Which spice and herb reference book.

BellsmomApril 8, 2014

I would like a spice and herb reference to replace an old paperback. After reading pretty widely, two intrigue me:

Herbs & Spices, by Jill Norman
The Spice Bible, by Jane Lawson

Our library has neither of these. Each is available at Amazon for about $16 including shipping.

Do you know either or both of these? Can you recommend one of these over the other or another title?

Or for that matter is there a web site that I should look at?

Here is a link that might be useful: Both books show up on this Amazon search page

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I just ordered the Jill Norman book the other day because I liked how well it related to what's happening in my garden. Especially the pictures. It should be here later today if you want a first open review.

I can't find my old spice book (Not Old Spice (smells like Dad) but old book)! My old herb books (Modern Herbal, Herb Bible, etc.) are mostly irrelevant, so I'm looking forward to the new book. :)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 2:23PM
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Yep, I surely do want a first-open review of the Norman book.
We have a great herb nursery near us, but unfortunately for me, I have herbivores who take the term literally. One of them I knew would be a problem--the blasted deer which eat everything except hellebores and daffodills.
So I decided to make two very large plant boxes on my deck last summer and grow herbs. there. And discovered my big 'doodle is an herbivore, too. She grazed every one of them off to stubs!
This summer I'm going to see if I can balance my planter boxes on top of the 2 X 6 rail around the deck. Belle is big, but I don't think she can reach into a 12" high box on a 3' high rail.
I hope.
Anyway, I really liked both of the books. I vacillate between which one to order--or which one to order FIRST!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 5:07PM
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Are you looking for a culinary reference? Otherwise, I highly recommendRodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 6:15PM
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Thank you, lpinkmountain, for the reference. I will check it out, but I misdirected by talking about raising herbs.

Yes, Right now I am really looking for a culinary reference. What to use when and where in cooking. AKA what to buy on my next trip to Penzey's or what to grow in my planters if I can protect them from the family beastie.

Thieneman's Herbs and Perennials Garden Center in Louisville is my horticultural reference. I remember the first time I gaped at the number of basils, thymes and sages and such that they grow.

Here's a link to their website if you live anywhere near Louisville, Ky, and grow herbs.

Meanwhile I am trying to decide whether to buy one or the other or both or neither of the books I listed at the beginning of this thread!

I think Thieneman's must have just re-organized their site for spring. Not all plants appear with complete info. But the pics ARE eye candy.

Here is a link that might be useful: Thieneman's Herb and Perennial Nursery

This post was edited by Bellsmom on Tue, Apr 8, 14 at 19:20

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 7:16PM
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Well, that book has culinary notes but also every other imaginable kind of note!

Also, don't forget about inter-library loan. Living in a small town, it is my lifeline! They are usually quite fast.

My best loved herbal cookbook is "The Herbal Pantry" by Emile Tolley, but all her books are out of print, so not timely. I didn't realize she had written a few other books too. That one is on drying, preserving and all kinds of herbal goodies. But looks like she has a cookbook too.

I occasionally used to buy issues of "The Herb Companion" magazine, which has lots of culinary ideas along with a lot of other stuff. Maybe you can check out some past issues. They featured a different culinary herb in each issue.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 8:16PM
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It didn't come today. :( My fault. I thought today was the 9th. Tomorrow for sure. I also have a couple of chatty Indian-ish cookbooks...what is the phrase? Near Asian? That doesn't sound right at all! From that region anyway. The thing about the chatty ones is you get all the enthusiams and folklores about the spices, besides how to handle them. But I'm in putting things away for the holiday mode, and I can't get at them.

Rule of thumb when cooking--look at it, smell it, taste it, feel it, and you'll usually be able to tell if it goes with what you're cooking. I've found great non-traditional (but I couldn't tell you now what they were) uses for fenugreek that way.

I don't need it now, and it doesn't work with stock (poultry or meat) based dishes, but when I was first cooking on my own and had strange roommates and lived in a small town in the middle of nowhere where there weren't any good options but 100% from scratch, I called turmuric my "yummifying agent". I was making a lot of vegetarian soups and stews (we had great produce, and it was price supported, so cheap). The recipes were mostly just made up--whatever I had. Sometimes they just didn't taste great. Add a bunch of turmeric and they were yummy! I don't know why. In a mixed up soup like that with lots of vegetable and herb flavors, it didn't really change the overall flavor profile. It didn't end up tasting like turmeric, even though it would turn a pleasant orange. But it was much yummier.

I don't know if that hint is in any book, so I thought I'd throw it out there. :)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 9:55PM
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Glad I'm not the only forgetful fenugreek owner! I bought some to make something, and by the time I got around to it, couldn't remember what I wanted to make. Duh! Something Indian. I'll get around to it.

RE: your suggesting to feel an herb, sniff it, taste it, feel it.

I liked a hint I read somewhere that suggested steeping an herb you are considering adding in a bit of hot water or liquid from the pot and smelling and tasting the brew. That is how some savory ended up in last night's bean soup.

