quick, and to help the fermentation) lay a good Onion in the bottom, quartered if you will, and a Race of Ginger scraped and bruised, and stir it often with a Horse-radish root cleansed, which let always lie in the pot till it hath lost its vertue, then take a new one. This will keep long, and grow better for a while. It is not good till after a month, that it have fermented a while. Some think it will be the quicker if the seed be ground with fair water, instead of vinegar, putting store of Onions in it. (K.Digbie, 1669)
Tomorrow: Welsh Rabbit.
Quotation for the Day …
Mustard’s no good without roast beef. Chico Marx.