Q This eating-local thing got to me recently and I came home with three butternut squashes (there's not much else available right now). One went into soup, now I am thinking pie. You said you used butternuts in your pumpkin pie. It's not "seasonal," but pumpkin pie sounds good right now. Can you share your recipe?
A I'd be glad to. It's a shame pumpkin pie goes back into the closet after Thanksgiving. It is such a good winter dessert. Butternut squash has been my (and a lot of other people's) "pumpkin" of choice for a long time. A particular favorite, this recipe is pretty lush, so serve it in small slices. It assumes you've already got a 10-inch pie shell ready to go.Pepper a hot commodity
Q I've heard that peppercorns were once a financial commodity. Any truth to this?
A If you mean a financial commodity as in investing in shares, I am not certain that is true. But from the period of the ancient Greeks to well into the 1600s, peppercorns and other spices were seen as essential for health and therefore cooking, and as status symbols. Most important, people liked them -- their fragrances, their flavors and the sense of well-being their scents and tastes imparted on partakers. Also, spices were literally medicine and tied directly into medical theories and practices of the day.
From the financial side, more than one scholar has said spices built the trade of the entire Mediterranean throughout the medieval period.
Peppercorns were among the most prized spices. In the late 1300s, you multiplied your investment many times over if you could pick up a shipload of peppercorns at their source, let's say on the southern coast of India, and get it to Venice without dealing with middlemen or meeting up with pirates. From Venice, peppercorns would be resold throughout northern Europe.
In England, there was an expression, "peppercorn rent," when rent was sometimes paid in spices. A fleet of ships loaded with peppercorns coming up the Thames to London in the 1300s could bring its owner great wealth.
If you enjoy learning about this period, there's a book coming out this spring that you may want to check out: "Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination" by Paul Freedman, a history professor at Yale.