NEWSLETTER: August – October 1999

Herbie Respects Your Privacy

One of the scary things about giving your name and address to a mailing list is the thought that the entire list might then be sold on to a direct mail company who might bombard you with junk mail. Let us assure you, Herbie’s will never divulge your name and address to anyone else! On the subject of mailing, you might prefer to have the Newsletter e-mailed if you’re not getting it that way already. Just phone, fax or even e-mail us to let us know your e-mail address and we’ll be happy to make the change for you.

The Delights of Turkey

Since the last Newsletter, we’ve been investigating spices in Turkey (luckily pre-earthquake), and found it a very interesting experience. Now we know exactly what a sumach tree looks like … a rather dense tree with attractive “frondy” leaves almost like big curry leaves, growing to only about three metres in height. The fruits form in clusters like small bunches of grapes, but each berry is covered with little hairs like a miniature kiwi fruit. When they have turned from dull green to a rich glowing crimson, the bunches are picked, dried in the sun for a couple of days, then crushed. The resulting pulp is passed through a sieve to give us the tangy, flaky condiment which has become an essential ingredient to those who have discovered it. (Note: this is a different tree, although related, to the decorative and definitely not to be eaten, sumach tree found in American and English gardens.)

Also in Turkey we discovered that we had been misinformed about blue and white poppy seeds – misinformation which we passed on to you in a recent Newsletter. They are in fact from different poppies grown mostly in India, which makes sense.

Turkish food appeared to have very little in the way of regional differences, as the whole country was luxuriating in the abundance of late summer fruits – apricots, peaches, cherries, melons, figs – as well as corn on the cob sold from street vendors and fresh tomato salads with every meal. As we expected, oregano and rosemary plants grow prolifically, but to our surprise, these fragrant herbs didn’t find their way to within cooee of the ubiquitous lamb kebabs! (although we detected a subtle flavour of cumin.) Nor did the sumach ever adorn the tomato salads unless we specifically asked for it. One spice that did appear was a seasonal golden sesame seed which adorned our favourite breakfast food, a deck-quoit shaped roll of bread called cimit. If possible, we’ll bring in some of these delicious seeds fresh from Turkey when they are next harvested.

Another New Blend From Herbie

Herbie’s been bitten by the creative bug again, inspired by the wonderful smoked paprika we’ve imported from Spain. So on your new mail order form you’ll find Smokey BBQ Spice, which we think will be a winner. Rub it on the skin of a chicken before roasting, or onto both sides of a steak before grilling. We sometimes find after a long day that a mix of onions, garlic, tomatoes and peas (mushrooms, capsicum … whatever’s in the fridge) in the pan is an easy way to cover the vegetable component of the evening meal, and a spoonful of Smokey BBQ Spice certainly gives it a great flavour.

Ever Heard of Cubebs?

Also new at Herbie’s are some interesting peppers which you might have read about from time to time, but never been able to find in Australia. Long pepper is exactly that – instead of being round like a peppercorn, it’s about 1-2 centimetres long, with a mild peppery flavour and slightly sweet almost floral aroma. (In Southern India, it’s often picked unripe from the vine and chewed as a way of cleaning one’s teeth!) Cubeb pepper or “tailed pepper” has been used in past ages to adulterate “real” peppercorns, and as such it fell into disrepute for a while. As chef Chris Manfield observes in her cookbook Spice, cubeb has a flavour more related to allspice than pepper, and is referred to as “West African pepper” in some African cookbooks. It is also sometimes listed as an ingredient in Ras el Hanout, the exotic Moroccan spice blend. With all the various grades of black pepper, plus our white, pink and green peppercorns, you could say we just about have every pepper possibility covered.

Looking For Kenchur?

If you’re into Asian cooking, you might have been looking for kenchur, sometimes spelt kencur. This is a root spice, like ginger, turmeric and galangal, but different in flavour to all of these. As there’s really no substitute for the special gingery flavour of this spice, we’ve located a source of good quality kenchur powder and have imported it for you. Also on an Asian theme, we’ve had a lot of people looking for pandan, also called rampe leaves. We now have this bright green ingredient in powdered form, as well as the pandan plants which do well as indoor specimens in Sydney conditions. Our little shop is at risk of bursting at the seams!

Herbie & Liz Make The Most of Living at Work

There’s a lot of talk these days about the increasing number of people operating from home offices, and as we live above the shop here at Herbie’s, I guess we fall into the “working from home” category. If the biggest benefit of working from home is being able to bring in the washing when it starts to rain, the second-best benefit is being to able to start a slow-cooking soup or casserole as you pass through the kitchen, reaping the benefit of increasingly-tempting aromas as the day progresses! Even the most humble of beef or lamb casseroles can be elevated to wondrous heights with the inclusion of a couple of Nyora paprikas, a good spoonful of bouquet garni, some good quality peppercorns (there being many to choose from) and a slurp of red wine. Chop up some root vegetables (turnip, parsnip, potato, carrot etc) at afternoon tea time, toss them into the pot, and you’ve got a complete meal waiting for you at dinner time! The secret to a really good casserole is long, slow cooking in the oven, at low heat (about 100°C to 120°C).

Spare a Thought For The Fledglings

As the end of the year approaches, our thoughts turn to those young people who are about to undertake their final high school exams. Logical progression of thought suggests that some of them will be off to university, college or work next year, spreading their wings and leaving the nest to have the exciting experience of living away from home for the first time. With these young people in mind, and continuing the idea of the “nest” metaphor, we have come up with a new spice kit. This one is the “Fledgling’s Kit”, equipped for the young home-leaver who has only the most basic of cooking skills. Italian Herbs for the spaghetti and pizza, cassia for the cinnamon toast and banana sandwiches, paprika to enhance the cheese on toast and laksa mix for a good round meal are just some of the contents of this set, which have been selected by those who know best – the recently-moved-out fledglings of ourselves and our friends. This kit is in a youthful lime green corrugated cardboard box, has a practical and easy guide to basic cooking enclosed, and is priced, like all our spice kits, at $24.95.

You will notice the newsletter has stretched to being quarterly, so you can expect the next one before Christmas. Also bookings are coming in for our Spice Discovery Tour to India from 8th to 23rd January 2000. If you would like to join us we suggest you get your booking in soon. HAPPY SPICING!