FR: Clou de girofle EGR: Gewurznelke, Nelke HINDI: Laoong IT: Chiodo di garofano SP: Clavo.
BOT: Eugenia aromatica FAM: Myrtaceae ILL: Plate 19, No. 6
Cloves are one of the best known of all the spices. Their native place is the islands of South East Asia, but they were used in China several hundred years before Christ, and were a caravan import well-known to the Romans. This is one of the spices of the Spice Islands and was at one time a monopoly of the Portuguese and Dutch.
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In the eighteenth century, cultivation was taken to other tropical countries, notably Zanzibar, Madagascar and the West Indies. Cloves flourish only near the sea, and today Zanzibar is the most famous clove-growing island. On a hot muggy evening when the light breezes filter through the trees, if one approaches the island from downwind one can smell cloves even before the land comes in sight.
Clove trees grow some thirty feet high – rather neat evergreens with clusters of crimson flowers.
In practice one sees few flowers because, although all parts of the clove tree are aromatic, the buds are particularly so and are picked before they open. The fresh buds are pink. Dried carefully on palm leaf mats or over gentle heat, they turn red-brown and are then the cloves with which we are familiar.
Cloves vary considerably in size, appearance and pungency – depending on their age and where they come from. They should be well formed, oily and plump, and not shrivelled and dusty. However, cloves have such a strong flavour that it is really not necessary to shop around for them as one should for some other spices.
The characteristic flavour of cloves is due to an essential oil familiar, unfortunately, to most people from the dentist. It is a powerful, penetrating antiseptic, a fact that makes cloves doubly useful in pickles, broths and curries.
Cloves should be bought whole, not ground. If a little is needed in powder form, the central ‘bobble’ can be easily crushed. Cloves are often used stuck into an onion and common uses range from the stock pot to bread sauce and from coq au vin to ham with cloves and brown sugar. Another use is with apples, although this is frequently overdone. In the East, they go into many types of curry -often associated with cardamom and cinnamon – and into all sorts of pickle. Finally, they go into most recipes for spiced wine and many liqueurs.
Cloves are in a way a difficult spice to use because their flavour easily gets out of hand and becomes crude and overpowering. However, it is a spice that it would be difficult to do without, and a single clove in a beef stew or pot-au-feu – a common addition in France and Italy – is a typical case of good usage. One cannot taste the clove, but the beef is much less aromatic without it. On the other hand, the use of cloves with vinegar – either in pickles or in the spices for ‘soused’ fish – gives a rather ‘tired’ flavour. It may be a personal whim, but I often omit cloves from pickle.
Clove Carnation, Clove Gillyflower, Gillyflower, Grenadine, Picotee.
SP: Alhell, Clavel.
BOT: Dianthus carophyllus.
Modern carnations as often as not have had the scent bred out; but the old-fashioned pink has a beautiful, aromatic scent, rather like cloves.
Clove pinks are probably a native of the Mediterranean area but are now distributed from Normandy to the Punjab. In the past, as long ago as the Romans but also particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they were used as a flavouring and were floated in wine (an old custom was to float the petals in the glasses of engaged couples), and one variety was known as ‘sops-in-wine’. They can be used in liqueurs (chartreuse they say, but the formula is secret) and cordials, to flavour vinegar, in salads (mainly as a decoration) and even in soups and sauces.
The flavour can be captured by pouring boiling syrup over the petals, leaving for some hours and then straining.