Recipes: Then and Now

Recipes from the past updated for today


Post #9 Spices 1

July 1, 2014

This posting and next I thought I would just talk about something I am passionate about, spices. I won’t be covering herbs as most are easily grown here in Indiana. Any good garden club will be very glad to help you in creating your own herb garden. Spices on the other hand are, for the most part, from tropical plants we can’t grow here. If you remember I covered Vanilla pretty well in an earlier posting on Ice Cream. Now I will tell you about two worldwide favorites, Cinnamon and Black Pepper. All the best spices, including the ones talked about here, are available at Penzeys. Check out the website link below!

Just behind pepper, Cinnamon is probably the second most popular spice. It is amazing how many people are not aware of the many different kinds of cinnamon there are. We simply buy what the grocery has to offer and never know the mellow magic of Ceylon Cinnamon, or the power of Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon. Though, Indonesian Korintje Cinnamon is beginning to become more widely known. What we use is actually the inner bark of a tree. The bark is peeled away from the higher branches to make cinnamon sticks and the ground is from the lower older bark of the trunk and larger branches. The tree will only be partially harvested and will continue to grow and be harvested over many years. So, Cinnamon is tree bark that is ground to a fine powder. Next time you sprinkle Cinnamon on your toast, remember, it is basically sawdust. Cinnamon is divided into two major types, ‘True’ Cinnamon and Cassia Cinnamon. What may surprise you is most of us around here have only rarely experienced True Ceylon Cinnamon. It is a very mild, tan colored spice, with citrus and floral overtones. Not quite what we think of as Cinnamon. It is grown in Sri Lanka. The people of Mexico and Great Britain have a fondness for this kind of Cinnamon. Cassia Cinnamon is what we Americans think of when we are talking about Cinnamon. Pungent and strong, leaving no doubt, this is Cinnamon. The fragrance is familiar to all and will fill the house when we bake with it. If we use too much it might have a noticeable bite, somewhat like pepper or chilies. Vietnamese is stronger and appeals too many people for this very reason. This is the kind produced in Indonesia, Vietnam and China. Chinese Cassia is my favorite, but I do have uses for the Vietnamese which is what Grandma used to call Saigon Cinnamon.

Peppercorns are the berry of a tropical evergreen vine. Black, green and white peppercorns come from the same plant. What makes the difference is the timing of harvest and how they are treated afterward. All Peppercorns are hand picked. This is so only the berries which are ready are picked. It takes the human touch to produce this spice. The Green Peppercorns are picked while still very immature and are dried quickly so they retain their color and a little ‘herbal’ flavor. They are not quite as strong as either the Black or White Peppercorns and are also quite a bit softer so they are easier crush. Black Peppercorns are the next to be harvested, after the berries have completely matured but are not yet ripened. The still green berries are then slowly dried. The unripe fruit of the berry is the part that becomes black as it oxidizes. The White peppercorns are left to ripen fully and are then soaked in water. This soaking softens the fruit part which is then washed away to leave the hard white inner seed. The Pink Peppercorn comes from a very different plant which is grown in other areas of the world. They are not nearly as peppery as real pepper but because they are the same size Pink Peppercorns are usually added to peppercorn blends. The color and lightly fruity taste adds some visual and flavor magic to these blends. All these kinds of pepper can be used interchangeably. The flavor should be your guide, tough white pepper is a better choice for something like a white sauce which would be speckled if black pepper is used. Try some of the better Peppercorns like India Tellicherry or Malabar. It is amazing how different they are.