By Debbie Bullington
For Rural Life Today
MEIGS COUNTY — Thirty-six years ago, I couldn’t boil water without scorching it. Thank goodness my husband did all the cooking and did it very well! We would have starved or only eaten fish sticks and macaroni and cheese if it were up to me. Occasionally I’d make a batch of lasagna or my mom’s favorite chicken recipe. But I always did all of the baking. (I have a soft spot for sweets!)
Then came the arrival of the Cooking Channel, The Food Network, Cook’s Country, The Chef & the Farmer and Chopped on TV. They opened up a new world for me. Those chefs made cooking a recipe look like a piece of cake (my favorite). So I began experimenting with different herbs and spices and kept on experimenting until I actually turned into a pretty good cook. It doesn’t hurt to have a couple of reliable cookbooks available, too! I prefer Better Homes and Garden’s and Betty Crocker Cookbooks. These are good old standard recipes that use most the ingredients you already have in your own pantry. So, I’m sharing my secret weapons with you to become a better cook for yourself.
We rarely ever eat out anymore. The food that is served in restaurants these days, just doesn’t taste as satisfying or nutritious as it used to and it is getting very expensive to let someone else do the cooking for you. The availability and demand for fresh Organic meat and produce has made eating wholesome food (at home) more affordable and when more people buy it and cook with it, the price goes down even more. Lucky for us, we raise 80 percent of our own meat (Chicken, Pork and Beef) and 50 percent of all our own vegetables.
My Herb and Spice Cupboard was purchased at an auction for $12 and was originally made to store shoes in. I cleaned it, painted it and re-purposed it into what it is today, my Herb and Spice Cupboard. It contains 16 large, glass jars with tight fitting lids.
The contents come by mail-order from Frontier Natural Foods Cooperative in Norway, Iowa. They arrive in one pound Mylar bags (enough to fill one jar completely) and any excess goes into the freezer until I need to refill the jars.
The Fed Ex guy hates to drop off my orders because he says it makes his truck smell nice all day. How sweet.
In my cabinet, full of personal favorites there are:
Bak Un’s – Made with Organic Soy Flour, Organic Sunflower Oil, Salt, Natural Flavorings and Organic Caramel Color. Resembles Bacon Bits and is used however you would use real bacon bits. Since Bak Un’s don’t contain any real meat products, they’re an excellent flavoring for vegetarians. Excellent as a garnish, or mixed with steamed vegetables.
Beef Broth Powder (Meatless) – Corn Syrup Solids, Dehydrated Onions, Salt, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Dehydrated Garlic, Celery Seed. Use this just like Bouillon Cubes. Great in soups and sauces and as a warming beverage.
Celery Seeds – (Apium graveolens) – When fresh Celery isn’t always available, these whole seeds work great as a substitution. Try them in coleslaw, soups, relishes, sauerkraut, stuffing, salad dressings, breads, vegetable dishes and eggs.
Chicken Broth Powder (Meatless) – A blend of Corn Syrup Solids, Dehydrated Onions, Salt, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Dehydrated Garlic, Celery Seed. Use this just like Bouillon Cubes. Great in soups and sauces and as a warming beverage.
Chili Powder – A blend made with all Organic Cumin, Oregano, Coriander, Garlic, Rice Concentrate, Allspice, and Cloves. Excellent in chili, eggs dishes, cornbread, and any Mexican recipe.
Chives – (Allium schoenoprasum) – they grow like onions but have hollow tubed stems. Gypsies hang them from their ceilings and bedposts to ward off evil spirits and often use them in Fortune-telling. Use Chives in soup, salad, dips,casseroles, eggs, fish dishes and salad dressings.
Cinnamon – (Cinnamomum cassia) – Ground from the sun-dried bark of Evergreen Trees belonging to the Cinnamomum Family. Cinnamon is used to flavor beverages, meats, pickles, and all kinds of baked goods and desserts.
Cumin – (Cuminum cyminum) – Cumin is a member of the Parsley family and is used in dishes that contain beans, eggs, dairy or curries. Also good in rice and soup recipes. It is the main ingredient in Chili Powder.
Dill Weed – (Anethum graveolens) – Linked mainly to making pickles, this dried leaf is used in salads, fish dishes, dressings and with vegetables.
