Birth of a Blog Event: Spice Blogging

So, I have been reading about, cooking with and thinking about spices for, well a long time now. In terms of this blog, it has been a couple of weeks or so since I have been expressing my “spice obsession,” but in truth, I have been fascinated with those elusive, fragrant and delicious little nuggets since I was a child.


I grew up eating fairly bland food. People’s spice racks in my world were often more decorative than function, and were filled with herbs and spices that were like so much barely-scented dust. About the only time one saw spices other than black pepper being used in my family was at Christmas, when the “sweet spices”–nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves and mace came out to play.

Other than that, and the very sporadic flirtation with chili powder, curry powder and paprika (which almost always used as a coloring agent or a garnish, not to flavor the food), spices were not known in the world of my childhood.

But I always read about them and dreamt of them. I liked the smell of them.

I used to go through people’s spice racks as methodically as I went through the drawer of my Gram’s vanity where she kept her perfumes. I would peer at the bottles, open them one by one and sniff them–spices and perfumes, both.

This got me into trouble, because in my mother’s world, a kid isn’t supposed to be nosing into people’s cabinets, drawers or spice racks.

But I was intensely curious. And I wanted to know why, if spices were so important that they sent Columbus on his fateful voyage, and fuelled the resulting “Age of Exploitation–er, I mean, Exploration,” then why were they so little in evidence in American and European food in modern times?

Was it true that Medieval people were covering the taste of rancid meat with spices? (Nope–that is largely a myth, btw. There are lots of myths passing as truth in the realm of spices.) Was it true that the Romans ate food that would numb the tongue of a modern person? (Another myth.)

And if it was all true, then why didn’t we eat spices today? They smelled good, so why did we only use them in baking sweets?

A question for the ages.

So, let me get to the point here.

The point is this: spices were once powerful agents of social change in the West. Wars were fought over them, and people used to trade vast amounts of gold for them. People went sailing off to God-Knows-Where (that’s a real place, you know–just north of Where-The-Hell-Are-We?) in order to find them.

But now, in the West, they are mere shadows of their once glorious selves.

However, their stature is once again climbing, due in large part to Westerners’ newfound appreciation for the foods of the East and the New World.

The folks of the Indian subcontinent never lost their love of thier native spices. Nor did the Thais, the Chinese or the rest of the folks in Asia. The natives of Mexico and South America loved thier chiles, and still do, so when all of these folks started immigrating into the West, they started bringing their spices and other goodies along with them.

Now, I can walk into a Krogers grocery store here in Appalachian Ohio, and pick up a big ole industrial-sized bag of chile peppers grown in Mexico along with a big sack of mustard seeds from India.

This just did not happen thirty, twenty, hell, even ten years ago.

Globalism kicks serious culinary butt. Or, at least it does in my world, because I am no longer deprived of spices. A look into my pantry should tell folks that. I have tons of them, just laying around. My cabinets smell good, and my foods taste good. I feel like a very rich woman indeed, knowing that I can just reach into my cabinet and put as many peppercorns as I want into the grinder to season my stew.

So, I want to start a blog event to celebrate spices.

And that is where I need the help of you, my readers. Because blogging events are a community-wide thing, I want to ask your advice: how do y’all think I should go about this?

Should it be a weekly, “sister” event to Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, where participants post about a different spice each week and give us a recipe? Or should I make it more like Meena’s From My Rasoi, where it is a monthly event, and I have a loose theme for everyone to work with, so that it is a little more challenging?

What do you all think?

And one more thing: the definition of a “spice” for this event will be this one:

“A spice is the root, bark, flower, fruit, bulb, rhizome or stalk (or part thereof) of an aromatic plant in either fresh or dried form that is used to flavor or scent food or drink, as a perfume or a medicine.” (An herb is the leaf and/or soft stem of an aromatic plant that is used for the same purposes.)

Now that you know what I am about, what do you guys think? Would anyone like to participate in this sort of event, and how do you think I should structure it?

I will tend to

43 Comments

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  1. MmMMm, spice. Ya know, recently a friend was cleaning out his and his mother’s spice cabinet. I’m now the proud owner of a tin of curry powder dated 1961.

