For eons, foodlore (food ways and customs) has long been one of the ways people have had to share important information about how to grow, harvest, present and preserve the food that sustained them and their livestock. This food knowledge based upon belief and experience not only guided them in their relationship with the natural world but also with each other.
Life cycles were marked by passages, such as birth, courtships, weddings, and more. Food was (and still is) often at the center of these celebrations and milestones.
With the approach of winter and upcoming holiday gatherings, there is a cornucopia of food lore and wisdom about a vast array of foods, including spices. One of the season's most versatile and common spice is cinnamon which is steeped in foodlore.
Dating back to 2800 B.C. Chinese records, cinnamon has long been a highly desired and fragrant commodity. As continents became connected, this aromatic spice made its way from Sri Lanka to the United States where it has become an important holiday flavor.
Cinnamon's botanical name is from the Hebraic and Arabic term amomon, which means fragrant spice plant. Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in their embalming process.
Medieval physicians used cinnamon in medicines to treat coughing and sore throats. In Ancient Rome, cinnamon was used during funeral processions. In 65 AD, Roman Emperor Nero burned a year's supply of prized cinnamon at his second wife Poppaea Sabina's funeral in order to show the depth of his grief and remorse for having murdered her.
In the 17th century, the Dutch learned the source of cinnamon on the coast of India. It was believed that they bribed and threatened the local king into destroying it to preserve keep their monopoly on this valuable spice.
By the 19 century that monopoly began to crumble. It was discovered that cinnamon could easily be grown in places like Java and Sumatra. Today can also be cultivated in South America, the West Indies, and other tropical climates.
Whether used in stick form or as powder, cinnamon has had a prosperous past. Our use of it in gingerbread and cinnamon rolls helps it retain its place in winter's cornucopia of edible (and tasty) spices.
Karen Pierce Gonzalez is the author of the newly released Black Pepper Visions: Original Folktales & Stories You Can Eat and Family Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories workbook. An award winning writer and member of the Western States Folklore Society, she has also written Family Folktales: What Are Yours? Details: FolkHeart Press or Black Pepper Visions.