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Posted July 5, 2007
A Must Kitchen Reference
What a marvelous book Ian Hemphill has created. If you have any interest in spices - which is to say, if you have any interest in cooking, this is a must. There are some recipes by his wife, Kate Hemphill, but this is primarily a practical reference from a second-generation spice merchant and obvious expert. The volume starts with interesting history that applies a pragmatic eye. For example, he dismisses the notion that people used spices in the dark ages to mask tainted foods because anyone who could have afforded the then-astronomical prices of the spices would likely have had money for something fresh. Instead, he attributes the growth of spices to improve bland food and, interestingly, to help moderate the strong gamy taste of many meats and poultry at the time, which might explain the concept of covering over a taste or aroma. Of course there are sections on growing and using spices, and I found interesting the section on the spices and herbs that specific cuisines use. An approach I hadn't seen before is using relational weights - for example, in Indonesian cooking if you used cloves, turmeric, and coriander seed, they would likely be in a ration of 1 to 5 to 8. My first impression was that there were supposed to be proportions of spice blends, but that didn't make sense when you had, say, 15 different ingredients and you know that the cuisine in question doesn't use all of them every time. And there are recipes for specific spice blends at the end of the book. No, this chapter was to give you a feel for how the given cuisine uses and combines spices - very good to know. What really grabbed me, though, were the entries for individual spices and herbs. Each includes the following: origin and history, processing, buying and storage, use, other names for the item, names in other languages, suggested quantities for a given type of dish, and what other spices and herbs that work well with it. You do need to keep in mind that the book is from Australia, because some terminology might throw you. For example, there was a recipe for a savory biscuit. I was thinking the flaky type you bake, and then I suddenly remembered that in Australia and the UK, biscuit can mean a cookie or cracker. You will also find a few spices that aren't readily found in this part of the world. That said, at $24.95, this is a bargain.
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