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For those always fighting the Battle of the Bulge, mustard is much more calorie-friendly than mayo, and the foodies who lean toward historic foods are receptive to it because of its longevity. Let’s take a closer look.
Mustard was in constant use in the 18th century in dressings, sauces, and as a flavoring. The tender leaves were used in salads, but the seeds were more prized for culinary and medicinal purposes.
A silver mustard pot. Silver mustard pots had a glass insert which prevented the vinegar in the mustard from reacting negatively with the silver. The liners were often red or cobalt blue in color. The silver pot was often worked in an open pattern showing the glass liner inside. There is an opening in the lid for a spoon. Such pots were still being used well into the 19th century.
The EDC, Europeenne de Condiments, website credits the Chinese with being the first to grind mustard seeds and mix them with an acid (verjuice) to make prepared mustard some 3000 years ago. It would be many centuries before that first coarse mixture became the creamy condiment upper class French citizens recognized by the mid-1600’s.
If they had mustard at all, the poor of France continued to make do with a coarsely made product very little different from that of the Chinese into the 17th century, although the upper class was very familiar with the better mustard of Dijon, that region having produced a product of such quality it was granted the exclusive right to prepare it in 1634.
Pope John XXII, a Frenchman, was so fond of the peppery condiment that he established a position for mustard maker, or moutardier, during his service as pope [1316-1334]. That position remained continuously filled until the 1930’s.
Perhaps the best remembered of the early mustard makers (even before Colman) was Antoine-Claud Maille who began producing prepared mustard in quantity in 1747. The Maille Company still produces mustard today. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/france/burgundy/719515/Dijon-Weekend-to-remember.html
The “mustard-maker” was referred to in poetry published in several works by the 1740’s. – Swift, Johnathan. The Works of Johnathan Swift. 1742. Dublin.
Whole seeds could be purchased for use at home or the seed could be harvested from crops grown at home. To do so, the weeds are kept hoed out and the ground clean around the plants until the seeds ripened. When the seeds ripened and the pods turned brown, the stalks were approximately two feet tall. The stalks were then cut and placed on cloths to dry for two to three days after which they were threshed out for use. – Mills, John. A New System of Practical Husbandry. Vol. 4. 1767. London.
Once the seeds were threshed out, they were crushed or ground into a powder for kitchen use.
Mustard seed would sprout even when many years old, and because of the ease with which the plants sprouted and grew, Arthur Young advised farmers that once they sowed mustard on their fields they may as well be prepared to devote the field permanently to the culture of mustard.
When once sowed on a piece of land, it can never be got out again; in tillage it rises with every crop that is sown which obliges the farmers to lay down such fields to grass which smothers it, but if broke up again centuries afterward, a crop of mustard is sure to rise. – Young, Arthur. A Six Months Tour Through the North of England. 1770. London.
Flour of mustard, ready to be mixed with vinegar for made mustard, was advertised for purchase by the 18th century. “For those who are Lovers of fine Mustard, there is [sic] a few Bottles at Six Pence per Bottle, of fine Flower of Mustard, which for its Goodness, I defy the Kingdom to produce better”. – The Weekly Amusement. Saturday, February 22, 1734. Numb. XVI. London.
To Make Flour of Mustard. Those who live in the country, or go to Sea, have frequent occasion to use Mustard, when there is no opportunity of getting it without extraordinary Trouble. It is a Sauce seldom thought on till the Minute we want it; and then, according to the old Way of making it, if we are lucky enough to have Mustard-Seed in the House, we must spend an hour in the ceremony of grinding it in a wooden Bowl, and an Iron Cannon-bullet, according to the old Custom; or if we have Mustard by us, ready-made, if it has stood a Week, it is then of no value, if it is in small quantity. But to obviate this Difficulty, the Invention of grinding-Mustard-Seed in a Mill, and thereby reducing of it to Flour, to be made fit for the Table in an instant, has been very well received: for by that Contrivance we have it always fresh, and ful of brisk Spirits, and may only make just what we want without any spoil, as long as we keep a Stock of this Flour by us. There are two Sorts of Mustard: viz. The white Sort, which is a large Grain, and not so strong; and the black Sort, which is a small Grain. That which I account the best is from the wild Mustard, commonly found growing in Essex, which sells the best in the Markets. But from whatever Place we have it, regard should be chiefly had to its being free from Mustiness, which happens from the gathering the Seed wet, or in the Dew, and laying it close together before it is thresh’d. When this seed is dry and sweet, grind it in a Mill, such as a Coffee-Mill; but the Mill must be fresh, and free from any Flavour or Taint; it should not be indeed be used with anything. When you have ground a sufficient quantity, pass it through a pretty open Sieve, and the next day put it into Vials with open Mouths, pressing it down close; stop them well, and keep it for use. When you want good Mustard for the Table, take a spoonful or two of this Flour, and as much boiling Liquor from the Pot where beef or pork is boiled, as will make it of the Consistence you desire, stirring it well till it is mixt for your Purpose; or for want of such Liquor, boil a little Salt and Water together, and mix your Mustard-Flour with that: but in either of these ways you must observe, that while your Mustard is warm, it will last better. Some who do not love their Mustard over-strong put equal Quantities of the white and black Mustard-Seed into the Mill, and then the Flour will not be so poignant to the Palate, and will have a brighter Look. If your Mill be set very sharp, the Flour will be so fine, that it need hardly be sifted. – Bradley, Richard. The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director, in the Management of a House. London.
