Monday, February 20, 2012

Cinnamon Day.

If I were forced to choose only one spice, I would find the decision almost impossible. I might change my choice later today, or tomorrow, but right this minute my choice would be cinnamon. I think I would choose it on the basis of its fragrance alone. Or maybe on account of its incredible versatility.

Cinnamon is the inner bark of an evergreen tree from the Laurel family, Cinnamomum zeylanicum. It has been known to humans for millennia, and is one of the spices mentioned in the Old Testament. Details of the early history are lost in those famous Mists of Antiquity, but experts seem to agree that it is native to Sri Lanka. Many millennia of use by humans, and the universal appeal of its flavour and aroma, have resulted in a generous legacy of recipes - both sweet and savoury - for cinnamon.

Perhaps I would choose cinnamon on account of cinnamon toast, which is ‘buttered toast spread with a mix of sugar and cinnamon.’ This is the definition given by the Oxford English Dictionary, and with which I agree. I am a little surprised however, that the earliest date of reference to ‘cinnamon toast’ given in the OED is in 1927.

Pushing his plate of cinnamon toast to one side, he jotted them down on the back of an envelope.
M. de la Roche Jalna ix. 103  (1927)

I feel sure that cinnamon toast must have been around long before the 1920’s, given the great creativity which the British in particular give to variations on the theme of toast (a number of which have featured in previous blog posts), and the universal popularity of the sweet spice. I am adding to my list of mini-projects a search for earlier mentions of the little treat, and hope you will join me in this little research adventure.

Now for the recipe for the day. I am one whom, when it comes to spices, does not believe in a minimalist approach. I am prone to doubling the quantity of my favourites, and to hell with the instructions of the original recipe writer. I have chosen for you today two recipes in which the spice of the day is unequivocally the star.
Cinnamon Bread.
On a bread- baking day (having made more than your usual quantity of wheat bread,) when the dough has risen quite light, and is cracked all over the surface, take out as much as will weigh two pounds. Mix into it a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, that has been cut up and melted in half a pint of milk; and also three beaten eggs. Incorporate the butter milk, and eggs thoroughly with the dough, and then add ( dissolved in a little tepid water) a salt- spoonful (not more) of soda. Have ready mixed in a bowl a pint of brown sugar, moistened with fresh butter, so as to make a stiff paste, and flavor it with
two heaped table-spoonfuls of powdered cinnamon. Form the cake into the shape of a round loaf, and make deep incisions or cuts all over its surface; filling them with the cinnamon mixture pressed hard into thee cuts, pinching and closing the dough over them with your thumb and finger to prevent the seasoning running out. Put the loaf into a round pan, and set it into the oven to bake with the other bread. When cool, glaze it over with white of egg, in which some powdered sugar has been dissolved. Send it to table whole in form, but cut in loose slices. Eat it fresh, all yeast cakes become dry and hard the next day.
Miss Leslie's New Cookbook (1857)

Cinnamon Pie.
One pound of brown sugar, two ounces of cinnamon, a half cupful butter; divide in three parts; mix two eggs and one and a half cupfuls milk together; for the crust take four cupfuls flour, one and half cupfuls lard or butter, two heaping teaspoonfuls baking powder, and salt to taste; mix with milk sufficient to make a soft dough; divide in three parts and roll thin. Put one layer of crust in a deep pie dish and cover it with sugar, then cinnamon, and small pieces of butter, then wet with the mixture of milk and egg, saving enough for the other two parts; lay the second and third crusts on and do the same as with the first; there should be no crust on top. Bake in a quick oven.
New York Times, December 31, 1876
Quotation for the Day.

While he forth from his closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon.
John Keats.


em said...


Cut stale bread into thin slices, remove crusts, and cut in halves; toast evenly, and spread first with butter, then with honey, and dust with cinnamon. Serve very hot.

I found this in "Better Meals for Less Money" from 1917, by Mary Green.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks Margaretha. This is lovely. An emailer found a very early recipe for bread soaked in wine and cinnamon, so it seems that the basic idea is very old, even if the toast version is only a century or so old.

Lapinbizarre said...

Late to this post, but just read ("English Food") that the earliest recipe Mrs Grigson found was in May's "Accomplisht Cook" (1666). She gives her recipe for cinnamon toast as a tablespoon of sugar, mixed with a teaspoon of cinnamon and "just enough claret to make a spreadable paste". Put on hot toast and heat under the grill or in the oven. She adds "the claret does add an extra goodness".

The Old Foodie said...

Thnks Lapinbizzare - this is great, I had forgotten May. I sounds like a dish needing to be eaten with a spoon though. I wonder when it became a toast topping? At what point does something become a new recipe?