    I think I should do a little recipe and see how it comes out.

    Biggles

    Comment by Dr. Biggles — February 22, 2006 #

  2. But, just to make it authentic, Doc, you should make sure that the recipe also dates from 1961.

    I thought I was the only weirdo in the world who kept relics like an old can of curry powder! ;-)

    Comment by Barbara — February 22, 2006 #

  3. Barbara,

    That I think I can do. Most all of my cookbooks are from the 1970s and back. My sister has one from over 300 years ago I’m attempting to get a hold of.

    Nope, you’re not the only weirdo out there. I have other older spices, but they aren’t dated. This one has the date stamped on the bottom of the tin, easy to spot. I leave my old spiced intertwined with the ‘fresher’ ones. This way when someone actually takes a look, it seems as though they’re in daily use.
    It’s my nature.

    Biggles

    Comment by Dr. Biggles — February 22, 2006 #

  4. I can’t beat my mum’s collection of old spices. I am not even going to try since she has 22 years on me. She went to the West Indies when I was about 6, and brought back some nutmegs still covered in their mace. I bet you they are still sitting in the back of her cupboard over 30 years later. I will ask her!

    I used to have an antique collection of mum’s old packaged food I used to show off at college. I was amused by the prices on the packets being in old money (prior to British decimilsation in 1971). That seemed funny even 20 years ago, I wish I knew what I did with those box of goodies , becaue they would be worth even more, humour wise, today!

    As for the event Q – I am less keen on the weeklies myself. And I also like ones which stagger the final post date over a few days because sometimes it is not convenient to post on a given day due to clasehes or other reasons.
    But that is just my own personal opinion.

    Comment by sam — February 22, 2006 #

  5. My opinion is that I am leaning away from weekly and more toward monthly, Sam.

    Maybe one of the “themes” if we go that route should be “Antique Spices.”

    Of course, how one takes the meaning of that is up to the individual blogger…..

    That could be fun.

    Biggles–a three hundred year old cookbook? A facsimile or a real life 3 century old cookbook? Is it a published one, or a hand-written one? TELL! Please?!

    Because, like, that stuff is cool.

    Comment by Barbara — February 22, 2006 #

  6. Barbara,

    Actually, I believe it’s older and probably hand written. I’ll send my dear sister another email today and see if I can’t get her to dig it up!

    Biggles

    Comment by Dr. Biggles — February 22, 2006 #

  7. Wow Barbara! What an exotic idea!! I would suggest a monthly themed-based event, I find weeklies hard to work with. With monthly ones we can get more creatively, or should I say culinarily challeged! ;o)

    Comment by Meena — February 22, 2006 #

  8. My usually-lurking-but-suddenly-having-an-opinion vote is for a monthly. Monthly leaves lots of time for coming up with recipes, but also with themes.

    Comment by Raspberry Sour — February 22, 2006 #

  9. Ditto what Raspberry said from another lurker with an opinion. I like monthly, creative, loose, and interesting, even just from a reading perspective.

    Comment by Sarah Leon — February 22, 2006 #

  10. Monthly works for me. Gives me time to plan around all my other activities. This should be fun.

    Comment by Maureen — February 22, 2006 #

  11. I think Sam is on the mark with monthly. I give credit to those who can do it on a weekly basis, but in life, stuff happens and it’s easier to schedule in an event when you have a month to work with. just my 2 cents.

    I have no wonderful tales of old spices. I think i go back to as far as 1999. I’m a young’un.

    Comment by Rose — February 22, 2006 #

  12. I do tend to lurk, but I’d love to see a monthly event.

    Comment by Aparnaa — February 22, 2006 #

  13. Monthly, with a theme spice and a several day posting margin sounds very appealing to me, too.

    Comment by lindy — February 22, 2006 #

  14. I have a jar of powdered myrrh that I have had since right after I moved out of the brass monkey.

    However, myrrh is a gum, and it doesn’t really lose much flavour.

    I use it in mushrooms and stuffing.

