Welcome to Spice World, in which Gut Check looks at overlooked spices from around the world, introducing those you don't own but probably should.
: After the garden produced a comically large number of cucumbers -- and after giving them away to family, friends, strangers and neighbors, all the while Googling "cucumbers + recipes" -- it occurred to us that the only thing the cukes hadn't yet done was get us tipsy. And so it is that there's a mason jar full of gin in the fridge with cucumber slices resting lazily on the bottom, their pale-green flesh now a washed-out yellow.
Herbs and spices have long been integral to everyday spirits. Gin itself, of course, gets its pinelike flavor and name from juniper berries: In French "juniper" is genièvre
; the Dutch call it jenever
. While it's been used in drinks for nearly 1,000 years, gin began to evolve into the drink as we know it today sometime in the 1600s.
: After ripening for about three years, the berries are harvested in the fall and then dried. Although juniper berries can grow on shrubs pretty much anywhere in the northern hemisphere, they most often find their way to home kitchens in Germany, France and Scandinavia, usually in savory meat dishes and marinades.
: Though the ones in our batch only ranged in size from BBs to dried blueberries, the purple-black beads pack a wallop: The berries are considered to be a diuretic and are best avoided by those with kidney problems and women who are pregnant.
The berries aren't especially easy to crush without a spice grinder. For the onion and juniper bread (pictured), we had to beat them with a meat mallet, and even then, some stubbornly refused to be crushed. In the oven, the bread makes the kitchen smell like a boozy bakery, and you'd be hard pressed to find a main dish that can stand up to its pungent taste. It does pair nicely, however, with homemade cucumber gin.
We found a 1.3-ounce jar of juniper berries at Williams-Sonoma
in Plaza Frontenac (314-567-9211) for $5.95.What overlooked spices heat up your kitchen? E-mail Gut Check!