Thursday, 11 May 2017

Spice Up Your Life

Where to begin? What are little girls made of? Well 'sugar and spice and all things nice' of course. Not boring old herbs - they are growing at the bottom of every ordinary garden.  When spices were first traded they were very expensive commodities: So expensive that the people who unloaded the cargoes from ships were often paid in cloves. Nutmeg was literally worth its weight in gold and the island of Run where it was grown had the most expensive real estate on earth. 

The Spice Routes were maritime routes linking the East to the West. Pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg were all hugely sought-after commodities in Europe, but before the 15th century access to trade with the East was controlled by North African and Arab middlemen, making such spices extremely costly and rare.

Exploration between the 15th and 17th centuries brought about by new navigation technology made sailing long distances possible, Europeans took to the seas to forge direct trading relationships with Indonesia, China, and Japan. Some have argued that it was the spice trade that fuelled the development of faster boats, encouraged the discovery of new lands, and fostered new diplomatic relationships between East and West. It was probably with the discovery of new sources of spice in mind, that Christopher Columbus set out in 1492 and ended up finding America.

The blue line shows the extent of the maritime Spice Route: The red line - the Silk Road. 

The Dutch and English especially profited from the control of the spice trade in the East Indies—modern-day Indonesia, especially the area known as the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, which were the only source of nutmeg and cloves at that time. Wars were fought, lands colonized, and fortunes made on the back of the spice trade, making this trade route one of the most significant in terms of globalization.

These days the chocolate industry thrives on spicing up our lives. I am a chocolate ginger girl myself, but think nothing of throwing cinnamon into chocolate cake, or indeed a stew.   I love the taste of and colour of saffron and recently went up into the hills near Alicante to sample saffron honey - the taste is really incredible.

I grew up with spice. I cannot imagine how food would taste without. I love to smell a baked egg custard, warm from the oven, smothered with freshly grated nutmeg, (even though I can't eat eggs). I mull my own wine at Christmas and bake a strudel full of spice, nuts and mincemeat. I love spice. I even put black pepper on my strawberries.

One of my all-time favourite things in life,  is popping cloves into the scored fat of a ham -  coating with brown sugar - the smell of it cooking makes my mouth water, filling the house with a warming smile and evoking happy memories of family, childhood and love. Spice is an adventure. Go on - I dare you - spice up your life.

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory.
And Apes and peacocks.
Sandalwood, cedarwood and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon, coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes and cinnamon and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rail, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware and cheap tin trays.
                                              by John Masefield (1878-1967)

Thanks for reading


Steve Rowland said...

Cargoes - one of my favourite poems from junior school days. Thank you.