Spice up your life with cinnamon in all sorts of dishes
A slice of cinnamon toast each morning could be good for
us, says Sybil Norcott, who recalls the health promoting
properties of this spice as well as its culinary uses
THE Taj Mahal may not have existed without cinnamon. The Mogul Emperor of India Shah Jehan had among his many wives, a favourite who knew the secrets of cinnamons aphrodisiac and aromatic powers. When she died he was heartbroken and built the Taj Mahal at Aggra to be a lasting memory. But maybe that is just a romantic tale about one of the wonders of the world.
The laurel-like bush of the cinnamon provides the cook with its pleasant spicy flavour and aroma in the form of powder or sticks, and the concentrate of leaves and softer, inner bark is distilled to produce an oil used in perfume, soaps and make-up. Many beauty products would be lost without the addition of cinnamon. Some lipsticks are even flavoured with the spice. Take care here for, like nuts, about 5% of the population is allergic to its aromatic oils.
When cinnamon was first easily available in Europe – in the early 17th century – it was mainly used for medicinal purposes. Today scientists have discovered its anti-viral and anti-fungal properties but we have virtually abandoned its natural medicinal powers. Herbalist shops used to advise it as a cure for cramp, chills, dysentery, relief of abdominal spasms, nausea, mucus congestion, an aid to circulation of the blood and even a remedy for diarrhoea.
I remember as a child one of Old Pollys more pleasing anti-flu remedies was based on cinnamon – one which we took willingly.
Used in cooking, the thin, curled, paper-like slices of dried bark, rolled into sticks marry so well with sweet pickled pears and apples and can be removed after cooking, whereas powdered cinnamon flavouring creates a cloudy vinegar. An ingredient of garam marsala and Chinese five spice, cinnamon can be used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes.
Looking through Old Pollys tatty, hand-written recipe book, I found some of her more pleasant remedies connected with cinnamon. The approach of winter was perhaps the only time she was extravagant enough to buy a bottle of brandy. She would add 50g (2oz) of true, freshly bought cinnamon bark and allow that to stand, giving it the occasional shake, for about a fortnight. The bark was then removed and the bottle labelled "Cold Cure". Her recommended dose was two tablespoons in two teaspoons of water every half hour at the first sign of a temperature. After two hours take the same dose hourly.
* Home-brewed wine
Her pick-you-up tonic was made with home-brewed sweet wine to which she again added the cinnamon bark and three sprigs of fresh mint. A litre bottle of commercial sweet white wine is just as good. Allow to infuse for 3-4 days. It would be better to strain and re-bottle the wine but I seem to remember Polly extracting the mint stalks with a meat skewer!
The instructions were to take a little glass when feeling low. She considered it to have a calming effect on nerves, to help the digestive system and to relieve tension in tired muscles.
To relieve diarrhoea a stick of cinnamon and a teaspoon of honey were placed to each cup of milk before bringing to the boil then allowing to simmer for a few minutes.
Banana and date teabread
500g (1lb) bananas
75g (3oz) chopped dates
225g (8oz) wholemeal flour
2 level teaspoons
1/2 level teaspoon
1/4 level teaspoon
bicarbonate of soda
Good pinch of salt
100g (4oz) margarine
150g (6oz) soft brown sugar
Peel and mash the bananas, add the lemon juice, rind and dates. Mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, soda, and salt together. Cream the margarine and sugar, beating in the eggs one by one. Mix in the banana and date mixture. Fold in the flour etc. Put into a prepared 1kg (2lb) loaf tin. Level the surface. Bake in moderate oven 180íC (350íC, Gas 4) for approximately 1 hour or until the skewer is clean when the loaf is tested. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before turning out onto a tea-towel covered cooling rack. Serve sliced and buttered when cold.
Apple and prune loaf
1 large apple, peeled,
cored and diced
1 cup chopped prunes
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup soft brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon boiling water
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
2 eggs, beaten
11/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon powdered
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Mix together the prunes, apple, nuts and sugar. Melt the butter and while hot add the honey. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the boiling water and blend into the butter and honey mixture. Add beaten eggs and pour this over the fruit and sugar. Sift the dry ingredients together then stir into the mixture. Place in a loaf tin and bake in a moderate oven 180íC (350íF, Gas 4) for at least 1 hour. If cinnamon is a favourite spice add 1/4 teaspoon to a good teaspoon of white sugar and sprinkle over the loaf before baking.
Sweet pickled pears
Use with cold meats,
1kg (2lb) sugar
600ml (1 pint)
2 sticks cinnamon
peeled zest of 1 lemon
2kg (4lb) pears, cooking or under ripe dessert
Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar over a low heat, stirring while adding the cinnamon sticks and lemon peel.
Peel, core and quarter the pears, place in the vinegar and simmer until tender. Lift out the pears and pack into warm preserving jars or good jam jars that have a vinegar resistant screw on lid. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon peel from the vinegar syrup and bring it to the boil for several minutes until it is reduced and of a thicker consistency. Pour the hot syrup into the jars, covering the pear pieces. Remove any air bubbles with a stainless steel skewer and seal with lid while hot. Will keep for winter use.
75g (3oz) butter
1 level teaspoon powdered
2 level teaspoons
Mash the butter then blend in the cinnamon and the icing sugar. Serve with hot toast or teacakes.
Cinnamon and whisky
1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup milk
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 cup whisky
Whisk half the sugar with the egg yolks until thick and creamy. In a heavy based pan, pour the milk, add the remaining sugar and cinnamon stick. Over a very gentle heat, stir until just simmering. Slowly, while stirring, pour the milk over the egg yolks. Return to the pan and cook over a very low heat until the mixture thickens to coat the wooden spoon. The mixture must not boil or even simmer otherwise it will curdle. Pour into a serving dish to cool. Remove the cinnamon stick and stir in the whisky before serving.
Note. Never use an aluminium pan as it will discolour the custard.