LeRoy Pennysaver & News

LE ROY PENNYSAVER & NEWS - NOVEMBER 26, 2023 by Lynne Belluscio If you stop by the Woodward Library, you might notice the sweet smell of spices as you come in the door. Trish Riggi and I have just put together a very interesting exhibit about spices. As folks get ready for the holidays, we gather all the ingredients for pies, deserts, baked ham, and turkey dressing. What are the spices that we use? What is the difference between herbs and spices. Have you ever heard of star anise? Did you know that when the English negotiated with the Dutch for the control of Manhattan Island, it included the rights to one of the Spice Islands? Looking at family recipes, sometimes you can trace the nationality of your family by the spices. The recipes that have been handed down from my German family include a lot of anise. Anise is important in my husband’s Albanian/ Italian family recipes. The secret ingredient in the Belluscio spaghetti meatballs is a tablespoon of allspice. I discovered when I was doing a lot of open-hearth cooking, that the spices used for the wafers cooked in the wafer iron, indicated where the recipe came from. Mace was used for Scandinavian wafers and nutmeg in English wafers. The Italian wafers, pizzelles are frequently seasoned with anise. Pepper is found on most tables, next to the salt (Salt is not a spice). I suspect some of you know that the pepper shaker has fewer holes than the salt shaker. Somewhere in my house, I have a really tall pepper grinder and if I find it, I’ll put it in the exhibit. I remember several restaurants in Rochester, where the waiter would come around with a pepper grinder and ask, “Would you like some pepper?” Freshly ground pepper is wonderful, but have you ever grated cinnamon? It’s very difficult to grate cinnamon. There is a cinnamon grater in the exhibit. After it is grated, it should be pounded in a mortar and then sifted to get the cinnamon powder that we are used to. Cinnamon is the inner bark of a tree, and Cassia can be used instead of cinnamon, but it is often considered an adulteration of cinnamon. I recently was given a Jell-O recipe which used cinnamon candies. The Jell-O is mixed with applesauce. The cinnamon candies are soaked in hot water to dissolve and then added to the Jell-O and applesauce. I can’t wait until I have a chance to make that. The spice trade goes back thousands of years and there were bloody wars fought over the Spice Islands and in South Africa. Some spices were only used by nobility or the king. In ancient Egypt, the pharaoh was embalmed with cinnamon. The spice chests from the 1800’s held six spices – cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and mace. I brought in two of my spice chests for the exhibit. Most recipes used a combination of these six spices. The beautiful wooden spice chests from the 1700’s and 1600’s held many different spices, and some of these were used for medicinal purposes. They often had a lock on them because the spices were so valuable. I found a recipe for “Spiced Jell-O” made with orange Jell-O. Copies of the recipe are available at the Library. I have to admit, I haven’t made it yet. I also stopped by Mama Chevez’s Taqueria last week. She brought out two huge bags of Chili peppers. One bag of chilis are so hot, that they have to be handled with plastic gloves. Chili peppers can be classified as an herb or a spice, but there is no question that they are spicy. The Guajillo chili peppers taste fruity with a sweet heat. You’ll have to take someone else’s word for it because I don’t eat chili peppers, or chili sauce. The Arbol tostado chilis are related to cayenne peppers and share their intense heat. They have a great smoky aroma.According to one source, they rate between 15,000 and 30,000 on the Scoville Heat scale. Mama Chevez mixes them with garlic and oil and onion which is made into a sauce. If you take a look in the exhibit, notice the Mexican dish that I found in my cupboard. The Historical Society has a copy of Mrs. LeRoy’s handwritten recipe book and I looked for a couple of recipes. Many of the “receipts” as they are called, are Dutch. The recipe for oliekeokes (which I have made), is a yeast rising sweet dough, with citron and sometimes raisins, but her recipe calls for two nutmegs – obviously grated. The batter is cooked in hot oil and are similar to doughnut holes. Mrs. LeRoy’s recipe for mincemeat (which Nancy Baker once made) calls for ounce each of mace, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. I checked the prices of those spices today at Tops and an ounce of each would add up to over $30 – maybe more. Most of us are familiar with mustard, and in the exhibit about mustard there is a small silver charm. It was given to me many years ago for my charm bracelet. Trish said she has one too. I suspect a lot of young girls were given these charms, with a small biblical verse on the back. I hope you have a chance to come and look for it in the exhibit. Also, look for the pomanders. There are several made from lemons and one from a lime and another with a small apple. Pomanders are easy to make. You will need whole cloves, a fork or a toothpick, a paper towel, and a small lemon. Use the fork to make holes in the lemon and then push the cloves into the holes. You can do a fancy design or maybe your initials. Lemons do not need to be completely covered with cloves. The paper towel is to catch the lemon juice. Some people like to use a thimble on their finger to press the cloves into the lemon. If you decide to put cloves into an apple, the entire surface of the apple must be covered. And an additional note, whole cloves are very expensive. I found some on the internet that were a lot cheaper. The spice exhibit will be at the Library through the holidays, and perhaps if you stop by, you will share some of your recipes and stories about spices. Put Some Spice in Your Life