- The fruit of a large bush that grows wild in the Cardamom Hills in southern India, cardamom is cultivated in Tanzania, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea -- and Guatemala, which is the world's largest exporter.
- Traders carried cardamom along the spice routes from India. The Vikings brought it from Constantinople to Scandinavia, where it's still popular, but used almost exclusively in baking. (I can't quite picture a Viking baker. Can you?)
- Cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice, after saffron and vanilla, because it too must be harvested by hand, when the pods are only three-quarters ripe, or the pods will split open and spill their seeds.
- The paler the green husk, the older the 15-20 small, dark brown seeds inside. The seeds should be sticky; if they aren't sticky, they aren't fresh.
- From ancient Rome, three facts about cardamom that might be related: it was used in perfume-making, as an aphrodisiac, and to cure bad breath.
- In India, cardamom often flavors tea; in Arab cultures, it flavors coffee. Bedouins will first show the cardamom pods to their guests, as a sign of respect, before pouring coffee over them (the pods, not the guests).
- Two popular spice blends -- Ethiopian berbere and Syrian baharat -- often include cardamom. Many curry powders and masalas do, too.
- The warm, musky overtones and lemon undertones of cardamom combine well with sweets (baked apples, fruit salads) or savories (duck, chicken, mulled wine, sweet potatoes, lentils).
- As with most spices, you want to buy whole rather than ground. But I like the convenience of having all three forms of cardamom -- green pods, seeds, and ground seeds -- on hand. Be sure to buy from a reputable spice vendor, so you know that the ground cardamom you get is pure. Ten green cardamom pods equals approximately 1-1/2 teaspoons of ground cardamom.
- Ssshhh... it's the secret ingredient in Swedish meatballs.
Finnish pulla bread (made in the bread machine)
This recipe, and the beautiful loaf of pulla, was given to me by Patti Folsom, assistant librarian at the Harmony Library in our town. Patti got the recipe from the late Mim Pellinen, who was an integral member of the Finnish American Heritage Society in Canterbury, CT, and the bread machine adaptation from Mary Ellen Harmon. Now, if you can't trust a librarian to find a great recipe, who can you trust? Makes 2 loaves.
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 stick butter, minus one tablespoon
1 heaping tsp ground cardamom (more or less, to taste)
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups flour (preferably King Arthur)
2 tsp yeast (not rapid-rise type)
Beat eggs with sugar. In a small saucepan (or in the microwave), warm the milk, and melt the butter in the warm milk. Add cardamom, vanilla and salt. Mix above ingredients until well blended and pour liquids in bottom of the bread machine pan. (Note: Follow your individual bread machine instructions as to adding ingredients. But do not mix salt with yeast. Salt will negate the action of the yeast.)
Add the flour, make a small dent in flour and place yeast in dent. Set machine on dough setting.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
When cycle is finished, remove dough and cut into two pieces. Cut each of the two pieces into three pieces for braids. Braid dough and shape. Let rise until about double.
Mary Ellen's note: I brush on Eggbeaters and sprinkle with coarse sugar. (My note: make an egg wash by beating one egg with one teaspoon of water. Brush on, then sprinkle with sugar.)
Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until bread has risen and the loaves are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
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