    Comment by Azalais Malfoy — February 22, 2006 #

  15. Monthly please! Gives us a chance to catch our breath between recipes…

    Comment by Rosie — February 22, 2006 #

  16. I vote for monthly too. Oh, I like this event. I’m a veritable spice queen but being Eurasian, that’s a genetic requirement. Bring it on! Fun!

    Comment by MM — February 22, 2006 #

  17. Monthly. Themes are good – otherwise my brain heads in 50 different directions at once.
    Great idea!

    Comment by Robyn — February 23, 2006 #

  18. Biggles, darlin’ do you think you could do a blog post on that cookbook? Because–well, that is a real life historical document right there. And you can tell a lot about a person by what he or she put in their cookbook. Oh, wow! That is too exciting.

    Okay–I see a lot of lurkers de-lurking to vote–this is great. Does that mean that new people will come play? That would be thrilling, because one of the best parts about blogging is that it is a participatory medium. It isn’t just me blathering–you get to talk back, too, and we can have converations. And with blog events, we can have round-robin conversations all over the place.

    Azalais–the brass monkey myrrh–oh, honey, that stuff is what? Twenty-five years old? Definately exciting. If I do an Antique Spices theme–please promise you will post a recipe on your lj for me, with a picture maybe? Pretty please?

    Because I would like to see some of the ljers participate, too. I have lots of readers there, and I want to see them get into the fun.

    It is looking popular. Well, then, I will start thinking specifics, and get cracking on the particulars of it–and post about it soon.

    I figure the first one will be in March so everyone has a full month to think about what they want to post about.

    I am so excited!

    Comment by Barbara — February 23, 2006 #

  19. A am a spice fiend and am in :)

    My mum has olllldddd spices but the best was when my sister bought a bag of mace back from tasmania. We decided that we would figure out if that is where “mace” like the stuff that the police use comes from so we soaked the bag full in a jar for a week. Oh boy that was some nasty stuff.

    Comment by clare eats — February 23, 2006 #

  20. Speaking as someone whose spice collection is slowly taking over the kitchen, I’d quite like to do this, although I would prefer monthly to weekly.

    Comment by White Hart — February 23, 2006 #

  21. When I was growing up we had salt in both our salt and pepper shakers because my mother didn’t like spicy food. I still remember the first time I sprinkled black pepper on scrambled eggs when I spent the night at my friend’s house–I thought I was so daring, don’t you know?

    I’m a newcomer here, but I like the idea of a monthly event, with a window of days to post.

    Comment by dejamo — February 23, 2006 #

  22. Like the idea of a monthly spice slot very much. I grew up with a mother who used spices and herbs with liberal abandon in her cooking, so using them feels sort of reassuring to me in a childhood-smells-of-gingerbread kinda way. Would certainly read/suggest if you go ahead.

    :)

    Comment by KW — February 23, 2006 #

  23. Monthly would be great,Barbara!

    Comment by Sailaja — February 23, 2006 #

  24. I love spices! I’d love to get involved in a community blog. As for the how, maybe publish monthly to start with and if you get lots of submissions, publish more often but with each theme lasting a month?

    Comment by Toast — February 23, 2006 #

  25. “A spice is the root, bark, flower, fruit, bulb, rhizome or stalk (or part thereof) of an aromatic plant in either fresh or dried form that is used to flavor or scent food or drink, as a perfume or a medicine.”

    So what about minerals and seeds? Do they count as spices?

    Comment by Bryian — February 23, 2006 #

  26. A seed is technically a fruit, though I suppose I should have been more specific. Yes, seeds are spices.

    What sort of mineral do you have mind? Salt? Salt is not a spice–in the most technical of definitions.

    Nor would amberigis or other musk or other animal-derived substances that have been used in cookery as seasonings.

    Toast–I am not starting a new blog or a community blog, but a community blog event. The way it would work is that everyone would post on their blogs their entry to the event, within the time period specified. Then, they send me, via email, links to the thier posts as well as a photograph, if they have it, represnting their post and on the appointed day, I post what is called a “round up” of the entries on my blog, with links and pictures and a description of each.

