Making is Momentum
Using your hands to find a way through life’s biggest obstacles
I had no business plan, no desire to disrupt the condiments market. My plan was simple: to make mustard. I had never made mustard. Like soap, shoes, or underwear, I was conditioned to buy mustard off a shelf. But I loved mustard. Who could stop me from making it?
This was the first day of the rest of my life, the day after my last day at Best Made, the company I had founded and ran for the last 10 years. I knew how to do that job and run that company. But I did not know how to make mustard.
Leaving Best Made was hard. No matter how much I could have prepared, this decision left a big gaping void that demanded big, heavy decisions. These were not so much decisions about what to do, but more how to move forward.
I had stepped away from one of the most familiar things to me in the world, and the next day I was engrossed in the age-old pursuit (see below) of making mustard. The risk in this plan was non-existent. Success or failure was beside the point. My hands were engaged, I was in full dialogue with my ingredients and my tools, and together I had no doubt we’d make something special, something I loved.
I let my mustards mellow, and a week later I had three new batches: one was edible, the others sat in purgatory in my fridge for the next six months. The time finally came to say goodbye. At that point, Best Made was getting smaller in the rearview mirror. I had enrolled in a ceramics class and was evaluating life as a potter.
When you make something with your hands, especially something you’ve never made before, it demands you start small. In turning seeds and vinegar into something edible and tangible I was making my favorite condiment, but better yet it was a step forward, my own act of personal alchemy.
Sir Kenelme Digby’s recipe for mustard:
Sir Kenelme Digby (1603–1665) was an English courtier and diplomat, a highly reputed natural philosopher, astrologer, inventor and a religious scholar. He was also a prisoner in the House of Commons (for a brief stint), an eccentric, and the author of a cookbook: The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby, published by a loyal servant shortly after his death, which included his recipe for mustard:
The best way of making Mustard is this: Take of the best Mustard-seed (which is black) for example a quart. Dry it gently in an oven, and beat it to subtle powder, and searse it. Then mingle well strong Wine-vinegar with it, so much that it be pretty liquid, for it will dry with keeping. Put to this a little Pepper beaten small (white is the best) at discretion, as about a good pugil, and put a good spoonful of Sugar to it (which is not to make it taste sweet, but rather quick, and to help the fermentation) lay a good Onion in the bottom, quartered if you will, and a Race of Ginger scraped and bruised; and stir it often with a Horse-radish root cleansed, which let always lie in the pot, till it have lost it’s vertue, then take a new one. This will keep long, and grow better for a while. It is not good till after a month, that it have fermented a while.
Some think it will be the quicker, if the seed be ground with fair water, in stead of vinegar, putting store of Onions in it.
My Lady Holmeby makes her quick fine Mustard thus: Choose true Mustard-seed; dry it in an oven, after the bread is out. Beat and searse it to a most subtle powder. Mingle Sherry-sack with it (stirring it a long time very well, so much as to have it of a fit consistence for Mustard. Then put a good quantity of fine Sugar to it, as five or six spoonfuls, or more, to a pint of Mustard. Stir and incorporate all well together. This will keep good a long time. Some do like to put to it a little (but a little) of very sharp Wine-vinegar.
Also see: Digby’s recipe for capons fed on the flesh of vipers.