Many of our holiday offerings include cinnamon. Cinnamon is traditionally used in winter cooking, like pumpkin pie, snickerdoodles, and gingerbread. Why cinnamon?
The Botany of Cinnamon
If you want to – skip this section and go to the recipe. But because I, Jacqueline Soule, am an ethnobotanist, and I am fascinated by human uses of plants, I present some of the interesting history of this spice.
The word “cinnamon” is directly from Hebrew. In the Old Testament “kinamon” is mentioned in the same context as the treasures of gold, silver, myrrh, and frankincense. In those long ago days, the rolled “sticks” of cinnamon bark came overland from the rain forests of (current day) Sri Lanka on the backs of beasts of burden such as elephants, dromedaries, and camels. Cinnamon was treasured and one of the spices that spurred world exploration.
The spice itself comes from the inner bark of an evergreen rain forest tree which is now grown in large plantations. The bark is carefully harvested so harvest will not kill the tree. As the bark dries it curls into “sticks” or “quills,” which are used whole or ground. Meanwhile, leftover parts and pruned branches are used to make the essential oil sold as “Cinnamon Oil.”
There are numerous species of cinnamon. The most popular for culinary use is the pungent and slightly sweet Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamonum zeylanicum). For fragrance, “Cassia Oil” comes from Cinnamonum cassia. Incidently, the immature fruits, called cassia buds, are used as a spice. Camphor from Cinnamonum camphora was once one of the raw materials in the manufacture of celluloid – the stuff films and ping pong balls were made from. Now camphor is primarily used medicinally.
Southwest Cinnamon Cocoa
Growing up in the Southwest, our hot cocoa always had a sprinkle of cinnamon in it, a legacy of our New Spain heritage. I remember the first time I encountered “American Cocoa” made with tons of sugar and marshmallows. I was eight years old and I thought it way too sweet. This from the kid that would eat Duche de Leche – which is pretty dang sweet. I prefer a nice “Mexican Cocoa,” and part of what makes it so good is the cinnamon.
Homemade Mexican Cocoa Mix
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup chopped Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra)
1 cup powdered creamer
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon – the fresher the better
Blend this together well and store in a quart jar.
To make the cocoa, place 1/3 cup of mix in a mug and stir in 1 cup boiling water.
This can make a nice gift – place in a quart canning jar with a few whole sticks of cinnamon around the inside. Those cinnamon sticks are great for stirring the cocoa with, and can be nibbled on for hours. Avoid excessive cinnamon stick consumption however, it can have a laxative effect.
Optional: Leave out the powdered creamer and make this with milk or half and half instead of water.
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More fun with Monica in: Using Honey in New & Savory Ways (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). Only $7 online – or buy from Monica or Jacqueline in person. This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies at no additional cost to you.
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