Spicing It Up

17 Jun

The last two How to Cook a Wolf recipes I’ve tried have relied heavily on spices for flavoring or masking other flavors (bacon grease anyone?). So, what about spice availability at the time of the book’s publication?

1943 McCormick Ad

This ad for McCormick spice appeared in the Nov. 29, 1943 Pittsburgh Press. Image from Google Books.

With the majority of the spice islands under Japanese control by early 1942 and major interruptions in shipping due to enemy activity or ships allocated to other uses than carrying spices, it was harder to get these important flavorings to America. To stretch out supplies, on May 8, 1942 the War Production Board put restrictions on wholesale delivery of seven spices. They weren’t rationed per se but it was estimated that the restrictions would cut retail sales by 50%.

Spice Ad, 1919

A 1919 ad shows the long-time importance of products from the Dutch East Indies to US interests. From Simmons Spice Mill, July 1919 via Google Books.

The restricted spices were white pepper, allspice (often known as pimento), cinnamon (usually cassia, instead), cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and mace. Black pepper wasn’t restricted because there was supposedly a two-year supply already in the US but its delivery was “rolled-back” to 1941 rates.

I found great spice statistics from a publication compiled by the US Census Bureau called Foreign Commerce and Navigation of the United States for the Calendar Year 1940. All of the numbers detailed below are from that publication.

US Department of Commerce Foreign Commerce and Navigation of the United States, 1940

From Foreign Commerce and Navigation of the United States, 1940 via Google Books

In the 1940 calendar year–the last full year before the US joined in combat–the US imported a total of 1,471,316 lbs of unground cinnamon. Most of that came from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) but other major producers were British India, British Malaya (now part of Malaysia), the Netherlands Indies (aka the Dutch East Indies and now Indonesia), and Madagascar. The US was actually importing more cassia than cinnamon and the majority of unground cassia imports (totaling 12,021,435 lbs) came from China and the Netherlands Indies. Other major producers were French Indochina and Hong Kong.

5,431,333 pounds of unground cloves were imported into the US in 1940. Most of that came from British East Africa (Zanzibar, mainly) with the Netherlands Indies and Madagascar making up the majority of the remainder.

Of unground nutmeg there were 6,402,683 lbs imported into the US–most from the British West Indies (including Trinidad and Tobago) and the Netherlands Indies. Another big supplier was British India.

1,215,956 pounds of unground mace arrived in the United States with 1,174,374 lbs of that from the Netherlands Indies and the remainder coming from the British West Indies including Trinidad and Tobago.

White pepper imports totalled 4,970,931 lbs with well over 4 million of those pounds from (you guessed it!) the Netherlands Indies. The negligible remainder was from British Malaya, the UK, and Ecuador. By comparison, 15,836,959 pounds of black pepper was imported during the same period. The vast majority of that also came from the Netherland Indies.

2,889,541 pounds of unground ginger root (not candied or preserved) came into the US as well. China and Jamaica were the biggest producers but Cuba, British India, Hong Kong, Japan, Haiti, and British West Africa also played their part.

2,606,501 pounds of allspice (aka pimento) arrived in the US in 1940. It came from Jamaica, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Yep, most of those countries were occupied or unable to ship spices anymore. If they could ship, there were torpedoes.

I’m all for a locavore diet for most things but I prefer to have my chocolate (but that’s another post) and my spices if at all possible. Those don’t grow around here. And, in 1942 and 1943, certainly, an herb garden for flavoring must have grown in importance with fears that the war would limit deliveries of spices for an unknown period. Who wants to eat bland food?

Herb Garden

Image from the May 15, 1942 Spartanburg Herald via Google Books.

As it turns out, spices were usually available for the home kitchen–probably because a lot of use can be had from a relatively small volume–but for industry it was another story. Delivery quotas changed frequently.  And, the chemists got busy formulating extracts and imitation flavors to keep American palates happy (more on that later).


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