Oldies but goodies

That is the title of a music compilation I have somewhere in my cd collection, but it also applies to many things in daily life.
Now, I am not advocating living in your grandparents´ furniture or clothes, but has anyone besides me noticed that the quality of such things that is offered on sale has been steadily declining these last years?
I saw that, recently, when looking for a new coat closet. We went to the biggest furniture store in town, only to find that many of the specimens on sale there were so flimsily made that the material had visibly warped on the pieces on exhibition, while the more solid ones were prohibitively expensive.
The down side of this can be seen every time the pickup time for large trash items comes around- remains of such furniture that have gone to pieces completely stacked up by the curb waiting for the trash lorry to haul them away.
The opposite is what you can see in antique stores and museums: pieces of furniture crafted so solidly that they are still functional after several hundred years- and, of course, being moved and removed several times in a lifetime.They may show the signs of having been used, but they still work.
I´d wish for more such things to be available today, in more modern shapes. Furniture you can really move, use, and handle without having to be afraid of it desintegrating.
And which doesn´t break the bank on purchase.
After all, our ancestors managed to afford that kind of quality, too. And for most people, their ancestors aren´t the Rockefellers or such like.

So, it could be done. But in our modern society, things that really are once-in-a-lifetime acquisitions aren´t very popular.
My Grandma had a washing mashine she had had for some thirty years, and which needed some new parts after that time. When we had the repairman in, he marvelled at the old machine, and said, they don´t make them like that any more because they would not sell enough new ones if the old ones held up like that.

So, we are paying for items with a limited time of usability, having to make do with less than the best quality to keep the economy spinning.
Anyone besides me who thinks there´s something wrong with that?



Condiment inflation

One of the most important pieces in royal sets of tableware was what interestingly even has a name of its own in the English language.
Namely, the salt cellar.
Now someone like me -not a native speaker- might be tempted to assume that was a big underground room full of NaCl.
What it really is is a kind of big sugar bowl, usually made from precious materials and highly decorated, which was displayed prominently on the table and which did contain, not sugar, but simple salt.
At the time these were invented, that still was a precious commodity to have. Someone who could afford to put a big bowl of it on their table had to be really well-off.

The same thing went for sugar. Refined sugar as we use it wasn´t invented until the second half of the second millenium C.E., and it was, at first, used sparingly because it was so expensive.

There was a time when nations went to war over the right of way to a certain archipelago just because nutmeg trees were growing on it (see the Wikipedia  article on nutmeg to find out why New Yorkers speak English because of that little altercation:)). Pepper was worth its weight in gold.

And the common European man´s cuisine was, save for the use of fragrant herbs, onions, and garlic, probably pretty bland.

On the other side, you had the dishes of the upper class, who had access to the abovementioned rarities and tended, in order to impress everyone with their riches, to use them in amounts that today would be considered to be making a dish inedible.
That is a problem faced by everyone who tries to adapt medieval recipes for modern use. The amounts as well as the choice of spices are sometimes staggering, and to a modern palate, not every combination comes off as well as what goes into honey cakes, mulled wine or spekulaas.

On the other hand, the substances I mentioned first did, because of new technologies, become freely available and cheap.
Sugar and salt do have one other thing in common: they act as preserving agents. Salted ham and candied fruit were some of the earliest ways people had of keeping perishable foodstuffs edible for longer periods of time when there were no refrigerators.
When they became cheap, the step to overusing them in an attempt to make food less perishable was a very small one.

And today? there´s salt, pepper, and sugar on everybody´s table, and, unfortunately for many people´s health, salt and sugar are the two omnipresent ingredients that the food industry puts into most of its products in quantities well beyond what many people can stomach.
Oh, and the resulting foodstuffs are still pretty bland-tasting, if you take the artificial aromas out.
And the renaissance meals were probably a lot healthier, too, at least when they were made from fresh ingredients.