So it’s summer time and the livin’ is easy, huh? Well, you still have to feed all those hungry mouths. And once in a while, what you’ve been serving up just doesn’t work so well. People are bored with the same things that you’ve been setting in front of them. Maybe those same old things need some “pow!” Some “bazinga!” Some flavor!
Without even changing your shopping list or learning new recipes, you can make this happen. It’s all about the seasonings. Specifically, spice blends. It seems that many times when we feel the need to cook a little differently, the first thing we do is pick out new recipes and or new ingredients. Things could be much easier than that.
Hart’s Desire Spice Blends can bring about some much needed interest in what’s going on in the kitchen, probably lower your salt intake without causing a huge drop in flavor and satisfaction and resurrect some of grandma’s old recipes and make them new and better.
Natalie Jean, owner and master blender at Hart’s Desire, has been immersed in “spice-craft” since early childhood, cooking with her godmother, who was of Greek extraction. The seasonings that she was familiar with made the best chicken soup, and enhanced the flavor of a leg of lamb, but more importantly, those seasonings became part of the future for Natalie.
Going to the market with her godmother and watching as she picked out the spices that would become the blend that would become “the best chicken soup” was all a part of the path that Natalie would take to where she is now.
In the Special Peoples Depot in tiny Glendale, Oregon, Natalie found a commercial kitchen a few miles from her home. She loads up her minivan and hauls dozens of quart canning jars of herbs and spices in to the kitchen, plus multiple totes of equipment and container, grinders and many other things that I didn’t recognize and starts work.
I got to be the spectator and ask unending questions and take in the smells. Her phone stores the formulas, her scales and bowls are placed on the counter and she starts weighing.
Today she will start off with Sweet Breakfast Blend, an intoxicating combination of cinnamon, nutmeg that she takes from whole round balls and breaks up with a mortar and pestle, and allspice. If you were expecting cloves to show up to this party, you’d be wrong. Natalie finds them too strong and overpowering even in small amounts.
Each spice is weighed out precisely (how else could you manage to keep things consistent?) then ground together and blended by hand. The whole batch is blended a second time, as are most all of the blends. Next, each spice jar is filled and weighed, then the jars are sealed, ready to be labeled. The entire batch amounted to about 30 small jars, and most of them had to be ready to take to the Coos Bay Farmers Market the next day.
I dare anybody to find fresher spice blends that that! The aroma of this rich brown bowl of goodness made me need a warm cinnamon roll. Or wait! It might be Christmas morning and we’re having pancakes and this is stirred into the syrup. Or maybe we’re we just walked into grandma’s house and there are fresh warm cookies on the table with spiced apple cider to drink.
A few random facts about herbs and spices that were new to me: the essential oils in spices is where the flavor comes from. For this reason, drying them is a very temperamental process, where temperature and humidity play equally important roles. Spices aren’t normally dried out in the barn, hanging by string from a nail on the wall. You could, but you’d likely be disappointed.
Natalie grows her oregano on her home property. I knew that there are herbs growing all around us, but it didn’t occur to me that you could grow so many in this climate. But as all gardeners know, just because it will survive here, doesn’t mean it will thrive here. Natalie jokingly says that if you ever decide to grow your own oregano, you’d best plant it in a pot so it’s contained. She says it likes to travel, as in clear across the yard and into the field.
Garlic does well in western Oregon and you can grow thyme, sages, mustard for seed, rosemary and many others if you have a hankering to give it a try.
While Natalie was measuring and mixing, I was ogling some of the other jars. Open a jar and let the smell waft out to you. I’ve been cooking since dirt was young, and I was taught by any number of fine cooks who knew how to make food taste good, but this … this was on a whole new plane.
While I’m not a big fan of chili or anything overly spicy, the Chili Bowl Blend intrigued me. The smell, while definitely spicy, was also mellow and rounded, almost voluptuous, if you will. My mind was swirling, trying to identify the different aromas that had come together. I could certainly smell the peppers, but rather than getting a sense of hotness, the flavor of the peppers was much more apparent than the heat was.
I also picked up a saltiness, but there is no salt in any of these blends. According to Natalie, this is why so many of her customers can enjoy a low or no salt diet — the flavor is there because of fresh strong herbs and spices, not because of salt.
As Natalie says, “Fresh, strong spice blends, with no fillers and no salt, sugar, preservatives and no anti-caking agents leave you with pure taste, the taste that you want and nothing else.”
When asked how long it takes her to get things perfected, she laughed and said that it can take two to 12 times, and that’s with a lot of help from friends and family.
After the initial recipe seems to work on paper, she blends a very small scale recipe and tastes it in several different ways. Does it work sprinkled on vegetables? Or does it work better on meats? Does it seem strong enough? Does one particular component overshadow something else? She gets feedback from cooks who know how to work with high quality ingredients, then she adjusts some more. And even after things are being put together in larger batches, she still might make some changes down the road.
Some of the blends she has available right now are Chili Bowl (pretty darn spicy stuff, right there!) Curry, Greek Seasoning, Italian Herbs, Jambalaya Mix, Medium Chili Powder, Provincial Poultry and Sweet Breakfast.
She is currently working on a new line of spice blends under the name Hart’s Desire Down Home, which will feature salt. Country sausage seasoning will be available soon.
You can find Natalie’s smiling face at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market, the Coos Bay Farmers Market, Nickabob’s Meat Market, Sherm’s Thunderbird Market and at Glenway Superstore in Glendale.
You can find Hart’s Desire on the internet at www.hartspice.com along with plenty of recipes and ideas on how you can make your food more interesting.