Food Facts & Lore, Fricassee of Words

Fricassee of Words – Take it With a Grain of Salt

Fricassee: Meat cut into pieces and stewed in gravy.

Fricassee of Words: Musings on food-inspired expressions, words and word play, with occasional bits and pieces of kitchen jargon too.

Don’t stir the pot, go fry an egg, two eggs in a basket are better than one hen in the bush… you get the picture by now, and here is today’s food-inspired expression for us to pick at.

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Roman General Pompey (106 BC – 48 BC)

Take it with a grain of salt

Meaning – To consider something to be not completely true, but to accept it nonetheless, as one might add a pinch of salt to food that has an unpleasant taste in order to make it less offensive and eat it anyway.

When talking about food and food history, it is nearly impossible to not come across the name Pliny the Elder, repeatedly. Pliny is to the history of food what a favorite condiment is to your best culinary creations: indispensable.

In a written document that is considered to be THE reference in terms of ancient natural history and the origins of many culinary practices, Pliny writes: ” Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day.” — Pliny’s Naturalis Historia (77 A.D.)

While silver was used by ancient monarchs to detect poison (we talked about this in a previous Fricassee), salt was already a known “food softener” in the times of ancient Rome. The above recipe from Pliny is an antidote to poison. The idea may very well be the first expression of modern Homeopathy, whereby ingesting a minute amount of a virus or poison renders one immune to these. Salt is not only palatable, but it is a known food and liquid softener as well.

A century before Pliny, the Roman general Pompey (106 BC – 48 BC) purposely ingested small amounts of various poisons in order to develop a resistance to them should an enemy attempt to shorten his days by spiking his food or drink with a deadly substance; a common practice at the time. He took these poisons along with a pinch of salt in order to diminish the potency of the poisonous substances.

The expression, “Taking it with a grain of salt,” appears much later. We owe it most likely to 17th century scholars who studied ancient Greek texts and came across such accounts as the one above, from Pliny.

Taking something with a grain of salt means more than accepting it in spite of reservations regarding accuracy or believability. It also implies that while one may not agree with a statement or story, he or she is willing to accept it at face value and not fuss over it… or not let it poison a relationship perhaps. Pass the salt?

Read More Fricassee of Words Articles

Another Fricassee of Interest – Born With a Silver Spoon in his Mouth

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