Jan 10, 2019

Word of the day: verjuice!

It all started with an argument about Dijon mustard. I hate Portuguese mustards which, for the most part, seem rather nasty and chemical, or at least flavorless. My go-to commercial mustard since college has been Grey Poupon Dijon mustard, with its nice sharp kick that I always thought came from horseradish. So when the doutora got her latest order of spices that included two kinds of mustard seed and spoke of making our own mustard, I said please don't forget to add some horseradish.

She couldn't see why I would want to ruin good mustard that way and informed me that my favorite mustard in fact contained no horseradish at all. With triumphant glee, my gouty fingers danced over they keyboard, asking Google Why is Grey Poupon mustard spicy? It seems there are in fact versions of that mustard with horseradish, but I've probably never bought them. In fact, the kick in Dijon mustard seems to come from the revolutionary introduction of verjuice in mustard-making in 1752 by Jean Naigeon.

Verjuice? Is that some kind of a typo? When I conceded the culinary argument and said that she was right, verjuice is used, the doutora replied what's that? She knows more about mustard than I do and thought that it simply had vinegar, which in fact it usually does. Verjus in Portuguese, or sumo verde (green juice). Vertjus in Middle French. Husroum (حصرم) in Arabic. Verjus in German too apparently. This seems to be one of those key culinary secrets I've been missing out on all my life.

Since my first foray into practical translation at age 14, I have found culinary translation and the associated terminology fascinating, not least because they often give me interesting excuses for hours of experimentation in the kitchen with interesting and often tasty results. And verjuice seems to be one such promising excuse.

There is a rich tradition, apparently of cooking and formulating with the juice of unripe grapes, unripe oranges, crab apples and other juices which are collectively called verjuice, and Middle Eastern cuisine and Middle Ages European cuisine made much use of it. It has largely fallen into disuse in modern times, though the Australians have reversed that somewhat. So now I'll have to make some of this stuff and see where that leads me.

A comment in the German Wikipedia entry - Verjus ist deutlich milder als Essig - makes me think maybe I was right about that horseradish after all, but who cares when there are new frontiers to explore in culinary translation?

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