Out of the East:
Spices and the Medieval Imagination
Yale History Professor Paul Freedman specializes in medieval social history, the history of Spain, the study of medieval peasantry, and medieval cuisine. He has written nine books and has published extensively in professional and academic journals. For about 500 years after 1000 A.D. Europe went nuts over spices. In Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination Paul Freedman explains why. In the medieval imagination spices came from exotic places and were status symbols. Spices were also edible, aromatics, drugs, and medicinal perfumes and they inspired Europeans to strike out for unknown lands to discover the secrets of the earth. In developing the story of spices, Freedman opens a window on how people lived in the past, what they thought was wonderful and what they thought they could learn about the world. Freedman examines the role of spices in Medieval cuisine and reviews several medieval cookbooks, revealing that they many times more spices in their cuisine than we find in modern cuisine. He also discusses the role of spices in medieval medicine and how various combinations of spices were thought to balance different humors. Not only did dreams of vast riches drive the European hunger for spices, they also believed there existed a Christian kingdom to the east and if they could connect with it, this kingdom would help them gains access to the riches of the spice trade and also drive the Muslims out of the Holy Land. The role of spices in religious ritual and the vast amounts of money made in the spice trade also drove the medieval %uropean passion for spices. One of the more fascinating aspects of Freedman's book is how he reveals and develops the slow process of medieval %uropeans discoveries about spices and the lands they originate in and the eventual Spanish and Portuguese efforts to locate the sources of spices. He concludes with a discussion of the rise and fall of spices and how we got to the present and our understanding of the world of spice. This fascinating and well written and researched book paints a fascinating picture of our past. I highly recommend it.