The Mystery of Herbs and Spices: Scandalous, Romantic and Intimate Biographies of the World's Most Notorious Ingredients

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Xlibris Corporation, Mar 27, 2006 - Cooking - 195 pages
The Mystery of Herbs and Spices offers 53 tell-all biographies of celebrated spices and herbs. Tales of war, sex, greed, hedonism, cunning, exploration and adventure reveal how mankind turned the mere need for nourishment into the exaltation of culinary arts. Is it a spice or herb? Where does it come from and what causes its taste? What legends or scandals embellish it? To what curious uses has it been put? How can you use it today? Neither a cookbook nor dry scholarship, the book employs anecdotes and humor to demystify the use and character of every spice or herb. Sample chapters from The Mystery of Herbs and Spices follow. INTRODUCTION ?Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.? ? Proverbs 15:17 Herbs and spices. They impart glory to food, and variety to life. They are what separate the mere cook from the gourmet. But they can be confusing. What is the difference between a herb and a spice? What foods do they go with? And don?t you feel silly, not knowing if you are supposed to say ?herb? or ?erb?? You might think a gourmet, who understands such things, is a sort of wizard ? that?s what people thought in the Middle Ages, when users of herbal medicines were accused of witchcraft and burnt! But to people who grow up in India or Thailand, exotic spices are common. They use a wealth of seasonings as casually as we scatter ketchup and pepper. Cooking with cardamom or cumin might seem a mystery of subtle kitchens, but did you know that ordinary pepper was once precious and rare? If you lived in Europe seven hundred years ago, you could pay your rent or taxes in peppercorns, counting them out like coins. You could have bought a horse for a pound of saffron; a pound of ginger would get you a cow; and a pound of nutmeg was worth seven fat oxen. If you were an exceptionally lucky bride, your father might give you peppercorns as a dowry. Now consider how casually we dash a bit of pepper over a fried egg today! Like anything else, herbs and spices are easy to use when you are familiar with them. But, like nothing else, the story of spices is laced with adventure. Ferdinand Magellan launched the first voyage around our planet. By the time he reached the Pacific Ocean, he had been out of touch with civilization for a year. Sailing from the west coast of South America, he headed out onto a briny desert of burning glass. He had no maps. He had no radio. He had ridiculously small and leaky ships. He was going where no one had ever gone before. The hissing swells of the Pacific would take him four frightening months to cross, without laying eyes once on land. There would be nothing like this adventure for another five hundred years ? not until our exploration of space. Magellan died out there in the unknown. Only eighteen of his 237 sailors straggled back to Spain. What did they have to show for it? Silver? Gold? Scientific discoveries? No?nutmegs and cloves! Twenty-six tons of them ? enough to pay for the entire cost of the voyage and make a profit of 500 gold ducats for every shareholder. No one doubted for one second that the whole adventure had been worth it! Spices. They enhance our food. That?s all. But, since the human race began to dream, the story of spices has enchanted our fantasy as well. Where do they come from? Why are they so enticing? In what new ways can we use them? This is a book of discovery. Unfurl your sails, like Magellan, and follow the fragrance of spices and herbs to their source, gather their lore, and let them not only season your cooking, but enrich your enjoyment of life. PETER PIPER If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick? It might seem funny now, but it wasn?t funny at the time. Pierre Poivre of Lyons, France, otherwise known as Peter Pepper or Peter Piper, was a real person. Born in 1719, he started his career as a Christian missionary, and founded a bank in Vietnam. In 1766 he became Governor of Isle de France (Mauritius), the French colony far off the southeast coast of Africa. The eponymous tongue-twister made fun of the Pierre?s hare-brained schemes. On his lovely but lonely tropical island, far from the glitter of Paris, Peter Piper watched Dutch ships freighting precious cargoes of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon right under his nose from the Far East to Amsterdam. The spice trade created fabulous wealth. Spices were cheap to grow. They were compact and lightweight, so that huge loads could be crammed into a ship?s hold. Prices in Europe were high, so that an Indiaman could realize a 4,000 per cent profit in a single voyage! No other cargo could compare. Now why, thought Peter Piper, couldn?t those spices be grown in his colony? Of course, the Dutch wouldn?t just hand them over. But if one could sneak into the Dutch colony of Indonesia and smuggle out a seedling or two ? what wealth for France! What gloire for Pierre Poivre! And he did it. In 1769, Governor Poivre equipped two fast ships that slipped through the Dutch blockade into a lonely harbor on the island of Jibby in the Moluccas. The French expedition persuaded the local rajah to sell sixty clove plants. The Dutch found out, but could not outsail the swift French corsairs. Two of the pilfered trees bore fruit in 1775. In 1776, Peter Piper presented the first French-grown cloves to His Christian Majesty, King Louis XVI. Cloves were planted in the other French colonies of Reunion, Cayenne, and Martinique. But historical events foiled Peter?s Piper?s plan for a new French monopoly. Napoleon occupied Holland in 1800. In a counter-move, France?s enemy, England, seized the Dutch colonies in the East. They sent clove and nutmeg plants to the British colonies of Malacca and Ceylon, to the West Indian islands of St. Vincent, Trinidad, Grenada, and, in Africa, to Zanzibar, which became the most important source of cloves on earth, even to this day. So the greatest harvest of Peter Piper?s pilfered plants came long after he left Mauritius in 1776. And what glory did Peter Piper get? An inaccurate nursery rhyme about picking pickled peppers! CINNAMON AND CASSIA The Greeks thought that cassia, cinnamon?s cousin, was collected from a swamp infested by giant, shrieking bats. Cinnamon is probably the oldest spice known to man. Twenty-five centuries before Christ, Pharaoh Sankhare sent a sailing expedition down the African Coast looking for it. And Moses used cinnamon to make the anointing oil of Hebrew worship. Herodotus wrote that somewhere near the fabled city of Nosa in Arabia, giant birds made nests of cinnamon sticks. Cinnamon harvesters would lay carcasses of donkeys and oxen out for the birds, who would swoop down and carry the meat up to their nests. The weight of these carcasses would snap bits off the nests, and the cinnamon hunters would gather the scattered cinnamon quills below. The Greeks also thought that cassia, cinnamon?s cousin, was collected from a swamp infested by giant, shrieking bats. Tragically, neither story was true. Arab merchants spread these tall tales to keep their sources of cinnamon secret, for Europeans dreamed of finding the source of this spice. Diodorus, the Sicilian historian who flourished in 50 BC, wrote tantalizingly that there was so much cinnamon in Arabia that Bedouins used it for campfires! Although both cinnamon and its close cousin, cassia, are mentioned often in the Bible, neither ever grew in the Holy Lands. From the faraway tropics of Asia, daring Indonesian sailors followed seasonal winds, called monsoons, to the coast of Africa. Their cinnamon cargo was freighted by Arab sailors up to the Red Sea, or carted by land caravans through Kenya, 2,000 miles along the Nile, until it reached the Mediterranean shores. Cassia, which is so like cinnamon but grows in China, was packed along the famous Silk Route, from South China, through the Gobi Desert, over the Himalayas, and to Antioch, Syr

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About the author (2006)

Moseley lived in the Indian Subcontinent for years. He studied its literature, history, and religions. He earned his B.A. degree from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, and pursued post-graduate studies at Keble College, Oxford University, Florida International University, and the University of Miami School of Medicine.

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