Category Archives: Spices

All about spices from allspice to zaatar

History Of Attar Herbs and Spices

Attar Spice Shop

It is times like these, when considering 50 years of business that one can feel overcome with a sense of awe, generosity and pride for our loyal customers who have been with us for so long through so many inevitable changes that a business of this age will endure. As Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher said, “change is the only constant”. For our long-term customers who have chosen to stand by us and support our vision over the years, through our falls and climbs, we are ever grateful. To our new customers, welcome. We are thrilled to have you here as part of the Spice Up Life community and look forward to many more years to come all together!

The Roots of Attar
According to Dick Martin developing the roots of Attar began early in his young adult life. As a graduate of Harvard with a degree in botany, Dick did his research on the uses of plants (ethnobotany) and studied how the American Indians used them. Dick says, “I traveled a lot in South America, looking for plants for research for the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. I would collect samples and send them up there for analysis. I would find out a little bit from the Indians what they used them for.”

If you knew Dick Martin well, you’d know that plants were only one of his passions. He collected coins, was a gifted musician and spoke Japanese. A few years back I was introduced to a book called, One River by Wade Davis which recounted some of the Amazonian expeditions that Dick was a member of as a young student. There is even reference to Dick Martin bringing along his saxophone on the trips and joining with the locals for nights of music making and revelry.

Dick Martin

Dick explained, “Attar means perfumed in Persian. It comes from a word that means essence. It’s anything that has a fragrance, a taste or a smell.” Attar then became the name he gave his herb, spice and essential oil company when he opened its doors 50 years ago.
His very first office was in Harvard Square. It really was only a suitcase from which he sold his herbs and spices…and the business continued to grow. He then opened a health food store in Cambridge Mass. Eventually, he moved the business to New Ipswich, New Hampshire (Smithville) where it was in operation serving customers around the country for over 40 years until his retirement. Melissa Spencer and Erik Hood of Harrisville NH, purchased the business in 2010 and moved it to Harrisville.

Attar Herbs and Spices Catalog

Attar Herbs and Spices Catalog

In the Fall of 2010 my husband and I walked into this quaint little shop called Attar Herbs & Spices. We fell in love at first smell. When we walked out we realized we had just met our destiny. A month later we were signing papers to purchase the business from Dick Martin. It has been an incredible journey these past 7 years learning the ins and outs of what it takes to grow a business and grow a family, at the same time. We are blessed with an incredibly supportive and hands-on family, family-like customers and an uber-talented and skilled staff.

The Queen Of Spices: Cardamom

Blueberries and cardamom make this coffee cake irresistible.

blueberries and cardamom flavor make this coffee cake irresistible.

We awoke Sunday morning and decided it would be a great day to go berry picking. Early afternoon, after a quick vote to survey the family faves it was decided that blueberries and raspberries outweighed strawberries. So, we headed to Monadnock Berries in Troy where we were greeted with an abundance of berry bliss perched atop a beautiful hilltop with a breathtaking view of Mt. Monadnock on the horizon. Row after row of raspberries were ripe for our pickin’. The blueberries were just as abundant and we quickly filled our buckets and bellies in no time. In about an hour, under the hot summer sun, the four of us gathered about 10 pounds of bounty. If we had been asked to weigh-in before picking and after, chances are we would’ve added another 10lbs to the loot picked. Thankfully, it’s not polite to ask a strangers weight.

