Cleaning out the spice pantry, I discovered a forgotten cache of nutmegs. I cracked one open and inhaled its sweet, warm scent. Suddenly I found myself back in Kerala on a spice farm watching a man clamber up a nutmeg tree...
Snow is on its way…promises of thick flurries overnight with icy rain thrown in for good measure.
That makes it an excellent weekend to stay inside and purge the spice pantry, amongst other projects.
Nigel Slater cleaned out his own spice cupboard last Sunday, unearthing “a jar of whole cloves, whose scent reminds me of garden pinks; a thick glass pot of bone-dry cumin seed….vanilla beans as black as your hat….” and much more. At guardian.co.uk, he wrote that “each cap unscrewed, every jar sniffed is a story all of its own.”
My own spice pantry is also full of stories. It’s a museum of time travel, a “sniffing bar” offering instant sensory recall: Opening a jar of nutmeg, breathing in its warm, sweet scent, wafts me to Kerala, to a spice garden where a barefooted man is scrambling up a tree to cut down ripe nutmegs with a wickedly sharp blade. A shower of greenish gold fruit the size of small nectarines tumbles to the ground. He cuts through the flesh to reveal a shiny, purplish brown nut enmeshed in scarlet filigree. The nut is nutmeg, of course, and the filigree is fresh mace, which will eventually fade to a dark golden orange. Ironically the fragrance of both spices emerges only when they have been dried.
Slater tackled his “great scented treasure chest of ingredients” by making chicken curry—with cardamom pods, black peppercorns, cumin, coriander and ground chilli among other spices—and a fig and walnut cake flavored with vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. (For the recipes, click the link above.)
As for me, I’ll be making a dent in my own mountain of spices with James Oseland’s spekkuk, a buttery Indonesian pound cake scented with nutmeg, cinnamon and clove—a sweet reminder of the tropics on a cold and snowy day.