The Holinshed Project

Holinshed Project Home

The Texts

Previous | Next

5.8. Of our saffron, and the dressing thereof. Chap. 8.

Of our saffron, and the dressing thereof. Chap. 8.

Compare 1577 edition: 1 2 3 4 _AS the saffron of England, which Platina reckneth among spices, is the most excellent of all other: for it giueth place neither to that of Cilicia, whereof Solinus speaketh, nei|ther to anie that commeth from Cilicia, where it groweth vpon the mount Taurus, Tmolus, Italie, Aetolia, Sici|lia, or Licia, in swéetnesse, tincture, and continuance; so of that which is to be had amongst vs, the same that grows about Saffron Walden, somtime called Waldenburg, in the edge of Essex, first of all plan|ted there in the time of Edward the third, and that of Glocester shire and those westerlie parts, which some thinke to be better than that of Walden, sur|mounteth all the rest, and therefore beareth worthilie the higher price, by six pence or twelue pence most commonlie in the pound. The root of the herbe that beareth this commoditie is round, much like vnto an indifferent chestnut, & yet it is not cloued as the lillie, nor flaked as the scallion, but hath a sad sub|stance Inter bulbosa, as Orchis, hyacinthus orientalis, and Statyrion. The colour of the rind is not much differing from the innermost shell of a chestnut, although it be not altogither so brickle as is the pill of an onion. So long as the leafe florisheth the root is litle & small; but when the grasse is withered, the head increaseth and multiplieth, the fillets also or small roots die, so that when the time dooth come to take them vp, they haue not roots at all, but so continue vntill September that they doo grow againe: and before the chiue be grounded the smallest heads are also most estéemed; but whether they be great or small, if sheepe or neat may come to them on the heape, as they lie in the field, they will deuoure them as if they were haie or stuble, some also will wroot for them in verie eger maner. The leafe or rather the blade thereof is long and narrow as grasse, which come vp alwaies in October after the floures be gathered and gone, poin|ted on a little tuft much like vnto our siues. Some|times our cattell will féed vpon the same; neuerthe|lesse, if it be bitten whilest it is gréene, the head dieth, and therefore our crokers are carefull to kéepe it from such annoiance vntill it begin to wither, and then also will the cattell soonest tast thereof: for vn|till that time the iuice thereof is bitter. In euerie floure we find commonlie thrée chiues, and three yel|lowes, and double the number of leaues. Of twist|ed floures I speake not; yet is it found, that two floures grow togither, which bring foorth fiue chiues, so that alwaies there is an od chiue and od yellow, though thrée or foure floures should come out of one root. The whole herbe is named in Gréeke Crocos, but of some (as Dioscorides saith) Castor, Cynomor|phos, or Hercules blood: yet in the Arabian spéech, (from whence we borow the name which we giue thervnto) I find that it is called Zahafaran, Occasion of the name. as Rem|bert dooth beare witnesse. The cause wherefore it was called Crocus was this (as the poets feigne) special|lie those from whome Galen hath borowed the histo|rie, which he noteth in his ninth booke De medicamentis secundum loca, where he writeth after this maner (al|though I take Crocus to be the first that vsed this cõ+moditie.) A certeine yong gentleman called Crocus went to plaie at coits in the field with Mercurie, and being héedlesse of himselfe, Mercuries coit happened by mishap to hit him on the head, whereby he recei|ued a wound that yer long killed him altogither, to the great discomfort of his freends. Finallie, in the place where he bled, saffron was after found to grow, wherevpon the people seeing the colour of the chiue as it stood (although I doubt not but it grew there long before) adiudged it to come of the blood of Crocus, and therefore they gaue it his name. And thus farre Rembert, who with Galen, &c: differ very much from Ouids Metamorphos. 4. who writeth also thereof. Indéed the chiue, while it remaineth whole & vnbrused, resembleth a darke red, but being broken and conuerted into vse, it yéeldeth a yellow tincture. But what haue we to doo with fables?

