Jim McKenney
Mon, 31 Oct 2005 04:54:24 PST
Angelo, I hope you can post some photos of those Crocus thomasii variations
- they sound very interesting. Most of us as gardeners know our plants only
from selected, cultivated clones. As a result, we tend to have the "clone
mentality" about variation. Since we usually don't see much variation, we're
often puzzled when we encounter it. Some pictures of your wild Crocus
thomasii would be a good antidote to this "clone mentality".  

Angelo mentioned Carthamus. Here in the states, this is generally known as
safflower, from which a cooking oil is extracted. 

The dried flowers are also known as Mexican saffron. Years ago a Mexican
woman who worked in the local leftist food coop decided to "liberate" the
coop's clients and free them from the evil, exploitative money grubbers who
where charging a bundle for saffron. She had the coop buy a ton of cheap
Mexican saffron to sell. She genuinely thought it was true saffron. She did
not appreciate my explanation of the difference between saffron and
safflower. About the only thing that cheap stuff was good for was hamster

That Carthamus is used in Indian cooking is no surprise. I suspect that even
more than Carthamus, the yellow tint of some Indian preparations comes from

Some Hindus seem to have a virtual reverence for true saffron. When I let
some Indian friends know that I grew it in my garden, they were at first
skeptical, then astonished and finally very keen to get a start for
themselves. Newborn children are sometimes anointed with saffron. 

I don't know Indian cuisine well (is one lifetime long enough to understand
much about one billion people?), but I don't recall actually encountering
any preparations which use saffron (except in books).

Saffron is now probably too valuable as an export to allow much domestic
consumption in modern India, although Kashmir is still a major source of

The Indians I have known are not big on pepper (Piper nigrum) as a
foodstuff. Here again, some conveniently manipulated prejudices probably
help to protect the domestic crop for export and valuable foreign exchange. 

India is also one of the world's major producers of peanuts, yet my Hindu
friends would not touch them. They are hawked on the streets everywhere, so
someone is eating them. 

Angelo mentioned ricotta. Angelo, if you are traveling in the US, you will
have no trouble finding something called ricotta in most larger grocery
stores. In the old days, Americans attempting to reproduce Italian food
sometimes substituted cottage cheese for the then unavailable ricotta. It's
at best a very rough approximation.

For those of you who like words, biscotto, ricotta and (switching now to
Spanish) refritos all have something in common. The bi in biscotto is
thought to refer to the fact that the item in question is cooked twice: once
to bake it and a second time to dry it out after it has been sliced. The
half-life of a batch of home-made biscotti in our house is about a day and a

The ri in ricotta indicates that it is well cooked. And by now most of you
probably know that refritos, as in frijoles refritos, does not mean "refried
beans" but rather more something like "well fried beans". 

Also, the Italian word for saffron is very close to the Arabic; the Arabic
was probably the source. 

Have I got it right, Angelo?

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where crocus are a cherished
item of diet and enthusiastically consumed by the local voles. I hope the
snakes, foxes and hawks appreciate those saffron scented voles. All this
talk about food is prompted by the circumstance that I have not had
breakfast yet.  


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