Allspice This is not, as you might be forgiven for thinking, a mixture of spices, but a dried berry which is supposed to combine the flavour of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It grows in the West Indies. It can be used whole to flavour boiled meats or when marinading fish or in making i2ickles. In its powdered form it can be added to cakes, mincemeat and Christmas pudding.
CinnamonA much-neglected spice, in my opinion. Subtler than ginger, it can often replace it to advantage in cakes, for instance, particularly those using black treacle, and it is really far pleasanter sprinkled on fresh melon than the powdered ginger which so often burns the tongue. It is the bark of a type of laurel tree which grows in the Far East. It comes in stick or powdered form, and is useful in flavouring hot drinks (milk stirred with a cinnamon stick is delicious), punches, creams, custards, cakes and pear and apple dishes. It is also used in pickles and chutneys. My mother used to make a delicious cinnamon sponge cake, based on a Victoria sponge recipe.
ClovesOne of the most aromatic spices, and needs to be used sparingly. I once encountered an apple pie in which there were so many cloves that I can only imagine that the inexperienced cook had flung in a fistful. Never a dedicated clove-fancier, that traumatic experience has put me off cloves for life, but used correctly they can provide a pleasant flavour to both sweet and savoury dishes. They are the dried buds of a type of tropical myrtle, and the name derives from the Latin clavus meaning nail, referring to its shape. They can be used for marinades of meat and game, stuck in an onion for meat stews, in pickles and curries, as well as in apple pies, puddings and cakes. In their ground form, for the last two, of course.
GingerOne of the most useful and popular spices, it comes from the East Indies and Jamaica. In cooking it is usually used in its powdered form, although the addition of a little finely-chopped preserved ginger to gingerbread or ginger pudding makes both more delectable. It is used in the pickling of fruit and preserves, adds a tang to such jams as rhubarb, and to marmalade. You will find a reliable recipe for gingerbread and one for ginger nuts in the Cakes section. Did you know that years ago ginger nuts were rolled into little balls the size of a walnut, and then baked? That is how the name came into being.
MaceThis can be bought in ground or blade form. It is the outer covering of the nutmeg, but is much milder in taste. It is useful for pates and stuffings and some meat dishes. It can be used, instead of nutmeg, to flavour mashed potato, and it is one of the ingredients of pickles and chutneys.
Nutmeg'Hard aromatic spheroidal seed got from fruit of evergreen E-Indian tree,' says the Concise Oxford Dictionary. It deserves its popularity in the kitchen for it blends well with so many dishes, notably egg, those made of minced meat, creamed and mashed potatoes, as well as flavouring milk puddings, hot milk and spiced drinks, cakes, biscuits and puddings.
Pepper - Black - White - Cayenne - Paprika - JamaicaThere are many varieties of this most useful Spice. Black peppercorns, freshly ground, are milder in taste than white and are the best to use in the kitchen. White pepper is much hotter, and should be used sparingly. Remember that pepper, when ground, loses some of its flavour. Cayenne pepper is very hot indeed. Paprika is much less pungent than cayenne and comes from Hungary. It is useful not only in such dishes as pates, but because of its mild nature is useful for sprinkling on canapes, on cream cheese, white soups, etc., where its bright red colour shows to advantage. Jamaica pepper is the name once used for the spice we now term allspice, mentioned first in this list.
VanillaThis is the fruit of a tropical orchid and has been popular as a flavouring for centuries. It came originally from Mexico. Most kitchens have little bottle of essence of vanilla and a drop or two of this concentrated form adds attraction to creams, chocolate dishes, souffles, puddings and cakes. The flavour is even better, I think, if a dried vanilla pod is kept permanently in a screw-top jar full of caster sugar, and this scented and flavoured sugar is used in the cooking of the above mentioned dishes. Any good grocer has these long dark dried pods, nicely corked in long tubular glass containers. The sugar jar can be topped up again after use, and the vanilla pods will be a real investment for many months.