Sunday, January 23, 2011

The bite on my tongue, the story in my mouth

Oh, I love seasonings. It's a bad habit, really, I pick up spices whenever I'm in a shop with ingredients new to me, regardless of whether or not I know what they are or how to use them. I'll close my eyes and luxuriate in the scent of a new blend, the texture on my tongue. I'll imagine how I can use it. Sometimes I'll take the time to look it up, but honestly more often than not I plunge ahead and try it. Often it works. Occasionally it leads to a spectacular failure.

When I moved into my current home, I first unpacked my books. Then I unpacked my spices, stacking them and organizing them. Soon my kitchen smelled right, the spice cabinet a chamber of mysteries, unlabeled bottled and bags clustered with store bought tins. The organization quickly fell into a tumble, the most frequently used items eclipsing the others, but I still venture into the cabinet, reach towards the back and find treasure.

Every time I open the spice cabinet I imagine I'm an explorer, a trader on the spice routes, the scent of pepper and nutmeg, cinnamon and grains of paradise mingling with camel and blowing sand. I look at the fortune therein and remember that it once was not only for flavor but for life, as so many of these seasonings were medicinal. The scent suggests possibility to me and reminds me to be grateful for these tastes and textures. I don't have to pay a dowry in salt, I instead use it to season my food. Pepper is a pleasant bite on my tongue, not a cure-all for what ails me.

Every bottle contains a story. Where I found the seasoning. How my mother taught me to use it. The scent of the places I long to visit. The fairy tale where it becomes more valuable than gold. The blood spilled to bring this flavor to the new world. The belief that this taste would bring your true love home. Each time I open a container I become more than a home cook, I am blending together the ingredients that build the world.

What are your favorite spices? Where do they take you? Do you dream in cumin?

(c) 2011 Laura S. Packer

2 comments:

Joy said...

You do have a great spice stash! There's one I love the scent of - I can't remember the name though it's in a glass jar. My favorite spice is fresh basil - is that actually a spice?

Granny Sue said...

Aha! Now I know what my "pay it forward" needs to be! Look for it soon. I was going to wait for summer and send you something then, but you have inspired me :)