Tag Archives: spices

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.

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!
IMG_0665
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!