Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saffron, Sugar and Spices

Can't believe it's been over two months since I last blogged! Apart from a bad case of the flu, Xmas was great and I've been quite busy ever since. I have also been reading up on some books about the global history and culture behind some of the spices and aromatics that we all love to use in our cooking, not to mention our perfume and soap making. Sometimes it's hard to believe that the beloved spices we commonly use today without a thought were rare and extravagant luxuries centuries ago, and have had a huge impact on the politics and economics of many countries today.

Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern Historyby Sidney Mintz addresses how the role of sugar has been transformed throughout history - from a crop revered by the British aristocracy and inextricably linked to the transatlantic slave trade and European colonies in the Caribbean, to a cheap and accessible commodity which continues to define modern-day eating habits.

Ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, nutmeg…… Michael Krondl's The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice gives a history of the spice trade, concentrating on Venice, Lisbon and Amsterdam - these three cities were each major centres for the spice trade at various times. Among other things, the spice trade influenced European political policy, global trade - the Dutch East India Company was formed as a result of the spice trade - medicinal and cultural eating habits.

And Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World's Most Seductive Spice by Pat Willard is an enchanting historical and cultural celebration of the world's most precious spice, complete with recipes, anecdotes and folklore.

As I study the books more thoroughly, hopefully I will be able to bring you some reviews on them all.