Without having access to a computor, means it's unlikely I'd have read an extract from the Wiltshire Parish records of 1609 and discovered Yeomen farmers paid a 1Ib of peppercorns towards their rent. Peppercorns were such a valuable commodity in the Middle Ages that one 1Ib of 'corns was worth the same as 1Ib of gold...

And I discovered that a virgate of arable land was about 30 acres...an acre was measured by how long it took two oxen to plough it during the season...not terribly scientific, but it worked well enough to agree on rents. It would seem that the Yeomen farmers quoted in the parish records paid about 2d...or twopence...annually to the Crown...made up by the Peppercorns to a sizable rent for small farms.

While I was reading it, it dawned on me you'd have needed to be very familiar with the Saints Days because varying amounts of monies were due on different Saints days...so if you were to pay 2d for the year that was broken up into farthings...or half-pennies...each small amount paid on a different day...one of the most popular days chosen for paying your rent was the Feast Day of St.Giles which fell on September 1st...I suppose because that was regarded as the end of the growing season. St Giles was known as the patron Saint of cripples...but is now known as the patron Saint of the physically disabled...only because we can't say 'cripple' anymore.

And then, after telling you about Clandestine marriages yesterday, I found one of my distant ancestors was married by a dodgy Vicar outside the Fleet Prison in a Clandestine marriage...but the record only gives her name and the name of her husband and the date...it doesn't say whether or not she was a Catholic or a Jewess or a Non-Conformist.

But back to the peppercorns...before the advent of freezers and ice-houses, it was difficult to keep any food for long before it began to spoil, so meat in particular was studded with peppercorns to try to preserve it, which worked after a fashion. Salt was also used in large quantities but was more easily available...imagine for a moment the size of the Kings Household. And the amount of food it would have taken to feed everyone...especially the vast amount of meat which was eaten in those times...hams were smoked over the open fires and heavily studded with peppercorns to further enhance the flavour and as a preservative. The pigs were tiny scrawny creatures totally unlike the pigs farmed nowadays so the Kings kitchen needed large numbers...wild boar and deer were readily available but the cook would have needed a whole venison to not only put dinner on the table for the King and his entourage, but to have enough left-over to feed the army of inside and outside servants.

Paying part of your rent in peppercorns begins to make more sense when you realise just how important they were in preserving food...they were even used at one time to pay soldiers rather than money.

The term 'peppercorn rent' is still used in legal circles to indicate a very small amount of rent paid by a tenant...often by a tenant who lives in a cottage on an estate who pays perhaps five pounds a year. That would be termed a peppercorn rent.

So the next time you grind black pepper into homemade soup or over your mashed potatoes, spare a brief thought for those farmers who handed over a pound of peppercorns as rent for their land.