Saturday, November 25, 2017

Flavors and Fragrances of the Season

Excerpts from Flavors and Fragrances of the Season
Jackie Johnson ND
Planhigion Herbal Learning Center

Nov/Dec '13 issue of Essential Herbal magazine
As fall wanes, and we’re satiated from our Thanksgiving flavors….our taste buds turn to the Christmas season and its alluring tastes and smells.

Most of the spices of the season are warm, which seem to help us ease into the season and the cooler (colder) temperatures.

The most common spice of the season is the sweet, spicy and pungent Cinnamon.  Who doesn’t have at least one favorite recipe that includes cinnamon?  Is it cinnamon or cassia?   Both belong to the same family but which is which?  I was told once that cassia’s bark curls two ways and true cinnamon curls only one way.  Cassia is more reddish, more aromatic, and more bitter, whereas true cinnamon is lighter in color and milder.  Usually what we purchase in ground form is a mixture of them both.   Once nearly as expensive as gold, much research is going on with cinnamon, so enjoy your treats, cuz it’s all good!   Is cinnamon tea with honey really a hardship for anyone?

Typically considered the second most valuable spice in the world (to saffron) is cardamom.  Most people don’t use it much, but maybe this sweet, pungent and warming spice should be.  In the ginger family, try substituting a teaspoon of cardamom in your cinnamon sugar.   As with cinnamon, when cooking, it should be added early.

Here’s an old family favorite my grandmother used to make.  (If I’ve infringed on someone’s recipe, I apologize, but this is how it came handwritten about 30 years ago.)

Spiced Seafoam
3 large egg whites
1 cup white sugar
½ t. cardamom
½ t cinnamon
¼ t cloves

Beat the egg whites until stiff.  Add the sugar a little at a time (while still beating).  Then hand stir in the spices (which have already been mixed together).  Drop in small mounds on a parchment covered baking sheet and put in an oven already at 250 degrees, for 90 minutes.  Then turn off the oven and let them sit in there over night.  Remove in the a.m.

Cloves are yet another favorite – whether they’re in stuck in oranges or added to teas.  It’s another warming pungent, spice that should be added early and sparingly in recipes.  If really too strong for you, snip off the tops and grind the “stem” for a milder version. 

All the spices so far are good for digestion and nausea; cloves can also help adult toothache pain (not kids) when smashed and placed around the tooth until you can get to the dentist.

Coriander (the seed of cilantro) should also be dry-toasted to release its flavor.  Unlike the others, it should be added near the end of the cooking cycle.  Like fenugreek , it was considered an aphrodisiac.

Ginger is one of my favorites.  It was once said that “every good quality is contained in ginger”.   I like to start growing this in the early spring so I have my own available in winter.  Just put a piece of the root (with an eye) in a pot.  Don’t let it get frosted, but set it out in the summer (takes about 10-11 months).  Each batch you grow from the last one is less strong than its predecessor but it’s easy and fun to grow.  (I also slice ginger root into quarter size pieces and freeze it.  When I don’t feel well, I’ll pull out a couple of ginger root pieces, a couple of frozen lemon slices and put them in a quart jar with hot water add honey and drink on it all day.)

A Christmas staple, but gingerbread was also a favorite of General Lafayette after George Washington’s mother served it to him in 1784.  Here an easy recipe adapted from several.

2 ¼ cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup black strap molasses
¾ cup hot water
½ cup shortening
1 egg
1 t soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t ginger
¾ t salt

Blend all the above by hand for about 30 seconds and then with a mix (I don’t think they had mixers during the Civil War, but they do make life easier) for about 3 minutes.  Pour into a greased and floured 9 x 9 pan, and bake at 325 degrees for about 50 minutes.  I’ve found it comes out of the pan easier when it’s cool.   (It’s cake-like.)
Mulling spices are popular during winter.   Recipes are as varied as those who throw them together and are dictated by taste preferences.  Don’t be afraid to experiment. 

Favorite #1:
Cinnamon sticks
Orange peels (dried)

Favorite #2
Orange and Lemon peels (dried)
Star Anise (just a little)

These can be mulled in apple cider or juice, or wine depending on your crowd.  Most are served warm, but sometimes I mull in apple juice, cool, add cold orange juice and ginger ale.   If you want a “Wassail” use a red or fruit wine in a crockpot and add some brown sugar, honey and maybe a little brandy.

Sometimes I’ll put the cloves in a small orange or lemon and plunk them in the crockpot. Don’t cover the fruit with them, just a trail or two of them.

All of these drinks make the house smell wonderful while heating them up.   We usually serve them in a crockpot (that can be hidden in pretty Christmas fabric with greens and cinnamon sticks tied together around it).

Another family favorite that does double duty as a house deodorizer is a fruit soup.  There are all kinds of recipes for these, but I’ve found that anything goes – use what you have.

Swedish Fruit Soup
Start with 5 – 10 cups of water (depending on what you put in)
Dried apricots
Sliced orange
Sliced lemon
Sliced apple
Sliced pear
1 or 2 cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves
(If you have a favorite spice, i.e. allspice, nutmeg – take some of the soup out and add a little and let it sit awhile to see if the added spice is something you like in the soup.)
Let this simmer for hours or until everything is blended.  You can add a small amount of tapioca at the end if you like, but I’ve found it isn’t necessary.  This can be served warm or cold.   If you eat too much, you’ll find it’s a great ‘cleanser’.

Happy Holidays however you celebrate it!

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