Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Spice Rack: Cinnamon


Silver threads had begun to weave through her wavy strands of hair. She never took it as a cue to slow down though. Her knees were definitely displeased and would occasionally send painful reminders that she was not young any more. Those were however, disdainfully neglected. Everything had to be done as they were done in the years that flitted by; invariably.

Summers were not as harsh then as they inevitably have become these days. Still, the days were bright and hot enough to dry and preserve all sorts of treasures for the rest of the year. And so every year when the weather seemed right, she would ask him to cut down a branch or two from the Cinnamon Tree that graced a corner of the courtyard.

The flourishing tree with its vibrant, forest green coloured foliage was perhaps the only one on the lot suited for a city house. Other trees that breathed life into the compound included a towering Tamarind Tree, two big Mango Trees and a younger Mango Tree that used to go berserk when fruiting. Needless to say, fallen leaves, some of which had no respect for dividing walls or the general nonchalance of a city life, crossed boundaries and irritated neighbours. The Tamarind tree was a special rogue and would invite requests to be cut off, the others being more contented to shed where they belonged. But then, even the comparatively innocuous and sprightly golden petals strewn by the 'Chempaka Maram' (Magnolia Champaca Tree) were met with disgruntled eyes...
He would of course, oblige. He loved doing little things around the house as much as he loved his research lab at the Chemical Company. Whether it was mixing up all sorts of concoctions to care for their impeccable Rose Garden or making a 'Thettali' (Slingshot) to scare the crows away when they turned a bit impertinent, everything was done with the same ferocious efficacy that distinguished him in his illustrious career.

A few branches would be cut down, the tree pruned so that it would be even more vivacious the next season. Once the branches were brought to the back of the house and chopped to pieces that can be easily handled by her, she would sit down with a sharp knife and start shaving them. The outer layer was usually discarded (unlike the store bought one pictured here) and the strips were made thin, or so I remember. A tedious process; but then, long, wearisome projects rarely deterred her.

Which reminds me - cinnamon sticks that we get in Kerala are usually of this kind and not the rolled ones like above. The rolled ones that I have here were given to me by my sister a long time ago and I mostly use them as props (Ahem!). So when I say, an inch or two of cinnamon in the recipes, what I am referring to is usually the unrolled kind (below).
The strips were collected in a 'Muram' (A sort of Bamboo Winnowing Basket) and would later be spread out on a mat under a soft sun to dry. The whole process was one of utter joy for the two grandchildren. Plenty of things to play with and make a mess of; unknowingly, they were also building memories that would last a life time.

Once the strips were dried to her exacting standards, they would be packed in air tight containers and some of them would be added to her already bountiful storeroom. Others would board the train, tucked inside her daughter's luggage on a journey to a distant kitchen…

Notes:
  1. The 'Him' and 'Her' above are my maternal grandparents, in case it was not apparent :)
  2. As much as I can ascertain, the cinnamon that we get here (in the second picture) is True Cinnamon (just that the way in which it is processed is different from that of the rolled cinnamon). The leaves of the tree look exactly the same as that given on Wiki and elsewhere under Cinnamomum Verum.
  3. This is the fifth post of the Spice Series.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing Priya. It was only today that I shot some cinnamon - the rolled ones.. Totally agree to your argument on the broken ones and whole.. This is probably for the first time i am buying the rolled ones:)

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    1. I just mentioned it based on what I perceive Sandhya :) Saw your shot on your instagram feed when I checked in to your blog today :)

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  2. Such pretty pics! The rolled ones seem to be Srilankan... I had picked it up last time from the shelf and I feel the taste and smell is not as strong at the broken thick ones that we normally use... :)

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    1. Thanks Rafee :) Hmmm not sure about that Rafee. The Sri Lankan ones are definitely milder than other varieties like Saigon Cinnamon.

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