An Apothecary of Spices

Not long ago, our friend, Forest, invited us for dinner at his jewel-box of an apartment in Chelsea. Forest is a designer who has helped me immensely with this blog, and we seem to  share the same inclination to put things into containers.  He lives in a studio where space is minimal, but when you are there, it feels big and comfortable.  Why? Because everything in it has a purpose – either that of use or beauty.  Perfectly edited.  But my favorite feature is his lovely collection of jars and containers used to house his herbs and spices.

For some time, Forest has been collecting old apothecary jars, antique beakers, and random glass containers to house his herbs and spices.  At first glance, the collection appears to be haphazard, but it is connected by an underlying structure of criteria: each container must be of glass and have either a cork, glass or metal cap, and they are all unified by the same label that he creates himself on a color laser printer – after that, anything is possible.  When you open his kitchen cabinet, the effect is that of visiting a 19th-century apothecary, connecting you to a time when spices were used just as much for their medicinal qualities as they were for food preparation.  There is something about putting things into special bottles that imbues them with an almost magical quality – elevating cooking to the level of alchemy.

I wanted to feature Forest’s spice cabinet for a couple of reasons: on a practical level, it is a beautiful way to organize something mundane and I am  reminded of how much the collection and display of everyday objects is somehow so appealing (see A collection a Day or Things Organized Neatly, for evidence).  Taking ordinary household spices out of their containers highlights just how un-ordinary they really are.  The spice trade has profoundly affected human history, yet I know next to nothing about it.  To correct this, I have picked up a copy of, Spice: The History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner, which is one of several books out there on this subject.  I foresee future posts on this topic as I learn more about what’s in my kitchen cabinets. I think a trip to Kalustyan’s is in order, too.

As appealing as I find Forest’s Apothecary, my spice line up is pretty basic: some jars on a rack on a wall.

Although I would love to start collecting extraordinary jars, I think I might need to start with a simpler solution. How do you organize your spices? I found this roundup of ideas on Apartment Therapy, but would love to find more.

Further Reading:

  1. Andrew Dalby, Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices, 1st ed. (University of California Press, 2002).
  2. Giles Milton, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: Or the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History (Penguin (Non-Classics), 2000).
  3. Professor Paul Freedman, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (Yale University Press, 2009).
  4. Jack Turner, Spice: The History of a Temptation (Vintage, 2005).
  5. Fred Czarra, Spices (Reaktion Books, 2009).
  6. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants (Vintage, 1993).
  7. Charles Corn, The Scents of Eden: A History of the Spice Trade, 1st ed. (Kodansha America, 1999).
  8. John Keay,The Spice Route: A History, 1st ed. (University of California Press, 2007).
  9. Michael Krondl, The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice, Reprint. (Ballantine Books, 2008).

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