NEWSLETTER: December 1997 – January 1998

December 01, 1997 posted in Newsletters

‘Tis the season to be jolly, also the season to make cakes and puddings and cocktail foods for Christmas parties. It’s the time for gift-giving as well, and we hope you enjoy the little gift we have popped in for you with this Newsletter.

Sumach Time Now

You may not have heard of sumach (sometimes called sumac) but rest assured, we’re not trying to poison you! The sumach shrub grows throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean, and its small red berries are dried in the sun and ground into a coarse powder. The spice is used in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and most of the Middle Eastern countries, especially Lebanon. You may have seen something purple sprinkled over sliced onions in kebab shops – that is sumach, and we’re sure you’ll love its tangy tastiness. Try it on avocado fish… anywhere that you would use lemon.

A customer has shared his favourite sumach recipe with us. In his words, it’s “to die for.” Place a whole chicken in a baking try and add enough good chicken stock to make a depth of about 2cm. Sprinkle a tablespoon or less of sumach into the stock and roast the chicken. The liquid will reduce during cooking and make an unbelievably delicious sauce for the chicken. Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?

And while we’re on the subject of sumach, try this very easy idea. Halve Roma tomatoes lengthwise and place, cut side up, in a baking tray. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, a little caster sugar and a generous coating of sumach, then bake very slowly (100 degrees C) for four hours. These can be served hot, room temperature or cold, either with salads or as a cocktail snack. (Try using Tiny Tim tomatoes for finger food.)

Just one last snippet of information about sumach – it is an important ingredient in the Middle Eastern spice, za’atar, which is a nutty, tasty blend of powdered thyme, salt, sumach and toasted sesame seeds. It’s great to sprinkle over pan-fried chicken or lamb, add to salad dressing, or just to top a delicious slice of fresh bread and butter!

Pepper-mill Pranks

Something to discover – the flavour of freshly-ground coriander seeds. Put some Australian coriander seeds into a pepper mill and grind directly on to your food … wonderful! There are unexpected fresh tones which will delight your palate and offer you something quite new.

All Mixed up on Spices

With people coming in to buy spices for their Christmas cakes and puddings, we’ve noticed there is some confusion over Allspice and Mixed Spice. Surely it’s the same thing? People ask. In fact they’re quite different, and here’s why. Allspice is the ground pimento berry, also known as Jamaica pepper or allspice. It was given the name of allspice because it really does smell like a blend of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Botanically, the allspice tree is a cousin to the clove tree. Mixed spice, on the other hand, is a blend of sweet spices – Herbie’s mixture contains ground coriander seed, cassia, cinnamon quills, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cloves. For a richer, more robust spicy flavour for fruit cakes, use a little extra allspice as well as mixed spice.

El Nino a Blow to Prices

And now for the bad news. Unfortunately the El Nino weather patterns have caused unseasonal dry spells in some spice-growing areas. Pepper from South-East Asia has been badly affected, as has saffron from Kashmir, so naturally, due to the rules of supply and demand, the prices have risen. At the same time, the stock market crashes throughout Asia and America have shaken our dollar and done nasty things to our foreign exchange rates. To this misfortune, add the business acumen of the average spice trader, who knows that what is hard to get now will be even rarer and more expensive a year from now, so he is holding back his supplies until he can drive the prices higher. The bottom line is that some of our prices have had to go up. We’ve kept the increases as low as possible, and we will continue to do our best to give the best possible price on the best possible quality, as we have so far.

The Herb Express

Thank you to those of you who have used our mail order facility. We always post the order back on the day that we receive it, and we use Express Post so that you should have it the next day. There have been only two cases of orders going astray, and it appears that the Post Office sometimes neglects to send a parcel notice if the bag is too big for your letter box. So please ask at your Post Office if you’re expecting an order that you feel is running late, and of course, contact us if there is any problem.

Fast Food with Spices?

No-one wants to spend hours in the kitchen during summer, especially at holiday time, but there’s no need to sacrifice flavour. Lots of Herbie’s blends, such as Ras el Hanout, Tasty Meat Sprinkle, Native BBQ Spice, Sumach Pepper with Lemon Myrtle, Za’atar and Chermoula can be sprinkled on before grilling or barbecuing so that you have a really great meal ready in the time it takes to turn on the grill and microwave the veges!

A Class Act: Scene II 

What’s new at Herbie’s? We’ve been in “classic” mode!

  • Quatre Epices: a classic spice mixture comprising white pepper, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, traditionally used in terrine, pate, and sausages.
  • Herbs de Provence: a traditional blend of European herbs including thyme, marjoram, parsley, tarragon, celery seed and bay leaves.
  • Salad Herbs: similar to ‘fines herbs’, a blend of delicate herbs and onion, for adding to salad dressings, omelettes and quiche.
  • True Black Cumin (Shah Jeera/Jeera Kala): now in stock, at last!

Finally, a word on the Spice Appreciation Classes &endash; they’ve been so popular that we now have them weekly, on alternate Wednesdays and Thursdays. Give us a call for more information.

Happy Festive Season, and Happy Spicing!

Herbie and Liz

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