Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 13:39:36 +0000
From: Whitchurch Ian <>
Subject: [Sca-cooks] Better cooking through Forensic Accountancy

Some time ago, after having found a really great source on fifteenth century weights and measures, I mentioned this to my good friend Eric the Fruitbat, and he replied "Yes, but what about the ever-popular quantity used in recepies, 'some' ?".

At the time, I had no comeback, but, as always, Deep Throat's advice of "Follow The Money" showed my future path.

Eventually, the Seymour Papers yielded up their treasures, and I found the receipt book for the interview between Henry VIII of England and the King of France in Calais in 1532.

What makes this useful to those of you who cook, and care nothing for money, is that Henry's ever-officious bureaucrats - bless their cotton socks - recorded the quantities bought as well as the expenditures. Thus, if we assume that they only bought what they needed, and didnt dip into stocks, and didnt save any for later, and didnt divert any for private purposes, we can get a clue as to the proprtion of nutmeg used to cinnamon used, and so on (I also suspect we can deduct some recepies from the accounts, but thats another story).

OK, here we go ... "A proporcion for the King out Souverain lord and the Frenche kinge with their trains as apereth by a boke of apointment thereof made". Remember, in England it's 12 pennies to the shilling, and 20 shillings to the pound (except when the currency is really, really being stuffed around with, which it wasnt right then).

Pepper ; 40 lb ; 66s 8d (ie 1s 13d per pound)
Saffron ; 4 lb ; 64 s (ie 16s per pound)
Cloves ; 80 lb ; 20 l (ie 5s per pound)
Maces ; 60 lb ; 20l (ie 5s per pound)
Nutmegs ; 4lb ; 21 s, 4d (ie 5s 6d per pound)
Cinnamon ; 30 lb ; 4 l 10s (ie 4s 4d per pound)
Ginger ; 15 lbs ; 25s (ie 1s 8d per pound)
almonds ; 400 lbs ; 112s (ie threepence hapenny a pound)
sanders ; 10 lb ; 10s (ie 12d per pound)
turnsole ; 10 lb ; 13s 4d (ie 16d per pound)
isinglass ; 20 lb ; 40s (ie 2s per pound)
rice : 60 lb ; 15s (ie threepence per pound)
aniseed : 60 lbs ; 20s (ie fourpence per pound)
graynes : 4 lb ; 6 s (probably grains of paradise ; ie 1s 6d per pound)
dates ; 200 lbs ; 50s (ie 3d per pound)
prunes : 200 lb ; 50s (ie 3d per pound)
races corans ; 200 lbs ; 33s 4d (raisins of corinth; ie 4d per pound)
races gr ; 2 pieces ; 20 s
strainers ; 20 dozen ; 33s 4d
sugar : 800 lb ; 20 l (ie 6d per pound)
aur pur ; 1000 ; 40s
paper : 4 reams ; 12 s
liquorice ; 20 lb ; 3 s 4d

BTW, to put these in perspective, here are some other prices from the same document

Eggs, 1000 per pound (ie four for a penny)
Oranges : 400 for 6s and 8d (ie 3 for a penny)
Apples : 2000 for 20s (ie 8 for a penny)
Chickens : 468 doz for 31 l 4s (ie roughly 3 pence a chook)

As far as earning power goes Henry VIII's soldiers are being paid 6d a day.

OK, back to the spices ... nutmeg and saffron are used very lightly, with only four pounds each being ordered. Fifteen pounds of ginger, 30 pounds of cinnamon and 40 pounds of pepper are bought, together with 60 pounds of mace and 80 pounds of cloves.

Therefore, these are Anton's rough-as-guts ratios for mid-sixteenth century English spice use.

Saffron, Nutmeg : 1
Ginger : 4
Cinnamon : 8
Pepper : 10
Mace : 15
Cloves : 20

As far as the later 16th century goes, we need to drop down a couple of social classes to the household books of Sir William Fairfax in 1580 (and I swear, after getting bloody Sir John Howard for the Wars of the Roses, if I find a Packer, a Beasely or a Crean as a primary source I'm goanna take up Heavy again and hit someone ... also this source has buckets of menus and so on).

This is a years spice supply for a smallish lower-upper class household - we're a bit later, so for purchasing power up the daily wage to ninepence. As far as raw quantities go, I'd be real careful on extrapolation - we'd be better off sticking with ratios.

Pepper, 30 lb at 2s per lb
Cloves 1 ½ lb at 11s the lb
Mace 1 ½ lb at 15s the lb
Suger 80 lb at 8d the lb
Synnimone 2 lb at 7s 6d the lb
Ginger 2 ½ lb at 2s 8d per lb
Nutmegges 1 lb at 8s
Currants 5lb at 4d per lb
Great raisins 32 lb at 3d per lb
Pruns at 4lb ; total 9s 8d
Almones 10 lb ; toal 12s 2d
Daites : 3 lb ; toal 2s 6d
Lycres ; 20 lb ; total 5s 10d (licorice)
Annesedes ; 20 lb ; toal 20 s
Bisketes and corrowais ; 4lb ; 6s 8d total
Isinglass ; 10 ½ lb ; 5 s total
Saunders ; 2 lb ; 3s 4d total (sundries)

OK, for lower-upper class in the late 16th, we get these rough-as-guts ratios

Nutmeg 1
Cloves 1
Mace 1
Ginger 2
Cinnamon 2
Currants 3
Pepper 20
Sugar 60

Big differences after 50 years and a couple of social classes, huh ...

Anton de Stoc, at Politokoplis, I Novembre

Sources :

Bath Longleat Manuscript, in Historical Manuscripts Commission, Vol IV Seymour Papers (1532-1686) ; in ANU library under DA25.M2B3 v4

Wombell et al Manuscript, in Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on Ms in Various Collections Vol 2 ; in ANU library under DA 25.M2 V2 1901 v2

JR Hale "War and Society in Renaissence Europe 1450-1620" (Fontana, 1985)

"Through the help of the list, futher work has
indicated (1) a pound of saffron is a heck of a lot of saffron, and (2)
saunders is more probably sandalwood, a substance that was used as a red dye."

-- Anton de Stoc (Ian Whitchurch)