May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

May 20, 2008

Everybody’s heard of Lapland sesame, one of the key ingredients in producing a Hand of Glory, but fortunately for safe homes, nobody today knows what they meant back in the early centuries when they wrote up those recipes. I certainly didn’t start working on figuring the truth out because I meant to turn into a super-robber, but those old ingredients turn up in different places, and for reasons of another recipe I needed to find out.

For reasons of journalism–feel free to skim ahead if you paid attention in elementary-school social studies–I will remind my readers what you already know about Lapland sesame; namely, that you can’t make a Glory Hand without it, along with other things like green vitriol and the hand of a hanged man. A Glory Hand is, of course, how burglars keep you asleep while robbing you blind: once they light the hand, which burns like a candle, the sleeping homeowners can’t wake until you extinguish the flame.

Now, obviously an innocent confectioner doesn’t need a Glory Hand for anything like that (although it has occurred to me that if someone else lit one in my home maybe I’d finally get a good night’s sleep). However, Lapland sesame is also listed in the Pharmacopoeia das Benmoirecz, one of my favorite sources of rare seasonings, as an excellent seed to make comfits from, and since anyone who’s been to my shop knows about my obsession with classic comfits, I of course had to find a way to try this out. Lapland sesame, according to Mrs. Hillard, the compiler of the Benmoirecz, has a bitter flavor totally different from what we now call sesame, but not unlike wormwood. Also being an appreciator of absinthe, I couldn’t resist the possibilities. So off to the spicer I went!

Perhaps this is where I should mention that I absolutely hate John Pinnard, who runs Nagspice. The only thing is that there’s nowhere else to go if you want good spices and seasonings and herbs and whatnot. The man has connections I can’t begin to explain and can get you things you really have no business being able to get, so I put up with giving him my business despite the fact that I think he’s an asshole. Pardon my francais. And frankly, I don’t always think it’s any of John Pinnard’s business what I’m up to with what I buy. So here’s a transcript (paraphrased) of our transaction the day I went to do some reconnaissance on the subject of Lapland sesame.

Doorbell: Jinglejangle.

JPinnard: Morning, Annabelle!

Me: Hi, John.

JPinnard’s dog Fletcher: Grrrrrrr.

Me: Um.

JPinnard: (not very convincingly) Down, Fletch.

Fletcher: (grudgingly) Grr.

Me: John, I’m not going to beat around the bush. Do you have any sources for rare sesame?

JPinnard: Sure, Annabelle. I got Open Sesame, and some uncut Street Sesame, and…

Me: You’re not funny.

JPinnard: Sure I am. Okay, what kind of sesame are you looking for?

Me: Lapland.

JPinnard: There’s no such thing.

Me: Mrs. Hillard says differently.

JPinnard: There’s no such thing. Mrs. Hillard is a stupid blockhead.

Me: Take that back, John.

Fletcher: Grrrrr…..

JPinnard: Mrs. Hillard is an idiot. Mrs. Grieve could kick Mrs. Hillard’s fifteenth-century ass.

ME!:  TAKE IT BACK OR I WILL KICK YOUR–

Fletcher: Grrrrrr!!!

JPinnard: Fletcher thinks Mrs. Hillard shouldn’t have quit her day job, even if it was turning fifteenth-century tricks.

ME!: WHY YOU SON OF A–

Which is how I usually leave Nagspice looking like I lost a fight. And for the record, I have all the respect in the world for Mrs. Grieve. I just hate John Pinnard, because he is an asshole.

Also if you were wondering why Magothy Treats is out of peppar kakar this week, it’s because I also needed to get cardamom and I was so mad I forgot about it.

May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

January 24, 2008

I don’t properly know how half a year has passed since the last time I updated this page! Part of it is, of course, the fact that I’ve actually been sleeping most nights. That, and the fact that I don’t know how long it’s been since I came out of my kitchen.

It started, whenever that was, when I got a parcel in the mail from my dear friend Allison (hi, Alli!) who was vacationing in Grenoble sometime over the summer. Alli went into a little spicer’s shop in what she described on a postcard as a “back-alley hole in the wall.” She says she told the proprietor that she had a friend who made candy and liked unusual spices, and the fellow took a dusty apothecary jar down off a high shelf, filled a bag from it, wrote out a label and stuck it on, and told her it was the perfect thing for a good batch of manna.

Manna? Manna?

The bag held a handful of curls of something that looks like cinnamon: thin, barklike, about six inches long and rolled up to pencil-width. Unlike cinnamon, however, these curls smell of something halfway between honeysuckle and pink peppercorn: sweet, but peppery at the same time. This was before Alli had told me what the spicer said, so immediately my mind went to caramels and turkish delight, burnt sugar marmalade and liqueurs made with this delicious oddity–I guess I just can’t shut off that part of me, especially when I get something fun and new to try out. But then Alli told me what the guy in Grenoble said.