    A community blog is a great idea, but it is not something that I could administer–right now, I am, in addition to posting nearly every day, new content here on my own blog, I am responsible for editing two blogs over at http://www.wellfed.net .

    So, though I think a group blog dedicated to the history, mystery, lore, legend, myth, science, botany, and culinary applications of spices is a great idea–I could never be the one to administer it. Not right now, anyway.

    We’ll have to content ourselves with a monthly excursion into spices for now.

    Comment by Barbara — February 23, 2006 #

  27. The idea of community blogging worked well on Blue Witch‘s ‘Blogichef’ thingy the other week – people posted recipes for cheap and quick meals on their sites and provided links etc. Nice idea and less work for the ‘host’ than setting up/administering a new blog.

    Comment by KW — February 23, 2006 #

  28. Exactly–the spice blogging idea–is not a new blog–it is a blog event, hosted by moi, here at Tigers & Strawberries.

    Check out this url to get an idea of what blog events are, and what some of them are like in the food blog community:

    http://www.ismyblogburning.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18&Itemid=1

    Comment by Barbara — February 23, 2006 #

  29. This is a good idea. I’ll take part, but monthly works best much better for me. Hmm, I’ve been planning to send an order to Penzeys for some spices I need. This is the kick in the butt to get me to do it.

    Comment by Sher — February 23, 2006 #

  30. Barbara, I’d love to participate in this event. As you already mentioned in previous comments, I’d also like it to be a monthly event. It’d be more fun in that way.
    My suggestions are – fix a date, make it a Monday so that we’ll have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to comeup with the recipe, cook and take photos etc., leisurely.and I’d like to see the host’s participation in the event also, means contributing a recipe along with us on the same day. If you are going to ask us to participate, please return the favor and show us your stuff. :)

    But I don’t know how anyone can cook or highlight one spice in a recipe. Because most of the Indian recipes, atleast the ones I know, always include different spices together to make it work. What do you think about that?

    Comment by Indira — February 23, 2006 #

  31. Indira–you need not fear–I will post my own entry as well. The truth of it, is that this whole event idea gives me an excuse to write more about spices, and read other people’s writings on them, too.

    And–I wondered which of my Indian friends would bring up the problem of how one can cook with only one spice in a recipe. I knew, that if anyone mentioned it, it would be one of y’all–because I cannot think of more than a handful of Indian recipes that feature only one spice in the recipe.

    The recipe doesn’t have to have only one spice, Indiria. That would be absolutely no fun, and it might hamper some of my friends, particularly my Indian friends, from participating.

    So, when I come up with themes, I will make it clear that while I want you to talk about a single spice or spice blend in your post, I will not constrain you to featuring only one spice in the recipe that comes with it.

    That said–I do know of many Indian recipes that, while they contain a blend of spices, one or two spices will predominate in flavor over the others, so I think it can be done.

    It does make it a bit of a challenge, though, doesn’t it?

    Also–I think that I am going to be like Meena–I may institute the policy of “post it whenever you like on your blog during the month, but send me the link by this date.” That way, people can work at their own pace, and the only deadline is the gathering of the link and photograph and emailing it to me, so I can put the round-up post up.

    This will also allow folks, if they want to, to do multiple posts, though I think I will limit it to two per blog, for the same event. Because, frankly, when we are experimenting–sometimes things don’t turn out quite so well. And so, we have to try again. Or, the experiment works, but the flavor combination makes the cook think, “Oh, but if I added this, then, what would happen?” and so they could write about a second experiment on the theme.

    I am still listening to everything folks are saying here. I want to think hard before I fix the rules and start up–besides I have to wait until my Food Blog Skool application goes through so I can post about it there. (Why had I not applied before? I think because it kept slipping my mind…duh.)

    So–keep throwing out ideas, people. I am listening.

    Comment by Barbara — February 23, 2006 #

  32. Thanks Barbara for your reply. Whatever you decide, I know this is going to be one fabulous, fun event. Looking forward to participating.

