Saturday, February 18, 2023

Guild of Pepperers

The Guild of Pepperers was established as early as 1180, and was responsible for the quality of spices and the setting of weights and measures related to spices. Pepper was a popular spice in Medieval Europe. Found originally on the Malabar Coast of India, it was spread to other regions. The dried cubebs were easy to transport without spoiling; added to dishes, either whole or ground, they brought a new flavor to Mediterranean and European cuisine.

Pliny, however, complained about pepper in his Natural History:

It is quite surprising that the use of pepper has come so much into fashion, seeing that in other substances which we use, it is sometimes their sweetness, and sometimes their appearance that has attracted our notice; whereas, pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India! Who was the first to make trial of it as an article of food? and who, I wonder, was the man that was not content to prepare himself by hunger only for the satisfying of a greedy appetite?

He also claimed that Rome spent 50 million sesterces a year on pepper!

The Guild of Pepperers managed prices and purity for not only spices like pepper, but also herbs, perfumes, drugs, and even sweets. This variety led to the name of the guild changing in 1345 to the Worshipful Company of Grocers of London. The illustration is their coat of arms.

Many of their members, however, were more than grocers; they fell into the category of what we would call apothecaries, and in 1617 this group formed their own Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. This Guild still exists today.

The Worshipful Company of Grocers of London, however, had its chief purpose taken over by Customs and Excise after 1666. Now they are mostly a charitable organization. Their headquarters, the Grocer's Hall, is where they receive and process applications for grants and scholarships. They are still one of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies.

...and what, you might ask, are the Great Twelve City Livery Companies, and are they important? I'll talk about that next time.

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