I love the idea of turmeric as the "yummifying" agent. Thanks for the idea. I think I'll draw a smiley face on the turmeric jar label :-P (with the tongue up, not down!)

Did you also look at the Lawson book?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 10:34AM
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Rodale's is a good reference one to have. It was my first with its brother, the gardening guide.
It does cover uses as well as growing.
Not sure if one good source exists. Would like to see more in person but just would now rather spent that cash on the product....having just ordered again from MountainRose.
They have a decent brief of each herb and spice. Listed under each as 'contemporary info'.

Fenugreek is a historically significant spice, lending its flavor to dishes from Egypt to India and across the Middle East. Though best known in the United States for the flavor it imparts on traditional curry seasoning, fenugreek as a spice is much further reaching. The seeds are ground into powder and used to make flour, thicken stews, and add flavor to a wide variety of meat dishes. The powder has a sweet, nutty aroma, reminiscent of maple syrup, though the flavor itself is decidedly bitter. The seeds can be roasted as needed in order to cut the bitterness and bring some of the natural sugars to the surface...."

Here is a link that might be useful: MountainRose

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 12:37PM
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Sleevendog's summary reminded me, the fenugreek went into a sauce for something...but I still can't remember exactly what except I was feeding it to my parents. :) I have it on had for Middle Eastern dishes, but it went into something else... I remember what the mix tasted like but not what it was for! How weird!

Thanks for the tip about mixing with a sample the broth! That makes so much sense! I'm generally right when I assemble the flavors in my head, and usually just have to adjust intensity--probably an artifact of those days of wine and turmeric when I had dozens of bottles of herbs and spices and not much variation in what to use them on. I learned a lot by doing and one of my roommates would eat anything. :)

The cover of the Lawson book looks familiar, but I used to deal in STC books and it's their kind of cover, so that might not mean anything. STC are good books, but this sounds more like a pretty book (which they specialize in) than a tool. Probably lots of great pictures and white space. Likely quality in the text, but not comprehensiveness. More recipes than facts. But that's the height in judging a book by its cover (and publisher).

I was looking for a child's archery set when I found the Norman book. :) I choose to buy it specifically because of the way the pictures are composed. They look like the real thing. I have old fashioned botanical herb books that look nothing like my herb garden! I also liked how there were little sidebars about each plant talking about the different aspects of it on top of a big pictures of it growing. This seemed like a great browsing book to me. I'll let you know the reality of it when it arrives. :)

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 1:59PM
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Plllog, funny how we judge a book by its publisher. Interested by the original post, I looked at both books on Amazon. I saw DK was the publisher for Herbs and Spices so it wasn't likely to be something I'd like. They have a style of very pretty books with good pictures and splashes of information but pretty light on content.

The Flavor Bible looks interesting for finding what to combine. Has anyone used it? The reviews are very positive except the reviews of the Kindle version - like other books with tables, it seems they have done a bad job of translating from paper something that should be great for electronic media. I'm trying to limit buying paper books and use electronic wherever possible.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 3:06PM
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Yep! Pretty pictures and a little info is exactly what I needed. :) I have botanical herb books. I have gardening herb books. I have craft herb books. (Hazards of the book business.) From the Look Inside, I think this one is more an end user book.

I looked a little more on Amazon, and I think the spice book I can't find is The Complete Book of Spices, which is also by Jill Norman. I haven't seen my copy since my kitchen remodel so it may be hanging out with my missing grill press. :)

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 4:01PM
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Cloud Swift,
I recently bought the Flavor Bible. It is really different. I will use it frequently, I think. There is no index, but entries are in a single alphabetical order which lists seasonings and foods to be seasoned.

Here is my first real use of the book: a week or so ago I ordered a country ham and some bacon from Benton's Country Hams. I had the ham sliced at their suggestion and requested that all trimmings be sent with the order (which I was told they always do). I received three large packages of sliced country ham (which is delicious) and two packages of skin and bones. Two days ago, the bones started a slow simmer to make broth, and yesterday I made a lovely large pot of beans. Curious to know what to add besides the bay leaf and onion that had simmered with the bones, I checked Flavor Bible.

Under Navy and Pinto beans there were long lists of spices in regular print, indicating that a few consultant chefs recommended each; there were two or three in bold-face print, indicating that several recommended them, and three in all caps, indicating that many recommended SAVORY, ONION, and PARSLEY with these beans.

I checked under SAVORY which began with a brief discussion of characteristics (weight, volume, and Tips --the latter for savory are that it can stand up to cooking, and that summer and winter savory have different uses). Then, once again, a long list of companion spices and compatible foods with BEANS in capital letters.

So, I tried steeping a bit of savory in a bit of the hot broth and tasted it. Yep, it was a winner.

There are a few photos for "pretty," but not very many. The whole book, all nearly 400 pages, is this long A to W (no Y or Z) list. There is an introduction which I found interesting and will reread a few more times. There might be a recipe or two, but I haven't noticed them. There are occasional discussions of excellent combinations, but not recipes as such.

