The beginning

spice labels 2

It was, as for most, my mother’s kitchen.

Classic 1970’s accouterments;  avocado-green stove, Formica counter-tops, rotary phone hanging on the wall.

We definitely didn’t speak in terms of “cuisine” in our house.  Meals were meat and potatoes meant for my blue-collar father who, after wrestling 10,000 pound semi-tractor/trailers all day at work, was not going to be satisfied with anything less than pot roast or roasted chicken, a giant mound of mashed potatoes and some common vegetable, typically green beans. This was rounded out by crescent rolls heated and held under a kitchen cup towel to stay warm, slathered with margarine out of a tub.


Long before the advent of molecular gastronomy and chef-driven recipe “labs”, mom’s cabinet contained a repertoire of basic spices with labels from Durkee’s, McCormicks, Schilling.  These versions would be laughed off as “primitive” by today’s sophisticated palates, but mom would wield them bravely in an effort to try and bring something new to her casseroles.

Since we were living the classic 70’s familial model of Dad-at-work and Mom-at-home, many were the days that found me in the kitchen with her after school.  She would have her arsenal of cheap spices at the ready and I would open each one and smell them, inhaling deeply.

The Christmas scent of cinnamon and allspice.

The Mediterranean scent of basil and garlic powder.

The herbal intoxication of tarragon and sage, of thyme and marjoram.

The subtle yet verdant green smell of rosemary, my favorite.  When we had fresh rosemary, my mom taught me how to bend the tiny leaves until they cracked open, releasing the oils inside which I would rub onto my palm to carry the amazing herbal scent around with me.  (Side note:  my dad taught me to do the same thing with pine needles while camping.  Crazy the things you remember from your youth..)

The smokiness of ground black pepper and the tang on my tongue of iodized salt from the blue canister of Morton salt, the one with the image of the girl carrying an umbrella while spilling salt behind her.

My mother’s other gift to me was a love of reading. I learned of spice routes and, while inhaling ancient smells, imagined caravans of camels with priceless satchels making their way to sultans to be presented and bartered.  While I had not yet left the safety and security of my parents house, in my mind I traveled far and away, aided only by my imagination and the fragrant tones of supermarket spices.  


spice labels


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