Manna.

I’m not a biblical scholar, and I don’t care about all the debates over what sustained the Israelites in the wilderness. Know what else sounds like Manna?

Manus. As in manus christi.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Annabelle, you’re doubtless protesting, cinnamon–let alone any kind of strange cinnamon-like honeysuckle pepper bark thing–cinnamon is hardly ever even mentioned in the common recipes for manus christi! And you’re right, of course. You’d understand if the old guy had scooped a bunch of pearls or something smelling like damask roses or that looks like gold leaf or something like that. Of course there’s something I haven’t told you yet.

The label on the bag. The old spicer had written this on the bag: Epice Perdue de Main.

Lost Hand Spice.

Lost Hand, get it?? Manus means hand. The recipe for manus christi has been lost over long centuries. Coincidence? I think it’s unlikely. Occam’s Razor: the simplest answer, folks, is the one to bet on.

Anyhow, of course I went right into the kitchen to see what kind of damage I could do with the spice from Grenoble, whatever it was. I took one of the sticks and grated it down; it’s softer than cinnamon, and comes apart nicely. I started out putting some in my famous Rose Perlata, just to see what the flavor’s like. After that, I tried adding it into a batch of quiddany, then a gilly-clove liqueur, then…well, somewhere around the liqueur I lost track of time. It could really have happened to anyone. Anyhow, that’s why I haven’t written in a while. I’ll try and do better.

In the meantime, I still have some of the Rose Perlata from that first batch left, folks. Get it while the gettin’s good. It may not be an avatar of the manus christi, but it’s absolutely delicious.

May 5th, 2009 | No Comments »

June 19, 2007

I have been eating, sleeping, and breathing caramels for the last week, and I am about ready to scream. Today, just for the hell of doing something different, I attempted some pate de fruits, which is not part of my usual repertoire and which is setting in the fridge as I write this.

Well, I love making caramels, but goodness, I forgot how bad I am at it! That’s right, I know this is hard to believe, but those delicious creamy, buttery bites piled up like chewy bits of heaven, just enough salt to give them that tiny crystalline savor–well, for every one that turns out right, I probably eat four or five defects.

Well, actually, it isn’t that I’m bad at them, it’s that the air conditioning is on the fritz and it is very, very difficult to make candy when it’s humid–most cookbooks (wisely) advise you not to try making candy when it’s humid, because of the adjustments you need to make. And I struggle with paying attention to details at the best of times. And I’m making candy for a wedding, which is another thing, because I’ve locked the liquor cabinet and without liquor weddings seem very, very difficult to face.

So, the caramels have been giving me problems, which might be why I keep waking up smelling burned sugar. Twice last night I actually had to go into the kitchen because the smell seemed so real I was sure I’d somehow left a batch on the stove! Well, it was the second time I stumbled out of my bedroom that I heard the phantom chip-cruncher at it again.

Now, it’s been about two months since the cruncher’s put in an appearance in the kitchen, and I won’t say I’ve missed him/her/it. I stumbled into the kitchen last night, and before I could even put my poor paranoid self to rest about the burned-sugar smell, I heard it: the unmistakable, rhythmic sound of someone chomping on crunchy tortilla chips.

I stopped dead in the middle of the kitchen and tried to make it all part of the same sensory hallucination as the sugar, but it wouldn’t go away. Chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp…(pause, rustle of hand-in-crinkling-plastic-bag)…chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp. Not thin little potato chip crunches, either; these were loud. Like I said, tortillas for sure!

It’s hard to pin down a noise if you don’t have a visual point of reference to nail it down to. I’m pretty sure it was coming from the vicinity of the kitchen table, as if the muncher was sitting there like a dinner guest, but it also sort of sounded like it might have been coming from inside my kitchen pantry, except when I actually went in there. Then it sounded like it was less a chip-cruncher and more like a dinosaur chewing bones. So, naturally, I left the pantry. Then I hit on the perfect way to settle the issue.

I sat down opposite the masticator and waited to be offered a chip, which frankly is the least I expect from a ghostly personage chewing loudly enough to be heard over the smell of imaginary burning sugar. When it didn’t happen, I went to bed. I can’t be bothered to worry about an invisible individual who isn’t at least going to offer to share. Son of a bitch.

Oh, and congratulations, Dee! Enjoy the caramels! If they taste funny it’s probably because every time I really wanted a drink I put a shot of brandy into the pot instead of my coffee cup. But they’ll probably taste just fine.