Sweet FragrancesNovember 15, 2013
It’s blustery outside and my wife has gone grocery shopping so I decided to revisit a fun time I had when I was a kid. My mom let me smell the different spices and herbs as she stirred them into recipes she was making. I enjoyed the interaction with my mom, and the wrinkles in my nose indicated to her how much I liked or disliked each aroma.
Just so you’ll know the difference, spices are dried seed, root, fruit, bark or vegetable substances. Herbs are seeds, roots, leaves, flowers, resin, and berries. OK?
So I removed my wife’s metal spice drawer from the cabinet. It was heavy so I rested it on our kitchen table. When I sat and pulled the drawer toward me something sharp on the bottom scraped a gash on the wooden tabletop. I’ll try to fix it with wax before my wife gets home. I hate those things when they happen and I can’t blame them on my dog.
There were 72 bottles in the drawer, each about 4” long and generally round. I read the labels and sniffed the contents of each jar. Then I stuck my finger in each spice to taste the flavor. It’s funny how some smells are so different from the way they taste. If you don’t believe me, just go in the pantry and smell your vanilla. You’ll love it enough to take another whiff, but don’t take a taste, and that’s fair warning.
I quickly learned that some spices smell like others so I don’t know why a cook needs so many different kinds. Most didn’t make much of an impression but here are some notes and observations about those that did.
Turkish Ground Cumin
“Use on Middle Eastern & Mexican dishes.” They say it’s a must but it doesn’t do much for me. If I ever try any Middle Eastern dishes I probably won’t like them. I love Mexican food but I’m not going to put this stuff on my enchiladas.
Smells bizarre and strong. The taste has a bite that comes with a lasting sting. It took three seconds to feel the full impact of the flavor on my tongue. It was terrible. I felt jaundiced and had to suck on an ice cube. Stay away from cloves – that’s my advice. Are you sure it’s something to eat and not some kind of disinfectant?
The label is supposed to say what it is but it doesn’t so I don’t trust it completely. I think you put it on spaghetti, but maybe not. Some herb makes spaghetti sauce good though. Oregano has a bitter taste and it numbed my tongue a little. I know it’s used on pizza. I like pizza if it has pepperoni, cheese, bell peppers, onions, anchovies and oregano on it.
“Ancient civilizations used them to add color and texture to food.” Yeah, I know what’s made out of poppy seeds and it doesn’t need color or texture. It might be embarrassing to have this little jar in my house if the drug enforcement guys come nosing around. I’ll speak with my wife about it.
It’s smell is stronger than it’s taste. Makes me suspicious. “Use on puddings and spinach,” it says. I think the person who wrote that may have been sniffing poppy seeds. It says mace grows on the same tree with nutmeg and it tastes warm. OK, I like things that taste warm.
When I unscrewed the lid, fine white powder spilled all over my lap. It smelled like something that might rust the lid. I don’t like garlic unless it’s on toasted bread and I’m eating spaghetti. It’s fun to grow garlic in my garden because it’s educational to watch.
Another jar. Why would anyone want two full jars of cloves?
These are cute little gray seeds but hard to bite. They taste like licorice. The label says something about pastries but is faded and I couldn’t read more. It’s probably okay. When I was a kid people tried to give me soft sticks of licorice. They came in black and an ugly red/maroon color. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like licorice then. I probably still don’t.
I can’t tell if I like it or not. It’s the “Ground dried pod of the sweet chili pepper.” That’s what the label says and I really don’t care one way or the other. “Mix lemon juice, celery, crab and mayonnaise together and spoon into hollowed tomatoes, or use as a sandwich spread.” Sounds like something they serve in expensive restaurants. Not for me, but thanks anyway.
“A dash awakens dips, soups, salads, sauces and entrees.” Awakens? (maybe that’s a typo) I used to like a little cayenne pepper on Texas chili but haven’t tried it in a while. Maybe I should stop reading the labels.
It’s made of ground lemon peel and “hardy coarse-ground pepper.” I absolutely love it on grilled steaks and hamburgers. They say it has Riboflavin in it for color. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to add color to a hamburger. Sometimes I sprinkle a little Lemon Pepper on my arm and lick it. All of my grandkids think I’m weird, except maybe little Piper.
It’s made from the berry of an evergreen tree but it smells a little like cloves. I don’t dare taste it. When the label suggested that I put it on squash that was enough for me. I screwed the green lid back on that jar and hid it on the bottom of the pile. I wonder if my neighbor would like to have it.
“Belongs to the ginger family.” I don’t want to talk about it. The label doesn’t say what it is but something in there is dead. Google says it’s active ingredient is curcumin and it’s used to treat cancer. You probably need a prescription to buy it. I’m throwing this stuff out fast. I think I need to speak with my wife again.
“Use with boiling beets, sour beef, pickling and cabbage.” I just don’t know what to say. I’ll bet someone’s making a fortune with these things.
This one is pungent. “You can add it to hamburgers and espresso.” I would never use it on both. I use onions when I want pungent and I don’t drink espresso. It’s a drink for girls.
You should sprinkle it on the charcoal just before you start grilling the chicken. That’s an herb? I don’t like it because it reminds me of a girl I once knew. She threw rocks at me one day when I was walking home from school and I never forgot it. Heck with her.
This one has a funny name and a routine aroma. “It is the essence of French cooking and is used as a background flavor.” Background flavor? What does that mean? “It’s good with creamed onions” I don’t like creamed onions. In fact, I don’t like French cooking and I feel better having said that. I think the French believe they invented food. “Thyme was the symbol of courage in ancient Greece.” Now I remember why I’m not a chef.
Very salty and tastes like celery. I like both so I guess it’s OK. The Indians may have used it to help tan skins.
They look like small pecans before you take the hulls off. Not much smell. You’re supposed to grate them on top of hot chocolate and things like that. I may try it later tonight. It will impress my wife if she doesn’t look closely at her kitchen table top.
These smell good. They look like plain old leaves to me, are about 3” long and crisp to the bite. They are hand gathered from bay laurel trees and “carefully dried to insure superior quality.” I wonder why they have to be careful, they’re just leaves. You’re supposed to cook them in soups and other things but remove them before you serve the dish. I would sure hope so. They must grow near water.
Why does my wife have three bottles of cloves?
“Easily digested – may be substituted for cornstarch.” If that’s true then why would anyone buy cornstarch, which is more expensive? I think this spice company should be investigated.
My favorites are Lemon Pepper and Ground Saigon Cinnamon. I don’t remember any of these spices from when I was a kid. Maybe I’ll just stick with sea salt, black pepper and Tabasco.
I hear my wife pulling into the garage so I need to hurry and get the wax. I wonder if she bought another jar of cloves.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1970, I built an art gallery in Santa Fe that my wife and I ran for seventeen years. Since then, my energies have been directed toward excavation of a large Indian pueblo and writing books about art and exploration. I hope you enjoy my blog!