Introducing: Tidbit Tuesday!

Today I’ll be unrolling a new feature that should keep things interesting. For me and you.

Tidbit Tuesday!

See? It’s a tasty tidbit.

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Alliteration!

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.

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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.

They’re wrapped in those thingies and they’re red.

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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.

He looks tired to me. Bags under the eyes.

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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.

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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).

The Moluccas Islands, or Spice Islands c. 1640-1643

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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.

Dollah dollah bills ya’ll.

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His plan looked like this.

1. Sail west.

2. Find the East Indies.

2. ?????

3. PROFIT!!!!!

So…where’s the actual plan?

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Columbus sailed west, hit the Americas, and discovered spices!

Right?

Wrong.

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.

“I can definitely see spices you guys! They’re right over there!”

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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?

Mastic plant.

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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.

“That’s definitely a cinnamon tree. Strip it.”

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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.

There really weren’t any monkeys involved but I couldn’t pass up a confused baby monkey. I mean come on.

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Well, no one can say he didn’t try.

Good effort, Columbus! You’ll get em next time!

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Keep eating and asking, my friends.

Esther

Bibliography:

Turner, Jack. “The Spice Seekers.” Spice: The History of a Temptation. New York: Knopf, 2004. 3-7. Print.

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4 thoughts on “Introducing: Tidbit Tuesday!

  1. What counts as a spice? Wolfgang Schivelbusch, in his book Das Paradies, der Geschmack und die Vernunft (literally Paradise, Taste and Reason, but published in English translation as Tastes of Paradise, 1980), uses the term for what we laypersons commonly think of as spices (cloves, say, or nutmeg and mace). But his book is really about Genussmittel, a German word only badly translated as “semi-luxury” or “means of pleasure.” The dozen pages he devotes to spices are enormously illuminating, but Schivelbusch then moves quickly to tea, coffee, chocolate and tobacco, and concludes by dealing with opium.

    • Yup, all of that is true and relevant, which is why I’m approving this spam comment. That also shows the importance of the idea of spice in the Early Renaissance, not to mention throughout most of early human history.

      Esther

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