Today I’ll be unrolling a new feature that should keep things interesting. For me and you.
Every Tuesday I’m going to throw a food tidbit up on this here blog. It could come from something from the interwebz, something from a book, or something I was told by another human bean.
I thought it would keep things interesting. And besides, sometimes you don’t want to read a whole post. Sometimes you just wanna know what fresh pistachios look like.
And that’s what pistachios look like when they’re raw. You’re welcome.
Anyway, today’s Tidbit (yup, it’s capitalized) will be a revelation to some and old news to others. It’s about our buddy Columbus, the guy we just celebrated for “discovering” the Americas.
Lots of people think that Columbus sailed the ocean blue to discover the East Indies. Well, yeah that was part of it. But the driving force? Not the desire to upturn the lives of the natives. Not the glory of discovering a new land (the Indies weren’t new). It was spices. He was looking for spices.
In the 1400s, spices were a desirable commodity. Unlike today when we can walk into any old grocery store and pick up a container of peppercorns, spices were grown in specific and mysterious areas of the world that Christians didn’t dare go (so much evil!). For ages, Muslims ruled the spice routes, selling their wares to Christians fascinated by the delightful treasures.
The journey was long and filled with middlemen so the prices got jacked up. Like 1,000% jacked up, sometimes even more: “with cost came an aura of glamour, danger, distance, and profit” (Turner 5).
Then came Columbus who was like “Enough is enough.”
(The following is an actual, historical, totally real conversation that was recorded in like the late 1400s or something.)
Columbus: Spain, it’s time for us to run this spice trade game. Gimme some money for a voyage, I’ll bring back the spices, and then WE can make the profit and break ties with the Infidels! Genius!
Everyone: But you don’t know how to get there/find it.
Columbus: I’ll just got west instead of east cause if I sail around the world the other way eventually I’ll hit spice land. It’s called logic. Gimme money.
And they gave him money.
His plan looked like this.
1. Sail west.
2. Find the East Indies.
A month into the journey, Columbus wrote that “without a doubt there is in these lands a very great quantity of gold…and also there are stones, and there are precious pearls and infinite spicery” (Turner 7). The kicker was, at the time of writing, he hadn’t actually seen any of that yet. He kinda just…decided he had. He wanted so badly to find spices and knew so little about their unharvested form that he made himself believe he’d found them.
His crew was the same way. They thought they’d seen aloe, rhubarb, and mastic trees (mastic is the resin of an evergreen shrub used for dyes, perfumes, and varnishes in medieval times). To cover their butts, Columbus wrote “But I do not recognize them, and this causes me much sorrow” (Turner 7). How could anyone blame him if he was wrong?
And what of the cinnamon sample he brought back from his journey? It went bad on the trip home which Columbus attributed to his poor harvesting technique. Oh, also, it wasn’t actually cinnamon. It was the bark of some unknown Caribbean tree.
Columbus went on his voyage with the intention of finding an old world filled with spice and wealth. Instead he found some very confused natives.
Well, no one can say he didn’t try.
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
Turner, Jack. “The Spice Seekers.” Spice: The History of a Temptation. New York: Knopf, 2004. 3-7. Print.