The Medieval Water That Would Not Boil! December 5, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback
An early thirteenth-century source comes up with this strange little story. The modern editor suggests that Piroletti may be Piolenc near Orange in southern France: but the names are not that close. In any case whatis far, far more interesting is the fact that water from a local stream, wherever we are, does not boil. What on earth is going on here?
In the Kingdom of Arles, and in the village of Pirioleti, there is some water that is very clear, and well-fitted for human consumption. Its quality will arouse wonder, for although it cooks thoroughly meat and vegetables of every kind, it can never boil. And so it happens that strangers and travellers, not realizing this and expecting the water to boil, find after long heating and tedious waiting that the pieces of meat or rish which had put in the pot are so reduced and overdone that they are rendered virtually inedible by their excessive cooking.
Est in regno Arelatensi et castro de Pirioleti aqua limpidissima, usui mortalium plurima commode. Huius miranda erit complexio, quod cum ad plenum caro omnisque generis legumina decoquat, numquam tamen bullire potest. Under prouenit quod ignoti et transeuntes, hec ignorantes, aque bullicionem expectantes, post diutinos ignes longasque moras carnes aut pices cacabo immissos reperiunt sic comminutos et excoctos quod minus sapidi ex nimia decoctione redduntur.
Beach should note that he has no kind of scientific background and, in fact, very little ability to understand scientific facts even when explained by cogent and gifted teachers. But could there possibly be a scientific explanation for this, rather than us having to write it off as a bit of medieval Franco-Forteanism? It seems, reading the passage, that the water does actually ‘boil’ in that it reaches very high temperatures and that food cooks, only that those who are cooking don’t perceive the water boiling, only (eventually) the food going bad. If that is, indeed, what happens here why doesn’t the water bubble up as it heats? Looking in a very amateurish way in an encylopedia it seems that boiling can be effected by impurities in the water and by altitude (Piolenc is relatively low lying). Does perhaps the fact that the stream is limpissima (ever so pure) have something to do with this embarrassing lack of bubbles: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. Or perhaps after all it really was the pixies up in the mountains playing tricks on the locals.
18 Dec 2013 Borky decided to wade in and explain this one. Given his scientific background I chose this one over the many emails making a similar point. Thanks to all though. Beach I’m surprised you haven’t succumbed t’a veritable plague of Boyles explainin’ t’y’why y’science’s good on this medieval water story. Basic’ly as y’say impurities make for higher boilin’ points in water the only difficulty bein’ so much the water doesn’t boil should make the water completely unpotable. Is this in fact what ruins the food not so much it’s overcooked but its quality/taste’s ruined by whatever mineralogical contaminant’s in it? Thanks Borky!