Our next group of spices are the berries and flowers; from our six essential spices we have one of each (notice a trend yet?), black peppercorns and cloves.
BLACK PEPPERCORNS: Black pepper is the dried fruit (technically a drupe and not a berry but whatever) of a vine native to South and Southeast Asia. The most prolific pepper producing province (okay, “region,” but I couldn’t pass up the alliteration) has long been the Malabar coast of India. Pepper was one of the most highly valued goods in the Roman Empire, often being referred to as black gold; interestingly pepper was not the only pepper in the empire. A second fruit from the same family known as long pepper, was also traded with the same gusto, however the Romans called both by the same name. Long pepper fell out of favor with the discovery of the New World and the introduction of chillis, which were very similar but far less picky about growing conditions. Personally my favorite black pepper is the Tellicherry variety. Tellicherry peppercorns are left on the vine to ripen longer than other varieties and have a bolder more floral flavor. I don’t have to tell you how universal pepper is, the fact that we equate it with salt should be enough for you to know it belongs in your kitchen. So go buy some pepper, the kind that comes whole in its own grinder will give you the best flavor and longest shelf life.
CLOVES: Cloves are aromatic dried flowers, originally from the Bandas Islands (remember them?). In 1770 a Frenchman named Poivre stole a number of clove seedling which he then transferred to Zanzibar. Zanzibar is currently the largest producer of cloves in the world. Cloves are an interesting spice as they are one of only two widely used seasonings to contain a topical analgesic (the other one is tarragon). Cloves are also so heavily flavored that only a very small amount (a modicum?) is required for cooking. Cloves have always paired well with sweet flavors, and cloves are the ingredient that makes spiced cider, and spiced chai, “spiced.” Cloves also mix well with some unexpected foods like onions, pepper, and red wine. I would prefer you buy whole cloves and grind them to order, but I feel like that’s asking a lot, so just promise me you’ll buy it in glass jars and I’ll be able to sleep at night.