NEWSLETTER: Summer 2013/2014

December 01, 2013 posted in Newsletters

Visit to the Greek Island of Chios

Our visit to the mastic producers on the Greek island of Chios was a great learning experience. Although, naturally, our interest is in mastic’s use as a food, it is also valued for its use in varnish for musical instruments, as a paint stabilizer, and an ingredient in cosmetics, soaps and insecticides, amongst other things. Also hailed as “the world’s healthiest spice”, we certainly enjoyed the complimentary shot of mastic liqueur offered to assist our digestion after many meals on the island!

Dragging ourselves away from picturesque fishing villages and simple, perfect meals of freshly-caught seafood and Greek salads, we explored the inland of this small island. Even from a distance, the mastic plantations can be easily seen, as the ground beneath each tree is spread with a white, powdery type of kaolin clay, so that the tears of mastic, having seeped from wounds made in the bark, fall on to this clean surface. The trees are generally about 2 metres high, and the dense, dark-leaved foliage creates a kind of cubby-house effect around the trunk. Into this low space the farmer crawls with his dustpan and brush, and sweeps the fallen mastic up, to be sieved, laid in shallow trays, and stored in the coolest possible area (often a cellar under his house), until it is cleaned during winter and prepared for sale.

A Great Summer Salad Tip

Warm 1 cup of olive oil and add 1 tablespoon of mastic tears. Store in a corked or lidded bottle, away from heat and light. The oil will develop a beautiful thick and silky texture, (shake before using), and will cling to your salad vegetables in a very appealing way. In time for summer, try this elegant, aromatic and delicious soup. (Tip: keep your mastic well chilled to ensure easier grinding.)

Asparagus and Mastic Summer Soup
Makes 4 Cups

  • 250 g fresh asparagus spears (3-4 bunches)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mastic
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil, extra
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • ½ teaspoon Jalapeno Powder
  • ½ cup pouring cream salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in a pan and add onion. Cover by pressing greaseproof or baking paper down over the onion, and cook slowly for 12 minutes, being careful not to brown the onion pieces.
  2. Bring salted water to boil in a large pan and add asparagus. Break the stems if necessary to fit. Poach for 2 minutes until just cooked.
  3. Drain and reserve ½ cup of the cooking water. Cut 8 of the nicest tips off the asparagus and set aside to use as garnish.
  4. Mix the ground mastic with the teaspoon of oil, stirring well.
  5. Combine the asparagus, mastic oil, onion, cooking water, jalapeno chilli powder and chicken stock in a blender and puree to a smooth consistency. Your quantity of chilli can be anything from a pinch to a teaspoon, depending on your preference.
  6. Stir in the cream, adjust seasonings, and serve cold or warm, garnished with the reserved asparagus tips.

Visit to Croatia

Taking a hop from the Aegean Sea to the Adriatic Sea, we visited Croatia and enjoyed the amazing hospitality of a family of sage-gatherers on the island of Kornati. The Dalmatian coast of Croatia is renowned for the quality of the tough little native sage plants which grow wild on the dramatically-bare islands, and we can attest first-hand to the pungency and potency of the sage leaves. The leaves are cut, one handful at a time, on the slopes of the steep Kornati hillsides, and this small harvest is either dried in its whole-leaf form to make tea, or distilled to make potent sage oil for medicinal purposes. They also make a waterbased Hydrosol, of which we can assure the efficacy in the treatment of sore throat! There will be a video clip of our visit on our website before too long, or to see more of what they are doing, or to order their beautiful product, visit their website,

Box of Ideas

Our new baby, the seasonal Box of Ideas, is going from strength to strength. The idea is that there is only one box at any time … the autumn box finishes to make way for winter, and the winter box falls away to make way for spring, etc. The Box of Ideas – Summer is a perfect introduction to the world of spices for someone this Christmas. Containing Laksa Spice Mix, Sumac, Lemon Myrtle Ground, Garlic Steak Seasoning and Spice Dust, it’s bursting with recipes and bright ideas for delicious summer salads and light meals.

What’s New at Herbies?

Jalapeno Chilli Powder

We’ve sourced a lovely green Jalapeno Chilli Powder and added it to our range … it’s in the recipe above.. Add a pinch to guacamole for extra kick!

Spice Kits

Our great selection of spice kits, with their varied themes and range of prices, is always a great gift idea at this time of year. To help take the stress out of your Christmas shopping, you may like to peruse the list and make your notes, then simply phone or email our shop with your requirements. Your order can be assembled so that you can pick them up in superefficient time, or posted out to you to save you the trip. Remember the postman is very busy at this time of year, so don’t leave it to the last week before Christmas to  order!

Allspice vs Mixed Spice

Many cooks find the terms allspice and mixed spice confusing. They are not different names for the same thing. Allspice berries have a flavour and aroma that brings cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to mind, therefore they have a name that suggests they encompass many spice flavours … allspice. Mixed spice is exactly what the name implies, a mixture of sweet spices – cassia, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cloves, all in a bed of beautiful amalgamating coriander seed. So for your sweet Christmas cooking, don’t think of allspice as an alternative to mixed spice.

More confusion arises because the French name for allspice is tout epices, and it is confused with the spice blend Quatre Epices. To make it even more tangled, there are two different Quatre Epices blends – one sweet and one savoury. The sweet blend is deeper and richer than Mixed Spice, as it is a blend of just allspice, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. For our Christmas cake and pudding, we use half-and-half Mixed Spice and Quatre Epices Sweet for a deliciously rich, important spice flavour.

What more is there to say, apart from wishing you a safe, happy, and most importantly, tasty festive season?

May 2014 be a good year for us all!

Herbie and Liz

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