used to be an essential institution at the feasts given by farmers to their labourers at the end of wheat-sowing (Grieve.1931). In Wiltshire, seed cake was always given at funerals, and in Lincolnshire, seed bread, made with either caraway or tansy seeds, is still traditional at funerals (Widdowson). Lozenge-shaped buns with caraway seeds were called shittles in Leicestershire; they were given to children and old people on St Valentine's Day. The village of Hawkshead, in Lancashire, used to be famous for its Seed Whigs - oblong buns like teacakes in consistency, and flavoured with seeds (Lancs FWI). Caraway comfits are the usual flavouring added to cabbage as it is being salted down to make sauerkraut (Mabey.1972), and Germans use them to flavour cheese, cabbage soup and household bread (Grieve.1933), and one finds them with meat, and in sausages, too (Usher). They have even been put in beer (Johnson).
Caraways are often mentioned by old writers as an accompaniment to apples (Ellacombe). The custom of serving roast apples with a little saucerful of caraway seeds, well known in Shakespeare's time, is still kept up at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at some London livery dinners. And in Scotland a saucerful is put down at tea to dip the buttered side of bread into, and called "salt water jelly" (Grieve.1933). All in all, it is difficult to understand why "caraway seed" entered Lincolnshire dialect as something quite worthless. "I wouldn't give a caraway seed to have it one way or the other" (Peacock). An essential oil from the seed is used in perfumery, but consumption of it in Europe is far more important as a spice, or in the form of oil as an ingredient of alcoholic liquors (Fluckiger & Hanbury), Kummel for instance. A spice wine used to be made from the seeds, too - it was called Aqua compositis. Henry VIII was apparently very fond of it (Genders).
Unlikely as it sounds, caraway was an essential ingredient in love philtres, because it was believed to induce constancy (Clair). It was thought, too, that it conferred the gift of retention (including retention of a husband -even a few seeds in his pocket would prevent the theft of a husband! (Baker) ); and it prevented the theft of anything that had some seeds in it, at the same time holding the would-be thief in custody within the house (Grieve.1931). The idea that you could make tame pigeons stay quietly in their lofts if you gave them a piece of dough with the seeds in it (Baker), obviously belongs to the same "retention" superstition.
The medicinal use of the seeds dates back to early times - the Arabian origin of the name caraway points to their knowledge of its values, and by the 12th century that knowledge had spread at least as far as Germany, for two medicine books, of the 12th and 13th centuries, mention the word Cumich, which is still the popular name of caraway in southern Germany. It was certainly in use in England by the end of the 14th century (Fluckiger & Hanbury). Its main use, in the form of an essential oil, has always been as a carminative. "It consumeth winde", Gerard wrote. The prescription appears again in American domestic medicine. Gerard went on with his list of virtues, "it helpeth conception ... and is mixed with counterpoysons ..." There are just as fantastic prescriptions much later than in his day - for earache, as an example - the patient was advised to pound up a hot loaf with a handful of bruised seeds, and clap this to his ear (Fernie). And Culpeper said the seed "helpeth to sharpen the Eye-sight", and the seed was used in Tibetan medicine to treat eye diseases (Kletter & Kriechbaum). A Cambridgeshire cough remedy sounds more realistic: two ounces of caraway seeds boiled in a quart of water down to a pint, half strain off, sweeten with sugar, add a glass and a half of rum. Take a wineglassful every night on going to bed (Porter.1969)
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