Women living here in New England in eras past did not have an easy time running a household. Gathering wood and maintaining a fire for cooking and heat. Hauling water. Caring for and butchering livestock. Growing vegetables. Yet I’m not convinced that a more contemporary ideal of doing as little as possible is the answer either. I find real satisfaction in hand washing a sink full of pots and pans, shoveling the sidewalk of snow, growing my own tomatoes. But I know not even prairie women grew, dried, and ground their own spices. Civilizations have been built on the commerce of these natural treasures; murders committed, lives lost, over cardamom and cassia.
I won’t say I was ready to kill anyone when I discovered my cinnamon bottle was empty the other morning, but I wasn’t happy. My husband could have told me he used it up. (Homemade applesauce with cinnamon is a favorite comfort food around here. And apparently, he did tell me, but the exchange went right by me.) I had almost out-of-season cranberries. It was the weekend. I had time to bake. I was looking forward to trying a new recipe for cranberry nut muffins. With almost all the ingredients lined up on the counter, I discover the empty cinnamon bottle. Loud sigh. Once I get going in the creative process, I’m not interested in stopping. Getting dressed—I was wearing layered sweats fit for no eye—and going out in the frigid cold to the grocery store to pick up the cinnamon was going to ruin the whole process. Not to mention make it too late to get these muffins prepared for breakfast.
Plan B? I did have cinnamon sticks. I pulled out a grater and gave that a try. No surprise; that didn’t work. Not one to give up easily, I turned next to the little mill I use to grind the flax seeds I put in blender drinks. I broke up the cinnamon sticks, popped the lid on, and pushed down to hear the whir of the engine, and things flying helter skelter in there. I wasn’t really convinced the mill was going to make the pieces small enough, but what the heck; it was worth a try.
I eased the top back off and beheld: copper-hued brown gold! Finely powdered cinnamon of a deeper and richer color than I’ve ever seen in a store. And the scent! Mulled cider. Cinnamon buns. Apple pie. Burning candles that smell like mulled cider, cinnamon buns, and apple pie. Everything homey cinnamon evokes. And I’d made it myself.
I do a juice fast from time to time, and one thing I’ve experienced repeatedly. If I make my own juice, I can do the fast without feeling overwhelmingly hungry and bereft of sustenance. If I use store-bought juice, I can’t. Fresh juice nourishes me in a way that the exact same mix, premade and bottled, does not. Some explain this as life energy, that fresh food has life energy that processed food does not. I do not know what this means, or what this could be; I only know this is the best explanation I’ve heard for why fresh is organically more sustaining.
I made those muffins, and using my own ground cinnamon created an experience that quite surpassed making muffins with cinnamon poured from that mega-bottle from Costco. Life energy? Or just the eternal pleasure to be found in even a small measure of self-sufficiency…