Well before Richard Bradley penned the previous passage, John Evelyn spoke of using a quern or cannon-bullet to grind mustard seed. A quern is made of two millstones, one atop the other and turned by hand by grasping a wooden handle set into the top stone. – Evelyn, John. Silva, Or, a Discourse on Forrest Trees. 1729 edition. London.
Mustard was used with oil and vinegar in dressing salads and it was used in various mixtures as a sauce. Such sauces were sometimes cooked but not always. Butter and mustard were combined to dress a number of dishes, and Hannah Glasse and others instructed that the two be mixed and served in a cup at table. – Williams, T. The Accomplished Housekeeper and Universal Cook. 1707. London.
Most cookery books written during the 18th century spoke of prepared mustard as a sauce for beef much as steak sauce is today.
Hannah Glasse’s sauce to be served with a ragoo of hogs feet and ears was made from half a pint of good gravy [strong broth or drippings], a glass of white wine, a good deal of mustard, a good piece of butter rolled in flour, and a little pepper and salt. The ingredients were stirred well together until it thickened. – Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. 1774. London.
A simple 18th century receipt for making “made” [prepared] mustard was to grind the seed into flour and mix the flour with white wine vinegar. – Smith, Robert. Court Cookery: Or, The Compleat English Cook. 1725. London.
Some receipts were a little more complex and of a little more delicate flavor. “Take a quart of the best mustard-seed you can get, let it be well dried, finely beat and sifted; then put, to mix it, two parts white-wine vinegar, and one sack, also one spoonful of double-refined sugar; stop it close and it will keep a year”. – The Universal Magazine. Vol. 4. January 1749.
Mustard seed were used extensively throughout the 18th century to add flavor to pickled vegetables. Sarah Harrison’s recipes used them in pickling small melons, codlins [apples], peaches, walnuts, cucumbers, onions, etc. – Harrison, Sarah. The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book, and Compleat Family Cook. 1760. London.
Some receipts had the cook put the seeds in the crocks loose, while others had the cook fill an open cavity in a pepper, melon, or cucumber with the seeds and then cover the whole with vinegar. That process was known as a mango. The seeds were removed from the item to be preserved creating the cavity which was then filled with mustard seeds or a mixture of mustard seed and other spices. – Harrison, Sarah. The House-keeper’s Pocket-Book; and Compleat Family Cook. 1739. London.
One might think, given the apparent quality of medieval French mustard that by the 18th century it was so readily at hand that making it at home was a thing of the past, but such was not the case. Even a century later advice was given to frugal families on making it to the best advantage, avoiding adulterations commonly found in both made mustard and in flour of mustard.
For those in out of the way places where goods had to be carried over rough terrain, mustard seed were far lighter in weight and easier to pack than prepared mustard which in itself determined what goods likely found their way into frontier homes.
“MUSTARD: Why buy this, when you can grow it in your garden? The stuff you buy is half drugs; and is injurious to health. A yard square of ground, sown with common Mustard, the crop of which you would grind for use, in a little mustard-mill, as you wanted it, would save you some money, and probably save your life. Your mustard would look brown instead of yellow; but the former colour is as good as the latter: and, as to the taste, the real mustard has certainly a much better than that of the drugs and flour which go under the name of mustard. Let anyone try it, and I am sure he will never use the drugs again. The drugs, if you take them freely, leave a burning at the pit of your stomach, which the real mustard does not”. – Cobbett, Wm. Cottage Economy. 1833.