It was towards the end of our picking, feeling berry-filled and heat exhausted but not yet ready to quit, that I began to daydream about the creations we might spice up at home with all these sweet and tart fruity inspirations in our midst. When my mind hit upon the idea for a blueberry cardamom coffee cake I became fixated. You see, cardamom is one of my favorite spices, ever. It is known as the “Queen of Spices” and that’s a rightly royal title in my mind. It holds a special spot on our spice shelf, right next to the mortar and pestle so we can easily grab it and grind some fresh to use in our morning coffee brew. Cardamom is the fruit of a large perennial bush that grows wild in southern India, Sri Lanka and now cultivated heavily in Guatemala. It has been used for thousands of years in India and Scandinavian countries where it is used in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s aroma is strong and requires only a small amount to impart flavor. It’s taste is floral and a touch lemony with just a hint of camphor which gives it that fresh and clean scent. Use your imagination and experiment with this extremely versatile spice to add a touch of exotic elevation to your food. Here are a few ideas to get you going:

*Baked Goods: Raspberry Cardamom Cocoa Muffins; Blueberry Cardamom Coffee Cake; . Poached Pears with Cardamom. It pairs especially well with berries, apples and pears, orange, chocolate and cinnamon.
*Drinks: Add a touch to your coffee directly with the coffee grounds for a nicely spiced morning brew or combine with cinnamon, clove, star anise, ginger and black or green tea for a chai-tea infusion.
*Savory: Rice Pilaf (add a couple of pods along with cinnamon, clove and cumin) into the water while cooking; Add to your pickling jars; Slow-cooked meat dishes and poultry.

Ginger, Cherry and Rhubarb Muffins

Gluten Free Rhubarb Muffins

We pack lunch every day for our kiddos so I get a lot of opportunity to bake. Thankfully my kids appreciate some variety (in muffins, at least!) This week, swimming in rhubarb, I whipped up a batch of these muffins with what I had on hand and they were a huge hit. Next time you have a hankering for a muffin, clean out the fridge and see what unique combo you can come up with!

1 1/4c Gluten Free Pamela’s Muffin Mix
1 egg
1/4 cup water (or milk or milk substitute)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ginger, ground
1/4 cup rhubarb chopped
1/4 cup cherries chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. In a saucepan add in 2 tbsp of water and the sugar, rhubarb and cherries. Simmer for a few minutes until sugar is dissolved and rhubarb is softened. Add this into the flour mixture along with remaining ingredients. Mix well and spoon into buttered muffin tins. Top with anything…nuts, granola, oats, etc… Bake for 15-18 minutes.

Spice Tea for the Common Cold

Attar Spice Tea

Attar Spice Tea

We’ve been recirculating a cold that just won’t quit in our house this past month. Really, it’s been about a month of morphing from one compromised body to the next. Emptied boxes of tissues, low grade fevers, cough-filled nights and hacking days have plagued our home for far too long. Sometimes the hardest part of these colds for me is the feeling of helplessness and the inability to make them go away for good. I feel like I am in a real life game of “whack-a-cold”. As soon as one sicky is well, it pops back up in another. It is in these moments when I’m feeling worn down by everyone’s sickness that I catch myself and as one of my favorite writers, Glennon Doyle Melton reminds often, it’s time to adjust our “perspectacles”.

This is not a chronic illness and we are not dying. We are simply fighting the common cold for an uncommonly long time! We will get through this. Sleepless nights, chicken soup for three meals a day and an obscene amount of cough drops are not the end of the world. Sometimes we just have to surrender to it and give our bodies the time and resources to rest and heal. Easier said than done in our fast-paced, action packed world but worthy of our attempts always.

In our household when colds hit like this there are some basic guidelines we follow like lots of healthy soups, no dairy and certainly no sweets. Take a ton of vitamin C and drink LOTS of tea. And that’s exactly what we do. Lots and lots of tea. This is really my best and only secret weapon. I head to the spice cupboard and pull out a few key spices to help us combat the bugs, boost the immune system and try to restore health again. As you may have heard me say before, spices are little powerhouses of anti-oxidant and nutritive healing value. It may not be a quick fix but its soothing and supportive of the compromised systems and most importantly for me, it’s comforting.

