The little booklet issued by the National Mark in the early 1930’s follows the year with seasonal recipes, comments on the fruit and vegetables available in which month, and has handy little hints and notes. Some of them are as relevant today as they were when they were written by Ambrose Heath and Mrs D.D. Cottington Taylor nearly ninety years ago. here is what they have to say about spices:
SPICES. Most housewives possess a spice-box, but how many make proper use of it? Here again, discretion is the better part of cooking, and spices should be employed only according to directions. Don’t have a fine fling at them, and then find that your dish tastes of nothing else! But if you use them properly and fairly sparsely, you will be well rewarded.
The French use spices more freely than we do, especially in the preparation of meat dishes; and they have rather cunningly invented what they call sel épicé, or as we should say “spiced salt,” which they mix in quantity and keep ready at hand. (In the same way they very often keep a vanilla pod in one jar of sugar, so that the sugar eventually becomes flavoured with vanilla.) This salt is always made in the same proportions, which are:- ten parts of salt, two parts of pepper and one part of mixed spice.
For general use spices are usually sold mixed; but the following separate spices ought to find a place in the National Mark Housewife’s spice-box: nutmeg, mace, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, carraway, saffron, allspice. Of the various peppers that she will find useful, Paprika has recently achieved popularity in our kitchens. This is a red pepper – a very great deal less pungent than cayenne, and most attractive for flavouring. Hungarian Paprika is the best, the Spanish sort lacking flavour: it can be bought from most grocers. Cayenne pepper is of course too well-known to need description; but Nepaul Pepper is not so well-known; it has the pungency of cayenne but is yellowish in colour and more delicate in flavour. It need not perhaps be added that every kitchen should possess a wooden pepper-mill; for freshly-ground pepper (more particularly when it is black) is vastly better than the kinds that are bought already ground. Unless you wish to use white pepper for the appearance of the dish, black pepper is always the finer-flavoured.
Most spices can be bought whole or ground. Cloves,mace, cinnamon, pepper,allspice should be kept whole; but the ground sort may be kept as well. Peppers like Paprika and Cayenne are always sold ground. And of course, if you grind your own salt, so much the better.
I have to confess I often have a ‘fine fling’ of spices, but I think these days we do have our food more seasoned than maybe most people did in the past. I had to have a little smile at the rather snooty dismissal of Spanish paprika, and at the cunning French invention of sel épicé! Nepaul Pepper, by the way, is what we call Szechuan pepper. The idea that using spices is modern is not true, my favourite Victorian cook, Eliza Acton, from whom Mrs Beeton ‘borrowed’ many of her recipes, uses coriander, turmeric, cassia, cumin, fenugreek, ground ginger, different peppers as well as both proprietory brand and home-made ‘currie’ powder.