This day in 1758 was not, as I pointed out in a post on the same day a couple of years ago, the first time that mustard was advertised in America. The perpetual myth is a good enough excuse, however, to use the day to again pay homage to that most ancient of condiments.
Just how long has mustard been used by humans? Since long, long before we started recording our dinners, for sure. The word is Anglo-Norman, so a legacy of 1066 and all that. The first reference noted by the Oxford English Dictionary dates to the year 1289, in a list of the Household Expenses of Bishop Swinfeld – the entry noting the purchase of four pence worth..
Mustard plants grew easily throughout Europe, and long before the ready availability of imported pepper it provided the main condiment to meat, and certainly in medieval times, it was an obligatory accompaniment to brawn.
Originally, mustard was made by grinding the seeds to an oily paste before mixing this with must (the pulp of grapes crushed for wine-making.) A sea-change in the preparation of mustard for the table occurred in 1720, when Mrs Clements of Tewkesbury developed a way to produce a dry mustard powder (or ‘flour’) – thus simplifying its preparation for the table, and allowing cooks and housewives to let loose their creative powers and produce a multitude of different mustards.
It is difficult to think of anything that has not been added to mustard in the name of ‘gourmet’ or ‘artisan’ specialties. It can be made hotter with pepper, ginger, horseradish, wasabi, or chilli. It can be mellowed down with honey, mayonnaise, milk, cream, or wine. The basic flavour can be enhanced with anchovies, truffles, any spices, herbs, or vinegars that you wish, as well as garlic, ‘curry’, and even chocolate.
The recipe I give you today is most unusual in that it uses the broth from corned beef in making up the mustard. It is from a source I used last week - The House Servant's Directory, or A Monitor for Private Families: Comprising Hints on the Arrangement and Performance of Servants' Work by the African-American Robert Roberts (1827)
A Great Secret to Mix Mustard, by M.B. of London
Take one quart of water that corned beef has been boiled in, skim off any fat that may remain,
then strain it and when cool put it into a junk bottle, then grate some horseradish, about two dessert spoonsful, and put into the bottle and shake it well up, and cork it tight. When you want to mix your mustard, take whatever quantum you think necessary, but you should never mix more than half your mustard pot full at once, as it is better when first mixed; first put the flour of mustard in a tea-cup, add to it half a teaspoonful of salt, mix well together, then put in your liquor, by degrees, that you may not make it too thin, mix extremely well together, until it becomes quite smooth; this method of mixing mustard is absolutely the best I have ever met with, as it much surpasses any other, both in strength and flavour.
Quotation for the Day.
His wit's as thick as Tewksbury mustard.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) 'King Henry IV'