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18 February 2008

Why I Love This Blog: Cinnamon Miscellaney

Cinnamon Rolls have been a holiday staple in our house for twenty years. In one of her early books Diane Mott Davidson gave a recipe for “Monster Cinnamon Rolls” and for us it is the definitive recipe. The rolls are the size of a lunch plate and require a space at least 30inches long to roll out the dough.It takes three hours of preparation but the response to it is worth getting up at 5AM. In our food oriented household homemade cinnamon rolls are a labor of love.

Cinnamon was one of the earliest prized spices. Egyptians used it in embalming, the Romans used it as incense and to flavor wine. Apparently it was not used in cooking. There is no mention of cinnamon as a flavoring agent in the extant recipes of the time.

The Spice Trade grew dramatically after Marco Polo’s explorations in the 13th century and was a prime motivator for the period of exploration that lasted for the next five hundred years. Expensive and prized by medieval cooks, cinnamon became the seasoning for many sweet and savory dishes. At the time it was also regarded as a preservative which contributed to its use and popularity. According to the website www.toptropicals.com only one of Magellan’s ships returned from his exploration but that ship carried 26 tons of spices which were enough to pay for the voyage of all five ships that began in his effort to circumnavigate the earth.

From ancient Chinese herbalists to contemporary practitioners of alternative healing, cinnamon is considered as a useful remedy for various malaises, though no one contests the assertion that the “smell is pleasant, stimulates the senses and calms the nerves” (Wikipedia). The Chinese recommended it as a cure for various intestinal distresses as well as flu. There is some preliminary research that validates the historic assertion that cinnamon can add to the effectiveness of insulin, though no clinical trials support this.

The cinnamon tree is native to Sri Lanka. It can grow as high as fifty feet though for agricultural purposes it is usually pruned to less than six feet or into a bush. The spice itself comes from the bark. Originally harvested in the wild it was not until the 16th century that the Dutch then, in control of the Spice Trade and Ceylon, began to cultivate the trees.

Today most of the “cinnamon” sold is Cassia, a milder version of the original Sri Lankan tree spice. It grows in China, Vietnam.

Is there any doubt that the most popular use of cinnamon today is in cinnamon rolls (aka sticky buns). The predecessor of the cinnamon roll, then called bun, is medieval in origin, probably in Northern Europe and further developed in England.

Elizabeth David in her book ENGLISH BREAD AND YEAST COOKERY describes the Chelsea Bun as “Sugary, spicy, sticky and coiled like a Swiss roll…hefty in proposition.” By 1910, the recipe for cinnamon buns called for the sweet dough to be “sheeted out and sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon and currants, rolled up and sliced.” The oversized cinnamon rolls like the ones I make and Cinnabon markets are a relatively recent development.

As a side note the cream cheese frosting that is half the pleasure of the cinnamon roll was not an element of the treat until after 1872 when cream cheese was invented by a dairy farmer in Chester New York.

This blog is a favorite of mine because it helps me rationalize a research boondoggle. I wanted to know if cinnamon rolls could have existed in the Regency. I was pretty sure, but I wasn’t positive. So I started with Google and, as usual and despite a pressing deadline, was carried away into information on cinnamon, the spice trade, alternative medicinal usage, and, yes, the origins of it as one of the definitive taste treats of the 20th century.

What subjects have caught your interest and left you with much more information that you needed? And/or what do you consider to be a definitive taste treat of the 20thcentury?

10 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I always seem to get overly involved in my research. LOL! Right now I'm researching Regency era refreshments for a workshop I'm planning and I'm out of control. Later today I plan on giving blanc'mange a go. Or, if it stays cold, maybe Bath Cakes.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Pam Rosenthal said...

Yummy post, Mary. Reminding me of this quote from Samuel Pepys, cited in a recent London Review of Books discussion of Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine and Science in the Dutch Golden Age by Harold Cook:

When Samuel Pepys inspected a captured Dutch East India Company ship, seized in 1665, he was amazed by its cargo: 'The greatest wealth ... that a man can see in the world. Pepper scattered through every chink, you trod upon it; and in cloves and nutmegs, I walked above the knees; whole rooms full... As noble a sight as ever I saw in my life.'

And from which we also learned that:

Nutmeg was so valuable that the Treaty of Breda, ending the second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667, delivered the tiny nutmeg island of Run to the Dutch in exchange for another island colony in America then known as New Amsterdam. Who knew?

Note to self: Pam, read Pepys before you die

10:53 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a fun post, though it left me very hungry :-). Google is so fabulous, but it means I can spend hours tracking down details, sometimes details that are fairly tangential to what I'm working on. I tend to go off in search of parliamentary minutia--what bill was being debated on a particular day. Or just the right dress fabric/color/style for the right month of the right year. Or...

1:18 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Kalen -- you are actually going to make Bath Cakes? I toy with the idea of trying some of the recipes but they really aren't that appealing to me. It's been interesting to try to come up with dishes readers could relate to for my current book.

Pam -- what a fabulous quote -- gives such a vivid image of what a spice laden ship would be like, feel like, smell like. Must read Pepys also.

Tracy -- I can go off i nto real detail study about houses, architecture and interior design. I wish I was more interested in Parliament. Lets face it, I would have been a very traditional "wife of" in the Regency -- more interested in clothes and books and things than in what was going on in the House of Commons and Lords.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Thanks, Mary, for the mouth-watering and pseudo-Proustian moment. I remember learning to make cinnamon rolls from my 7th grade home ec. instructor. Hers, however, is not a recipe I'd ever repeat.

Latery I've been hung up on trying to find out what sort of cosmetics would have been used by a courtesan in 16th c. Venice and how they were made or from where they might have been imported, Venice being a major center of east-west commerce at the time (with almost zero luck).

When it comes to alternative uses for spices, I once played a role of an 18th c. slattern (God, was that fun!) in a play called "Children of Darkness" (written in 1925, actually), and I decided to use pure vanilla extract instead of perfume, since I decided it was in keeping with the character. To me, vanilla extract smells significantly nicer than faux-vanilla scents, which always smell plastic-y to me.

Pam, I read all of Pepys's Diary for my ROYAL AFFAIRS research. What an eye-opener!

1:30 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

I love vanilla as a scent -- Summer, my heroine in novella Love Endures (out i n November) smells like vanilla and jasmine. Olivia in my current project (Lovers Kiss out at the end of October)-- her natural scent is rather like cinnamon, of course.

4:39 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I manage a bakery for Wal-Mart so I spend the better part of my day steeped in fabulous aromas - cinnamon being one of them. We do cinnamon swirl biscuits topped with glaze or cream cheese on a daily basis. The smell of bread baking for eight hours a day is NOT conducive to healthy eating.

I have to concur on the addictive qualities of research. I had an idea for a Regency heroine who is an amateur herpetologist and did a little research to see what sorts of study of reptiles was going on at the time. I have a thick folder of info on the subject. Did you know they were studying the medicinal properties of snake venom as early as the 17th century?

7:07 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

What a wonderful post Mary. And how helpful to know that my late 19th century heroine could have cream cheese! I love finding out things online like the origins of Thomas's English Muffins, and Victorian Etiquette. Google Books is a godsend. When I played Beatrice-Joanna in the Changeling, I wore Amber, because the villain tells the audience in a soliloquey that 'she smelled all of amber'.

6:36 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I most certainly AM going to make Bath Cakes! And Sally Lunn Buns, and Cheesecakes, and Ratafia Biscuits, and Seed Cake, and Ginger Tablet, and Quaking Pudding, and whatever else catches my fancy.

6:58 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

We're all going to Kalen's house for tea, right??

7:21 PM  

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