Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What-I'm-Reading-Wednesday: Spice: A History of a Temptation by Jack Turner

The History of a Temptation
by: Jack Turner

Blog Posting Written by: MaryJo Price

Many of us take the spices in our cupboard for granted.  It seems unlikely that we think of the history of the expensive spices that ruled the world.   The five spices of fame are: cinnamon, nutmeg/mace, ginger, cloves, and pepper.  The search around the world for these spices led Vasco da Gama, Columbus, and Magellan to sail to the Americas, India, and around the world. 

Jack Turner’s book gives us a unique way to explore history and human culture.  Turner uses seven chapters to show the reader how spices changed the world.  Turner writes about The Spice Race, Ancient Appetites, Medieval Europe, The Spice of Life, The Spice of Love, Foods for the Gods, Some like it Bland, and The End of the Spice Age.

Before the cultivation of spices began, cloves grew on five tiny volcanic islands in what is today the Indonesian archipelago; nutmeg/mace grew on the archipelago of Bandas or South Moluccas; pepper came mostly from Malabar on the southwest coast of India, ginger from Southeast Asia, and cinnamon from Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  The fact that spices were so difficult to find contributed to their expense and their mystical attraction.  

Nations rose and fell as their hold on the spice trade was taken over by another.  Turner covers the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the English empires.  He writes about the Age of Discovery, the impact the spice trade had on the relationship between the West and the East, the part religion played in the history of spices, and how the allure disappeared as spices became more affordable and commonplace.  

Turner inserts anecdotal information throughout the book.  One interesting tidbit is that Ramses II (1224 BC) had a peppercorn inserted into each nostril.   This lends validity to the fact that spices were used for preserving the dead.   The book teems with Interesting facts and information about the explorers, medical uses, culinary information, about spices to make ale and wines more palatable, cloves financed Magellan’s voyage, and so much more.

Turner’s books provides fascinating reading through the ages of exploration, wars, love, religion, cooking, finances, and everyday life, giving the reader an insight into human culture, and history.  After reading Spice: The History of a Temptation we will look at the spices in the cupboard with a different viewpoint.

This volume is available to request from the Ort Library catalog here:   Click on “Availability,” the click on the yellow “Request” button.  Log in using your first name and 14 digit library number from your ID.  If you need assistance, please contact the Circulation Desk at 301 687-4395.

Photos by: MaryJo Price

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