Hope this makes sense. Again, I think I will use this book often. Sorry this became so wordy.

This post was edited by Bellsmom on Thu, Apr 17, 14 at 8:42

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 4:40PM
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So here I am opening it, carefully, though with this kind of binding there isn't a worry about cracking the spine. :) This is a beautiful book and exactly what I wanted. herbs & spices
the cook's reference
Jill Norman

The page edges and backgrounds are different colors. I can't find a theme for the colorings, on first glance, and it may just be for pretty. The author talks about different definitions of spice by region and uses what she calls the European version (though it's what I've always used too) that herbs are called herbs whether fresh or dried, and the same for spices.

The very first one is parsley. She only has curly, flat leaf and root, and I have more kinds trying to die in the garden (I'm the only one I know who has trouble grown parsley but none growing roses and orchids), but that's what I like about the book. I can taste the difference between the different kinds of flat leaf parsley I have, but they're really nearly the same. Each large picture of the three forms gets a one paragraph description, takes about flavor and where it's from. There are a couple of paragraphs of culinary uses for the group, what kinds of things it goes in, how to prepare it, what it goes well with and what it's necessary for. There's a sidebar with a paragraph of "tasting notes", then "parts used", "buying and storing" and "grow your own" (which just talks about seeding and not why mine always wants to die...)

On the other hand, extra pages are devoted to multiple kinds of sage and thyme, for instance (those are very happy in my garden and thrilled to be in the book!).

This template is used for all the entries. They're written using lists of overlapping names and a point of view that straddles the Atlantic. My only quibble so far is that the author says that welsh onions (which have nothing to do with Wales which I learned from an article online) are different from scallions, but as far as I can tell she's the only one who thinks so...the Latin names are the same. So no matter how hard she has tried to cover global usage, I think it's an impossible task.

On the Rosemary page, since there aren't a bunch of alternate forms, she uses the facing page for a big picture and small paragraph on Herbes de Provence. Similarly, on the spice side, there are pictures of it ground and also of it in use, when there aren't a bunch of alternates to show.

There are pictorials on bruising, grating slicing and shredding spices, dry roasting and frying spices, grinding crushing and making spice pastes, and how to deal with fresh and dried chili peppers. On the herb side, there's stripping, chopping and pounding herbs, drying and rubbing herbs, and making vinegars, oils and butters

If I'd had this book three days ago I would have seen chives flowers before mine bloomed. :)

At the end are short chapters on herb mixtures, which are recipes bouquets garnis, pastes, seasoning mixes etc. Spice mixtures includes some curry pastes and powders, seven- and five-spice, masalas, ras el hanout etc., organized by region of origin. The Sauces and condiments chapter has everything from salsa verde to pesto to bearnaise, salsas, chutneys and sambals. The Marinades include dry adobo, and some other, more general flavors. The Soups and Light dishes have things like tarragon soup, fattoush and spring rolls. There are also a couple of pages each for fish, all meats, and vegetables, many leaning East, but some Western too. There's a pasta, noodles and grains section with some classics and a desserts and drinks page with some basics. There's an extensive bibliography, a couple pages of sources around the world, most UK, The Spice House (father of Penzey's) and several US live and dried herb purveyors, some Canadian and Australian, and a few other countries. Also a website (in French) for Middle Eastern herbs and spices. I haven't had it long enough to know if the index is good, but given the organization, it almost doesn't have to be.

Most of the pages are the two page layouts that I described above.

There isn't a lot of verbiage. This isn't a botanical or a gardening book. (Yeah!) What it is is a great reference for people who don't want to read through a whole big book to get a quick answer, who generally know how to cook and how to garden, and just want to look up the essentials. I didn't even know there was lemon myrtle! (It's Australian.) And the recipes are best for spice mixtures and least for complete dishes to make. Those, however, could be great jumping off points.

I love this book!! It's very easy to browse, and will be easy to use, and it's SO PRETTY! and it says just what I want to know without wasting my time with excess and has big, delicious photographs, instead of tight little drawings and parsimonious crowded snapshots. This one is getting shelf space in the kitchen. :)

edit: words left out about Spice House founder above. The Spice House was founded as bricks and mortar by Penzey Sr. Penzey's was started later as a catalog business by Penzey Jr., and has become a larger chain of bricks and mortar. Both have (crummy) web sites, though Spice House is much better. Spice house has more variety. Penzey's probably makes more money by limiting. Personal opinion. YMMV.

This post was edited by plllog on Thu, Apr 10, 14 at 0:22

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 9:31PM
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Thank you!--I think!
Norman's book comes to my house.
Right now I lust for pretty--hellebores and daffodils are blooming, but the world is sodden black/brown otherwise.
Green--I want green!

This post was edited by Bellsmom on Thu, Apr 10, 14 at 17:02

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 10:11PM
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I just caught your edit above. Thanks for mentioning Spice House. Since Penzey's now has a store near me, I had forgotten about visiting Spice House on line. I'll check it out later.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 4:32PM
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