Compare 1577 edition: 1 The heads of saffron are raised in Iulie, either with plough, raising, or tined hooke; and being scow|red from their rosse or filth, and seuered from such heads as are ingendred of them since the last setting, they are interred againe in Iulie and August by ranks or rowes, and being couered with moulds, they rest in the earth, where they cast forth litle fillets and small roots like vnto a scallion, vntill Septem|ber, in the beginning of which moneth the ground is pared, and all wéeds and grasse that groweth vpon the same remooued,Paung. to the intent that nothing may annoie the floure when as his time dooth come to rise.

Compare 1577 edition: 1 These things being thus ordered in the latter end of the aforesaid moneth of September,Gathering the floure beginneth to appeere of a whitish blew, fesse or skie colour, and in the end shewing it selfe in the owne kind,Sée [...]. it resembleth almost the Leucotion of Theophrast, sauing that it is longer, and hath in the middest thereof thrée chiues verie red and pleasant to behold. These floures are gathered in the morning before the rising of the sunné, which otherwise would cause them to welke or flitter. And the chiues being picked from the floures, these are throwne into the EEBO page image 233 doonghill; the other dried vpon little kelles couered with streined canuasses vpon a soft fire: wherby, and by the weight that is laied vpon them, they are dried and pressed into cakes, and then bagged vp for the be|nefit of their owners. In good yeeres we gather foure score or an hundred pounds of wet saffron of an acre, which being dried dooth yeeld twentie pounds of drie and more. Whereby, and sith the price of saf|fron is commonlie about twentie shillings in mo|nie, or not so little, it is easie to sée what benefit is reaped by an acre of this commoditie, towards the charges of the setter, which indeed are great, but yet not so great as he shall be thereby a looser, if he be a|nie thing diligent. For admit that the triple tillage of an acre dooth cost 13 shillings foure pence before the saffron be set, the clodding sixtéene pence, the ta|king of euerie load of stones from the same foure pence, the raising of euerie quarter of heads six pence, and so much for clensing of them, besides the rent of ten shillings for euerie acre, thirtie load of doong which is woorth six pence the load to be laid on the first yéere, for the setting three and twentie shil|lings and foure pence, for the paring fiue shillings, six pence for the picking of a pound wet, &c: yea though he hire it readie set, and paie ten pounds for the same, yet shall he susteine no damage, if warme weather and open season doo happen at the gathering. This also is to be noted, that euerie acre asketh twen|tie quarters of heads, placed in ranks two inches one from an other in long beds, which conteine eight or ten foot in breadth. And after thrée yeeres that ground will serue well, and without compest for barleie by the space of eightéene or twentie yéeres togither, as experience dooth confirme. The heads also of euerie acre at the raising will store an acre and an halfe of new ground, which is a great aduan|tage, and it will floure eight or ten daies togither. But the best saffron is gathered at the first; at which time foure pounds of wet saffron will go verie neere to make one of drie; but in the middest fiue pounds of the one will make but one of the other, because the chiue waxeth smaller, as six at the last will doo no more but yéeld one of the dried, by reason of the chiue which is now verie leane and hungrie. After twen|tie yeeres also the same ground may be set with saf|fron againe. And in lieu of a conclusion, take this for a perpetuall rule, that heads comming out of a good ground will prosper best in a lighter soile; and contrariwise: which is one note that our crokers doo carefullie obserue.

Compare 1577 edition: 1 The heads are raised euerie third yeare about vs, to wit,Raising. after Midsummer, when the rosse commeth drie from the heads; and commonlie in the first yéere after they be set they yéeld verie little increase: yet that which then commeth is counted the finest and greatest chiue, & best for medicine, and called saffron Du hort. The next crop is much greater; but the third exceedeth, and then they raise againe about Walden and in Cambridge shire. In this period of time also the heads are said to child, that is, to yéeld out of some parts of them diuerse other headlets, whereby it hath béene séene, that some one head hath béene increased (though with his owne detriment) to three, or foure, or fiue, or six, which augmentation is the onlie cause whereby they are sold so good cheape. For to my remembrance I haue not knowne foure bushels or a coome of them to be valued much aboue two shillings eight pence, except in some od yéeres that they arise to eight or ten shillings the quarter, and that is when ouer great store of winters water hath rotted the most of them as they stood within the ground, or heat in summer parched and burnt them vp.

