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Gardener's Notebook: The flavours of the season

What is cinnamon?
cinnamon
Cinnamon is a popular flavour of the holiday season.
YORKTON - Imagine that, gardeners! It seems we just finished yard clean-up not that long ago, and now we are one month away from Christmas!

At approximately 9:59 am on December 21, we’ll be having the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. It’s not that far away, and after that, the days will begin to get longer again. Yes, gardeners are always optimistic and looking ahead!

But more about that later. Right now, let’s make a cup of tea and chat about the flavours of Christmas. What would you say are your favourite holiday flavours?

One that comes to mind quickly is cinnamon. One whiff of this fragrant spice and I’m back in Mom’s cozy kitchen, waiting eagerly for the next delicious item of her wonderful baking to come out of the oven! Holiday treats included melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon buns, and those amazing scuffles, all perfumed with cinnamon.

So what is cinnamon? It’s the inner bark of a tree in the cinnamomum family, which is part of the laurel family, but it is a plant that has been around for thousands of years and has a mysterious and marvellous history. Cinnamon goes back to at least 2000BC, when it was traded in Egypt. Cinnamon was considered such an important spice that for hundreds of years, those in the spice trade didn’t even let on where it actually came from. It was a closely guarded secret. And imagine, it was considered more important than jewels or gold!

When it began to become known in various parts of the world, it was still a pricey spice, and tall tales were even spoken about it to raise the prices even higher…tales of pure fiction like the one that said cinnamon came from the nests of cinnamon birds, or was brought up in fishing nets in the Nile.

Cinnamon, so greatly valued, was also part of funeral rituals and embalming among the ancient royal kingdoms. It is said that Nero burned vast quantities of the fragrant spice, like incense, when his wife passed away.

Most of the world’s cinnamon is grown in Indonesia and China. If we could see a cinnamon planting, we would see trees with oval-shaped leaves. The plant likes moist, well-drained soil. The trees are cut to ground level, and new shoots come forth. When the stems are being processed for their bark, the outer layer is taken off, and the inner bark is harvested. Once it is dry, it is cut into the cinnamon we recognize as cinnamon sticks, or ground into cinnamon powder.

Cinnamon is a very versatile spice, one that we can use in sweet dishes like cinnamon buns, cookies or apple pies…and we can also use it in savoury treats like butter chicken, baked squash, or rice dishes. And of course it is a tasty ingredient in beverages like apple cider, hot chocolate, or mulled wine at the holidays.

There is also much information out there about the medicinal properties of cinnamon.

And for crafters, we can use cinnamon when we make pomanders or sachets at Christmas.

Versatile, fragrant, delicious: that’s cinnamon! I read a quote “Nothing brings to life again a forgotten memory like fragrance.” So true! Cinnamon, to me, brings back the precious memories of Mom’s baking, her warm kitchen, pots of hot tea, endless wonderful conversation, laughter and special times.

See what’s new with the Yorkton and District Horticultural Society by visiting us at www.yorktonhort.ca Thank you to YTW for their great work; have a lovely week.