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The Memory Of Old Spice

December 14, 2017

Those regular readers of the FLB may recognize the initials ADS. We’ve been friends since I was seven years old. We grew up together in Miami, he’s the reason I moved out to California, and we continue to be friends today.

Growing up, I was over at his house a lot. We would ride our bikes to school together. I would hang out with him when school was done. I was even there that day a stray dog followed him home. I couldn’t count the number of dinners I had at his family’s table, how many pool parties we had on his back patio, or how many nights I slept over in the kickass room his parents made out of their garage.

Yesterday, after suffering a massive stroke a few days before, his dad passed away. I always knew him as El, and in a community where most of my friends had families that went through divorces, El and Min were the rare exception.

Today is a sad day, and I don’t really have a food story to tell. But El always had a twinkle in his eye. He was quick with a smile, and was just a genuinely warm person who was able to put anyone at ease. He was also an Old Spice man. Scent memory is a powerful thing. And when I think of El, I can almost smell him.

Coincidentally, I do have an old story that I can share about El, Raf, and old spice.

This isn’t a new story. It’s recycled. Old Spice first was published on March 6, 2012, and coincided with the opening of Penzey’s in the Crossgates Mall. Since then, the store has closed and reopened in Stuyvesant Plaza. And for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure the oldest of my depleting seasonings are now gone. Of course, there is a new batch of spices which have gone unused for far too long.

Without further ado, here’s the text from the original post. If you want active links, you’ll have to actually go to where Old Spice lives on the blog, here.

ADS is more like a brother than a friend. We’ve been friends for over three decades. Raf I’ve known for almost a quarter century.

Old friends have old stories—tales that get told time and time again. They eventually become legends. Facts can sometimes change, but the heart of the narrative remains the same.

Today with the recent opening of Penzeys Spices in Albany, I’m inspired to share one of these with you from our college days, as it involves Raf housesitting while ADS was away with his folks, and an unsettling discovery Raf made when looking through ADS’ parents’ spice cabinet.

Raf wasn’t looking to be a dick. He was just looking for some seasonings to cook his dinner. But what he found was a cabinet full of antique tins of ground spices. Some of which were in containers he’d never seen before in his lifetime.

That was because the spices were older than he was.

In an attempt to be helpful, he pulled all the spices from the cabinet and left them on the counter with a note, which said as much, and suggested that perhaps it was time to buy new ones.

ADS reported that his parents were un-thrilled and Raf wasn’t invited to housesit again. I also understand that despite the note and the stark reminder on the age of the spices, the tins went right back into the cabinet, where presumably they remained unused for another decade.

We all had a great time with this story when we were younger. Ha ha. Silly old people. Who holds onto their spices well past the time they’ve lost their potency? Surely not us young food-loving sophisticates.

Flash forward twenty years and listen to my tale of shame and woe.

Before I confess to my sins, I need to make sure you understand something about dried herbs and spices. They don’t last forever. I know this. The most conservative measure puts the lifespan of ground spices at one year. Most people agree that six months is pushing it. And the most fastidious insist that spices begin to lose their potency immediately, a fact which I do not contest.

Whole spices last longer than ground spices, with some commentators placing their lifespan at two years. Peppercorns can even go further, lasting up to five years.

It’s not as if herbs and spices actually go bad. They are not going to make you sick. Rather, they simply lose their punch. That means a recipe that calls for a teaspoon of ground cinnamon may require a fair bit more if your spices are old and weary.

You can tell by using your senses. With time the vibrancy of their color fades, their aroma diminishes and may pick up off-smells, and their flavor dissipates.

I know all these things, and yet. I have spices older than I’d care to admit.

Part of the problem is the perception of the passing of time. Intellectually I know that we’ve lived in Albany for over four years. But it really doesn’t feel that long. It really feels more like a blur. And there were definitely some spices we picked up after the move that are now by all measures long gone.

But we also moved across country with some spices. Some of those were wedding gifts. This summer we will celebrate our eleventh anniversary. But other spices we got before we were married, and I fear they were old at the time they came into our possession.

Before she was Mrs. Fussy, my bride-to-be had an elderly admirer who we called GuRay. And I know that the jar of whole cloves and whole mustard seeds that reside in our spice drawer today, came from the set of seasonings he gave us in the years before he passed away.

They could indeed be twenty years old.

Here’s the bottom line. If you think you don’t need new spices because your spice drawer or rack is full, you are kidding yourself. Most people have depleted seasonings that they just can’t bear to part with.

Take a look around your supply and find the one or two oldest bottles. Figure out if you’ll actually cook with them in the next six months. If yes, run out to Penzeys Spices to buy their replacements. You can hold onto the old bottles until you get home and conduct a Pepsi Challenge style showdown between the old and new spices. It’s going to be night and day.

Repeat as often as affordable, feasible, practical, and fun.

You may also want to label your new spices with a date, lest you have to go through this process again ten years from now. Just try to buy what you will need. And as much as you can, stick to whole spices that you can grind as needed in a mortar and pestle or spice (coffee) grinder.

Like good coffee, spices are significantly more potent and aromatic when ground fresh. And if you are looking for ways to dispose of old spice without wasting the precious stuff, I’ve found you this and this. Now get out there and shop.

Time has a way of moving faster than we notice. ADS was lucky in a way because he and his father were on good terms. There were no regrets, no apologies, no confessions. I’m not sure how much ADS felt this, but from the outside, the mutual love and respect was palpable.

The moral of these stories is that nothing lasts forever. Enjoy the moment.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jean Patiky permalink
    December 14, 2017 11:55 am

    Loved this, Dan!!

    Sent from my iPhone


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