During the Napoleonic war of 1812, what spice did Russian soldiers put in their boots to keep their feet warm and help eliminate foot odor? If you said allspice, you are correct!
Allspice, which is not a spice blend but the fruit of a small shrubby tree, was so named by the English in the early 17th century because its flavor was deemed similar to several other highly sought-after spices of the time, most notably cloves, nutmeg, pepper, and cinnamon. Allspice contains the essential oil “eugenol” which is both a warming agent and an anti-microbial. The soldier’s practice of putting it in their boots has been carried into the men’s cosmetic industry so that today the scent of allspice is thought to be quintessentially masculine, and is found in many men’s colognes and after shave products.
Notable for being one of very few spices given to us by the new world, allspice was found growing on the island of Jamaica by Columbus during his second voyage during 1493-1496. Spanish explorers named allspice “pimenta” the word for pepper, because of its resemblance to that spice. Jamaica, originally the principal source of allspice, began exporting it to England after becoming a colony in the British Empire. By the 1730’s it was being imported to England on such a large scale that it became known in many European languages as English Spice or English Pepper.
Allspice is still popular in Great Britain with home cooks, appearing in many savory dishes and sweets like the traditional Christmas Pudding. It has also found its way to Middle Eastern cuisines as part of a spice blend called baharat, frequently used in Jordanian, Syrian, Palestinian, and Lebanese recipes. In Germany it is used largely by sausage makers, and here in the U.S. it is a frequent ingredient in barbecue sauce and pickling spice, and it’s also what gives Cincinnati-style chili its distinctive taste.
Not surprisingly allspice is a most important ingredient of Caribbean cuisine, which draws from the varied settlement cultures, among them East Indian, West African, Portuguese, and Chinese. Allspice appears in curries, gravies, favorites like beef patties, and is a major component in jerk seasoning. The leaves and wood of the tree are used for smoking and the berries are also used to make mulled drinks and a rum-based liqueur called pimento dram.
To get the most use out of the spice and for maximum flavor and freshness, purchase whole berries and use them for steeping and pickling. If a recipe calls for ground allspice, grind the amount you need in a mortar or coffee grinder.
This has been submitted exclusively to Pawling Public Radio
Click below to Listen:[audio:http://pawling.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/02-07-Spice-of-Life_All-Spice.mp3|Titles = 02-07 Spice of Life_All Spice]