Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.

All About Ginger

by Sandra Bowens

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You are probably aware that most herbs and spices were used for medicinal purposes long before they became culinary seasonings. But, did you know that they were often used for currency as well? For instance, a pound of ginger would buy you a sheep in the Middle Ages.

 

Ginger was probably the first of the valuable Oriental spices to be introduced to Europe because it could be carried as a living plant on the ships that sailed from the Far East. Cultivated for more than 3000 years, this pungent spice was transported in pots and sold fresh because it is the root that is used. Ginger is a rhizome. That is, it grows underground as a thick, tuberous stem bearing both roots and shoots for a showy flowering plant.

 

About nine months after planting, the rhizomes are carefully dug up with a hoe. Referred to as “hands,” they are cleaned, scraped and boiled, then peeled and dried in the sun for about a week. India is the largest producer of ginger but the highest quality spice comes from Jamaica. Low-grade ginger from countries like Haiti, Nigeria and Taiwan is sold unpeeled and ground, used for beer and ginger ale, or distilled to oil for use in toiletries and for flavoring foods. Of the 20,000 tons of dried ginger produced annually, the United States imports nearly one tenth of it, or 2000 tons.

 

Sometimes referred to as the spice lovers spice, ginger is hot and sweet at the same time. It is available in powdered form on the spice shelves of any supermarket or fresh from the produce department, where it is sold as hands. The two are not interchangeable, however, and should not be substituted for one another. Ground ginger is a natural in baked goods but do not overlook it then cooking savory foods such as pork or whole grains. When shopping for fresh ginger, look for hands that appear smooth, breaking off what you need at the notches that could be called knuckles. Peel only the amount you need and grate or chop very fine just before using in a recipe. Store any extra, unwrapped, in the crisping drawer of the refrigerator.

 

 

Orange Gingerbread

 

1/2 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup molasses

2 Tablespoons minced orange zest

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1/2 cup milk

 

Orange Sauce (recipe follows)

 

1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter an 11x9 inch baking pan.

 

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well. Beat in molasses and orange zest.

 

Combine flour, ginger, baking soda, salt and cinnamon on a sheet of waxed paper. Combine orange juice and milk. Add alternately to the butter and egg mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula.

 

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until center springs back when lightly touched. Cool at least 10 minutes before cutting into 15 squares.

 

To serve, spoon 2-3 Tablespoons of the Orange Sauce onto a dessert plate. Place a square of gingerbread in center of plate and top with a dollop of whipped cream.

 

Orange Sauce

 

4 Tablespoons butter

3 Tablespoons packed brown sugar

2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup water

 

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a full boil, stirring until butter melts. Reduce heat to medium high and continue to boil until mixture thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.

 

Makes 1 cup sauce

 

 

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