Sunday, May 8, 2011


So much history in this revisited, rejoined house; striving to bring a fresh breath to every room while honoring the past with its span of joys and sorrows. Claiming/reclaiming my kitchen. I spent two hours digging through the jars & baggies of spices & herbs, combining, tossing, sniffing, sneezing, labeling. When I asked my son to identify the last remaining anonymous & mysterious elements, he repeatedly said, "custom mix." Ah......

Could you identify ground cardamom, unmarked, with only your sense of smell? How about ground coriander? We argued about oregano: apparently one was Mexican oregano, which smells markedly more potent than what I would call traditional oregano. Five versions of chili powder, four incarnations of curry, each with its own particular tang. The beautiful star anise, the rolled-cigar-rusty cinnamon sticks, the perfect symmetry of tiny black mustard seeds.

And then there was even more mystery: Grains of Paradise. Identifiable seed pods: keep? Toss? I made the rule that if we couldn't identify it, it had to go. Toss toss toss. I believe that between my son and me we have enough spices to last at least until the next century, albeit most by that time will have long surrendered their zing.

Spice categorization is good therapy, I think. There's the visual component of varying shades of mostly brown/beige/red-brown, and there's the olfactory component which induces any number of sneezes, and when nothing else succeeds in identification, there's the tongue-test. Three of the four senses ain't bad, as these things go. And now all has been condensed, combined, relabeled, rebagged, cleaned-up and shined. It's full steam ahead in SpiceLand.


  1. Isn't 'Mexican Oregano' another name for Canabis?

  2. I'm always using herbs but I think I'd fail the blindfold I'll give it a miss, as sneezing makes bones creak, muscles tense and,...other things.

  3. Great post, T. You describe the process perfectly, and as one who has recently gone through this, I KNOW. My dad has tiny red dried chili peppers that are probably decades old. Will we ever use them? Probably not. Can we toss them? Over his dead body.

    Somebody quick - call the elder abuse hotline!!

  4. Cleaning and reorganizing my mother's spice drawer and cupboard was my favorite job. In fact, it was the only job I liked. I liked it so much that sometimes on endless winter Saturday afternoons I'd just do it on my own. I suppose it helped that these places were where she also stored the nuts, coconut and various baking chocolates ....

    But what was on the containers and packaging! The names of the countries and places! As I was one of those kids that read everything that was print, and never had enough new things to read, yes, I read these too, along with the directions for use, measurements, recipies where there were some, storage, everything.

    And dreamed ....

    Even as a kid, I took naturally to jobs that involved organizing ... why yes, you could see the future grad student of library and information sciences in the egg ....

    Love, C.

  5. A sense of comfort settled over me, just reading the anise, coriander, cardamom. They feel like the paving stones between our jangled selves and the comforting peace of food, cooking and eating. And order has a few things to recommend it. xo

  6. Grains of Paradise! I saw those at the World Spice market in Seattle. Did you ever use them? Just the name enchants me.Such a stinting amount of Paradise, though.

  7. Cynthia: the label does indeed say World Spice (Seattle). They belong to my son. I haven't a clue as to their use.