Compare 1577 edition: 1 2 In Norffolke and Suffolke they raise but once in seuen yéeres: but as their saffron is not so fine as that of Cambridge shire and about Walden, so it will not cake, ting, nor hold colour withall, wherein lieth a great part of the value of this stuffe. Some craftie iackes vse to mix it with scraped brazell or with the floure of Sonchus, which commeth somewhat neere indeed to the hue of our good saffron (if it be late gathered) but it is soone bewraied both by the depth of the colour and hardnesse. Such also was the plentie of saffron about twentie yeeres passed, that some of the townesmen of Walden gaue the one halfe of the floures for picking of the other, and sent them ten or twelue miles abroad into the countrie, whilest the rest, not thankfull for the abundance of Gods blessing bestowed vpon them (as wishing rather more scar|sitie thereof because of the kéeping vp of the price) in most contemptuous maner murmured against him, saieng that he did shite saffron therewith to choake the market. But as they shewed themselues no lesse than ingrat infidels in this behalfe, so the Lord considered their vnthankfulnesse, & gaue them euer since such scarsitie, as the greatest murmurers haue now the least store; and most of them are either worne out of occupieng, or remaine scarse able to mainteine their grounds without the helpe of other men. Certes it hath generallie decaied about Saf|ton Walden since the said time, vntill now of late within these two yeares, that men began againe to plant and renew the same, because of the great com|moditie. But to procéed. When the heads be raised and taken vp, they will remaine sixteene or twentie daies out of the earth or more: yea peraduenture a full moneth. Howbeit they are commonlie in the earth againe by saint Iames tide, or verie shortlie after. For as if they be taken vp before Midsummer, or beginning of Iulie, the heads will shirnke like a rosted warden: so after August they will wax drie, become vnfruitfull, and decaie. And I know it by experience, in that I haue carried some of them to London with me; and notwithstanding that they haue remained there vnset by the space of fortie dais and more: yet some of them haue brought foorth two or thrée floures a peece, and some floures thrée or fiue chiues, to the greeat admiration of such as haue gathered the same, and not béene acquainted with their nature and countrie where they grew. The cro|kers or saffron men doo vse an obseruation a litle be|fore the comming vp of the floure, and sometime in the taking vp at Midsummer tide, by opening of the heads to iudge of plentie and scarsitie of this commoditie to come. For if they sée as it were many small hairie veines of saffron to be in the middest of the bulbe, they pronounce a fruitfull yeare. And to saie truth, at the cleauing of ech head, a man shall discerne the saffron by the colour, and sée where a|bouts the chiue will issue out of the root. Warme darke nights, swéet dews, fat grounds (chéeflie the chalkie) and mistie mornings are verie good for saf|fron; but frost and cold doo kill and keepe backe the floure, or else shrinke vp the chiue. And thus much haue I thought good to speake of English saffron, which is hot in the second and drie in the first degrée, and most plentifull as our crokers hold, in that yéere wherein ewes twin most. But as I can make no warrantize hereof, so I am otherwise sure, that there is no more deceit vsed in anie trade than in saffron. For in the making they will grease the papers on the kell with a little candle grease, to make the woorst saffron haue so good a colour as the best: af|terwards also they will sprinkle butter thereon to make the weight better. But both these are bewrai|ed, either by a quantitie thereof holden ouer the fire in a siluer spoone, or by the softnesse thereof be|twéene the fore finger and the thumbe; or thirdlie, by EEBO page image 234 the colour thereof in age: for if you laie it by farre worse saffron of other countries, the colour will be|wraie the forgerie by the swartnesse of the chiue, which otherwise would excell it, and therevnto being sound, remaine crispe, brickle, and drie: and finallie, if it be holden néere the face, will strike a certeine biting heat vpon the skin and eies, whereby it is ad|iudged good and merchant ware indéed among the skilfull crokers.

