Mor hael uwchben dy aelwyd
Hot spices from eastern countries and the Continent are mentioned in the poetry from the fifteenth century onwards. They were not cheap, local products, but foods which were imported and sold in markets and fairs.
Records from England show that pepper was a relatively cheap spice and that it was imported to Britain from a very early period. It is one of the spices mentioned in the Law of Hywel Dda and it may have become long established as one of a cook’s chief ingredients by the fifteenth century. Such is Guto’r Glyn’s implication as he praises the victuals at the Vale of Neath provided by Rhys ap Siancyn:
Mor hael uwchben dy aelwyd
O’th bob rhyw fudd a’th bypr fwyd!
so generous presiding over your hearth
with your favour of every kind and your food spiced with pepper!
And also in his description of food at the feast of Sieffrai Cyffin at Oswestry castle:
Pob rhyw fwyd mewn pupr a fai
O fewn siaffr a fyn Sieffrai.
every such food in pepper that be
in a chafing dish is what Sieffrai wants.
Reference is made to the black hue of the pepper in the poem of praise to the black hair of Henry Griffith of Newcourt:
Sidan a phupr, os adwaen,
Y sabl oll y sy o’u blaen.
silk and pepper, if I’m well informed,
they all bear pure sable before them.
Guto’r Glyn refers to sugar also when describing the provision as gorau siwgr a gwresogwin ‘the best sugar and warm wine’ at the feast of Joan Burgh at Wattlesborough (poem 81.48). In this period sugar was sprinkled on all kinds of fare, often to conceal the bitter taste of some foods, such as meats, vegetables and bread. Like pepper above, sugar had been available in England since the twelfth century at least when it was a rare and delectable product. By the fifteenth century it was imported in much larger quantities.
The comparison of the praise of a girl named Gwladus from the Vale of Neath to what is called siwgr candi, ‘sugar candy’ is interesting. Guto’r Glyn states:
Ei moliant oedd siwgr candi,
A mêl haid oedd ei mawl hi.
Her praise was sugar candy,
and her eulogy was honey of the hive.
It may be that what is meant by siwgr candi is sugar boiled again and left to crystallise. The term became common as much of the sugar of this period was imported from Candia, the ancient name for the Isle of Crete in Greece. More exotic spices too are named by Guto in a poem in praise of Sieffrai Cyffin of Oswestry and his wife Siân:
Sinsir a felir ar fwyd
A graens da rhag yr annwyd,
Sinamwm, clows a chwmin,
Suwgr, mas i wresogi’r min;
Ginger is ground on food
and excellent grains to keep against the cold,
cinnamon, cloves and cumin,
sugar, mace to warm the lips;
It was quite a common practice to name hot spices from the countries of the East and the Continent in the poetry by the fifteenth century, and we see this increasing by the sixteenth century. The list of delicacies in Lewys Glyn Cothi’s praise cywydd to Ieuan ap Lewys and Tangwystl is very similar to Guto’r Glyn’s list of the delicacies of Oswestry castle:
Canel o Ffrainc a unwyd,
pupur a fewn pob rhyw fwyd,
saffrwm, mas hoff o’r meysydd,
a graens gardd, ac orains gwŷdd,
sugr candi i mi ’mhob modd,
sinser ar ddewis ansodd,
sinamwm, almwns, cwmin,
balsamẃm yw blas ’y min.
Saffrwm (‘saffron’), sinsir (‘ginger’), sinamwn (‘cinnamon’), cwmin (‘cumin’), clows (‘cloves’) and mas (‘mace’) are spices, whilst almwns are nuts (‘almonds’). It appears that spices such as cwmin and saffrwm were imported to London as early as the twelfth century. By the fifteenth century there were plenty available in England and Wales, and the literary evidence suggests that they were used in the homes of the Welsh aristocracy as well.
Purchasing a little cinnamon, for example, was not expensive, and because of the strong taste of some of these spices, a small quantity was sufficient to add flavour. Importance was attached to variety rather than to amounts. These ingredients are well known to us from homes in England since the domestic accounts of some estates have survived. They are also named in some Welsh castles, as in the accounts of Raglan castle.
Spices such as these were also believed to be good for the body. So too the herbs used to make sauces. One of the most striking poems (in an englyn metre) of the dining-table in this period is the one by Ieuan ap Rhydderch describing the ingredients of green sauce containing herbs such as mint, parsley and chives:
Saws glas ym mhob plas paliswydr—hyd Fôn:
Pricmaed, finegr yn rhëydr,
Seifs, pernel, persli, pelydr,
Suran, ditans, afans hydr.
<<<Fruits and vegetables
Bibliography: See further A.M. Edwards, ‘“Food and wine for all the world”: Food and Drink in Fifteenth-century Poetry’, in D.F. Evans, B.J. Lewis and A. Parry Owen (eds), Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013).
: P. Brears, Cooking & dining in medieval England (Totnes, 2008), 343.
: D. Johnston (gol.), Gwaith Lewys Glyn Cothi (Caerdydd, 1995), 88.41-48.
: A.M. Edwards, ‘“Food and wine for all the world”: Food and Drink in Fifteenth-century Poetry’, in D.F. Evans, B.J. Lewis and A. Parry Owen (eds), Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013)
: R.I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Ieuan ap Rhydderch (Aberystwyth, 2003), poem 11.
Unless otherwise noted, copyright on the content of this website belongs to the University of Wales