    Comment by Indira — February 23, 2006 #

  33. Definately monthly – though it occurs to me if I’m going to participate I ought to get m’self a blog… ;)

    Comment by bastlynn — February 23, 2006 #

  34. A monthly event sounds grand! I just asked my own readers about a blogging event I host if it would be better as a monthly event.

    Creating a spice list would be great too so people could see if their ingredient is a spice, herb, mineral, seasoning, or something else. The classifications can get confusing.

    Also, I like the “post anytime on your blog during the month” for myself. The weekend idea is too limiting in my life.

    I look forward to participating.

    Comment by Felicia — February 23, 2006 #

  35. I don’t know if I can commit to actively participating in the event, but I will definitely be reading along, and hopefully posting once or twice in the spirit of the event!

    Comment by Eva — February 23, 2006 #

  36. Sure, I’ll post a recipe! The first time I cooked with that myrrh, I think you may have been there–did you come to the Samhain ritual we did at the house Rachel and the Orc and I moved into after I moved right out of the Brass Monkey? It was either Samhain or Yule. :D

    Comment by Azalais Malfoy — February 23, 2006 #

  37. Oh and I will try to do a piccie. I have to figure out how to get the piccies off the Razr anyways :D (yes, I have a ridiculously expensive pink cellphone, but you know, it was just so ME. I don’t bloody care if Paris Hilton has one, I’m cooler than she is, it just suited me.)

    Comment by Azalais Malfoy — February 23, 2006 #

  38. Barbara,

    ‘Spice’ event is a great idea. But Indian bloggers will really have a problem :). Also, I see you have included a Vanilla bean in the photo…does it mean vanilla extracts or similar flavorings, say lemon zest or extract, are also a part of the ‘Spices’ ? If yes, will dishes like cakes & cookies be valid ?

    Sonali

    Comment by Sonali — February 24, 2006 #

  39. great idea barbara. would love to participate, and judging from the hectic blogging live with so many events, i think a monthly one would be good. maybe a general theme would be good as it can help you to catalog easily and for us to refer back next time

    Comment by rokh — February 24, 2006 #

  40. Wonderful idea.
    While I like weekly events because there is always another one in case you miss this one, I think administering a monthly event might be more practical and result in less host blog burnout.

    Comment by FJK of Blog Appetit — February 24, 2006 #

  41. Okay, I see that there is a lot of interest! That is great! I will think up some general rules and whatnot, and then probably have one of my Food Blog Skool friends post it there, and I will send information to IMBB, and we can get started.

    Sonali–Again, for my Indian friends, you don’t have to feature just one spice in the dish–but I would like it if the spice you feature predominates.

    Also, for the purposes of the events, I am using the botanical definition of a spice which is, “the aromatic root, rhizome, shoot, bark, fruit, seed or flower of a plant which is used to flavor foods.” In that case, vanilla beans and lemon zest are indeed fruits or parts thereof, and therefore, they would count as spices. (The only plant parts that don’t tend to count as spices in the strictest sense are leaves and soft stems–those are herbs.)

    And yes, I would not like us to ignore the sweets! In India, how many sweets are flavored with cardamom, for example? Or rose?

    Extracts, essences and essential oils are allowable, but only if you cannot use the spice in any other way. Unless we have a theme specifically related to “liquid” spices.

    No minerals. No salts–unless we decide at some point to feature a one time theme with salt.

    This will be fun!

    Comment by Barbara — February 24, 2006 #

  42. Great idea to have a spice blogging event. And monthly seems much more manageable than weekly. I hope it will be okay to sometimes participate and sometimes lurk – I know me – posting about something specific on a monthly basis isn’t for me. I’m just not very good with deadlines.

    But I’m very excited about this. Spice is our life, if you know what I mean….

    Dr.Biggles, does that 1961 curry powder smell like anything at all? (other than slightly sour tea…)

    -Elizabeth

    Comment by ejm — February 24, 2006 #

  43. I would absolutely play along with a spice blogging event. Ah, and I think it’s easier to keep up with a monthly, too.

    Comment by Danielle — February 26, 2006 #

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