Garlic Granulated – (Allium sativum) – A member of the Onion family, Garlic is one of the earliest cultivated plants known to mankind. It can season any dish except for sweet ones. One teaspoon of granulated Garlic is equivalent to one whole clove of fresh Garlic.
Hickory Salt – A blend of Sea Salt and Liquid Smoke. Gives everything a salty, BBQ taste.
Onion Flakes – (Allium cepa) – Along with Garlic, Onions are also one of the earliest cultivated plants and can be used in any dish except for sweet ones.
Oregano – (Origanum vulgare) – When soldiers returning from WWII wanted “Pizza Sauce” the sales of Oregano skyrocketed. Good in Italian dishes, omelets, gravy, beef, stews and lamb recipes also.
Parsley Leaf Flakes – (Petroselinum crispum) – One teaspoon of dried Parsley Leaf flakes is equal to one Tablespoon of fresh. Excellent in dips, salad, stuffing, sauces, any spice blend and butter spreads.
Pepper, Course Ground Black – (Piper nigrum) – A climbing vine that thrives in Indonesia. The United States consumes more Pepper than any other nation on Earth. In Medieval times Pepper was used as a type of currency. Can be used in everything, except sweets.
Spearmint – (Mentha spicata) – Persephone turned Pluto’s love for the Nymph named Menthe into the plant we now know as Mint. (Or so they say.) Spearmint has wonderful calming effects and is often used in tea, along with Chamomile.
Cinnamon/Sugar – A combination of Cinnamon and Pure Cane Sugar. ¼ Cup Cinnamon to 1 Cup Sugar is the mix we like. You can add more Cinnamon or Sugar to suit your taste. Then put it in a nice shaker style container and enjoy on your morning toast or a sprinkle on the top of baked goods.
The small glass jars on the bottom shelf hold the pre-packaged herbs and spices that I use so infrequently that I don’t purchase them by the pound anymore. It would take me years to use that much of each of them and the quality would decrease so much, they wouldn’t be fit to consume.
Bay Leaves – (Laurus nobilis) – Laurus means “praise” and considered a symbol of victory. It has a spicy scent. Used as whole leaves to flavor soups and stocks. Remove the leaves before serving any dish made with them as they are sharp and can cut your tongue or throat if swallowed.
Cloves Ground – (Syzygium aromaticum) – The word “clove” comes from the French word clou, meaning “nail”. In the Spice Islands, parents planted clove trees when their children were born to keep a record of the child’s age. Ground cloves are used in baked goods, good with vegetables like squashes and beets. They are even used in curry dishes and beverages.
Nutmeg – (Myristica fragrans) – This spice is used to flavor baked goods, fruit pies, dairy and famously pudding and egg nog. The oil is use to make soap and perfume. Consumption of large quantities of Nutmeg can be toxic. It is best to grate nutmeg seeds as needed to maintain freshness.
Pumpkin Pie Spice – A blend of Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves & Nutmeg and is used of course for flavoring Pumpkin Pies, but is also good in all sorts of baked goods.
Crushed Red Pepper – Dried Red Peppers with the seeds included. Add a little spicy heat or a lot of spicy heat to any of your savory dishes. (I don’t like spicy food, so I stay away from this jar.)
Whole Peppercorns – (Piper nigrum) same as above for pepper only these are the entire seed (or corn) before they are ground.
Sage – (Salvia officinalis) – There are over 500 species of sage. This is a highly aromatic herb, often used with fats and meats such as fish, pork and sausage. It is the flavor that gives Grandma’s Stuffing it’s smell at Thanksgiving.
Turmeric – (Curcurma longa) This root has a peculiar flavor and is used more in foods to add a bright yellow color, but is often found in fermented foods, like pickles. It is also an ingredient in curry powders.
These days, I rarely use measuring spoons when I’m cooking. I know from enough experience what a pinch of this looks like and a pinch of that tastes like. This selection of herbs and spices in my cabinet represent years of trial and error and no matter what type of herb or spice I’m using in a recipe, I always start with a pinch, because you can always add more, but you can’t take it away.
Try cooking more at home and everyone enjoy the meal together, seated around a table. We’ve had some of our best conversations and solved some of our biggest problems by sitting together around a dining room table and eating a good meal.
From our farm to you … HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!