A Review of Spice Notes by Ian Hemphill

Hemphill knows his stuff. He grew up on a herb and spice farm and has been involved in growing, using, packaging and marketing herbs and spices for most of his life, hence the nickname “Herbie” which has been with him since his school days. Together with his wife Liz, Hemphill conducts regular spice trips to places like India and is forever trying new spices, devising recipes and uncovering the mysteries of blends and varieties. Spice Notes is a terrific resource for anyone who wants to make wider use of the wonderful flavours, scents and properties of herbs and spices, but the book is more than this. It is also an enjoyable read, tracing the use of herbs and spices from 2000 BC in Egypt to their decentralisation to spice plantations around the globe in 2000.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Spice Notes: A Cook’s Compendium of Herbs and Spices
by Ian Hemphill
Sept 2002
Macmillan
RRP$A40.00, 497 pages, paperback
ISBN 0-73291156-7

If you are an Australian based foodie, it is quite likely that you’ve heard of Herbies, a herb and spice merchants that specialises in mail order. If you’ve ever lamented about where to get authentic dahls, ajowain, pure vanilla pods, a wide range of smoked and dried chillies, powder blends or dehydrated herbs in small quantities, Herbies is the place. Their regular mailings are entertaining too, and usually contain a recipe along with spice facts, the ever expanding catalogue, travel notes, etc. Ian Hemphill is Herbie’s owner, and his encyclopedic book Spice Notes is like a thorough and lengthy version of his mailings. There is information on every type of herb and spice you can think of along with a wide range of recipes, spice blending guide and history.

Hemphill knows his stuff. He grew up on a herb and spice farm and has been involved in growing, using, packaging and marketing herbs and spices for most of his life, hence the nickname “Herbie” which has been with him since his school days. Together with his wife, Hemphill conducts regular spice trips to places like India and is forever trying new spices, devising recipes and uncovering the mysteries of blends and varieties. Spice Notes is a terrific resource for anyone who wants to make wider use of the wonderful flavours, scents and properties of herbs and spices, but the book is more than this. It is also an enjoyable read, tracing the use of herbs and spices from 2000 BC in Egypt to their decentralisation to spice plantations around the globe in 2000. There are tips on buying and storing herbs and spices, lots of ideas on how to use them, how to blend them, and information on every herb and spice from Ajowan to Zedoary. For each spice there is information on origina and history, other names, processing method, weight per tsp, suggested quantity per 500 g, flavour group, complements, combinations, usage and in many cases, a recipe.

While most of the blends listed in the blending section are available commercially, it is fun to try and blend your own, and useful to know what is in a particular blend. Herbs and spices are virtually calorie free, delicious, relatively inexpensive, even for the best quality saffron and Ras El Hanout since you don’t need much to have a big impact, and heathly. A guide like Hemphill’s will help you spice up your cooking with little effort. The recipes are simple, and designed to showcase a specific herb or spice. Some of the more delicious ones include Zereshk Polo, a classic one dish Persian rice and chicken dish that takes very little effort to make (and if you can’t find Barberry, try Herbies), Coriander Apple Crumble (the addition of coriander makes a really special difference), slow roasted tomatoes witih sumac, Ras El Hanout Chicken (Hemphill leaves out the Spanish Fly and Hashiesh from his Ras El Hanout blend – still tastes great) and Coffee and Tea Masala – a lovely end to an Indian meal. All of the recipes are easy, exotic and full of flavour, colour and good health. There are over 50 recipes in all, and enough information about spices and herbs to serve as a definitive guide.

For more information about Herbies (they do ship internationally), or Spice Notes visit: www.herbies.com.au

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