In my ongoing quest to grow (or at least technically be able to grow) my own food, I am still a bit short in the “spice” category. A lot of the savory spices we use come from annuals (dill) or perennials that can be raised as annuals in my climate (rosemary), but most baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, mace) are tropical trees which would require a great deal of artificial aid to raise to harvest age. We do have a native Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense, that can substitute for tropical ginger, but even the wild Allspice bush native to North America doesn’t reach quite this far north (I’m USDA Zone 3b/4a, at best.) And ginger was never my favorite thing.
I am in luck, though, because my absolute favorite baking spice ever can be raised to maturity as an annual even in my short growing season. Many people are familiar with the leaves of Coriandrum sativum, Cilantro, in salsas and South American cooking – but its seed is also a prized culinary spice, Coriander. While coriander seed is more commonly known as one of the ingredients of curry powder, Madhur Jaffrey’s suggestion of an East-Indian-spiced carrot cake with Coriander and cardamom really opened my eyes to its sweet possibilities. Its warm lemony-orange flavor makes a great addition to many baked goods. I will use it as the sole spice in many recipes (such as my favorite granola), or substitute it as one of the bit players if the recipe calls for cinnamon + nutmeg + allspice, etc., such as pumpkin pie or this Parsnip Cake. At the end is a recipe for my favorite oatmeal lace cookies, brightened with coriander.
Growing coriander seed for home use is pretty easy – just let your cilantro plants bolt (go to seed.) This is more often easier to achieve than not, as spring temperatures can be unpredictable in my area. Let the seed heads mature and dry brown on the plant. There is a fine line between letting the heads mature thoroughly, and drying them so much that they break open and spill your seed harvest on the ground – so, if you notice a few seeds shattering off, then go ahead and clip the rest of the heads. If they’re not thoroughly dry, then you can complete the drying by artificial means – a sun-based drying rack, a countertop dehydrator, or in your oven on extremely low temperature. The dryer they are, the better they will keep. Whole seeds can be kept at room temperature for ~ 1 year without noticeable loss of freshness – good for adding to simmering pot roasts, for example – but if you choose to grind the seeds in a coffee grinder or spice mill for use in baking, I would keep them in the freezer for best flavor.
Scottish Lace Wafers
This recipe was unfortunately purged from the Joy of Cooking between its 2nd and 3rd editions, so I was very happy to find it again in Rebecca Woods’ The Splendid Grain. You end up with 24 thin chewy oatmeal butterscotch wafers, with crispy edges.
- 1 and 1/4 cups oatmeal
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour, or barley flour (yumm)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablesppons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter two baking sheets and set aside. Combine the oatmeal, sugar, coconut, flour, coriander and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the butter, egg and vanilla and mix into the dry ingredients. Immediately drop from a teaspoon in rounds, about 2 inches apart, on the baking sheets. Flatten with a fork. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes until browned. Let cookies cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, to gain some structural strength, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.