Compare 1577 edition: 1 Now if it please you to heare of anie of the ver|tues thereof, I will note these insuing at the request of one, who required me to touch a few of them with whatsoeuer breuitie I listed. Therefore our saffron (beside the manifold vse that it hath in the kitchin and pastrie, also in our cakes at bridals, and thanks|giuings of women) is verie profitably mingled with those medicins which we take for the diseases of the breast, of the lungs, of the liuer, and of the bladder: it is good also for the stomach if you take it in meat, for it comforteth the same and maketh good digesti|on: being sodden also in wine, it not onelie kéepeth a man from droonkennesse, but incorageth also vnto procreation of issue. If you drinke it in sweet wine, it inlargeth the breath, and is good for those that are troubled with the tisike and shortnesse of the wind: mingled with the milke of a woman, and laied vpon the eies, it staieth such humors as descend into the same, and taketh awaie the red wheales and pearles that oft grow about them: it killeth moths if it be so|wed in paper bags verie thin, and laid vp in presses amongst tapistrie or apparell: also it is verie profi|tablie laid vnto all inflammations, painefull apost|humes, and the shingles; and dooth no small ease vn|to deafnes, if it be mingled with such medicins as are beneficiall vnto the eares: it is of great vse also in ripening of botches and all swellings procéeding of raw humors. Or if it shall please you to drinke the root thereof with maluesie, it will maruellouslie pro|uoke vrine, dissolue and expell grauell, and yéeld no small ease to them that make their water by drop|meales. Finallie, thrée drams thereof taken at once, which is about the weight of one shilling nine pence halfepenie, is deadlie poison; as Dioscorides dooth affirme: and droonke in wine (saith Platina) lib. 3. cap. 13. De honesta voluptate, dooth hast on droon|kennesse, which is verie true. And I haue knowne some, that by eating onelie of bread more than of custome streined with saffron, haue become like droonken men, & yet otherwise well known to be but competent drinkers. For further confirmation of this also, if a man doo but open and ransake a bag of one hundred or two hundred weight, as merchants doo when they buie it of the crokers, it will strike such an aire into their heads which deale withall, that for a time they shall be giddie and sicke (I meane for two or three houres space) their noses and eies in like sort will yéeld such plentie of rheumatike water, that they shall be the better for it long after, especiallie their eiesight, which is woonderfullie clarified by this meanes: howbeit some merchants not liking of this physike, muffle themselues as women doo when they ride, and put on spectacles set in leather, which dooth in some measure (but not for altogither) put by the force thereof. There groweth some saffron in ma|nie places of Almaine, and also about Uienna in Austria, which later is taken for the best that spring|eth in those quarters. In steed of this some doo vse the Carthamus, called amongst vs bastard saffron, but neither is this of anie value, nor the other in any wise comparable vnto ours. Whereof let this suf|fice as of a commoditie brought into this Iland in the time of Edward 3. and not commonlie planted till Richard 2. did reigne. It would grow verie well (as I take it) about the Chiltern hils, & in all the vale of the White horsse so well as in Walden and Cam|bridgeshire, if they were carefull of it. I heare of some also to be cherished alreadie in Glocestershire, and certeine other places westward. But of the finenesse and tincture of the chiue, I heare not as yet of anie triall. Would to God that my countriemen had béene heretofore (or were now) more carefull of this commoditie! then would it no doubt haue proo|ued more beneficiall to our Iland than our cloth or wooll. But alas! so idle are we, and heretofore so much giuen to ease, by reason of the smalnesse of our rents, that few men regard to search out which are their best commodities. But if landlords hold on to raise the rents of their farms as they begin, they will inforce their tenants to looke better vnto their gains, and scratch out their rent from vnder euerie clod that may be turned aside. The greatest mart for saffron is at Aquila in Abruzo, where they haue an especiall weight for the same of ten pounds lesse in the hun|dred than that of Florens and Luke: but how it a|gréeth with ours it shall appéere hereafter.

Previous | Next