A rosemary bonsai. Photo by Frank Hovenden.

A rosemary bonsai. Photo by Frank Hovenden.

DUCHESS OF DIRT: The ‘A to V’ of Christmas spices

December. Winter, snow, Christmas shopping, decorating, small gatherings with friends and family. So much to do, so little time. Out with the cookbooks, up with the sleeves.

My baking list is organized. Ingredients are rounded up. Time to seriously raid the spice cupboard. Christmas would not taste, or smell, like its favourite holiday season without these exotic additions doing their part.

Allspice – usually forgotten in the wake of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, this one should be in everyone’s spice rack. Awesome in apple cider, pecan pie and a very important ingredient in a French-Canadian staple… tourtière.

Anise – some are not fond of its licorice flavour, but if you have a fan in the family, hide the cookie tin! (Ladies, you may want to acquire a taste for this flavoring. One of the oldest medicinal plants, it works wonders on hot flashes.)

Cardamon – a more obscure spice but it is worth considering for the pungent sweet flavour it lends to teas, rice dishes and truffles.

Cinnamon – everyone’s favourite. What more can be said?

Clove – another traditional favourite for flavoring meats, baked goods and hot cider.

Ginger – gingerbread would certainly not be the same without it.

Lavender – not often thought of at this time of year, but a most calming herb in tea or potpourri when nerves are starting to fray.

Nutmeg/mace – two spices for the price of one nut, and very important for sprucing up eggnog and mince tarts.

Peppermint – a staple for candy-makers and a bracing cup of tea for flagging spirits as the Christmas pressure builds.

Rosemary – really a year-round herb made special for its winter bloom-time on the night baby Jesus was born…so the story is told.

Sage – no self-respecting stuffing would be worth the taste without this herb, and it lends its subtleness in pairing with allspice in tourtière.

Vanilla – ever useful in all manner of baking, and delicious in hot chocolate after a day of skiing or tobogganing.

Now all is ready to start baking. Enjoy the smells, the warmth and traditions. But remember… when it comes to indulging during the holiday season, it is all in moderation. Share the calories generously with family and friends.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca

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