Monday, November 9, 2009

Spice World

I have been rereading Elizabeth David's eccentric little tome 'Spices Salt and Aromatics in the English kitchen'. It is a short book, which reviews spices in the English kitchen, their use for preserves and pickles, the Indian influence in England and includes lots of recipes for things like pickled onions and a 1950s style curry.

She quotes Sir Henry Luke from the Tenth Muse (1954):

'To turn to spices, mace - that aesthetically beautiful by-product of the nutmeg tree, a network husk of deep and brilliant lacquer red while it is still fresh on the nut - enriches thick soups and the stockpot generally with its singularly piquant aroma. Nutmeg itself, grated, is also a help in soups no less than in a bread sauce and a rum punch. Saffron is as indispensible to a good Milanese risotto as it is to a bouillabaisse and a paella. A touch of cardamom or coriander seed transforms a humdrum stew with the aroma of a Middle Eastern souk.

And what a rich evocative aroma they have, those ancient vaulted bazaars of Aleppo and Damascus and the Old City of Jerusalem, of Qazvin and Meshhed and Isfahan, as you approach the streets of the vendors of spices. Here you inhale an amalgam of all the aboriginal savours and smells of the Orient: the pepper and cloves; the cinnamon and turmeric and coriander.'

I cannot wander an Arabian souk today, and this is the closest I have ever been to a Middle Eastern Spice market:

(Market, Singaraja, Northern Bali, 2005)

Isn't it incredible how the scent of spice can evoke a long dormant memory. For me, cloves take me back to when I was 10 and we made pomanders for Christmas by sticking cloves into an orange. Cinnamon reminds me of the cinnamon and sugar mixture I ate sprinkled on buttery toast when I was a teenager. And the mixture of pepper, nutmeg, blachan, galangal and turmeric brings back many meals from Bali.

I may have written about the pointlessness of muffins. Well here is a wonderful Nigella Lawson muffin recipe which has some spices, and last for a few days in a sealed container. Your kitchen will be filled with a spicy Christmassy ginger glow

Gingerbread muffins
250 g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground ginder
1 tsp ground clinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 egg
50 g dark muscovado sugar
50 g light muscovado suger
150 ml milk
1/4 tsp balsamic vinegear
6 tbsp vegetable or corn oil
4 tbsp golden syrup
4 tbsp black treacle

Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Line a 12 bun muffin tin with muffin liners.

Combine the flour, bicarb of sada, baking powder and spices in a large bowl. Whisk the egg in a large measuring jug then add the sugards, breaking up any lumps. Add the milk and vinegar then measure in the oil with a trablespooon. Use the same oily spoon to add the syrup and treacle so they don't stick to it. Whisk the mixture to combine and add to the flour and spices.

Stir until mixed but still fairly lumpy - the mixutre may be quite runny but this is okay.

Spoon or pour the mixture ino the muffin papers and bake for 20 mins until the tops are browned - the muffins will still be squashy when you take them out to cool on a rack. Note you will not get the hump topped look of other muffins. This is a good thing.

And if you want to learn more of spice history, go no further than Giles Milton's Nathaniel's Nutmeg in which (amongst other things) the farsighted English, following a little spat wih the Netherlands, traded the tiny island of Run (part of the Banda Island chain in southeast Asia) with a rather larger rocky island off the coast of north America called Manhattan.

The transation was considered to be fair largely because Run had scores of nutmeg trees, and Manhattan had none.

(Images: (1)(5) Taschen (3) Flickr (4) Jane (5) Point Click Home)


the old boathouse said...

Thanks for sharing, I found this really interesting. Both books sound wonderful reads and I may just be adding them to Santas letter.I admit I am more than a bit ignorant when it comes to the origins of spices, cheers Katherine

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Hi Jane,
I swear that I could smell thoae spices as I was reading your post ! I love Elizabeth David's cookery books. There was a brilliant documentary about her on the BBC. It was all about her private and working life....she was a bit of a girl !!!!
I have all of Nigella's books. Love her recipes.
I also think that poor old Guy Fawkes was hard done by. All he did was guard the gunpowder and he was the one who was hanged, drawn and quartered !!!! Poor old Guy. Still, I always think that it's quite something that we are still celebrating it today, after all these years. XXXX

Monika said...

Very beautiful and inspirational images, Jane! I can almost smell the spices. The recipe put me into a very christmasy mood!

Mise said...

Wouldn't 'The Unbearable Pointlessness of Muffins' make a fine cookery book title? Cumin is my comfort spice, and I love anything with ginger in it. My life was turned round by being told I could grate ginger root straight from the freezer. And now you've made me both hungry and want to go back to Morocco.

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Hi Jane
Well I am half asleep this morning after work late last night so think I might have to come back and re-read this with my brain engaged... but I just love the images you have paired with this post. Gorgeous... and the colours and are incredible aren't they. Spices... they certainly do add the spice to our lives! oopss.. haha

I too always think of Christmas with the smell of cloves.. but also the smell of cinnamon.. In fact my niece thinks cinnamon's sole purpose is to remind her of christmas at Auntie Julie's place!! haha

Lovely post ... i'll be back to read it again and drool over the wonderful images...

PS I hear you guys are having a heatwave!! good luck with that! xx Julie

The House That A-M Built said...

Your spice words were delicious! I must try the ginger muffin recipe. Yes I too remember oranges stuck with cloves, from my girl guide days. Had to laugh over your comment on my blog about builders who couldn't be bothered. I battled exactly that for 18 months in my house build. They just didn't get it.... until it was finished and wanted to take photos of my design, my finishes, my everything.... and put their name to it. Answer was no! Still battling to get things fixed, 6 months down the track, due to 'couldn't be bothered' workmanship! A-M xx

Laura said...

How funny! My mother used to set my sister and I up at the dining room table during the holidays with oranges and bags and bags of cloves to make pomanders for teachers, grandmas and the like. I suppose clove is a very evocative scent for me as well! Oddly, although I've been to my fair share of foreign spice markets, the San Francisco herb company, the establishment where my mom bought all of her herbs and spices, it probably the one I enjoy the most.

escapade said...

These photos are just spectacular - gorgeous rich colours, makes me want to hop on the next flight!
Thanks for the lovely recipe - I'm writing it down to try :)

Millie said...

Sumptous post Jane - & MOTH the Biggest Ginger Addict in the world thanks you from the bottom of his big ginger heart for this muffin recipe!
Millie ^_^

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