I’m very partial to English mustard whether in powder form or already mixed in a jar. When you consider all the possible Covid related shortages in-store or on-line, you’d reckon Mustard would be fairly safe. English mustard in England, especially so.
When the Tesco online shop came the man apologised with a grimace. “No English mustard, mate. Substitute?” I nodded it through without looking, and only later, to my horror, discovered it to be American Mustard.
Has anything more diabolical been created? I checked the ingredients: Spirit vinegar, water, mustard seed—almost an afterthought.
American mustard. I remember being fascinated by its colour – a virulent yellow – in Popeye cartoons, where Wimpy would lather it over his hot dog. And when I first went to America, I bit into my first technicolour hot dog with its bright pink sausage and glistening yellow streak.
Never before had I tasted such foulness, the Devil’s dribble, paint thinner on steroids, but yellow. Maybe I’d been expecting too much.
After all these years the old tastebuds might have mellowed, become more tolerant of the obscene. I tried it in a ham sandwich.
Now, with Coleman’s English mustard, the ham comes alive, the ham fights back against the heat. With American mustard the ham wilts, it gives up the ghost along with the bread. Your mouth is left with the residue of spirit vinegar and water.
What happened to American mustard? Mustard's been used since the ancient Egyptians, it's been found in burial chambers. The Romans ground it down to a paste and mixed it with wine. French monks, with nothing better to do, mixed it with ‘must’ – the unfermented wine—and thus gave it its name – mustum ardens or ‘burning wine’. You can call American mustard many things, but not that.
In fact, what use is American mustard? Pythagoras recommended a poultice of mustard seeds as a cure for scorpion stings, it’s been used to soothe aches and pains, and Roman doctors used it for toothaches. Since then it's been used to clear sinuses, prevent frostbite, and as a cure for baldness. American mustard might, at a pinch, keep mosquitos at bay.
Has any American president endorsed mustard? King Louis XI travelled nowhere without his own supply of mustard. There are many things American presidents have insisted upon as they travelled from city to city; President Kennedy was partial to women, but not American mustard.
So, there it is, at the back of our fridge, waiting for the undiscerning visitor or a less than choosy food bank.