Sunday, January 15, 2006


When I was a foolish, foolish young man going to college, I took a spice rack that had doors on hinges, with all the spices it contained and a few others nearby. My childhood home in Seattle has essentially two units, and this spice rack came from the unused downstairs kitchen. It had 21 spices, some that I'd never even heard of (like foenugreek; is that spelled right?).

One of the other bottles had a white label with permanent marker: "SAFRON". It was an ordinary sized spice jar.

It was also full.

I didn't understand the significance of this for quite a while. I felt vaguely guilty, but I thought it should smell good, so I put uncrushed threads of saffron in my microwave popcorn. At some point, the guilt got to be too much for me, and I stopped using it. Fortunately, most of the bottle was still left.

I told my dad about the popcorn and he thought I was incredibly crazy.

For those who don't know, saffron is the handpicked stigmata (female sex organ) of a Crocus Sativus Linneaus. Each flower has three. It takes 100,000 or so to make a pound. Here's a helpful article that is quite interesting; among other things, it pegs the price of saffron at $40 to $65 per ounce, more expensive than silver. Whole Foods, it says, was selling some at $8.99 per 0.04 ounce, which is more like $225 per ounce.

I finally saw saffron on sale at our local kitchen store. It is sold in spice jars with small cards that look like flypaper, with a thumbnail's worth of the spice trapped on the side. I have no clue now how much my stash is worth. I've noticed that time and gravity have ground down the spice near the bottom of the jar, but the vast majority are still whole.

Today I took out my jar of saffron. It has been snowing since the morning and I decided to make potato soup. I picked out a few threads, less than 10, and put them into a white 1/4 cup measuring cup so I wouldn't lose any. I dropped one on the floor and picked it right up. Then I used the back of a small spoon to grind the threads into powder. At the end, I held it up to my face, and they stirred like iron filings attracted by a magnet while I breathed through my nose. I couldn't believe that such a small thing could flavor about a gallon of potato soup, but I dumped them into the slow cooker anyway. The liquid turned yellow immediately.

A few hours later, the onions aren't done, but the broth is delicious.

Sometime, go to the store and buy some yellow rice in a packet, by Vigo or Mahatma or a similar brand. Look at the ingredients list; after all the spices, salts, and even chemical preservatives, the least, final ingredient is saffron.

No comments: