Sunday, August 21, 2011


It's still summer, and we've still been busy, so I haven't been doing a lot of historical experimenting. I have been experimenting a little with a new slow cooker recipe book, however.  The recipe I'm about to try today is a stewed lamb, flavored with a sauce made from meat stock, cranberry sauce, and juniper berries.

Juniper berries have been used in cooking for a very long time.  Wikipedia claims that juniper berries have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs even though the plant apparently does not grow in Egypt, suggesting that it was already a highly-desired import good in the ancient world. According to the same article the ancient Greeks used juniper berries as sports medicine, while the Romans used it heavily in cooking, in part because it was cheaper at the time than black pepper, which did not grow in the ancient Mediterranean.   Some additional interesting facts about the juniper plant and its berries may be found here and a few more historical factoids here.

Interestingly, juniper berries are not true berries but are instead an unusual form of pine cone. More interestingly, there are juniper variants in both the Old and New Worlds, and the berries of the New World version were allegedly used by the American Indians to treat diabetes. I've never had anything flavored with juniper before, since I don't drink gin (a 17th-century Dutch invention), so I'm really curious as to the result of this recipe.

EDIT: I couldn't identify any discernible flavor added by the juniper berries. Perhaps the ones I used were too old, or something.

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