The nature of things
OR aroma and flavour, there is nothing else like a clove and, more than at any other time of year, this warming spice comes to the fore in the coldness of winter. Its pungent, sweet flavour complements hearty meats such as gammon, beef and venison; pressed into an onion, its aromatic spiciness infuses casseroles. Cloves make a fine partner to apples and rhubarb and are essential to the flavouring of warm punches and mulled wine.
But what are cloves? Originating in the Molucca (or Maluku) islands of east Indonesia, for centuries, clove was a spice almost beyond price and its origins remained a tantalising secret. As Portuguese explorers ventured ever farther east in search of spices, one Francisco Serrão reached the Moluccas in 1511, to be followed in due course by others. Countless lives were lost in the ensuing battles between Dutch, Portuguese and English traders for dominance over the supremely lucrative spice market.
From Syzgium aromaticum, a tropical tree achieving some 30ft–50ft in height, the numerous small flower buds are harvested as they
Fswell but before they open and are quickly dried. The name ‘clove’ derives from the Latin clavus, a nail, and, indeed, the dried buds are as hard as nails, driving easily into a ham for flavoursome decoration or an orange to make an old-fashioned pomander. KBH
Illustration by Bill Donohoe