Spicing Up My Spices

Saturday June 15, 2013

By Wendy Ponte

While traveling up to New Hampshire to attend a workshop (that had absolutely nothing to do with Portuguese food), I had one of those lovely serendipitous experiences that add spice to life--pun completely intended!

The town of Claremont, New Hampshire is small and has a somewhat depressed downtown area. But I had a few hours to kill on the afternoon I arrived, so I wandered around anyway. I went into a small used book store, which normally captivates me completely, but on this occasion I just felt too restless to sink into it.

A few doors down I came across Claremont Spice and Dry Goods and decided to step in.

The store had that new-ish look to it, with clean lined shelves down the sides and the center. I said hello to the man behind the counter. He asked me if this was my first time in the store. I said it was and he said, "Could I tell you about our products?"

The concept, it turns out, has to do with a "philosophy" about using and storing spices. He and his wife, both passionate cooks, wanted to find a way to sell spices in smaller quantities and properly packaged so that the spices would not lose their potency. This was quite a coincidence, because I had just written about the Top 5 Spices Used in Portuguese Cooking, and in my article I admonished the reader against using supermarket spices in big jars. They just don't last and the difference between old spices that have sat in your cupboard for years and fresh ones is huge. Claremont Spices and Dry Goods created their own packaging system. You can purchase the spice in small quantities in a bag that is specifically created to keep the spices fresh for longer. To demonstrate, the proprietor held up one of the bags of cinnamon and asked me to sniff it. I couldn't smell anything. He then held up spices stored in a zip-loc baggie and asked me to smell that. I could definitely smell the scent of the cinnamon. After an exhaustive search of the store, I bought a few of the spices I tend to use the most, including the cinnamon and some hot, smoked Spanish Paprika. I also bought some incredible, potent vanilla. Although adding vanilla to Suspiros and other Portuguese desserts, is not traditional, my daughter loves the way it tastes, so sometimes I do it anyway! Best of all, I asked him if he might be able to locate Piri Piri, the spice that the Portuguese cook can't do without. This little pepper was originally brought to Portugal by Portuguese explorers from the coast of Africa and has now become an essential staple of their cuisine. He was confident that he would be able to find it for me. The next time I am up there I will stop by and see if he had any luck. I'll keep you posted!

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