Tag Archives: spices

Philadelphia Spice Event

For any of my readers who are in the Philadelphia area, I’ll be speaking on April 16, 2015, at an event put on by the Geographical Society of Philadelphia: The Life of Spice.

Here’s the description from the Geographical Society website:

The Chemical Heritage Foundation, The Monell Chemical Senses Center and the Geographical Society are presenting this very spicy event!

Food Historian, Cynthia Clampitt will present the travelogue of spices… where they are grown and how they travel the world.

Monell Scientist Gary Beauchamp will illuminate the science behind spices. Marianne Gillette of McCormick Spice Company will describe the delicious roles of spices in cuisine.

After the presentations, enjoy a reception to taste and smell spices. Feastivities is preparing a delicious menu infused with the tastes and smells of ginger, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, turmeric and more. Scientists will demonstrate the science behind the spice and effects on your senses.

A night to SPICE up your life…see, smell, and taste them! Take home a flavorful gift bag. For $75 enjoy general admission to the presentation and reception. For $100, enjoy reserved seating and recognition in the program.

You can find out more about the event, and buy tickets if you’re interested in attending, at the Geographical Society website: http://www.geographicalsociety.org/the-world-of-spices/

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Nutmeg and Mace

The ancient world was rife with mythic twins: Apollo and Artemis, Romulus and Remus, Castor and Pollux. But there is another pair of twins that, while eluding the ancients, once seemed almost as mythic as these legendary pairs—twins that engendered centuries of argosies and adventures. The fragrant, flowering evergreen tree known as Myristica fragrans is the mother of these twins. When the fleshy, peach-like fruit of this tree is mature, it splits open, revealing a brown nut surrounded by a bright red web. The web, or aril, is separated from the seed, and both are dried. The aril, which turns somewhat brownish as it dries, is the spice known as mace, while the dark, hard nut is nutmeg.

Nutmeg and mace were being traded in Asia long before Europeans knew these spices existed. A few scholars maintain that the ancient world did know of nutmeg, but there is little evidence— and the strongest evidence against knowledge of the spice is that the major recorders of life in the ancient world did not mention it, and they mentioned everything about food and spice. It might have been given as a gift to some ruler or other, probably in North Africa, given the fact that most trade with Asia was handled by Arab spice merchants who traded all across North Africa, but it didn’t get to Greece or Rome. However, it had reached Constantinople by the 9th century, as it was recorded that St. Theodore the Studite allowed monks to use nutmeg on their pease porridge on meat-free days.

Nutmeg probably didn’t reach Europe until the Middle Ages, making it the last of what were then known as the “noble spices” to be introduced. The first reliable report of nutmeg being used in Europe is from 1190, when the streets of Rome were scented (or, more accurately, fumigated) with spices, including “India nuts,” as nutmeg is sometimes called. It seems likely that, as with other spices, it was Arab traders who carried nutmegs to the Middle East and Italians who carried them throughout Europe.

The Portuguese had located the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, by 1511, sighting (or perhaps just smelling) cloves growing in the northern islands. However, no Europeans saw nutmegs growing until 1521, when Magellan’s expedition (minus Magellan by this point, as he’d been killed in the Philippines) reached the Banda Islands, in the southern Moluccas. The Banda Islands were the only place in the world where nutmeg and mace grew. (The northern Moluccas were the only place in the world where cloves grew, which, though they had reached Europe earlier than nutmegs, were still something Magellan and company were looking for.) Continue reading

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Mulled Wine

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, cold weather is upon us, and the holidays are enveloping us. Cloves have long contributed to winter fun. An orange stuck full of clovers is a fragrant addition to Christmas decorations. Christmas hams are often stuck with clovers. The spice goes sweet or savory. However, sweets probably offer the most common encounter with cloves during the holidays.

Cloves have long been favorite elements of spiced or mulled wines and ciders. The term “mull,” referring to a beverage, appears to have first come into use around the year 1600. The origin of the term in this context is unknown, though there are some theories. However, in this application, it simply means a drink that is sweetened, spiced, and heated. Mulled wine is a warming treat of a winter night. Enjoy.

Mulled Wine

10 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg
peel and juice of one lemon
peel and juice of one orange
2 Tbs. dark brown sugar
1 cup water
1 750ml bottle red wine

Put spices, lemon peel, orange peel, brown sugar, and water in a 2 quart sauce pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat slightly and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the lemon and orange juice, then stir in the wine. Heat gently–you do NOT want the wine to boil. Ladle into cups or heat-proof glasses. (The kind of fancy glassware you’d use for Irish coffee would work well here.) Serves 6-8.

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The Glories of The Spice House

(This article appeared in the December 2002 issue of North Shore Magazine. Julia Child, mentioned in the story, was still alive and still ordering from The Spice House. The title I gave the story was “Always in Good Taste,” but it was run with the title “With a Hint of Spice.” For those of you who may not be in the Chicagoland area but who would like to take advantage of the glorious offerings of The Spice House, you can access their catalog at http://www.thespicehouse.com.)

The heady fragrance of black pepper and cinnamon began to tease my senses while I was still a block from the store. As I entered the attractive Evanston shop, a rich, almost intoxicating blend of aromas enveloped me, drawing me into the warm, woody interior, towards the walls and shelves of jars filled with tantalizing delights from the four corners of the earth. Before me was an astonishing array of lovingly prepared, freshly ground herbs and spices—from ajowan seed to za’atar, and everything in between. No wonder Julia Child loves this place.

The Spice House, owned by Tom and Patty Erd, is a second-generation, family-run business that has as its chief goal offering simply the best herbs and spices available. Fortunately, you don’t have to be Julia Child to have access to this level of quality. While numerous top chefs and food experts do shop there, the doors (and web site) of the Spice House are open to all. Continue reading

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