Rodger Whitlock
Mon, 31 Oct 2005 08:40:19 PST
On 30 Oct 05 at 22:11, Jim McKenney wrote:

> ...that 1 ounce tin of saffron I bought a few years ago.

There's a good chance that tin isn't pure saffron. Saffron 
is very often adulterated with, iirc, dried safflowers.

One ounce is a *huge* amount of saffron. I buy mine from two 
sources: a local tries-to-be-high-end grocery store that 
carries Spanish saffron in small single-dose plastic capsules, 
four for $3, ground or whole as you prefer; and a Middle 
Eastern/Mediterranean specialty place with authentic Iranian 
saffron, where they sell you a gram of whole saffron for around 

The Spanish stuff is cheap enough to use fairly regularly, and 
it's nice to make real saffron rice instead of cheating and 
using turmeric.

I've no reason to think that either of these is adulterated.

> I've tried very hard to learn to like the taste of saffron,
> but to tell the truth, if I use enough of it to be able to
> taste it, I usually don't particularly like it. 

Would you like a medieval recipe for cake containing 
ambergris? Different strokes for different folks, as the saying 

> I sometimes use it when making a risotto, or use it in some
> broths, and also in some baked goods (biscotti for instance) I
> make. These biscotti, flavored with saffron, orange zest,
> golden raisins and aniseed, have a very sophisticated,
> old-world taste (or so I imagine). 

Recipe! Recipe!
> The culinary historians I've read seem to believe that saffron
> was introduced to the west as a coloring agent, not as an
> article of diet. 

Sounds like pure speculation to me.
> To paraphrase an old saying, it was a brave man who first
> tasted saffron. 

The Hittites supposedly [weasel word alert!] had an 
end-of-winter festival associated with the flowering of a plant 
written KRK... crocus?. One would hope that living in a 
crocus-rich country as they did, they'd pay attention to it.

> A cuisine which finds camphor tasty probably would not have
> any problem with saffron. 

Tasty != sweet

Consider that Indian cuisine also uses asafoetida, the Chinese 
eat bitter melon, and so on. A favorite food of mine is Indian 
green mango pickled in oil: extraordinarily strong tasting, but 
surprisingly good as a relish to accompany a dish of eggs, 
offsetting, contrasting with, and heightening the delicate 
flavor of eggs. [If you want to try this pickle, be sure to buy 
a brand made in India. The "Mr. Patak" brand made in England is 
a pale imitation of the Real Thing.]

Back to edible bulbs so our Esteemed Moderator will forgive my 
drifting off topic:

Having read that camass was eaten by Pacific coast Indians, I
once tried it, steaming the bulbs. The results were much like
library paste, but perhaps I overcooked them in a spate of

All the books that mention this (Indians eating camass, not
Rodger steaming them to death) then proceed to wax eloquent on
Zygadenus venenosus, the death camass, which the Indians
sedulously rogued from the camass fields. You can tell an
author who's cribbing from other books because they'll
describe it as "white camass" and imply that flower color is
the only distinction. This is, to coin a phrase, total
bullshit. The flowers of Z.v. are a dirty greenish yellow and
the inflorescence is utterly different from that of Camassia.
The difficulty is evidently that its *bulb* is
indistinguishable from that of camassia -- and this in turn
implies that the Indians harvested their camas bulbs during
dormancy, when they coincidentally would be at their most

I've yet to read an account of Indians and death camas that 
betrays a first-hand acquaintance with the plant.

I'm hungry.

As for white camas, albiflorous forms of C. leichtlinii ssp. 
suksdorfii turn up from time to time, but I've never seen a 
white C. quamash.

Rodger Whitlock
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Maritime Zone 8, a cool Mediterranean climate

on beautiful Vancouver Island

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