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Taste & Travel - - Contents - bySUSAN HALLETT

SU­SAN HALLETT pro­files a peppy kitchen sta­ple.

AC­CORD­ING TO Royal Cook­book, pub­lished by Par­ents' Mag­a­zine Press in New York, “Prepa­ra­tion of elab­o­rate types of foods, one of the pre­req­ui­sites of most com­plex so­ci­eties” de­vel­oped in the clas­si­cal Greek pe­riod, the first so­ci­ety to en­joy what we would call “cui­sine”. Food prepa­ra­tion de­vel­oped fur­ther dur­ing the Hel­lenis­tic and Ro­man pe­ri­ods. Un­til then, ban­quets for the kings of Sumer, Akkad and Baby­lon were sim­ple feasts of whole an­i­mals such as an ox, a horse or a camel roasted in huge ovens. The Assyr­ian kings, how­ever, de­vel­oped the art of eat­ing fur­ther, hold­ing feasts in their gar­dens be­cause of the mild cli­mate. In fact, the hang­ing gar­dens of Baby­lon and the gar­den of the eighth-cen­tury BCE Assyr­ian king, Mero­dachbal­adan, were fa­mous. This king grew mint in his gar­den, along with other aro­matic plants, mainly for their spe­cial scents.

Bible ref­er­ences to mint are to be found in Matthew 23:23: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hyp­ocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omit­ted the weight­ier mat­ters of law, judg­ment, mercy and faith.”

Mint or “Men­the” is the name given any plant be­long­ing to the fam­ily Labi­atae (also called Lami­aceae). It is widely dis­trib­uted and is usu­ally an eas­ily rec­og­niz­able peren­nial herb be­cause it creeps un­der­ground, send­ing up leafy shoots, usu­ally hairy, every sea­son. The stems have four edges and are slightly red­dish. The red­dish-vi­o­let flow­ers of mint, usu­ally small and clus­tered at leaf joints of­ten form­ing spikes, usu­ally have an up­per and lower lip.

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