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While writing Nonna's Book of Mysteries and Alchemy’s Daughter, I learned that Renaissance and medieval Europeans had an incredible appetite for highly spiced food. Cooks added large quantities of pepper and spices like cinnamon, saffron, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger to meat dishes and soups as well as to desserts.

At that time spice merchants (like Franco Villani of Nonna's Book of Mysteries) made enormous fortunes importing these highly sought after condiments from the Arabic world. The use of costly, foreign spices rather than native herbs and seasonings brought an exotic flare to meals and became an indication of social status.

The Serafini family (of Nonna's Book of Mysteries) was part of the upwardly mobile merchant class and enjoyed a moderate use of precious spices. The two recipes I have posted—Emilia’s lavender bread with cinnamon and cardamom and Tedaldo’s chicken with cinnamon and nutmeg—are modern versions of foods eaten during Emilia’s day.

The recipe that Tedaldo, the woodworker, recommends to Emilia in Nonna's Book of Mysteries includes almond milk as well as spices. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, almonds were ground, soaked, and made into milk. Cooks found almond milk to be a more reliable cooking liquid than cow’s milk, which could spoil easily. There were few recipes from the late Middle Ages which included the use of cow’s milk.