Spice tea for the Common Cold:

*Combine in a pot 3 cups of water, ½ tsp. ginger, 1/4tsp clove, ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp fennel and a cinnamon stick (or grd. cinnamon). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the spiced water into a cup and add honey and a squeeze of lemon to taste. This recipe is very forgiving. If you like more of one, add it. If you don’t have one, leave it out. Adjust to your tastes and preferences. Honestly, I don’t measure and it’s different every time but ALWAYS comforting. Let’s drink to health and adjusting our perspectacles!!

*This article was written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript for April 2016.

Spice Dyed Easter Eggs

Natural Dyed Eggs
The Easter weekend was a grand success. The weather was pleasant and Lavender Lemon Chocolate Chip Pancakes were enjoyed (with a spontaneous batch of lavender infused chocolate sauce that I whipped up to accompany them). We went to pick out plants at The House By The Side Of the Road.

We also had lots of fun dying eggs the “old fashioned way”. Old fashioned as in “before there were concentrated food coloring dyes in convenient little teardrop shaped bottles with rather predictable results” sense of the word. One great thing about natural dyes is that you can most likely find a pretty decent palette by rummaging through your pantry. I took the opportunity to use up some VERY old annatto and turmeric, some very freezer burned blueberries and the scraps of beetroot skin sitting in my compost bin. I got to do a little spring cleaning along side our Easter fun!

Natural dye
This is less of a recipe and more of an idea for a process. The general idea is to take your found natural dye elements and essentially make “tea” with them. Some things require longer “steeping” or even boiling to get the richness of color out. The more of something you use and the longer it sits the more vibrant the color. A little splash of vinegar helps the egg shell to absorb more of the dye. It’s as simple as that.Natural Egg Dye

We decided to avoid any system of measurement and simply add what we had on hand and see where it took us. I really enjoyed the element of surprise in this project. I did grind the turmeric and annatto seeds before adding them to the water. I would have used more blueberries if I had had them but they still turned out a beautiful pale cornflower color. I would also have boiled the annatto and the paprika for longer as the colors could have been much more vibrant as I did add a good amount. We also chose to let them sit overnight in the dye baths. All in all I think the results were quite beautiful!

Natural Dyed Eggs Carton
Everly enjoyed watching the process but the part where he got to EAT the egg was his favorite, of course!
The color from the beetroot was the most surprising. It’s such a rich shade and there are little blooms of rust color on it. SO beautiful! Some other great ideas for things to use as natural dyes include: Purple Cabbage, Chili Powder, Spinach, Raspberry, Red Onion Skins, Chamomile Tea, Grape Juice. Think to yourself “would I be worried about this staining my white shirt?” if the answer is “yes” then chances are good it would make a nice dye!

Lavender Lemon Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Rich lavender field in Provence with a lone tree

Ah Spring! The fresh, clean, newness of it all. This year my partner’s birthday falls on Easter Sunday. I was trying to think of something special to do for breakfast that morning so it seemed pretty appropriate to come across this gem of a recipe in the archives this morning. Flowers, Chocolate and Pancakes in one fell swoop.

When most us think Lavender we think SPA. It is, after all, well known for its aroma-therapeutic ability to help us relax. The French don’t shy away from the use of lavender in culinary applications and for good reason. Lavender can be intimidating to use in cooking but if done right it can be absolutely divine. Adding too much can definitely spell disaster and make your food taste like a bar of soap, so when in doubt add less. It doesn’t take much!

This recipe really hits the nail on the head with that delicate floral balance.

Lavender Lemon Chocolate Chip Pancakes
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup Milk
1 tbs baking powder
3 tbs vegetable oil or melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp granulated lemon
1 tsp freshly ground lavender flower (grinding releases the volatile oils that make it smell so lovely)
1 tsp whole lavender flower ( this is mostly for visual appeal)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or more! this is Easter after all)
Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients in a separate bowl and stir into dry ingredients. Fold in Chocolate chips.
Cook on a lightly oiled or buttered skillet on medium-high heat.

Did you know lavender is also one of the essential oils that can effectively deter insects including ticks? How perfect for an Easter stroll through the field!